Encore Magazine January 2021

Page 1

New Breweries On Tap for 2021

January 2021

The Genesis of Tree of Life School

Rare Book Room’s Fantastic Finds

Meet Victor Ledbetter

Southwest Michigan’s Magazine

Saving Space The new life of an old church



From the Editor

It’s a new year so it’s fitting that this issue be about new things. Despite the

dampening effect that Covid-19 has had on everything, we’ve found some great stories about people who are pushing forward with new ideas and innovations. This month’s cover feature on the Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Coalition is one of those stories. KNAC is an organization that is taking the First Baptist Church in downtown Kalamazoo, which had faced closure because of the congregation's declining numbers, and turning it into a community asset. This sprawling structure, with 22,000 square feet of space, offers below-market rental space for nonprofits, artists, performing arts groups and organizations and individuals committed to improving the community. It’s an innovative way to not only help keep one of the community’s oldest congregations alive, but provide support to a lot of other organizations and individuals as well. And at a time when we’ve seen the loss of several local craft breweries, writer John Liberty tells us about three new craft breweries in the works, including Murray Street Brewing Co., the first such brewery to open in Mattawan and which has taken six years to come to fruition. Read his article and find out what else is brewing in this local industry. Our Back Story introduces us to Victor Ledbetter, director of the Law Enforcement Training Center at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, who has innovated how future cops are being trained by implementing a week-long diversity training program in the center’s police academy. In addition, we meet Adam Sterenberg, the founder of Tree of Life, a private Christian school in the Edison neighborhood that opened in 2010. The school provides a different educational option for families in one of the county’s largest and most diverse neighborhoods. Here’s to hoping you enjoy this issue and that your January brings something positive and new to you as well, whether it is adventures, perspectives or knowledge.

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New Breweries On Tap for 2021

The Genesis of Tree of Life School

Rare Book Room’s Fantastic Finds

J anuar y 2 021 January 2021

Meet Victor Ledbetter

S outhwest M ichigan’s M agazine Southwest Michigan’s Magazine

Saving Space The new life of an old church


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Encore Magazine is published 12 times yearly. Copyright 2021, Encore Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Editorial, circulation and advertising correspondence should be sent to:

www.encorekalamazoo.com 117 W. Cedar St. Suite A, Kalamazoo, MI 49007 Telephone: (269) 383-4433 Fax: (269) 383-9767 Email: Publisher@encorekalamazoo.com The staff at Encore welcomes written comment from readers, and articles and poems for submission with no obligation to print or return them. To learn more about us or to comment, visit encorekalamazoo.com. Encore subscription rates: one year $36, two years $70. Current single issue and newsstand $4, $10 by mail. Back issues $6, $12 by mail. Advertising rates on request. Closing date for space is 28 days prior to publication date. Final date for print-ready copy is 21 days prior to publication date. The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by those interviewed and published here do not reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of Encore Magazine or the official policies, owners or employees of Encore Publications.


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Jordan met with Adam Sterenberg, the founder and driving force behind Tree of Life School, a private Christian school in Kalamazoo's Edison neighborhood, for this issue of Encore. "I can see why Adam has been so successful in this endeavor," she says. "He's very down-to-earth and passionate about Tree of Life, the students and their families." Jordan is a freelance writer who lives in the Battle Creek/Kalamazoo area and loves seeing all the things Southwest Michigan has to offer.

Katie Houston

Katie wrote this month’s cover feature on the Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Coalition, which is transforming Kalamazoo's First Baptist Church into a space for artists, arts organizations and other nonprofits. Katie has taken a Crawlspace Eviction improv class there and performed onstage with Queer Theatre Kalamazoo in the basement theater space. She was born in Detroit, attended Northwestern University, in Chicago, and is now a Kalamazoo-based communications consultant who gives time as a sexual assault support volunteer with the YWCA.

John Liberty

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Longtime Kalamazoo resident John Liberty left the world of journalism at the Kalamazoo Gazette in 2014 to co-found and manage West Michigan Beer Tours, a company that provides curated beer-and-beverage events for groups of all sizes across the region. That position allows John to essentially be the area’s craft beer guru, and he puts his knowledge to good use in this issue’s story on new breweries on tap for the region. “I stay in contact with brewers and brewing professionals and always ask if there's anything new to keep an eye on,” John says. “A lot of these projects are from people I've worked with in the past. They've been in the works for quite some time, but they finally had some updates worth sharing.” John has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and communications from Western Michigan University.


J a n u a r y 2 0 21

FEATURE Saving Space


Coalition helps historic Kalamazoo church find new life as a community asset

DEPARTMENTS 3 From the Editor 6 Contributors 8 First Things

A round-up of things happening in SW Michigan this month

13 Five Faves Fantastic finds in the A.M. Todd Rare Book Room




Good Works


Back Story

What’s Brewing — 2021 to bring new craft breweries to region Giving in to God — Tree of Life's founder spent a lot of time ‘arguing with God’ before creating school

Meet Victor Ledbetter — He’s bringing diversity to the forefront of KVCC’s Law Enforcement Training Program

ARTS 32 Events of Note On the cover: Leading the development of the Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Coalition are, from left, Pastor Nathan Dannison of the First Congregational Church, Pastor David Nichols of the First Baptist Church and Dann Sytsma, artistic director of Crawlspace Theatre Productions and current KNAC board president.

35 Poetry

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First Things Something Audible Podcast features nature ‘soundwalk’

You might pay lots of attention to what

you’re seeing when out in nature, but what about what you’re hearing? A podcast created by a local biologist for the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy will teach people to use their ears to gain a new perspective on local preserves. She also hopes it will help people find inner balance by deepening their connections to nature. Soundwalking in the Time of COVID-19, recorded by Sharon Gill, a SWMLC board member and a professor of biological sciences at Western Michigan University, leads participants through a series of listening Sharon Gill. Courtesy Western Michigan University. exercises to help them hear the sounds of nature while walking at a Land Conservancy preserve or natural area. Participants are encouraged to listen to the podcast for the first set of instructions, walk while listening to the natural sounds around them, then pause to resume the podcast and the next instruction. The entire podcast may take up to 45 minutes to complete, but you can easily shorten the exercise to fit your needs. (Suggestions for shortening it are included in the recording.) To access the podcast, visit swmlc.org.

Something Classical

Ingrid Fliter to perform livestream concert If you want to see pianist Ingrid Fliter perform, you won’t have to wait

until the next Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in 2022 — the perennial festival favorite will perform a special livestreamed concert at 4 p.m. Jan. 17. Fliter, the 2006 Gilmore Artist, has been a part of almost every Gilmore Festival since that year and is beloved by audiences worldwide. She will perform a program of works by Beethoven and Chopin. Tickets for the Virtually Gilmore Concert Season are available on a “name your own price” basis, allowing viewers to watch for free, pay the traditional ticket price or pay the amount of their choosing. Traditional ticket prices are $35-55 for adults and $7 for students. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit thegilmore.org or call 359-7311.



Something Jazzy

Tali Song Roth

Emmet Cohen Trio plans livestream performance

The Emmet Cohen Trio, led by a 30-year-old award-winning jazz pianist, will bring its modernflavored jazz to Kalamazoo through a performance livestreamed from the Wellspring Theater at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 3. The trio, which also includes bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole, is performing as part of The Gilmore’s Virtual Jazz Club. As the leader of the trio, Cohen is known for his “Masters Legacy Series,” a set of recordings and interviews honoring legendary jazz musicians. The trio’s program will be announced from the stage, and tickets are on a name-your-own price basis. To purchase tickets, visit thegilmore.org. Not sure how to stream a performance? The Gilmore offers instructions at thegilmore.org/ how-to-stream.

Something Astral

Online course offers astronomy lessons Do you ever look into the night sky and ask, “Just what is it that I am seeing?” The Kalamazoo Astronomical Society can help you find the answer through its 12-week online course on the basics of astronomy. Introduction to Astronomy will take place from 6-7:40 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning Jan. 12, via Zoom. The class, taught by diehard amateur astronomer and KAS President Richard S. Bell, will touch on almost all topics related to the cosmos, from the history of astronomy and telescopes to planets, stars, galaxies and other celestial entities. The class is recommended for ages 15 and older, and the cost is $150. To register, send an email to kas@kasonline.org.

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Something Liquid

Special week celebrates craft beverages It’s no secret that the greater Kalamazoo area has a deep well when it comes to craft breweries, distilleries and wineries, and Discover Kalamazoo is retooling its annual Kalamazoo Beer Week to highlight the area’s diverse beverage makers. Now called Kalamazoo Craft Beverage Week 2021, the weeklong

event will be held Jan. 29–Feb. 6 and will feature events that celebrate the craft beverage industry. Depending on health-and-safety restrictions at the time, the week may feature virtual and hybrid events. Patrons will be able to virtually meet the brewers, distillers and winemakers, learn about what it takes to develop their products, and achieve a greater sense of the area’s craft beverage industry. In addition, participating vendors are offering to-go packages and deals so that participants can try their products. To participate, visit kalamazoocraftbeverageweek.com.


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Something Literary

Local author to give writing workshops If you’ve got a personal story to tell, local author and

editor Wilma Kahn can help get you started through two virtual four-week workshops offered by local libraries. Kahn is the author of Big Black Hole, a detective novel published in 2005, and has taught writing and literature courses in Kalamazoo County since 1987. She has an M.F.A. in creative writing and a doctoral degree in English. Kahn will be teaching Reminiscence Writing at 11 a.m. Tuesdays, Jan. 5-Feb. 16, through the Comstock Township Library, via Zoom. In this course, she’ll teach people how to write vignettes from their past and present them in the form of essays, stories or poems. For more information or to register for this free class, visit comstocklibrary.org. In addition, Kahn will conduct a class called Write With Wilma through the Parchment Community Library at 10 a.m. Thursdays, beginning Jan. 7, via Zoom. In addition to learning from Kahn, participants will have the chance to share samples of their writing and take part in supportive, respectful discussions with other class members. Registration is required, and the cost is $5. For more information or to register, visit parchmentlibrary.org.





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Five Faves

Fantastic finds in the A.M. Todd Rare Book Room by


photos by


The A.M. Todd Rare Book Room, tucked away on the third floor

of Kalamazoo College’s Upjohn Library Commons, holds more than 3,000 unique books and manuscripts. The term “rare” often includes first editions, signed copies, limited editions and antique books with intrinsic historical value. The room itself is named for Albert May Todd, known locally for his mint extract company, his philanthropy, his worldwide travels and his collection of art and literature. After

his death in 1931, a portion of his collection was given to Kalamazoo College. Thanks to the generosity of his children, grandchildren and numerous additional donors, the collection has continued to grow since the room’s opening in 1957. Today the A.M. Todd Rare Book Room is available to anyone who would like to visit its three yearly exhibits or simply stop by to view something interesting, like these five favorites of mine:

Medieval Psalter The oldest book in the Rare Book Room is a small illuminated manuscript dating to approximately the 13th or 14th century. The manuscript is a collection of the psalms, called a psalter. Some of the book’s pages contain initials and decorations of gold leaf, also called illuminations. The manuscript was written in Latin on vellum, or calf skin, and likely belonged to a French monastery. At one point in its long history the manuscript belonged to an English nobleman. By the 20th century the book had traveled to America, where it was in the possession of a New York artist. This book demonstrates the artistry and craftsmanship that went into even small books in the Middle Ages. The tears and marks on the pages, the bookplates of the previous owners, the illuminations, mistakes, notes, scribbles and even the scribe’s handwriting are all part of the book’s long history, providing a bridge between the scribe’s time and our own.

Poeticon Astronomicon During the Middle Ages, books were copied by hand.

In the mid-15th century, Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press to Europe, providing a way to quickly disseminate information among the population. Books printed before 1501, in the infancy of printing, are known as incunabula, or incunables. The Latin word translates to “cradle” or “swaddling clothes.” German printer Erhard Ratdolt printed this volume in Venice in 1485. The book has beautiful, though scientifically inaccurate, woodcut illustrations of constellations, meant to complement the tales attributed to the Roman author Hyginius.

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The Works of Thomas Gray This

two-volume set, with the subtitle Containing His Poems and Correspondence, with Memoirs of His Life and Writings, contains beautiful examples of vanishing fore-edge paintings. At first glance the edges of the book look only gilded, but when the pages are fanned downward, a painting is revealed across the fanned fore-edge of the book. Fore-edge painting dates as far back as the Middle Ages but was particularly popular from the late 17th century onward. It has rarely been practiced since the late 19th century. The author of these volumes was an English poet who died in 1771. These editions of his work were published in 1825. The painting on the first volume shows the Horse Guards Parade in London, and the second volume also portrays the London location of Westminster Abbey. Fore-edge paintings serve as an excellent reminder that books can also be works of art.

New Testament Miniature The

smallest of the Rare Book Room’s miniature books is roughly the size of a penny. Books that are three inches or less in height, width and thickness are typically considered miniature. A miniature book this small is almost impossible to read even with the help of a magnifying glass and so has no practical use. Miniature books, however, take a great deal of skill to create and often provide a challenge to the crafters. At the time this book was printed, miniature books were sometimes made by photoengraving or lithography. This tiny copy of the New Testament, published in 1894, was bound by renowned bookbinder Joseph William Zaehnsdorf, who gave this particular copy to A.M. Todd’s wife, Augusta. According to the story passed down with the book, copies were also given to Queen Mary and Queen Alexandra of England.


January Donor Spotlight WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine Proudly Recognizes Kalamazoo philanthropist and medical school benefactor

Cato Major, or, A Treatise on Old Age At first glance, this work of classical literature by the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero doesn’t seem much different from other books printed during the 18th century. It has a simple brown leather cover with minimal ornamentation. It is, however, unique for a few reasons. The edition was printed and sold by Benjamin Franklin in 1744 at his press in Philadelphia. In his note to the reader, Franklin claimed it was the first American translation of a Latin classic. He hoped it would be followed by many more. This particular copy was the second issue off the press and was signed by the translator James Logan, who had served as the 14th mayor of Philadelphia. About the Author Mallory Heslinger is the curator for the A.M. Todd Rare Book Room at Kalamazoo College. She creates three rare book exhibits held every year, acquires new materials and welcomes both classes and individuals to view the collection. Mallory holds a master’s degree in medieval studies from Western Michigan University, where she worked in Special Collections, and a master’s degree in library science from Wayne State University, where she studied academic libraries and conservation. She also works as a reference and instruction librarian for Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

Betty Upjohn Mason We salute Betty for her friendship, for her gracious spirit, and for her active involvement with the medical school and our students. We are honored by Betty’s visionary leadership, her advocacy, and for her generous support for the core mission of the medical school.

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What’s Brewing

2021 to bring new craft breweries to region BY JOHN LIBERTY

The greater Kalamazoo area is going to have three more craft

brewery choices in the next few months, in locations ranging from Mattawan to Plainwell to downtown Kalamazoo. Mattawan to get its first brewery After nearly six years of planning and a pandemic, the four friends behind Murray Street Brewing Co. can see the light at the end of the pint glass. Dan Howard, Tim Ginter and couple Peter Hathaway and Amanda Chadderdon, who came up with the idea of opening a brewery six years ago, are within months of opening Mattawan’s first brewery, in


one of the village’s oldest buildings, at 57620 Murray St. The building was formerly known as The Livery and housed an antiques and collectibles shop. The four friends settled on Mattawan because of the absence of a brewery there and because of Mattawan’s proximity to Kalamazoo. The appeal of locating their brewery in an old livery stable, built in 1868, put their vision in motion. The ownership team closed on the building in September 2019 and started moving forward with the project. “And then the pandemic happened,” says Howard. Construction work stopped in March and resumed in June.



Murray Street Brewing Co. will house a five-barrel system from the Greenville-based Psycho Brews. The system was originally bound for a Texas brewery, but when that project folded, Ginter, Murray Street’s brewer, was able to secure it. The building also features an office space, a walk-in cooler, an eventual kitchen space and a second-story area that the owners plan to convert into a private event room. The taproom is expected to accommodate between 40 and 50 people. “We fully anticipate that a lot of locals who come here may not have walked into a craft brewery before, so we want to make them feel at home,” Howard says. “On the flip side, we are hoping to have enough lines open where we can do some very smallbatch experimental things you have to come out and try.” Ginter comes to Murray Street after starting his beer work at the Bell’s General Store. One of his customers there, Scott

“Once July came, we hit the ground running again,” says Howard, who handles the brewery’s financials and has a background in real estate. “Our problem as a new brewery is learning which shoe hits first and the order in which to attack things. The village has been incredibly helpful. “It’s been tedious, and COVID made it tough, but we were able to stick through. People want to see it succeed here, and that’s been encouraging.”

John Liberty

Top: The management team of Murray Street Brewing Co., from left, Dan Howard, Amanda Chadderdon, Peter Hathaway and Tim Ginter, in front of the brewery’s location in in a renovated livery stable. Bottom: Taps for the new craft brewery's beers are ready to go.

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Brian Powers

Zylstra, is the proprietor of Plainwell’s Old Mill Brewpub and hired Ginter to work there. Ginter later joined the brewing team at Gonzo’s BiggDogg Brewing Co. in downtown Kalamazoo, brewing there until shortly after Saugatuck Brewing Co. announced its merger with Gonzo’s in March 2019. Ginter and Howard hope to have their brewery license application approved this winter, and Ginter anticipates the brewery opening seven to nine weeks after that. Depending on the severity of the pandemic at the time, Murray Street may serve to-go beer only at the start and begin taproom service when it’s safe enough to do so. “We want to make approachable beers that everyone will enjoy,” Ginter says. “At the same time, I want to make those New England-style IPAs, kettle sours and barrel-aged stouts. I have a number of recipes I’d like to open with.”

John Liberty


Longtime Kalamazoo brewer Adam Wisniewski has found a home for his breweryin-the-works, Deep End Brewing Co. Wisniewski, who has been the lead brewer at Wax Wings Brewing Co., 3480 Gull Road, for more than a year and brewed for five years at Rupert’s Brewhouse, says he will be taking over the former Energy Mill building at 712 Bridge St. in Plainwell, pending the city’s approval of his site plan. His business partner is Tim Woodhams. Deep End is already licensed by the state as a tenant brewer at One Well Brewing’s production facility in Kalamazoo and will be transferring the license to the Plainwell location.


John Liberty

Brewer inching toward Plainwell

Brewer Adam Wisniewski, top, is teaming up with Tim Woodhams to open Deep End Brewing Co. in a building at 712 Bridge St. in Plainwell formerly occupied by Energy Mill (bottom).


Wisniewski has purchased a seven-barrel system from the former Big Buck Brewery’s Grand Rapids location and will be focused on building out his new brewery for initial to-go beer sales, ideally by spring. Depending on how the pandemic landscape looks, the taproom could be ready by late summer. “I’m going to be focusing on a lot more wild sours and wood aging — a lot of farmhouse stuff, wild fermentation and spontaneous fermentation,” says Wisniewski. “That’s what I’ve always been most passionate about in brewing.”

John Liberty

Rupert’s to return to Kalamazoo

Mark Rupert, owner of the now-closed Rupert’s Brewhouse, is in the early stages of planning to produce his brews again in downtown Kalamazoo.

Mark Rupert, owner of the now-closed Rupert’s Brewhouse, is in the early stages of returning to downtown Kalamazoo. Rupert, 42, closed his brewery at 773 W. Michigan Ave. in September 2019, after six years in business. Rupert and his parents planned to reopen the brewery in Sturgis, but construction delays and the onset of the pandemic changed their direction. Rupert says he’s worked for Mark Wrench, president of the Fireplace & Grill Shoppe and SignWriter, both on West Michigan Avenue, for nearly 30 years. During the pandemic, he returned to work at SignWriter, and that is where he is currently clearing out an empty space in the back of the building with the intention of opening a brewery. He hopes to produce popular Rupert’s Brewhouse beers there by mid2021, mostly on a to-go basis. “The intention is to do simple manufacturing and bring back some of our beers,” he says, “and then create a place where other people can brew as well.”






Please send your questions to:

Please send your questions to:

Michael J. Willis, J.D., C.P.A. Willis Law 491 West South Street Kalamazoo, MI 49007 269.492.1040 www.willis.law

Michael J. Willis, J.D., C.P.A.


Q. LAWYER My husband A. Probably not. If you own the home, or you own the home with ASK ASK


My husband is going into a nursing home. I’ve been told it is possible for me to create a trust and protect my assets from the spend down at the nursing home. Is that true?


is beingLAWYER sued for a business deal A. Q. gone bad. Is my A. home at risk for collection or foreclosure? A.

Yes. Most often when folks talk on trust planning, they are referencing a revocable trust. In fact, that is the case probably more than 99% of the time. A revocable trust under Michigan law generally is set up only to avoid probate--that’s its only benefit. However, there Please send your questions to: husband going into a nursing home.that I’ve told it is is anMy irrevocable trustisfor persons in your circumstances can been be established withtoyour assetsatotrust the extent they exceed protected possible for me create and protect my the assets from the spend Willis Law amount (which under Michigan law will cap at a little over $125,000). down at the nursing home. Is that true? 491 West South Street If the trust is irrevocable and the assets are effectively established in an Kalamazoo, MI 49007J. WILLIS, J.D., C.P.A., WILLIS MICHAEL annuity LAW income stream back to you per the terms of the trust, then in 269.492.1040 such Yes. a circumstance the trustwhen will no folks longer talk be considered Most often on trusta countable planning, they are www.willis.law asset, but instead an income stream and thereby exempt for Medicaid Please send your questions to: referencing a My revocable trust. Ingoing fact, that case probably more intois atheand nursing purposes. This is husband a sophisticatedis planning technique, I highly home. I’ve been told it is thanencourage 99% of you the time. counsel A revocable trust underthisMichigan law generally before implementing or possible toforseekme to create a trust andtechnique protect my assets from the spend anyup other Medicaid planning. is set only to avoid probate--that’s its only benefit. However, there Willis Law MICHAEL J. WILLIS, J.D., C.P.A., WILLIS LAW

Michael J. Willis, J.D., C.P.A.


Willis Law 491 West South Street Michael J. Willis, J.D., C.P.A. 491 West South Street Kalamazoo, MI 49007 Kalamazoo, MI 49007 269.492.1040 www.willis.law 269.492.1040 www.willis.law



at thetrust nursing home. Is that true? is an down irrevocable for persons in your circumstances that can be established with your assets to the extent they exceed the protected amount (whichYes. under Michigan law will cap folks at a little Most often when talkover on$125,000). trust planning, they are If the trust is irrevocable and the assets are effectively established in an referencing a revocable trust. In fact, that is the case probably more annuity income stream back to you per the terms of the trust, then in than 99% of the time. A revocable trust under Michigan law generally such a circumstance the trust will no longer be considered a countable up only to avoid probate--that’s its only benefit. However, there asset, isbutset instead an income stream and thereby exempt for Medicaid purposes. is a sophisticated I highly is an This irrevocable trust forplanning personstechnique, in your and circumstances that can be encourage you to seek this technique or the protected established withcounsel your before assetsimplementing to the extent they exceed any other Medicaid planning.

Michael J. Willis is the Managing Partner of Willis Law, Attorneys and Counselors at Law, is licensed to practice law in Florida and Michigan, and is registered as a certified public accountant in the state of Illinois. Attorney Willis is rated as an A V -Preeminent Attorney by Martindale-Hubbell. This rating, according to Martindale, which has been rating lawyers for over a century, signifies that an attorney has reached the heights of professional excellence and is recognized for the highest levels of skill and integrity. He is listed in the Best Lawyers in America.


amount (which under Michigan law will cap at a little over $125,000).

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him as husband and wife, then his creditor will generally have no claim on your home. If instead he owns the home in his own name, or if he owns it via a revocable trust, there is a significant opportunity for collection on that asset. Michigan law favors a holding by a married couple so much that it provides creditor protection for that holding. I should note it is important that a couple not lose this protection when they engage in estate planning, as it is an issue easy to overlook in that context.

such a circumstance the trust will no longer be considered a countable asset, but instead an income stream and thereby exempt for Medicaid

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aving pace Historic Kalamazoo church finds new life as a community asset BY KATIE HOUSTON photos by



Brian Powers

cross the country, many church congregations and their buildings are becoming casualties of a society that is increasingly sidelining organized religion. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that the number of American adults who describe themselves as Christian was down 12 percent over the past decade. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population was at 26 percent, up from 17 percent in 2009. As a result, scores of churches close each year due to dwindling numbers and finances, leaving buildings abandoned, demolished or languishing on the real estate market. Sometimes former churches are repurposed into restaurants, breweries, wineries or unique housing. When Kalamazoo’s First Baptist Church began seeing the writing on the wall, it took a bold and unusual step: turning its building into a cooperative space for community organizations. The church, at 314 W. Michigan Ave., now has just over 100 members, down from a high of 500 in the 1960s. The building, completed in 1855, is the city’s oldest church and remains one of the few buildings that Abraham Lincoln would have seen when he spoke in Bronson Park in 1856. With 22,000 square feet, the imposing white structure includes offices, event and meeting rooms, studios and workshop areas, much of which was not being used to its full capacity. 20 | ENCORE JANUARY 2021

The church sought to change that, as well as head off the potential dissolution of one of the oldest congregations in the city, by making use of the building in a way that was in line with the congregation’s values and would also benefit the community. In March 2017 a group of artists, musicians, church staff, community members and community activists met, and the result was the creation of the Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Coalition (KNAC) and a plan to make the church into an affordable cooperative-use space for nonprofit organizations dedicated to the arts or to alleviating poverty and discrimination in the community. Now, three years after its creation, KNAC is its own nonprofit organization and the future owner of the church building, which has more than 20 tenants, ranging from bakers and artisans to arts and community service organizations. “I want to see it (the building) used completely all day every day,” says KNAC board President Dann Sytsma as he shows a visitor the building’s spaces, including the health-department-approved kitchen and the tiny fourth floor chapel, where leaded glass windows let in tinted sunlight.

‘A good solution’ For lifelong First Baptist congregant Joyce Standish, the new venture at the church “seems like a good solution to the challenges” of the building. “It needs a lot of things that we just were no longer able to do,” she says.

From left, First Congregational Church Pastor Nathan Dannison, KNAC Board President Dann Sytsma and First Baptist Church Pastor David Nichols talk in the First Baptist Church sanctuary, which doubles as a performing arts venue.

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Above: Arianna Moneta, left, rehearses in the fourth-floor Tye Chua studio in the KNAC building as Tye Chua’s Artistic Director Angi Polderman, center, and Ava Polderman, look on. Right: Dann Sytsma, artistic director for Crawlspace Theatre Productions and KNAC board president, stands on the stage in Crawlspace’s location on KNAC’s first floor.

Standish was baptized and married at First Baptist, which became a church home to her grandparents and their eight children after they emigrated from the Netherlands in 1916. She knows nearly every tenant of the building and lots of church history, including organizations that got their start in the church, such as the Ladies Library Association, Kalamazoo Head Start and the Can-Do Kitchen. During the Depression, First Baptist women sewed clothes for students in the public schools, giving away 3,000 garments to needy children. “It has always been important to the church to share the space with community groups,” Standish says. One of those groups, Crawlspace Theatre Productions, found a home for its improvisational comedy troupe at First Baptist in 2017. “We were always looking for a good place to plant our roots,” says Sytsma, who is Crawlspace’s artistic director. Now, as a KNAC board member, he is making clear he has a passion to help others plant roots as well. “Having the building be a nonprofit and arts hub makes a lot of sense,” he says. “It offers an organic attraction to performing arts groups because of the sanctuary.” The sanctuary — a soaring gathering space edged on three sides by a balcony — has been home to radio theater performances by All Ears Theatre for 20 years, and more recently for shows by Crawlspace Eviction, Tye Chua Dance and many choral groups. Elsewhere inside the church’s walls are tenants that are many and varied (see sidebar for a list of those who utilize or have utilized the space). 22 | ENCORE JANUARY 2021

Taking Up Space Among the organizations and individuals who are currently utilizing or have utilized space from KNAC are: • All Ears Theatre

• Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes

• The Artzy Mama

• Michigan Festival of Sacred Music

• Bare Trees & Delectables • Berghuis Psychological Services • Pastor John Gilfillan, CityGate Church • Center for Transformation

• Pastor Ray Brandon, Northbridge Church • Queer Theatre Kalamazoo • Refugee Outreach Collective

• Concerts in the Park rain location • SKTOGear Protective Apparel • Crawlspace Theatre Productions • Steps Forward Al-Anon • Farmers Alley Theatre rehearsal space

• Suzuki Academy of Kalamazoo

• Fiddlehead Music Therapy

• We The People

• Huey D's Goodies

• WMU School of Music

• Kalamazoo Collective Housing

• Tye Chua Dance

Artist Jennifyr Slater, who owns a business called The Artzy Mama, enjoys a spacious studio with windows that open — yes, open — out to a south-facing view that includes Bronson Park. A KNAC tenant for the last year, Slater pays $372 per month for her “happy place,” which includes an upright piano, a sink, a painting table, a seating area, a café table and lots of natural light. While her son and a friend were busy creating

original canvas paintings for their bedrooms in the studio, she showed off a pair of her own mixed-media portraits and the space’s sewing corner for her fabric creations. “I’ve thought about sharing my space with another tenant, but at this rent I really don’t have to,” she says.

New building owners More tenants will be welcomed by KNAC once its purchase of the building is complete.

“As the church sought to focus less on property management, an idea germinated to have us (KNAC) buy the building,” says Sytsma. Today, KNAC has a signed purchase agreement, a robust board of directors and a blueprint for funding long- and short-term upgrades. It expects to take over running the building sometime this year. Closing the sale is expected to happen when funding is secured for urgent upgrades. Among the volunteers who have signed onto KNAC’s board is developer Matt Hollander. His Portage-based Hollander Development works throughout the state constructing affordable housing and mixeduse buildings, like The Creamery, going up on Portage Street, which will include a YWCArun 24-hour child-care center. “Financial modeling means taking advantage of every opportunity for funding, finding local, state and federal incentives like historic preservation tax credits, grant opportunities and local philanthropy,” says Hollander, who estimates the church building has an immediate need for $300,000 in urgent updates to bring it up to code, like safe entrances and exits, improved lighting and essential utilities. “Just getting high-speed internet for a building full of users is estimated near $8,000,” he says. Included in this immediate work will be a feasibility study for a phase-two capital

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campaign to implement a multi-milliondollar “top-to-bottom rehab,” he says. And though his heart is in housing, Hollander is also a big fan of downtowns. “We need to balance the new, shiny, class-A office and residential space (in downtown Kalamazoo) with affordable spaces for artists and people with social missions they’re trying to fulfill,” he says. “It creates a better downtown when that downtown has space for everyone.”

KNAC’s inception Sytsma took over as KNAC’s board president in 2019, following the leadership of Nathan Dannison, pastor of First Congregational Church next door and the source of the original idea for KNAC. When he came to First Congregational Church in 2013, one of Dannison’s first endeavors was to share his building’s meeting spaces at no cost. “We have been honored to host nearly 140 community groups without charging rent, deposit or cleaning fees,” Dannison says, “but many organizations became ready for a more permanent arrangement. I wondered if those groups could graduate into the building next door. I was thinking of a nonprofit cooperative charging below-market rent, a kind of incubator with both of our buildings.” In 2015, when Pastor David Nichols arrived to help First Baptist Church transition to its next chapter, the congregation was coping with a building bigger than it could handle. “They had rejected a proposal to close by three votes and were faced with what to do next,” Nichols says. “Some held the position to stay open as long as we can, spending our reserves, and when the money’s gone, we’ll be 24 | ENCORE JANUARY 2021

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Investment and Insurance needs. Jennifyr Slater, aka The Artzy Mama, works on jewelry in her studio space in the KNAC building.

done. Others said, ‘Let’s take the reserves and do something creative, start something new and different.’ "Overall, the church was operating under the assumption that we only had three more years of survival. It’s been five years now, and no such gloomy vision remains.” Nichols says the congregation engaged in a careful and deliberate process over several years to turn over the building to the KNAC. “Many funders do not invest in churches, so having a nonprofit that shares our values is a win-win,” he says. “These are all things our church had been committed to for decades. It felt comfortable to have a secular nonprofit doing the good things the church would be very much behind.” In the fall of 2018, the congregation took another close vote — this time to sell the building to KNAC. Nichols headed the next year’s ongoing discernment process to figure out how that would work and strengthen the group’s consensus that, indeed, it was the right move. “We knew it would be a challenge, but we took our time, and our church membership has realized this is our best future,” he says. “There is, of course, so much emotional investment in the building on the part of the members.” Sytsma says he and the KNAC embrace the church’s concern for sustainability and historic preservation. “We will continue to respect its history and be good stewards,” he says.

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Giving in to God

Founder ‘argued with God’ before creating a school BY JORDAN BRADLEY photos by



Tree of Life Christian School founder Adam Sterenberg had what he can only describe as a vision from God about building a Christian school in an underserved neighborhood in Kalamazoo, he was a bit startled, to say the least. “It was a weird thing,” Sterenberg says, standing in the sunshine on the school’s 26 | ENCORE JANUARY 2021

front lawn, at 2001 Cameron St. “I’ve never had anything quite like that. And (nothing like it) ever since.” Sterenberg, a middle school math and Bible studies teacher at Kalamazoo Christian Middle School at the time, was sitting in a presentation at a conference for Christian educators in 2003 when the room suddenly

faded away and an image of a school and trees filled his head “like a daydream,” he recalls. “Then I hear this voice go, ‘I want a Christian school in the inner city of Kalamazoo, and I want it to be affordable to anyone.’ Then everything came back, and I looked around like, ‘Did anybody else hear that?’”


As Sterenberg gleefully tells it, he spent the next five years arguing with God about it. But that doesn’t seem to be too out of character for the Kalamazoo Christian Schools alum. In fact, while attending Kalamazoo Christian High School, he was told by a handful of teachers there that he would make a good teacher, but instead Sterenberg attended Western Michigan University to study architecture. During his sophomore year, however, he says he began to feel “dissonance inside.” While speaking with a friend in the WMU education program about it, she reiterated exactly what his high school teachers had said: Be a teacher. “And this is so awesome. I said, ‘I think teaching would be a waste of my time and talents,’” Sterenberg recounts with a shake of his head and a laugh. “Can you get more arrogant than that?” After sitting with the idea and praying to God for guidance, Sterenberg knew he was meant to be a teacher, he says. The world of architecture was too competitive for him, and the idea of sitting at a desk didn’t appeal to him much either, so he switched majors and started taking classes in the education department. By the end of his first semester of education classes, he couldn’t wait to get out of college and into his own classroom. He eventually graduated from WMU with a teaching degree and landed a gig at Kalamazoo

Christian Middle School teaching math and Bible studies. The fateful education conference came 15 years later. From vision to opening Following that 2003 conference, Sterenberg says, he didn’t even know where to begin opening a school, but, to keep himself accountable, he told a handful of friends about the vision. “My dad really taught me integrity,” Sterenberg says. “If I started talking about it, I’ve got to start doing something about it.” In 2008, after five years of "arguing with God,” Sterenberg says, he began reaching out to friends and family through letters and emails, sharing his vision for the school and asking for support. Still, Sterenberg was unsure of his next steps. “So, what do you do when you don’t know? Even back then, you Google it,” Sterenberg says with a laugh. He found an article on the internet that explained how to start a school in 18 months, and he started going down the list of tasks — finding teachers, finding a space in which to teach, developing a Adam Sterenberg, left, opened Tree of Life School in 2010 in Kalamazoo’s Edison neighborhood. Two years later, the school had grown enough that a new building for it was constructed on Cameron Street, seen below.

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curriculum, enrolling students and so on — until finally, in 2010, Tree of Life opened. Growing enrollment In Tree of Life’s inaugural year at the site of the former St. Joseph Catholic School, at 926 Lake St., Sterenberg had a staff of two certified teachers and a student body of 12, although he had anticipated 40 students. During the school’s second year, it had 29 students, prompting Sterenberg to begin a search for a larger space. Through another set of serendipitous “God stories,” as Sterenberg calls them, a local business owner donated a 1.5 acre plot of land in the Edison neighborhood for the school to use for Tree of Life’s new building, which was constructed in 2012. In 2018, that building was expanded from 5,000 square feet to 15,000, with the addition of a gym, more classrooms and a space designated as a Title I room, where students who experience learning delays receive one-on-one help from instructors. Still, Sterenberg says, Tree of Life is now at its student capacity, with 72 students from kindergarten to eighth grade. About half of them reside in the surrounding Edison neighborhood. The school has 16 faculty members.

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Kindergarten teacher Sara Stuart (green shirt) reads a book to her class identified only by first name, from left: Kenadie, Mayrin, Victoria, CoraJean, Jordan and Omar. Above: Tree of Life students, from left, Alyssa and Ashiyaha, work on an assignment using computers.

Lifting up kids Tuition for a student, or multiple students from the same family, costs 5 percent of a family’s annual income, with a minimum rate of $25 per month. Ninety percent of the school’s budget comes from grants and donations, Sterenberg says. Students must bring their own lunches, but if a family is unable to provide a lunch or

lunches, Sterenberg and his staff make sure the students eat. Lunch for those students comes from donations from local businesses and community members. Sterenberg says that he and the school are happy to provide fuel for the kids. “How do you learn with an empty stomach?” he asks. On any given day, Sterenberg is there to lend a hand to his students’ parents. He

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Opposite page, from top: Students, from left, Cara and Hana discuss a project while Michael does work on his computer; elementary student Ahkeela works in a protective plastic carrel on her desk; first- and second-grade teacher Kristin Brussee discusses a worksheet with student Layani. Above, students, from left, Jesus, Emmanuel, Izhel and Kainan sit together while completing work.

has helped parents secure housing, donated furniture for their homes, and even fixed a parent’s broken refrigerator ice line when it began to leak water into her kitchen. Therein lies much of Tree of Life’s purpose, its roots, so to speak: lifting up the school’s children in whatever way they need. “We’re so much helping kids from poverty and trauma, everything,” Sterenberg says. “Some people have asked, ‘Aren’t you enabling the parents?’ And I don’t care if I’m enabling the parents. The kid needs to be at school, and I will do whatever it takes to get the kid to school. Whether the parents are able or can't see it or whatever the thing is, I'm going to get 'em to school.” The Edison neighborhood is the largest neighborhood in Kalamazoo County, with about 10,000 residents and an average household income of about $24,000, Sterenberg explains, and Edison also has the highest crime rate in the county. “Every kid grows up in a normal home. Always. What they have is normal (to them),” Sterenberg says. “And if they don't see a different kind of normal, they are going to have that same kind of normal — on and on and on.”

Offering an alternative Although Sterenberg has much respect and high regard for other schools in the Kalamazoo area, he wants students — and especially their parents — to understand that they have choices in education. He aims to offer an alternative for parents as Tree of Life grows deeper roots within the Edison neighborhood. “I think there needs to be an alternative,” he says. “It's so funny — sometimes in America sometimes people are like, ‘We want choices for everything except for school. There's only one (option).’” For the first nine years of the school, Sterenberg acted as Tree of Life’s principal, but in 2020 the school hired Dori Beltz as principal so that Sterenberg could focus on the next step: establishing a high school that focuses on getting kids into apprenticeships with local tradesman at an earlier stage than junior or senior year, as is typical in public school systems. “What if high schoolers graduated with two things they can do with their hands?” Sterenberg asks. “There are so many careers and fields out there.”

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Please Note: Due to the Covid–19 virus, some of these events may have been canceled or postponed after press time. Please check with the venue and organizations for up-to-date information. PERFORMING ARTS MUSIC Virtual Jazz Club: Emmet Cohen Trio — The Gilmore presents this trio performing traditional jazz with a modern flavor, streaming from the Wellspring Theater, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 3, thegilmore.org. Ingrid Fliter — The pianist and 2006 Gilmore Artist will perform works by Beethoven and Chopin in this live-streamed concert, 4 p.m. Jan. 17, thegilmore.org. VISUAL ARTS Kalamazoo Institute of Arts 314 S. Park St., 349-7775, kiarts.org Galleries are open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; book tickets on the KIA website.

Cultural Encounters: Art of the Asian Diasporas in Latin America and the Caribbean, 1945– Present — An exhibition using modern and contemporary art to consider how migration from China, Japan, India and Indonesia influenced cultural exchange and fusion in Latin America and the Caribbean, through Jan. 17. Modern Abstractions: Japanese Prints from the Joy and Timothy Light Collection — An exhibition examining modern Japanese printmakers of the 1970s and 1980s to reveal abstraction as a form of artistic experimentation and a means of global conversation, through March 7. Book Discussion — A Zoom discussion of The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, by Edmund de Waal, 2 p.m. Jan. 20.

Through the Years: Selections From Our Asian Collection — This exhibition will highlight artworks that include Chinese painting, Japanese printmaking, decorative arts and contemporary ceramics, Jan. 30–March 21.


LIBRARY & LITERARY EVENTS Comstock Township Library 6130 King Highway, 345-0136, comstocklibrary.org The library is closed until further notice, but curbside pickup and computer use are available by appointment. Eat Healthy, Be Active — Bronson Methodist Hospital presents an online session on how to be healthy and active all year long; see library website for details. Reminiscence Writing with Wilma on Zoom — Local author and writing coach Wilma Kahn leads this online workshop on writing about your past or present, 11 a.m. Tuesdays, Jan. 5–Feb. 16; see website for registration information. Trivia Contest for Adults — Show your knowledge in an online trivia contest, Jan. 11–15; see library website for a link to the questions and more information. Kalamazoo Public Library 553-7800, kpl.gov Curbside KPL service will be available at the Central Library and Oshtemo and Eastwood branches. Alma Powell and Washington Square branches are closed until further notice; see website for more information. Page Turners Book Club – Online — Discussion of Tthe Age of Light, by Whitney Scharer, over Zoom, 6:30 p.m. Jan. 4; registration required. Reading Race Group — Discussion of The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, over Zoom, co-sponsored by the Society for History and Racial Equity (SHARE) and KPL’s Antiracism Transformation Team, 6:30 p.m. Jan. 12; registration required. Jazz Speaks for Life: Remembering MLK and the Civil Rights Movement — The Jazz and Creative Institute performs big-band jazz tunes composed by Black musicians during a time of protest and change to honor the struggles and triumphs of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists, 2 p.m., Jan. 16; see website for details on how to access this advance recording. Manitou Mysteries — Join author and shipwreck hunter Ross Richardson in exploring the histories and mysteries of the Manitou Passage, one of the deadliest areas on the Great Lakes, 7 p.m. Jan. 17; registration required for link to attend via Zoom.

Urban Fiction Book Club — Discussion of Fast, by Millie Belizaire, 6 p.m. Jan. 26; registration required for link to attend via Zoom. For Colored Girls Book Club — Discussion of Red at the Bone, by Jacqueline Woodson, this year’s Reading Together featured author, 7 p.m. Jan. 29; registration required for link to attend via Zoom. Parchment Community Library 401 S. Riverview Drive, 343-7747, parchmentlibrary.org The library building is closed to the public, but all library materials remain accessible through curbside service; see website for more information. Write With Wilma —A four-week online writing workshop with local author and writing coach Wilma Kahn, 10 a.m. Thursdays, starting Jan. 7; registration required. Tribal History of the Kalamazoo River — A Zoom presentation by Lakota Pochedley, tribal historic preservation officer for the Gun Lake Tribe (also known as the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians), 7 p.m. Jan. 12; registration required. Portage District Library 300 Library Lane, 329-4544, portagedistrictlibrary.info The library building will be closed until further notice, but the library will offer curbside service; see website for more information. Richland Community Library 8951 Park St., 629-9085, richlandlibrary.org The library building is currently open by appointment only; see website for more information. Winter Reading Bingo — Grab a paper bingo card or log on to our ReadSquared app and record your winter reading to earn entry to grand-prize drawings, through Feb. 26. January Trivia — General trivia on Facebook Live, 7 p.m. Jan. 7. Books with Friends Book Club — Zoom discussion of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Richards, Jan. 21; registration required. 20th Century Music Trivia — Music-themed trivia on Facebook Live, 7 p.m. Jan. 28.


MUSEUMS Air Zoo 6151 Portage Road, Portage, 382-6555, airzoo.org The museum is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday, but there is limited occupancy because of Covid-19. Amusement rides are not available. Online ticketing is encouraged. Mondays are for vulnerable people.

Alien Worlds and Androids — Join scientists in the search for alien life in and beyond our solar system in this ongoing exhibit. Flight & Flak: The Art of Paul Wentzel Sr. — Oil and acrylic works spanning military aviation history, on loan from the Selfridge Military Air Museum, through March. Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence — A poster exhibit exploring the struggle to give women the vote, through March. Gilmore Car Museum 6865 Hickory Road, Hickory Corners, 671-5089, gilmorecarmuseum.org The museum is open daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m. but closed New Year's Day. A complimentary docent tour is available with paid admission at 10:30 a.m. weekdays; there is limited occupancy because of Covid-19, and the car rides are not available. Kalamazoo Valley Museum 230 N. Rose St., 373-7990, kalamazoomuseum.org The museum is currently closed for face-to-face visits; see website for more information.

Tracing the Path: The 1980 Kalamazoo Tornado — See the virtual exhibit recognizing the 40th anniversary of the tornado, 1980kalamazootornado.org.

Digging Deep Into Stories — Get a link to A Good Day's Fishing, by James Prosek, and an optional resource bag of crafts and activity sheets, through Jan. 2; registration required. NATURE Kellogg Bird Sanctuary 12685 East C Ave., Augusta, 671-2510, birdsanctuary@kbs.msu.edu Birds and Coffee Chat Online — Grab your morning beverage and learn about a new bird species in Southwest Michigan, 10 a.m. Jan. 13; registration required. Other Venues

Soundwalking in the Time of Covid-19 — Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy offers a podcast with Sharon Gill featuring a series of listening exercises to help participants hear the sounds of nature while walking at an SWMLC preserve or natural area; to access the podcast, visit swmlc.org. Gaining InSight into the Planet Mars — A free Zoom presentation on the findings of InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy & Heat Transport) on Mars by Dr. James W. Ashley of NASA, 7 p.m. Jan. 8, registration link at kasonline.org. Online Viewing Sessions with Kalamazoo Astronomical Society — A Zoom session with the KAS Remote Telescope, located under the dark desert sky of Arizona, 8:30–10:30 p.m. Jan. 9, with cloudy sky date of Jan. 16, kasonline.org. Lecture Series: Introduction to Amateur Astronomy — The first lecture in this Kalamazoo Astronomical Society series discusses “Our Place Among the Infinities,” 1–3 p.m. Jan. 23 on Zoom; register at kasonline.org.

MISCELLANEOUS A Winter Holiday Around the World — Find out how different cultures and countries celebrate winter holidays, through Jan. 7, Portage City Hall, 7900 S. Westnedge Ave., portagemi.gov. Break Blast — Family camp-style program with winter-themed games, crafts and hike, 9 a.m.– noon Jan. 2, Schrier Park, 850 W. Osterhout Ave., Portage; registration required at portagemi.gov. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Exhibition — Portage City Hall features the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in partnership with the Society for History and Racial Equity (SHARE), 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Jan. 8–29, portagemi.gov.

Heritage, Lineage, Ancestry, Genealogy, Oh My! — Join a member of the Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society and discover resources to build and grow your family tree, 1 p.m. Jan. 9, 16, 23 & 30, Stuart Manor, 7340 Garden Lane, Portage, portagemi.gov. Team Spirit Rally — Wear gear from your favorite sports team for Friday Theme Nights at the Rink, 7 p.m. Jan. 15, Ice Rink at Millennium Park, 280 Romence Road, Portage, portagemi.gov. Downhill Ski & Snowboard Lessons — Lessons for beginners taught by professional instructors, 2 p.m. Jan. 24 & 31, Timber Ridge Ski Area, 7500 23 1/2 St., Gobles, portagemi.gov. Kalamazoo Craft Beverage Week 2021 — Learn about local brewers, distillers and winemakers via virtual and hybrid event offerings, Jan. 29–Feb. 6, kalamazoocraftbeverageweek.com. Mascot Madness — Skate with a menagerie of mascots, 3 p.m. Jan. 30, Ice Rink at Millennium Park, portagemi.gov.

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KNAC (continued from page 25)

An asset for artists D. Terry Williams, another KNAC board member, is an elder statesman in Kalamazoo’s arts world. He chaired the Western Michigan University theater department for 23 years and has directed shows in nearly every venue in town. Now he’s leveraging his contacts and experience to help propel KNAC’s progress by developing an advisory committee that will provide advice and feedback on how KNAC connects with the community. The 16-member committee includes numerous representatives of the arts and leading nonprofits in Kalamazoo. “I have to admit, the list took about 15 minutes because I’ve been around so long,” Williams says. “These are individuals committed to the arts in Kalamazoo, not only as donors but as patrons and board members.” He describes the First Baptist building as “a prime piece of property with great bones and well worth saving.” And he notes other “excellent examples of repurposing historical buildings” in the city, including the former Globe Casket Co. building, the Shakespeare Co. factory complex and the labyrinthine arts hub that is the Park Trades Center. Williams echoes Sytsma’s hope to see the First Baptist building used to its potential and is especially interested in the sanctuary’s


possibilities as a rehearsal space for performing arts groups. “Somebody could rehearse (there) in the morning, afternoon and evening; there are various scenarios,” Williams suggests. One performing arts group making great use of nearly 2,000 square feet of space on the fourth floor is Tye Chua Dance, which moved into the building in 2017. It has a costume room, two dressing rooms, a lounge, an office and a brightly lit room with vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows where it holds classes and rehearsals. “Everyone who sees it says this is what a ballet studio should be like,” says Tye Chua Artistic Director Angi Polderman. “We live and practice the KNAC core values around diversity, equity and celebrating the arts,” says Gene Chua, who founded the company with his wife, Aimee Tye. “You couldn’t ask for a better situation in a community setting,” adds Polderman. “We love being part of the collaborative, supportive group — all the renters seem to look out for each other.”

From owner to tenant As the day approaches when First Baptist Church becomes a tenant rather than a landlord, Pastor Nichols has a good feeling about the church’s future.

“It’s not that we’re in great condition, but there is a good spirit, good attitude, and new people are coming, perhaps not in droves,” he says. “No one is beating the doors down, but in a church like ours every new person is a success story, and we are delighted. As always, our church is in God’s hands, and as long as we’re open to where God is leading us, we see hope for the future and good things happening.” His colleague, First Congregational’s Pastor Dannison, admits the process has been challenging but says he is gratified by the progress and momentum of the KNAC. “Few things in my professional life have been as challenging as working to save the First Baptist building,” he says. “It was a monumental task, but when they are at their best, churches can be engines for producing culture and justice in the heart of the city, and the future of our city depends on accessible public spaces for all. “First Baptist members were the original founders of Kalamazoo College,” Dannison adds, “so I feel like taking bold risks was in their DNA. Not every church could do what they've done, and the members have shown profound courage in exploring and endorsing this new concept.”


J. Alfred Junco After T.S. Eliot

Let us go then, you and me, when the sun awakens the trees. Oh, do not ask when or how. Just be aware that I can’t right now. You, fluff up your feathers, fill your beak, under my lopsided feeder. I’ll wait inside. In their rooms, the women come and go talking of Netflix and parmigiano. There will be time, indeed there will be time, for us to meet, perhaps down the street, perhaps in some northern clime where the people wander free. There will be time, indeed there will be time, for decisions and indecisions and wavering and masticating and fussing and lying before the taking of the toast and tea.

Dare I ask, what is it? Do I dare? You, so lucky to be out there. I am like a pair of claws scuttling across the floor. If I could just open the door. In their rooms, the women come and go talking of Netflix and parmigiano. So, you had better go, my junco. Without me, I am sad to say. I will linger in my kitchen until I hear reasonable voices or I drown. — Elaine M. Seaman Seaman lives in Texas Township and is the author of My Mother Sewed Dresses for Five, a book that combines her poetry with images of quilts she has made.

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Victor Ledbetter (continued from page 38)

Training Center at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Cadets go through a rigorous 16-week “police academy” to learn to become police officers. The program includes an intense weeklong diversity training session implemented by Ledbetter. What brought you to the KVCC police academy program? My mom was sick, so I retired (from the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety) in October 2017 to be with her. I held her hand when she took her last breath. My mom had just died, my sons had moved out, and I had this emptiness. I was retired for nine months, played golf, worked out, but I just wasn't satisfied. This position came open, and some people who work at the college got in contact with my wife and said, “Vic should put in for the director of the police academy.” I would never have considered it, but I put my name in and I got it. Wow! I started in 2018. What challenges did the new position have for you? When the last director left, a lot of people that worked in the program also left. I had a lot of struggles to go through right away. I was hired in July, and there was an academy scheduled for August, and there was no way that I could have maneuvered that without staff, so we canceled it to prepare for the next one. There were rumors going around that this was not going to be successful — “KVCC is going to go down” and all this stuff. So I got my team — Jessica Brinks, who was a retired deputy from Allegan County, and Kenyatta Herrion, who's my program coordinator — and said, “We can't fight these rumors, but the way we're going to get revenge is to be successful.” I just prayed and trusted God, because I know when something is for you, it is for you. When our first class of cadets graduated, it had a 100 percent pass rate on the state exam. A 100 percent rate! That's outstanding. When the state called and told me that, I cried. We also had a 100 percent placement rate — everybody got jobs out of my first academy. With the next academy, we had the same results. This is my fourth year, and we're only getting better. What are some of the changes you’ve instituted since you came on board? I tell my cadets from Day One that if you develop relationships with people in the community, your job is easier. I put it on a board; I write “RELATIONSHIPS.” When you have a relationship with someone, you treat people differently. I talk about three things: dignity, respect and relationships. You should treat people with dignity and respect, but when it's time to turn into Robocop or whatever you need to do to take care of business, you should do that. But you shouldn't come off that way from the beginning. I say, “You know, I was born Black, I'll die Black. When you see me, you see a Black male. You don't see that I'm somebody's son or somebody’s brother, uncle, father, husband. You don't see that I am a retired police officer. But once you get to know me, those things come out.”

When I interview recruits coming to the academy, I often hear they didn't have a lot of diversity in their communities, their schools or their lives. And some of their parents and grandparents feel a certain way about people of color. While the cadets may not feel that way, they’ve still heard it and developed some kind of bias or stereotypes based on what they’ve heard, whether they do it consciously or unconsciously. How do you combat that bias? We dedicate 50 hours in each academy to diversity training. I call it Diversity Week, and it’s the third or fourth week of academy, so it’s early on. It includes training in de-escalation tactics, ethics, civil rights and human rights, and ACEs, which are adverse childhood experiences. We have a full day of training in implicit bias and a full day on cultural awareness. On Friday, we have our “Expanding Our Horizons: A Cultural Awareness Experience,” where we invite community members to participate. It started with specifically Black men from the community, because of the issues with law enforcement and Black men, but now it's more diverse, with people from different ethnicities and the LGBTQ community that represent the community that we serve. We break into healing circles, where the community members and cadets go through a process that requires listening and being respectful of other people’s experiences. It's amazing how the facilitators walk you through it and how you open up. A lot of people feel compelled to share stories. You don't judge. Instead, you turn your mind to wonder, “Why? Why does this person feel that way? What happened in their lives to make them feel this way?” The cadets and the community members have said it is the most impactful segment of the day. After that, we have a U.S. history lesson called “Sweet and Sour Liberty.” We talk about the laws and events like redlining that have shaped where we are in society. A lot of people never heard of redlining (when home loans were denied to people of color preventing them from buying homes certain neighborhoods). We talk about The Green Book (a guide published from 1936 to 1967 that directed Black motorists to businesses they could visit where they wouldn’t face overt discrimination or violence) and about how all these things were sanctioned by the government. It's a heavy, heavy day, but it gives them a different perspective and appreciation of what people have gone through. You’ve also taken on the role of Portage city council member. What’s that like? I'm not even 90 days in yet, so I have been sitting back and absorbing everything and learning how government works from that side. I've seen it from the audience, but, sitting in a council chair, it's a different view. I add a different lens to the council because I have a public safety background. I teach at the police academy. I'm a Black male. I have a lot of things that I can add to the mix. And I'm not afraid to have those hard conversations. — Interview by Marie Lee and edited for length and clarity w w w.encorekalamazoo.com | 37


Victor Ledbetter

Director, KVCC Law Enforcement Training Center V

ictor Ledbetter was going to be a lawyer. The Hamlet, North Carolina, native studied prelaw at North Carolina Central University and worked at IBM while waiting to go to law school. But when he was laid off and a placement agency asked if he wanted to become a police officer in Kalamazoo, his first thought was “Where?” Then, “Hmm, that'd be great experience learning how police operate, so when I become a defense attorney, I can just be exceptional,” he recalls. Ledbetter never became a lawyer. He found that being a cop was his calling. “The thing that struck me the most,” he says, “was you come across people and can make their lives better and do something for the better. It sounds like a cliché, but truly, when you give your life to service for others, there is nothing more rewarding.” Ledbetter, 52, is now training future police officers as the director of the Law Enforcement

Brian Powers

(continued on page 37)


Meet Donovan Roy, Ed.D. Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine (WMed) is proud to welcome Donovan Roy, Ed.D., to Kalamazoo as its new assistant dean for Diversity and Inclusiveness. Dr. Roy is a national expert in diversity and inclusion partnership programs with corporations, school systems, universities, athletic programs and a wide array of non-profit organizations.

Let’s Start a Conversation! Dr. Roy and the staff in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at WMed look forward to talking with civic, business, education, non-profit and philanthropic leaders from Southwest Michigan about developing new collaborations that can extend Kalamazoo’s national leadership in designing innovative educational programs and partnerships for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. So let’s start a conversation and see where it will lead. Please contact Dr. Roy and the WMed Office of Diversity and Inclusion staff by e-mail at donovan.roy@med.wmich.edu or by phone at 269.337.6306.

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