Horizons 2018

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There’s no place like home Follow the yellow brick road through southwest Michigan for stories of exemplary brains, heart and courage

2018 • A PRODUCT OF LEADER PUBLICATIONS There’s no place like home | HORIZONS 2018


There’s no place like


There’s no place like Cassopolis. In all my travels, I have never seen such an engaged and accepting community. It truly is a community with a lot of heart.

There’s no place like home, reading a good suspense novel. Penny Baker, Mailroom Supervisor

Sarah Culton, Reporter

Staff weighs in on favorite spots throughout Michiana Donna Knight There’s no place like a Niles sidewalk, where you might see me running, notebook in one hand, camera in the other, eager to capture the lives of those who open up their hearts and homes to share their stories.

There’s no place like the farmlands that surround southwest Michigan. We are blessed with fertile soil, a great growing climate and knowlegable farmers who supply us with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegatables every year.

There’s no place like local shopping in Niles for antiques and unique items. Donna Knight, Customer Service

Kelsey Hammon, Reporter

Phil Langer, Marketing Consultant There’s no place like Niles Viking Stadium for Friday night football. I love watching the football game while catching up with friends, and waiting for the halftime show performance by the award-winning Niles High School marching band!

There’s no place like the St. Joseph River, providing a serene backdrop for festivals, early-morning jogs, outdoor recreation, or simply curling up on a bench with a good book to a soundtrack of nature connecting our communities.

There’s no place like walking on a freshly mown football, soccer or baseball field. The smell of the fresh-cut grass and the sight of the newly lined fields lets you know that a new season is upon us, and hope springs eternal for all our local sports teams.

Angie Marciniak, Circulation

Ambrosia Neldon, General Manager

Scott Novak, Sports Editor

There’s no place like Community Park of Niles Township, which i will always know as Odd Fellows Park. The acres of hiking trails that run along the Brandywine Creek are nature at its best! Lisa Oxender, Marketing Consultant

There’s no place like Niles because of how beautiful it really is. Being a photographer on the side, you see all the hidden gems that makes Niles truly unique.

There’s no place like Berrien County. There are many local wineries to visit and enjoy a great glass of wine.

There’s no place like Front Street Pizza Pub. I always look forward to their delicious food and drinks, as well as trivia with friends every Tuesday.

Rhonda Rauen, Regional Accounting Manager

Emily Sobecki, Photographer

There’s no place like Niles, riding my Harley down the treecovered back roads. Doug Sriver, Press Foreman

Austin Sriver, Press Operator

There’s no place like the Beckwith Theatre in Dowagiac. The atmosphere inside the small, cozy theater is unforgettable, and the dedicated group of volunteers who work at the theater produce an array of spectacular shows every season. Ted Yoakum, Community Editor


Following this yellow brick road we call ‘life’


ow often in your life have you thought to yourself, “I might be better at this, if only I were smarter?” When tragedy strikes due to senseless acts of violence, or you witness those less fortunate struggling to make ends meet, have you ever wondered, “what if they were shown more love?” Do you ever wonder what you might have accomplished, if you only had the nerve to take more risks? The characters in L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” personify these questions on their adventure to the Emerald City, symbolizing a journey each and every one of us takes as we follow this yellow brick road we call “life.” Unlike in the popular story, our journeys do not end when we reach a set destination. Rather, we continue to ask ourselves these questions throughout our entire venture through life, from one “Emerald City” to the next, so to speak. 4 HORIZONS 2018 | There’s no place like home

Throughout our education, we stretch our brains and explore the subjects we are best at until we determine which career path to take. Even after we end our formal education, we continue to learn something new every day. When we meet new people, develop new passions and give ourselves to service, our hearts grow as we learn to love. When faced with adversity or new challenges, we test our courage, growing more and more confident the older we get. As Dorothy learned on her journey down the yellow brick road, sometimes people show exemplary brains, containing the knowledge and competence to succeed inside their own minds. Others are givers with hearts of gold, willing to help anyone they meet. And then there are the thrill seekers — those people who are obviously comfortable in their own skin, always willing to take a challenge and show their courage.

These are the people featured in the 2018 edition of Horizons. In the next 120 pages, you will find stories of people who have taken risks, who are passionate about their communities, who donate their time to others and who use their brains to solve problems. As our team has taken its own journey down the yellow brick road the last few months, we have been pleased to make new acquaintances along the way. Much like Dorothy, we have learned from our counterparts, and have felt honored to share their stories. These people use their strengths to make southwest Michigan the wonderful place it is to live. Because of people like them, we truly believe there’s no place like home.

TABLE OF CONTENTS HEART 42 / A GOOD LISTENER Dowagiac woman offers online support to people coping with hearing loss 47 / SERVING THE FORGOTTEN Local ministry transforming lives at Cass County Jail 50 / MEMORY KEEPER Dowagiac man gives back using passion for photography 52 / MAN’S BEST FRIEND Therapy dogs show heart for healing those in need 55 / WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Standout athletes go the distance to play college, professional sports 66 / MISSION ACCOMPLISHED Veteran educator devoted 31 years to service


79 / PORTRAITS OF COURAGE Bravery is personified in these professionals 87 / WHAT IS COURAGE? Niles third-graders weigh in on definition of bravery 88 / REACHING THE HIGH NOTES Siblings take a leap of faith into music industry

69 / SHOWING THE ROPES Dowagiac veteran shares passion for boxing 72 / UNSUNG HEROES Community members recognize peers with giving hearts

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” —“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” L. Frank Baum

93 / LOVE IS LOVE Same-sex couple shares experience raising family in southwest Michigan 96 / ONE STEP AT A TIME Dowagiac man shares story of recovery

9 / YOUNG LEADERS Business-minded young professionals paving path for future of their communities

96 / REACHING NEW HEIGHTS Local teen first female BMX freestyler to win the world championship

21 / SHINING STARS Meet some of the brightest graduates in the Class of 2018

104 / DEFYING THE ODDS Niles teen learns to walk again after accident

28 / BEHIND THE SCREEN Go inside the minds of Dungeon Masters

108 / MICHIANA MARKETPLACE Your guide to businesses throughout southwest Michigan and northern Indaina


31 / IS THAT YOUR FINAL ANSWER? Local restaurants bank on trivia craze 35 / JUSTICE FOR ALL Prosecutor uses exceptional brain to aid others

There’s no place like home | HORIZONS 2018


“Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get.” — L. Frank Baum, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

brains There’s no place like home | HORIZONS 2018





ach generation brings a new perspective to the communities they serve. Building off the foundation built by their predecessors, these young professionals bring what one Niles man calls a “fresh perspective,” offering continued growth in an ever-evolving world. These individuals understand the balance between preserving what has worked in the past, and shaking things up to try new opportunities in the future. Because of individuals like them, the communities in southwest Michigan are prospering, developing to match the needs and desires of younger individuals. Recognizing momentum throughout the past year, we talked to six individuals under 40 who are taking the lead in making positive change in their communities. These young leaders have the brains to solve problems, the heart to devote to their mission, and the courage to get things done. There’s no place like home | HORIZONS 2018


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Nick Shelton Mayor, Niles Story AMBROSIA NELDON Photos EMILY SOBECKI/FILE


n a warm summer day just a few years ago, Nick Shelton was cruising down Main Street on his bicycle when inspiration struck. Not long after being elected mayor of Niles, Shelton shared this memory with an audience of business leaders at a Four Flags Chamber of Commerce dinner, describing what he said was a pivotal moment that changed his life. “I think that’s the moment I fell in love with Niles,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. I always loved our city, but there is something special about taking it in from that vantage point: the breeze in your face, the smell of the river, the bricks on the buildings zooming by while cruising down Main Street. It’s awesome.” A 2004 Brandywine graduate, Shelton grew up on the south side of Niles, but moved to the city years after graduating college. He returned to his hometown to work at his family’s business, Shelton’s Farm Market. Shelton said he had always been an engaged citizen, shopping local whenever possible and volunteering throughout the community, but on that bike ride, something clicked. “As I biked, I saw all of the beauty in our city. I saw all of our potential,” he said. “But I also saw many of our faults. Cracked sidewalks, potholes, vacant storefronts, poverty. Sadly, the list went on. Something needed to change. And I wanted to be part of the change.” Fired up with newfound determination, Shelton found an opportunity to fuel his new goal when longtime mayor John McCauslin announced he would retire from his position in 2016. Shelton threw his hat in the ring, spent a summer meeting with constituents to learn what taxpayers were interested in seeing in Niles, and sharing his “fresh perspective” — a campaign slogan playing off his family business, the “fresh specialists.” Shelton was elected by a large margin in November of the same year. “For me, [running for mayor] was a way for me to be a catalyst for change to get more people involved — not necessarily just younger people — but to bring a new energy to the city and get more people involved,” he said. Since then, Shelton said attendance

at city council meetings has increased significantly, and more residents are sharing their ideas and concerns. As mayor, Shelton has helped to facilitate a number of projects to improve the city, including a façade improvement program to aesthetically enhance downtown storefronts. Intent on creating new jobs and commercial opportunities for current and future Niles residents, the mayor has done his part to forge partnerships with key businesses like Indeck Energy. In the last 18 months, the downtown district has transformed dramatically, with new businesses opening doors almost monthly. Traffic has steadily increased on Main Street as new shops and restaurants have populated the area, and while many downtown business owners attribute a newfound “energy” in downtown to Shelton’s leadership in the community, the mayor said he cannot take credit for this growth. “I got involved at a time where a new generation of entrepreneurs were getting excited about the city,” he said.

“There is this new energy in Niles, and I think we are doing better to make our city an environment where people want to be, where they can be excited, and where they want to start a business.” Shelton said he possesses an “entrepreneurial spirit” that helps him see the potential in Niles, not only in the downtown shopping district, but in the entire city limits. While he feels building a prosperous downtown is a large component of a successful city, he knows another important element is creating a community where people not only want to visit, but also want to live. “Moving forward, the key is getting people involved and getting people excited, continuing to get Niles to be a place where people want to establish roots,” he said. Shelton said that many longtime Niles residents miss the city Niles once was, when major retailers like Montgomery Ward and Woolworth’s lined Main Street. Although these major retailers drew foot traffic and contributed to a prosperous economy, online retailers have changed the way people shop for

goods, making high-trafficked shopping malls more appealing to big box department stores. “We need to think about the future differently than we’ve thought about the past,” he said. “To make our community more desirable, we need to make our community a place where people want to go.” Known for his charisma, Shelton can often be found rallying the troops to advocate positive change, whether by organizing cleanup days in Riverfront Park, or by challenging angry residents to speak up and share their views in council meetings. While he attributes the success of a rapidly growing city of Niles to key leaders like city administrator Ric Huff and business owners like Bryan Williams, he recognizes that his love for Niles can be contagious. “I’m passionate about Niles because it’s home,” he said. “Even when I wasn’t here, it was always home for me. It’s where I wanted to be, and I’m leading with passion and excitement. I want to keep the energy fresh and exciting.”

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Jennifer Mackling Edwardsburg Sports Complex, Edwardsburg Story SARAH CULTON Photos EMILY SOBECKI


he sun beamed in from a window to her right as Edwardsburg resident Jennifer Mackling’s laptop dinged with another email, the third in the space of minutes. “Sorry about that,” she apologized, pressing down hard on the volume key to silence the distraction. “That happens a lot. Seems like there is always something to take care of.” Like most young people in their early 20s, Mackling enjoys being active, going to concerts and spending time with her family. However, at just 24 years of age, she is running one of Edwardsburg’s largest nonprofit organizations, which drives her hectic schedule. In 2015, Mackling took on the role of executive director of the Edwardsburg Sports Complex, a nonprofit aimed toward providing the Michiana community with sporting fields, playgrounds and other community spaces. Since taking on the role at 22, Mackling said she has been navigating what it means to have such a prominent role in the community at such a young age. “It’s kind of crazy, a little bit,” she said. “I never really expected this all to happen so soon.” Mackling’s story starts out in a way familiar to many millennials. Once she graduated from high school, she left the state and got a degree in recreation, parks and leisure studies from the University of Minnesota. While she enjoyed her time in Minneapolis, Mackling said that her mind was always in Edwardsburg, where she was born and raised. “When I went to Minnesota and I was going through my parks classes and my sports management classes, my gears were always going toward what I was going to do in Edwardsburg and what would fit in Edwardsburg,” she said, “It always came back to what was going to happen here.” Because of this, after graduation, Mackling made her way back to her hometown, which is when she was approached by Ed and Patty Patzer, who founded the ESC in 2005, about the executive director position at the nonprofit.

“We thought she was a great fit, because she was an Edwardsburg person with a lot of interest in seeing the complex be successful,” said Ed, who serves as president of the ESC. “It was important to us to find someone with a vested interest in the complex, and we believe we found that in [Mackling].” Having been involved with the ESC since she was in middle school creating PowerPoint presentations for the complex, Mackling gladly accepted the position, calling it her “dream job.” As executive director, Mackling wears many hats. Any given day of work can include marketing the complex, reaching out to sponsors, working in sports management or even some construction work. “My days can be pretty random, I think, being the only staff person here,” Mackling said of her position. “I love the marketing stuff, but I also do some pretty weird stuff like dealing with the grass and construction. It’s a highly multi-faceted job.” Despite the stress of the constant change from day to day, Mackling said she enjoys the hustle and bustle of the ESC, and works to educate herself on the parts of the job she is not as

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familiar with, going as far as to earn nonprofit leadership certification from the University of Notre Dame. “I don’t know how I would do in a role where I didn’t get to do something different every day,” she said. “If there’s a day that my brain just isn’t working, I can’t sit still or I can’t focus at the computer, there is plenty to do outside. I can always go do something else.” One of the many duties Mackling takes on as executive director is working closely with the Edwardsburg Chamber of Commerce, and serving as the face of the ESC to the Michiana community and contractors with the complex. This is something that she said she can find intimidating. “Sometimes, if I’m trying to make a business phone call, I sound like I’m 15 years old, and I don’t really look that much older in real life,” Mackling said. “There can be a credibility issue with that and being a woman in the sports and the turf grass and construction industries. There is a challenge.” Despite this, Mackling said that in her position, she has learned to stand up for herself, and that she has been blessed with a chamber and other local officials who stand behind her. “She has a strong personality. She’s dealing with outside organizations

and is conveying to them the goals of the sports complex, so she needs a strong personality,” Ed said. “She’s doing a great job. Jennifer brings a young perspective to us, which is the group we are trying to attract. We find her input very valuable.” Calling herself a “pot stirrer” in the village of Edwardsburg, Mackling said she is excited to use her unique position as a young person in a position of influence to inject her hometown with new ideas and energy. “The need for new energy in small towns is so high,” she said. “I definitely stir everything up at the chamber, but they were excited about it, and I feel like people are ready for some new energy.” With the support of the Patzers and the Edwardsburg community, Mackling said she plans to stay put and continue to help the ESC — and the community — grow. “Growing up, I found myself frustrated that so many of my peers wanted to get out so badly, like Edwardsburg was so awful,” she said. “But I think this is a great place to live. I’m always going to try to make it better, and so long as my family is here, I don’t really see myself leaving.”

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Jordan Anderson Baker’s Rhapsody, Dowagiac Story TED YOAKUM Photos EMILY SOBECKI


owagiac’s Jordan Anderson is a problem solver. Just like a scientist working to develop a new chemical or a doctor looking to diagnose an unknown disease, Anderson has a uniform — a dark green apron, in his case. He has his laboratory, located in the heart of downtown, and he has his own set of equipment — only he prefers mixers and pastry bags over beakers and microscopes. Inside the kitchen of his business, The Baker’s Rhapsody, Anderson is always on the case, attempting to crack the latest dilemma that comes across his countertop. These dilemmas include how to recreate the flavor of cocktails in coffee form (without getting customers sloshed in the process), or how to come up with a series of dishes that encapsulates the spirit of perhaps America’s most underappreciated holiday, Festivus (of “Seinfeld” fame). “My favorite thing is the next thing,” Anderson said, when asked what his favorite item to bake was. “I like figuring out new things, and how they work and why they work. When I work something out to the point where we feel like we have it on lock, I pass that on to someone else and I move onto the next thing.” It has been that same sense of adventurousness that led Anderson to become a baker in the first place. This would later drive him to share his passion for confection and community by opening his small-town bakery. Born in Independence, Missouri, Anderson moved around the Midwest as a young child due to his father’s career, with the family eventually moving to South Haven in Michigan when he was in middle school. Although he had helped his grandmother and mother in the kitchen when he was a child, Anderson said that his passion growing up was in the performing arts, such as choir and theater. After graduating from South Haven High School in 2005, Anderson attended Central Michigan University to study music theater, he said. It was college where his passion for food and cooking was ignited, as he started helping his roommate cook meals at their apartment — if for no other reason than a home-cooked meal was leagues better than anything being served at the

school cafeteria, he said. Anderson soon developed a great love of cooking, and began buying as many cookbooks as he could get his hands on, while binge watching shows on the Food Network. For him, the plate was another canvas which he could use to express himself, just like he had been doing through singing and acting. “[Cooking] was a change of pace,” he said. “It was unlike anything I had been doing in school, or in work or anything like that.” Although he finished up his dual majors in music theater and music at CMU in 2010, Anderson knew even before he finished that his destiny awaited him behind the stove, not atop the stage. When his boyfriend at the time took a job in Arizona shortly after his graduation, Anderson decided to move with him south. While there, he began attending a culinary class at Phoenix College, where he was first introduced to baking pastries. Anderson was initially skeptical that someone with an imagination as vivid as his could find the rigid formulas and strict baking times and temperatures that cakes, rolls and pastries require (he described baking as like classical piano, while cooking as like jazz). However, he soon fell in love with baking, a passion

that deepened when he began working at a cake shop. “As you get to know the science and the rules of baking, there can be just as much as [creativity as cooking],” Anderson said. “Yeah, you need precision and you need to follow ‘XYZ’ rules to make sure everything comes out the way you want them to come out, but once you know what you’re doing, and you keep the essential pieces so that your muffin is still a muffin, you can play with different flavors and different designs.” As he rose through the ranks at the cake shop, though, Anderson realized that, instead of following his own dreams, he was just helping another person reach theirs. With that in mind, he decided in 2013 to move to Dowagiac — where his father serves as city manager — and open a bakery of his own. After returning to Michigan, Anderson started his own company, The Baker’s Rhapsody, where he baked cakes, cupcakes and other sweets using a commercial kitchen in Marcellus, while at the same time working as a line chef at several local restaurants. If that was not enough, he, with the assistance of his parents, began looking for place to open a bakery of his own — a small, relaxing place where people can grab

a muffin or cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee and relax. “I wanted to have it be a place that feels very comfortable and cozy, somewhere where people would want to come, sit down and hang out,” Anderson said. In spring 2015, he landed a storefront on Front Street, and worked alongside his mother and father to make it happen, while still juggling his other professional duties. After a lot of long, exhausting days, Anderson finally was ready to take his business out of the oven, opening the doors to The Baker’s Rhapsody storefront in December 2015. The business was a smash hit from the moment it opened, with Anderson nearly running out of his initial batch of baked goods his first day, he said. It has remained a regular destination for many in the Dowagiac area, not just for Anderson’s selection of cupcakes, cookies and breads but for its selection of different specialty coffees as well, including lattes, espressos, cappuccinos and mochas. More than two years after opening the business, Anderson remains as passionate about his craft and his community as ever. “It’s so much fun, and it’s different,” he said. “You think you would fall into routines and stuff like that, but it has not been boring, that’s for sure.”

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Stacey Carlin The Link, Buchanan Story KELSEY HAMMON Photos EMILY SOBECKI


tacey Carlin is always hustin’. Outside of co-hosting a podcast, “Hustlin’ in Heels,” she serves as the brand manager for Honor credit Union, and as secretery for the Buchanan Chamber of Commerce. As if that were not enough, she is the mastermind behind creating a service-oriented volunteer group called The Link. As she has learned while balancing this chaotic schedule, good ideas do not always wait for an opportune moment. This is why the Buchanan woman carries a red notebook with her at all times. While sipping her first cup of coffee or waiting to pick up two of her three children at school, the notebook is always nearby, waiting to capture a fleeting idea. The book’s cover is peppered with pink sticky notes, which also harbor Carlin’s latest thoughts. But Carlin does more than jot down the thoughts that inspire her. She is also the brains behind executing them. On an average day in the spring of 2017 when Carlin was at a friend’s house and simultaneously keeping an eye on her children in the backyard, Carlin and her friends started discussing ways to get young adults more involved in their communities. While today’s service organizations target a variety of local causes, Carlin wanted a fresh approach. In fact, Carlin felt like the Berrien County area already had so many worthy organizations and causes that needed to be “linked” with volunteers. Carlin started formulating the design of a fresh organization that could serve as a bridge between charities and volunteers ready to serve. Subsequently titled “The Link,” Carlin brought the group into reality last year, with the intent of targeting the younger generation as its participants. “We felt like there was this need to step up and become the next generation of leaders, and see what we could do to improve upon what is already going on,” Carlin said. “We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, since there are already so many amazing service organizations.” The Link’s inception began in August 2017, with about 50 participating members. But others soon became inspired by Carlin’s vision and by November 2017, The Link’s participants had already doubled to 100 members. While serving multiple causes was one

aim, Carlin hoped to spur an organization where people could not make the excuse, “I just do not have time to give back.” Instead of coming to regular meetings, Link members can sign up to do as little as one project per year or as much as a project each week, depending on what they have time for. Newsletter updates detail volunteer opportunities and upcoming projects. The information is distributed to group members via email and posted on Facebook. Another aspect of The Link is helping people network. While projects and volunteer opportunities are limited to the Buchanan area, anyone of any community is encouraged to either volunteer or forge partnerships with the group. Regular “Link Ups” are also scheduled and involve visiting a local business for food, drinks and networking opportunities. Such opportunities also remind the younger generation about the importance of connecting with someone face to face, Carlin said. While a growing number of participants seem to suggest The Link’s success, Carlin said all the group has accomplished in its short time indicates that something is working. Because the group is not dedicated to any one particular cause, participants are free to bring new ideas for projects to the table. For example, in October 2017, Carlin said Link participants heard that Redbud Area Ministries Food Pantry was nearly depleted of donations. After

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thinking on it for a bit, Carlin called Harding’s Supermarkets and asked if The Link could put a bin for food collection at the front of the store. Customers could then buy one of the needed goods while making their regular shopping run and donate it before they left the store. The idea worked. Throughout the month, the bin collected more than 700 items of food, enough to help re-stock the food pantry’s shelves. Now, The Link plans to set up a donation box every October to help collect donations during RAM’s dry stretch. There have been many other projects on The Link’s agenda targeted at bettering the Buchanan community, including working with the BuchananGalien Lions Club, the Blue Star Mothers, the annual Make a Difference Day, and the Little Bucks Book Mobile, among many others. “We are seeing where the need is and providing the answer,” Carlin said. “We are providing simple solutions and relying on the love people have for our community.” She thanked her best friends for serving on the executive board, and helping bring her ideas to fruition. “When you have a great team that can work toward a common goal, the possibilities are endless,” Carlin said. Carlin also credits growing up in Buchanan and its community that inspired her. Her dad, Paul Dodson II, was

one such person, who was a dedicated youth sports coach. As a coach, Carlin said she saw her dad put people into situations where they would excel. By connecting people to their community, Carlin said The Link has a similar model. In the classroom, Carlin said she was inspired by multiple teachers, but one in particular comes to mind: Ruth Writer, a social studies teacher with the mantra, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.’” “If you want good things to happen, you have to step up and provide solutions,” Carlin said. “They showed us how to do it and we are just picking up the torch from them and trying to pass it to our kids.” Already, Carlin has inspired her own children: Cy, 9, Katala, 7 and Kaliana, 2, to embrace this spirit. Her children started a campaign to bring carbon monoxide awareness to the community and raised $3,500 to buy 350 carbon monoxide detectors for families in need. The family has dealt with carbon monoxide poisoning personally. There was a leak in their home, and they did not want families to have to go through the incident like they had. Carlin encouraged members of the Michiana community to become inspired by this calling and step up to help, whether by joining The Link or finding another cause to aid their community. “If everybody in our community did just one thing, imagine what we could accomplish,” Carlin said.

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Ben Anderson Department of Public Works, Cassopolis Story SCOTT NOVAK Photos EMILY SOBECKI


assopolis’ Ben Anderson did not grow up dreaming about being the supervisor of the village’s department of public works, but his experiences growing up led him to that position in his hometown. Anderson, 35, is a 2001 graduate of Cassopolis High School and attended Southwestern Michigan College from 2001 to 2003. Growing up, he worked in the restaurant business, and also as a front desk receptionist, an assembly line worker and a welder before joining the Cassopolis DPW in May of 2006 as a crew member. “I worked at probably every small restaurant in this area at a young age,” he said. “Once I was old enough to drive and get a job elsewhere, I left college early and started working at factories, and realized pretty quickly that job was not for me.” Anderson said he realized just how hard factory work was, and although he is not afraid of working hard, it was something he did not want to do for the rest of his life. While he was working as a welder in Middlebury, Indiana, and driving one hour each direction, his mother-inlaw told him about a position that was open with the department of public works. “She said they were hiring, but I really did not know what that meant,” Anderson said. “So, I did [apply], and Ron Bass at the time said I had to have a commercial driver’s license. I went and got a CDL, and came back. He said I could start on Monday.” Anderson said it took him more than a year to understand the difference between working for somebody in the private sector versus working for someone in the public sector. “I thought he was going to fire me,” Anderson said. “But once I figured it out I realized all I had to do was come in here and work hard, and not be an idiot.” Bass encouraged Anderson to take the state’s water exams to earn certification. “I took some exams and did really well on them. I showed it to Ron and he said I had a lot of potential,” Anderson said. “He was going to move me into doing some superintendent work so

that if he was ever to leave I could take his place.” Before any of that training took place, Bass died. “So, I did not have any real professional training for this job, but I came in and the people around me really helped me out,” Anderson said. “We had people here like [ former Police Chief Frank] Williams and [ former treasurer] Cheri Martine. Our [ former village] manager Cindy LaGrow probably had the biggest impact on me. Anderson said he would often talk with LaGrow about water issues, a subject she had little knowledge of. She advised him to join a group of fellow professionals. “She sent me to the American Water Works Association conference one year and I fell in love with the people and the entire conference. She was right,” he said. “That helped bring my level of professionalism up to where it is today. I still go to those conferences.” People like Williams recognize the need to keep young professionals like Anderson in the village, because they have a vested interest in their communities. “It is a plus for the village to have

someone like Ben,” said Williams, who is now a member of the village council. “You have got to have somebody that has knowledge and can do the job that Ben does. With today’s systems and technology, if your lift stations are not working and you do not have proper water flow, where would you be? This community should be really thankful we have got somebody to be able to step in and do what Ben does because it is a thankless job, and I would not want it.” By going to places like San Diego, Texas and Florida, Anderson was able to learn what it took to be a superintendent. He was able to meet other people from small communities, and talk to them about how they run their systems. Now Anderson is in the same position he was when Bass took him under his wing and set him on a career path more than a decade ago. “I would certainly advise [people] to not take the path I took,” he said. “When I talk to kids from our area and some of the summer workers we have, I don’t immediately start talking about the water industry and how they can find a career path there. I say, ‘look,

go get that associate’s degree and this right here and try to be an engineer or just a general focus on whatever it is that you are doing. “Do not wait for it to happen to you. I was really unprepared to be a supervisor of other people when I got here. I definitely encourage college and even trade schools in some cases.” Anderson also uses his prior experiences when dealing not only with his workers, but the public in general. “I find that I have a lot of respect for every person who is working,” he said. “Whether I am going to McDonald’s or Subway for lunch, when I walk up to that person I first ask them how they are doing, because I am just not talking to a machine, but a person. You have to have respect for that person because they are working and they are trying their best. “I do not think workers get enough respect in general. I have scrubbed toilets. I have washed floors and dishes. I am very grateful for the job that I have now, but I am not above doing those things now. I work in the sewer system,” he said. “It humbles a person once you realize you are not just working on one person’s toilet, but everyone’s toilet.”

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or nearly 80 years, the film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s magical story of Dorothy Gale’s pursuit to find home has given children a roadmap to success — one paved with yellow bricks. For the fifth year, Leader Publications tasked the administrators at Brandywine, Buchanan, Cassopolis, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg and Niles high schools with finding one student that represents the mission of their school district. This year, administrators were asked to find one student with exemplary brains, heart and courage. As these children have grown and developed into young adults, they have been seeking the same attributes as Dorothy’s cohorts: the brains to master the courses they have taken, the heart to pursue their passions and help others, and the courage to work hard, break the mold and be confident with they are. As we got to know these outstanding seniors, we were blown away by how far they have made it on their journey.

There is no question these young adults have brains; in fact, many are in the top 5 percent of their graduating class. Niles’ Shining Star has even developed a fully functioning phone app and a business plan to make it profitable. The heart these students exemplify should be an example for people of all ages. One student spends weekends teaching Sunday school and feeding the hungry. Another spends one afternoon per week helping children with autism prepare crafts. Perhaps Dowagiac’s Shining Star described the path to find courage best, as simply becoming comfortable in his own skin. Never afraid of what people think, this senior took the stage at his high school talent show to sing a solo — his first time ever singing for an audience. As you continue down your own path on the proverbial yellow brick road, the 2018 Shining Stars would be great companions. They are Janki Devdhara, Cora Schau, Brandon Anderson, Justin Lyle, Alexa Markel and Alec Janowski.



anki Devdhara’s evenings are filled with the spicy smell of curry. Many nights, she returns home to sounds of prayers being spoken in Gujrati, her native language, as large groups of people gather in her home, sharing their faith late into the night. When she wakes up in the morning, she smells chai tea and biscuits, the familiar scent wafting through her home as she prepares for the day. “And then I walk outside and I’m not in India anymore,” said the 17-year-old, her voice containing a hint of humor that colors most of her conversations. Devdhara then heads to school at Brandywine, where she says for the most part, she is a typical American teenager. “I do stand out. I’m tan all year round!” she said. “I have dark black hair. Obviously I stand out, but I never feel like I don’t belong.” In fact, Devdhara has so embraced the high school experience that she not only participates in nearly every club offered at her high school; she also leads them. “Since middle school, I’ve been the president of my class,” she said. “I like being in that leadership position — the power and the role. I love to be in charge.” Devdhara is also the president of Brandywine’s National Honor Society. She participates in Science Olympiad and Brandywine’s Robotics Club, and represents her school district on Michigan Gateway Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council, a youth philanthropic organization that grants funds to various youth projects. Last fall, she co-founded Brandywine’s first Key Club, a youth branch of the Kiwanis Club, an international organization dedicated to fostering global initiatives. Outside of school, Devdhara keeps busy with volunteer efforts, whether donating her time at Lakeland Hospital, or working with children at the Logan Autism Center in South Bend. “I tried to talk my friends into [volunteering at the Logan Center], but they were super shy,” Devdhara said. “So, I set up a meeting with the lady and she was really excited.” Now, the teenager, who describes herself as “not even a little bit shy,” spends one afternoon a week helping children with autism do art projects. Devdhara finds the experience rewarding, a unique perspective into a different way of life. “I think I learned that I can be part of a community that I’m not naturally part of,” she said of her experience at Logan. “They’re not functioning the way that I am, but I’m still a part of them.” This sentiment is reflected in much of the teenager’s life. She enjoys meeting new people and exploring

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cultures, especially her own. This winter, when most of her friends were baking Christmas cookies or opening presents around the Christmas tree, Devdhara was on the other side of the globe, celebrating her family’s heritage in Bardoli, Gujrat, in India, where her family owns large pieces of land. She excitedly shares customs she experiences in her native country, even acts that may seem peculiar to her peers in Michigan. “Every time I greet somebody that is older than me, I have to bow down and touch their feet to speak their blessing,” she said. “And I am blessed that my

parents have taken me there.” Devdhara said her trip to India was humbling, and reminded her how fortunate she is. “It really makes me look at little things with a different perspective,” she said. “A simple glass of water — millions of people are dying for a glass of water over there.” Devdhara said that while she dreads waking up in the morning to go to school, she is reminded that many girls her age in India are not allowed to continue their education past a certain age. “I go to football games and basketball games — little things we do here that we don’t do there,” she said. “Living life, honestly, from a girl’s perspective really makes a big difference.” Though most teenagers spend their lives trying to blend in, Devdhara feels fortunate that her two cultures help her stand out. “I love it, because it’s who I am. That’s me. My name is Janki,” she said. “I like to be connected with my culture and my heritage, and I don’t want to miss out on that.”



Photo courtesy Harrington Photography


earing oversized sweatpants tucked into boots with a paint-streaked denim shirt, Cora Schau’s dark brown hair spills from a bun as she tosses her head back, captured candidly laughing on camera. In the photograph, the 17-year-old is surrounded by splashes of color, a sea of flowers and greenery on a seablue background. This 23-by-10-foot mural, found on the side of Redbud Fitness Center, was created by the teenager. “It’s really cool and chaotic,” Schau says, describing the work while she was still in the process of painting it. Schau was enlisted by the new fitness center to create the painting after the owner saw pictures of her art circulated on Facebook. “My family on my dad’s side is really big with art. I really love it,” she said. “I have been painting and drawing my whole life. Within the last three years, I’ve grown so much as an artist, and my stuff has been getting known by people.” Schau describes art as a way of coping with life’s stresses, an outlet she has practiced nearly her whole life. “When I was 10 my parents went through a bad divorce,” she said. “When that happened, I used it as an escape. I’m a very anxious person, and I use it as a way to calm me down.” To the average onlooker witnessing Schau participate in any of her many extra-curricular activities, it would be difficult to see that the teenager is nervous as all. In early December, Schau gracefully walked across the stage at Buchanan High School, her painting clothes traded for a champagne-colored evening gown. The sparkly embellishments glittered under the stage lights as a rhinestone crown was placed on top of her head. With a smile spreading across her face, Schau looked across the stage at her twin, Madison, who had just been crowned second runner-up, the tearful smile matched on her sister’s face. “I did not expect what happened at all, and was full of all these thoughts,” Cora recalls, a month after earning the title of Miss Buchanan 2018. “Was I going to represent my community well enough? Or am I good enough to be Miss Buchanan?” Cora said she has since been reassured that she was deserving of her title. “I’m so glad I got this opportunity, though, and this experience has been amazing,” she said. When she is not sketching in her drawing pad or making appearances with her court throughout the region, Cora can be found on the soccer field, on the volleyball court, or at Miss Kim’s School of Dance in Niles, where she has danced for more than 15 years. After high school, Cora plans to attend Michigan State University, where she will begin training to be a

veterinarian, a career she has chosen after years spent on her family’s farm. While a scientific degree may seem an odd match for an artist, Cora says she is up for the challenge, and actually excels at science. “I’ve always been told I’m lucky because I can use both sides of my brain,” she said. While many scientists focus on formulas and codes, Cora uses her right-brained art skills to navigate through her left-brained science skills in her advanced math and anatomy classes. “I use my art in a way that helps me through science, using a bunch of figures and drawings to help me,” she said. “I never found it challenging. I kind of use it to help each other.” As Cora leaves the Redbud City for East Lansing

next fall, she said she will miss the community she grew up in. Until then, though, she intends to spend the year representing what she sees as a growing, thriving city. “It means so much that I know my community stands behind me and it gives me so much pride that this is the community I am able to represent,” she said. “By being Miss Buchanan, it gives me a drive to do better in my community, and to better myself and represent Buchanan to its fullest.”

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or most of his life, those who know Brandon Anderson would agree that his heart bled blue, white and black — beating stronger and stronger each year with Ranger pride. Reflecting on the last 17 years, many of Anderson’s fondest memories are lined in these colors — of blue and white porch lights illuminating the streets of Cassopolis, as he and his teammates departed for games in the state tournament. They were found in seas of fans alongside the football field or basketball court, cheering on small, but mighty teams in all kinds of weather. They were the colors that filled locker rooms, team buses and pep rallies, a bold “7” printed on polyester, a symbol interchangeable for Anderson’s name on the field. “I’ve always really been focused on giving Cass good representation and bringing positivity to the school,” Anderson said. A promising athlete, Anderson earned varsity letters for two sports as a freshman, and a third varsity letter his sophomore year. Depending on the time of year, Anderson could be found on the football field or in the weight room, on the basketball court or running the track. Drawing on lessons he learned while playing sports, the 17-year-old senior says he works hard to set an example for younger students, exemplifying the principles instilled in him by coaches through hard work and discipline. “Because of sports, I am dependable and accountable and responsible,” Anderson said. “I think that’s what our coaches tried to instill in us. They taught us to put in 110 percent every day.” Despite his class-clown tendencies, Anderson said he has always been a dependable student, earning straight A’s throughout high school. In addition to pulling good grades, Anderson felt it was important to give back to his community, and make an impact on his classmates and future generations. Anderson is part of a student-led youth advisory council at his high school, which emphasizes health and wellness among the adolescents there. As part of the student wellness awareness team, Anderson said he feels it is important to support his classmates and communicate ways to help those in need. “We bring awareness about bullying and sexual abuse and things like that,” Anderson said, emphasizing that these difficult conversations are often better handled when discussed among peers. The group organizes a variety of events and efforts to share important messages with students at Ross Beatty High School.

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“When I was a freshman and a sophomore we held — once each year — a ‘Wellness Day’ at our school,” Anderson said. “We had different sessions set up where we would go around and learn about different things, like there was a kickboxing class, and then there was one on healthy eating.” His junior year, the wellness awareness team hung posters and handed out flyers, drawing awareness to various issues, such as sexual assault. “Bullying is probably the biggest [issue],” Anderson said. “It’s not a big thing at Cass because everybody knows everybody, but we want everybody to be able to share and be open about it. I know it made a difference

because we had students that would go to our wellness center and talk to the doctors or talk to our guidance counselor.” More than anything, Anderson said he will miss the impact he was able to make on the Cassopolis school district, which he attended his whole life. “I’m going to miss being a mentor to the younger students and being able to help them and coach them on different things,” he said. After high school, Anderson plans to attend college to study business and marketing, and hopefully bring the same passion he had for his school to entrepreneurship and building other business.



tanding center stage at the high school talent show his junior year, Justin Lyle steps up to the microphone and begins to sing. “You know a dream is like a river, ever changin’ as it flows, and a dreamer’s just a vessel, that must follow where I go” — the start to “The River” by Garth Brooks — echoed through the auditorium. While it takes courage for anyone to sing in front of a crowd, Lyle’s performance was extra anxiety-ridden, as it was his first time singing for an audience. “I can’t sing,” he said. “I’m not a big singer, but I decided to sing in the talent show anyway, for the sole experience of trying something I’ve never done.” The Dowagiac teen was encouraged to sing in the talent show by one of his teachers, Dustin Cornelius, after singing along to a “High School Musical” track after taking the SATs. “I was just messing around, but Corn convinced me to give it a shot,” he said. “Now he calls me Troy Bolton, like the guy in ‘High School Musical.’” Lyle’s high school career is filled with memories like these. While participating in a class project his sophomore year, Lyle had a revelation that changed his high school experience. “We started doing these skits in one of my classes,” he said, explaining how for some, it was uncomfortable to be silly and act out the skits. “I kind of realized if you have fun and enjoy what you do, the judgment that other people give you won’t matter.” Since then, Lyle said he has made a habit of stepping out of his comfort zone, always focused on trying new things and meeting new people. For example, at lunch each day, he makes a point to sit with someone new. “There are a lot of people who sit by themselves, so my friends and I will move from table to table talking to people,” he said. “We try to find time to talk to them, and make them feel less lonely.” Lyle said that oftentimes, it can be difficult to fit in in high school, but he has learned not to pay too much

Photos by Emily Sobecki attention to what other people think. “I think people don’t want to lose their comfort zone,” he said. “I make friends with people who won’t judge me if I’m with my normal group of friends, or if I’m making new friends.” In addition to going out of his way to try new things, Lyle has piled on extracurricular activities during his time at Dowagiac. He is a three-sport athlete — captain of the football and wrestling teams, and a member of the track and field team. “I’m also the president of my National Honor Society chapter, and I’m the president of my Rotary Interact Club,” he said. Lyle is also the treasurer for the Chieftain Heart, Dowagiac’s spirit squad, and the class president for student senate. “I like to see positive change,” he said. “I like to see things — organizations or people in general — thrive and

succeed at whatever they are working to succeed in.” Lyle also volunteers regularly, teaching Sunday School at Holy Maternity of Mary Church in Dowagiac, and serving meals and helping with the food pantry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. In spite of his busy schedule, Lyle

has managed to maintain a 4.0 grade point average at Dowagiac High School. “It took a lot of late nights and a lot of support from those around me,” he said of how he managed to stay on top of his grades with so many other activities. “It’s not all work by myself.”

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ith butterflies in her stomach and a painful memory on her mind, Alexa Markel closes her eyes and reminds herself to breathe. As she waits for the buzzer, she funnels all of her energy into focusing on one goal: crossing the finish line. Weeks before, the then-15-year-old laid in a hospital bed after collapsing on the track, the result of a failed kidney. “I work my body too hard,” said Markel, now 17. Although the doctor suggested she take a break from running track, Markel refused to let her fears overcome her, instead finding ways to remain healthy while pursuing her passion. Markel said she loves to run, but loves the team aspect of track even more. A relay runner, the Edwardsburg teen knows her team depends on her, and has enjoyed being part of a group effort as the Eddies have gained momentum throughout her track career. “Even though the doctor really recommended that going back to track was not what I should have done, there’s a competitiveness in me,” Markel said. “I’m dedicated to my team.” Instead of letting her health problems defeat her, Markel said she learned from the experience, allowing it to guide her toward bigger decisions in positive ways. For example, after returning to school, Markel recalls one teacher in particular, Mrs. Bartz, going out of her way to check on her student’s well-being. “My sophomore year I was out sick when my kidneys went into failure. I was out for a couple of days and my dad told me that Mrs. Bartz was always asking about me,” she said. “When I came back, the first thing Mrs. Bartz did was ask how I was and how she could help. Unlike other teachers giving me homework to catch up on or asking for assignments, she was concerned about me.” Markel was inspired by Bartz, and has since decided to be a math teacher, too. The teen had refrained from entering the education field to follow her own path (her father is EHS principal Ryan Markel, and she has multiple aunts and uncles in the education field), but found her passion was strong enough to pursue, especially with Bartz’s mentorship. In addition to running track, Alexa said she has been proud to be part of a girls basketball team that has grown over the years. “We went from 7-14 to 14-7 in one year,” Alexa said. “Since then we’ve continued to improve. This past year we were 18-2. … This year we only have one loss so far.” Like with her track team, Alexa believes camaraderie is the key to success. “I think the teamwork and the passion that we all have to play the game of basketball [is what has

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changed],” she said. “We all get along really well and support each other.” Alexa said this teamwork is reflected in Edwardsburg as a whole. “Edwardsburg is a great community, not just because of sports and smart kids,” she said. “The people in Edwardsburg are just so helpful and supportive.” As she leaves the community she has called home the last several years, Alexa said she will miss the team spirit and memories made, but looks forward to the next battle to conquer, focused on the finish line.



ore often than not in the summer of 2015, Alec Janowski could be found at Champs Field in Howard Township, coating a tractor with a layer of dust as he hauled equipment, cleared weeds and spread dirt. Originally built by Muhammad Ali when his son, Asaad, was school-aged, Champs Field is the home field for many baseball teams, including Janowski’s Old School Baseball team. Over time, though, heavy use and weather wore on the facility. “The infield was really hard, so every time [players] would slide to base, they would bloody their legs up, or their bats would bounce,” Janowski said. “I just thought I could do something about it.” So, instead of spending his summer at the beach or hanging out at home watching Netflix, the teenager set out to improve the field he had spent so much time on as a baseball player. Janowski led a remodel team, rallying others to help as he cleared overgrown baselines, spread more than 80 tons of dirt and cleaned up the park. “I spent half my summer hauling stuff around,” Janowski said, adding, as if it was no big deal, “I probably put in about 500 hours that summer.” When not catching baseballs or volunteering his time, Janowski often stays in motion, shredding snow on his snowboard in the winter or tearing through dirt tracks on his four-wheeler in the summer. When his muscles are not racing, his mind is. A National Merit Scholar, AP Scholar and soon-to-be valedictorian of Niles High School’s Class of 2018, Janowski has the brains to back up his brawn. Janowski will graduate with credits from Lake Michigan College, in addition to knowledge obtained during several advanced placement classes through Andrews University’s Math and Science Center and other online advanced placement classes offered at Niles.

While he is undecided on where he will study, Janowski knows he will study artificial intelligence, mastering a love for computer science he has honed throughout his high school years. Blending his love for athletics with his passion for technology, Janowski and longtime friend Timothe Smith have developed a phone app that will serve as a tournament developer. The app handles scheduling, facility booking, official recruiting and payment from one vendor to another, among other tasks. “This is an actual app for sports — designed specifically for youth sports,” Janowski said. “We’re trying basically to become the way people schedule tournaments.” Janowski and Smith, a senior at the University of Iowa, have already garnered basic funding and designed the website for the app, and intend to fully roll out the program in summer 2018. “Once we get the app rolling, we’ll be getting some financial investors.” TourneyLink.com sports a Kelly green logo with black letters, and the slogan “Maximum Gameplay. Minimum Cost.” Janowski, the CEO and founder, and Smith, the CTO, promise to “revolutionize tournaments one event at a time.”

While Janowski does not plan to play organized sports in college, he intends to stay true to his roots, drawing on his experience on the field and his aptitude for technology to help others organize tournaments for an affordable price. The Niles High School senior says he is not the typical athlete, or the typical tech-geek, but a blend of both. After being homeschooled

for three years, he said the biggest challenge he faced in his education thus far was finding a way to fit in. Eventually, though, he realized there was no better way to build relationships than to be himself. “I just tried to find good guys that share the same values as me,” Janowski said. “There are a lot of baseball guys that I’ve been kind to and helped with their studies. That’s a great way to build relationships — just being kind.”

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Behind the

screen Inside the minds of Dungeon Masters Story and photos JOE KUHARIC


n the crushing, yellow glow of the darkened city, the red neon lights accenting the exterior of “McHugh’s” fast food joint drone with a deafening thrum. Inside, past the thin, plate-glass windows, an attractive young elf is propped on her elbow against a dingy wall next to an interactive order console. She spots her quarry, a local mobster named Vic Fratelli, sucking down a grease-ball burger in the far corner of the “restaurant,” surrounded by his crew. The elf saunters toward Vic. When she’s within 3 meters, her partner — a Rigger in the van out front — uses his brain to command a tiny spider drone to slip from her pant cuff to monitor the conversation. Vic looks up from his burger. A splotch of condiment stains his lapel. “George Hampton says, ‘hello,’” the elf says. Vic and his crew spring from their seats at the macroplast tabletop and draw their guns. Welcome to the game world Shadowrun.

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Happy accidents “That means you’re ‘sending them a message,’ and want to fight them,” says Niles resident David Hollister, the player of the Rigger. “I didn’t mean to do that. I just wanted to talk!” says Emily French, the elf player, also of Niles. The group shares a laugh, but now it’s up to the Dungeon Master, Earl Shaffer, to figure out what happens next. The three are sitting in a study room at the Niles District Library, the fluorescent lights above humming along like the “McHugh’s.” The study tables have been jammed together in an awkward sort-of rectangle to facilitate the playing mat that serves as the “McHugh’s,” along with dice, paper, books and mini-figurines. Like all pen and paper games, Shadowrun is all about imagination and consequence of action. “[As the Dungeon Master] I have to decide: is [what the players want to do in the situation] a neat idea or is it a stupid idea,” Shaffer says. “If it’s a neat idea, even if it doesn’t work, how can I twist it in a way that works because it’s just really cool? Or is it stupid and no, you deserve the three guards who are now punching you in the face?” Shaffer, a Niles resident, has been playing Dungeons and Dragons — the fantasy pen and paper game — for 16 years, and he has taken on the role of Dungeon Master for about 14 years. But tonight is his first game of Shadowrun. Shaffer feels moderately comfortable running the module, though, because of his experience with D&D. “The biggest difference [between D&D and Shadowrun] is learning the new system,” he says. “D&D is fun and easy! “I’m kinda in a little bit over my head sometimes with Shadowrun,” he says. “I can roleplay it all I want, but then I don’t know what kind of mechanics come with [those actions].” In pen and paper games, the Dungeon Master takes on the role of creating worlds for players and nonplayer characters to inhabit, and is tasked with creating adventures for players to explore. They also control the monsters in a campaign and act as referee by adjudicating rules. Dungeon Masters are not the enemy of the players. Rather, they are the conduit by which the players use their imagination to engage in a living, breathing fantasy world. Shaffer says that he started DMing his games via modules — professionally prewritten campaigns — but soon started making his own worlds and

adventures for his group. The group he plays with meets each Sunday for about six to eight hours of gameplay, and to prepare for that, Shaffer says he needs to spend about three to four hours of preparation beforehand. “I’ll pull open a notebook and go through and jot down some monster stat blocks so I’m not flipping through the book a bajillion-and-a-half times,” he says. “I’ll try to aim long-goal, so if they try to do something ‘stupid’ and jump over a castle wall and throw away everything I’ve worked on [ for the last

four hours] I’ve still got something [ for them to do].” Everything starts with a map. Once the bones of a dungeon are in place, Shaffer says he starts looking for interesting monsters to populate the area and harass the players. He will build loosely toward the long goal of his story arc if possible, but he is aware that the players will likely come up with ludicrous solutions to the problems he carefully crafts to foil them, and he is going to have to come up with new story details on the fly. “I like the off-the-cuff stuff. It’s the

most fun,” he says. “I’ll usually get a really good framework and try to make a dungeon really well, but it’s constantly changing.” A critical role Andrew Huffman, of Edwardsburg, is a fairly new Dungeon Master; he started running his own full campaign about three months ago, but he has been playing D&D for one-and-a-half years. Huffman plays with his family and friends, including a lite version of D&D with his 5-year-old daughter, Alice, nearly every day.

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“The things I would include in a regular D&D session I tone down, but I don’t want to tone them down too much,” he said. “Even though it’s roleplaying and a fantasy setting, it’s good to try to include, I think, real world situations that kids, like Alice, might actually run into. Just a typical example of how to deal with a bully and ‘how would I react to that?’” By playing D&D with Alice, Huffman says he is able to use the game mechanics to teach her patience as well as simple math, and he uses it to foster her imagination. Huffman also uses the storytelling aspect of the game to let Alice explore actions and consequences. “As a kid, Alice doesn’t always think through her actions and how people might react to it,” Huffman said. “Roleplaying is a great avenue to explore what could potentially happen, and she learns that there are always different ways of doing things, and that some of those will be better than others.” Huffman explains that in one gaming session, Alice’s character encountered a dragon, which she immediately attacked. After Huffman acted out the dragon reeling and writhing in pain, Alice realized she hurt the dragon and felt bad for inflicting pain. She decided to put a Band-Aid on the wound she

made in the dragon, and proceeded to speak with it and make it her friend. The skills Huffman uses as a Dungeon Master are infinitely transferable, so he is able to create stories and worlds based on Alice’s favorite characters and cartoons in order to make it relatable to her. Through the stories and worlds Huffman creates and repurposes, he is able to place Alice and her characters in real-world situations (such as dealing with a bully) and allows her to work through possible ways of dealing with the situation before she ever comes across it in life. Huffman says he hopes it will help build a positive ethical framework for his daughter that she will carry with her through life. “I think that by getting [children] involved in roleplaying and letting them act out their character — because their character comes from their own mind — and seeing the choices that their characters make, even though they might not react the way that they themselves would, it’s part of [seeing a child’s] thought process and it’s healthy,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to come together as a family and spend time together. “Some families play Monopoly or

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Scrabble, and some families play Dungeons and Dragons.” What will you do? For players of pen and paper games, a large part of the draw comes from the ability to make choices in an epic setting while participating in fantastical adventures — a lesson Alice is learning at a young age. There is no doubt that, to further the story, the Dungeon Master will ask the players: “What will you do?” As Shaffer and Huffman explain, for the Dungeon Master, it is a moment of total fear and great joy. “My favorite parts are when the party does something cool and unexpected, and they think they’re beating me. I love that part, when they think they’re beating me,” Shaffer says. “You never want to just kill them; you never want to make anything so grueling that it sucks for them. But you want to make it challenging enough. When you make it challenging enough and they still find a way to get around it and they’re super happy about it, that’s what I enjoy.” After having spent more time on the other side of the Dungeon Master screen as a player, Huffman is realizing what it is like to be put in the hot seat and have five players stare at him

expectantly while he has to think of an answer to their questions off the cuff, and how exciting that can be. “The most fun is when you plan something, and the party does something completely different from what you expected and you have to react to it on the fly,” he says. “The other most fun thing [about being a Dungeon Master] is when you have something happen, and you’ve had this event planned, and you see your players react to it in a very positive way.” Huffman and Shaffer both suggest that if people are interested in getting their own D&D campaign up and running, they do not need anything more than a pen, paper and a few dice. Wizards of the Coast, the company that owns Dungeons and Dragons, offers many free resources — including the basic core rulebook, which will allow players to get started — on its website at dnd.wizards.com. As for the story of Vic Fratelli, our elf heroine and our Rigger, the battle, unfortunately, did not end before the evening of gaming did. The end of that story, dear reader, will be left entirely up to you. The endless options of choice and possibility imbued by the power of imagination are the true draw of these games.



Is that your

Southwest Michigan restaurants bank on trivia craze with weekly events



n a Tuesday night at Front Street Pizza Pub in Niles, a group, calling themselves Na/tah/ka, gathered closer together at a high-top table in order to hear each other over the sounds of a crowded bar. “OK, so this is about the nightclub

shooting last year,” said Niles resident Clarissa Lolmaugh, reiterating a question projected on a screen on the far wall of the bar, asking the name of Florida nightclub that saw a shooting in 2016. “Anyone know the answer?” asked another group member, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s Pulse,” Lolmaugh answered

after a pause. “I’m pretty sure the answer is Pulse.” The rest of the patrons at the table nodded in agreement, before writing their answer on a slip of paper and handing it in to the announcer in the back of the bar. After the group has relaxed for a few moments, the announcer comes over the sound system to reveal that Pulse

was indeed the correct answer to the question. “I knew it,” Lolmaugh exclaimed, as the rest of her team let out a cheer. “That’s five points for us.” This all is just part of the Tuesday routine for people of Na/tah/ka, meaning “the land of many lakes,” as the group is a regular at Front Street Pizza Pub’s weekly trivia night.

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“We just come and hang out and drink some beers,” Lolmaugh said. “This is something that we really like to do and try to make it a priority.” Lolmaugh is not the only one who feels this way. Trivia nights have experienced a surge in popularity over the past year in the Michiana region with regular weekly trivia nights taking place at many restaurants and bars, including Joey Armadillo’s, the Brass Eye and Jay’s Lounge in Niles, at Sister Lakes Brewing Company in Dowagiac, and at Lehman’s Farmhouse in Buchanan. The reason for the increase is twofold, according to the business leaders who host these trivia nights. The first is that a trivia night is a fun event to provide for the people living in their community. The second, and more important reason, is that it brings in business. Sarah Martin, 29, is the manager of Front Street Pizza Pub. She said that Front Street began hosting trivia nights every Tuesday in the summer of 2017, when the restaurant was looking to bring in more business on weeknights. “On weekends, we are always packed and geared toward just adults,” Martin said. “So, we wanted something family friendly to bring people in during the week to have fun, and eat and have a drink.” Originally, Front Street’s trivia nights were meant to only run through the summer, but the weekly event proved successful enough to continue year-round. Though Martin cannot attribute a specific figure to how much trivia playing patrons have contributed to Front Street’s earnings, she did say that trivia night brings in steady business that has grown since it started. “Trivia is great for everyone because it’s not just the most educated people who will win,” she said. “It takes a diverse team to have a bit of knowledge about everything. So, everyone can be included, which is what I think makes it popular.” Trivia is not only a money maker for the businesses that host trivia nights. Deb Millin, of Niles, owns and runs media/DJ business Millinova with her husband Brent. Together, the two produce and announce the trivia games at Front Street. She said that, though running trivia games is a gig for her, it is also something she enjoys. “I really like interacting with the community and quizzing people

and trying to stump them,” she said. “I also really like learning from the questions we put together.” Millin said that she takes time to craft a game with a variety of questions that range in subject matter and difficulty level. Sometimes she will take questions from current events she sees in the news, from a trending topic or even information from grade school tests that people have not thought about in their adulthood. “Throughout the week, I tend to keep my eyes and ears peeled for anything I think could be turned

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into a trivia question,” Millin said. “I’m always Googling random facts and doing research to frame things into questions.” Like Martin, Millin said that trivia is something that anyone can enjoy because it is not geared toward any one area of knowledge or experience. “We ask questions about anything and everything, so a good team has people with different areas of knowledge — maybe a sports guy and then also a person in a specialized field,” Millin said. “That’s what makes the game fun and interesting … and keeps them

coming back.” For the people who play trivia, business is not the objective of the game. Instead, players are just looking to relax, have fun with friends and stretch their minds, according to Angelika Anderson, who plays as the team Smart Cookies Tuesdays at Front Street. As she often competes alone, Anderson said she has to challenge herself to learn about a variety of different topics in order to be successful at the game. “I like feeling smart when I get it right. That’s the vain answer for why I like trivia,” Anderson said. “But I also like learning. I always learn something new when I come.” Lolmaugh’s team, Na/tah/ka, agreed, adding that the game offers them a rush of low-stakes competition that helps them ease their minds and destress from the day. Often, their competitiveness is rewarded, as on the night of their interview, the team walked away with a first-place ranking in the trivia competition, and as a result, a $30 gift card from Front Street Pizza Pub. “You might not know every answer, but you are always learning things and having a good time,” Lolmaugh said. “You are drinking, learning and maybe making some money. It’s not a bad way to spend a Tuesday night.”

JUSTICE for all

Cass County prosecutor uses brain to fight drug epidemic Story and photos TED YOAKUM


he largest of missions often begin with the smallest of lessons, as is the case for Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz. Growing up one of five siblings in Grand Rapids, Fitz learned from an early age the difference between right and wrong, and the importance of always trying to do the best by others. His father, Edwin Fitz, was a beloved Lutheran minister who led his children, congregation and community by example, and always strived to put the needs of his family and neighborhood before his own. “I can recall walking down the street once, and throwing my gum wrapper on the ground,” Fitz said. “My dad looked at me and said to me, ‘son, this is

your neighborhood. Pick that up.’ So, I picked it up. I don’t think I’ve littered since.” For nearly 40 years, Fitz has combined the unshakable moral compass he inherited from his father with his sharp, analytic mind and tireless work ethic to help protect men and women across the state of Michigan in the court of law. Fitz, of Cassopolis, has served as the head of the Cass County Prosecutor’s Office since 2003, coming to the southwest corner of the state from Muskegon County. In addition to his work in the courtroom, Fitz has dedicated his time to serving on various boards and organizations dedicated to improving criminal justice in Michigan.

However, a career in law was not the future that Fitz envisioned during his formative years. Like most children of his generation, he and his siblings — as a household of five children, Fitz said his family was one of the smaller ones in his neighborhood — were used to spending most of their days outside the home, from the time they left for school in the morning until dusk, Fitz said. He and the rest of the neighborhood’s children — often 30 or more at once — would gather to play football, basketball or baseball right there on the streets. As a result, Fitz developed a deep passion for sports and athletics, and dreamed of becoming a professional athlete, he said.

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“I was fine being a baseball, basketball or football player,” he said. “I didn’t have a preference.” When Fitz was 13, he and his family moved to Traverse City. While still heavily involved in sports, the teenager began to focus more and more on his studies at school, thanks in large part to the watchful eye of his mother, Beverly, who made sure he and his siblings kept up on their schoolwork. High marks on his report cards translated to hefty scholarships and grants for his college education, which was a tremendous help for he and his family, coming from a household of five children and modest means, Fitz said. He and his siblings also worked summer jobs throughout their teenage years, which helped keep them out of trouble, Fitz said. “From age 13 on, I bought everything I ever owned, with the exception of food and shelter,” he said. “I bought my own clothing. If I wanted to go to the movies, I used my own money.” Discovering a passion After graduating high school, Fitz enrolled at Valparaiso University, where he studied English, journalism and political science before he finally settled on history as his major, he said. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Fitz returned to Traverse City, where he kept himself busy by working for a surveying company, driving a school bus, delivering packages on weekends with UPS, operating a tractor for a local farm and taking a paper delivery route, he said. During this period, he kept in touch with several friends from college who began studying law. These friends convinced Fitz

to return to Valparaiso for law school 18 months later. While not enamored by his classes at first, he eventually became fascinated by criminal law, in particular prosecution, during his second year in law school. In 1982, he took an internship with the St. Clair County Prosecutor’s Office which cemented his newfound passion for the field. In addition to doing pretrial case work and legal writing, his summer-long stint at the prosecutor’s office gave him the chance to try his first jury trial, a domestic violence incident where a man was accused of attacking his girlfriend, Fitz said. “It really personalized it,” he said. “I saw a situation where one citizen had been assaulted by another, and it needed to be addressed. It was an opportunity to do that.” Shortly after graduating law school in 1983, Fitz was hired as an assistant prosecutor with the Tuscola County Prosecutor’s Office. During his five-year stint with the office, he tried more than 50 jury trials, including one of his first cases after arriving, where he successfully convicted someone for stealing 10 cows from a local farm. In 1988, Fitz took a job with the Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office, where he dealt with a much heavier case load due to the increased amount of criminal activity occurring in the community. He quickly became active as the department’s main narcotics prosecutor, where he and his unit helped take down 13 drug kingpins operating in his jurisdiction — one of the highest totals of any county in the state, Fitz said.

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His time dealing with drug cases forever shaped Fitz’s hardline stance on drugs, something he has carried with him through the rest of career, he said. “Drug dealing affects a community far more than even murder does,” Fitz said. “It destroys the community. Kids can’t come out and play. The elderly shut themselves in behind locked doors. Businesses dry up. You create a legion of addicts that are like zombies walking through neighborhoods, whose lives have been destroyed. And why? Because someone wants to make some money. I don’t like the idea of someone making money at the expense of our children.” Fitz later became a homicide prosecutor in Muskegon County, where he tried 19 murder trials. His experiences further hardened his stance on drug dealing, While he did most of his fighting in the courtroom, Fitz was not afraid to do his part to stop crime on the streets as well during his 15-year career in Muskegon. In 1993, while he and another assistant prosecutor were out preparing search warrants for upcoming drug raids, they were alerted that a teenager had snatched a woman’s purse and was running near the location. After chasing the 15-year-old in their car, Fitz — a former cross-country runner who was 35 at the time — dashed out of the vehicle and managed to outrun the teen, grabbing him outside a local elementary school. Taking the helm in Cass County In April 2003, then Cass County Circuit Court Judge Michael Dodge appointed Fitz to take over the Cass

County Prosecutor’s Office following the county and city detectives dedicated to departure of former Prosecutor Scott investigating and catching suspected Teter, who resigned in order to pursue drug dealers and manufacturers, a job with the Michigan Attorney the millage funded a dedicated drug General’s office. prosecutor on top of the other staff Fitz assumed control of an office with members at the office, Fitz said. two other attorneys, both of whom were Though his zero-tolerance approach fresh out of law to drug dealing school. In addition, has softened “Drug dealing affects the new prosecutor somewhat with quickly found the introduction a community far more himself roped into of various courtthan even murder does. It a problem that has m a n d a t e d destroys the community. consumed county t r e a t m e n t Kids can’t come out and law enforcement programs in the for more than county over the play. The elderly shut a decade: past 10 years, Fitz themselves in behind methamphetamine still maintains a locked doors. Businesses abuse. simple philosophy dry up. You create a legion “Some words I’ll when it comes to never forget were dealing with people of addicts that are like from [then Sheriff] who violate drug zombies walking through Joe Underwood, laws: get clean or neighborhoods, whose lives get prison. who said to me, have been destroyed. And ‘you think crack “If you can get off cocaine is bad, wait the drugs, we will why? Because someone until you see meth. give you a shot at wants to make some It’s even worse,’” that,” Fitz said. “If money. I don’t like the idea you can’t, we will Fitz said. “Those of someone making money send you to prison. were certainly accurate words. A drug dealer who at the expense of our Methamphetamine is in prison is not children.” is the most beating up family addictive drug I’ve members. They ever seen.” aren’t shooting other drug dealers. They In 2004, Fitz and Underwood joined aren’t robbing homes. The community forces with then Dowagiac Police Chief is safer when they are off the streets. If Tom Atkinson to promote the creation they can get off the drugs and become of the Cass County Drug Enforcement law abiding citizens, so much the Team through a millage, which was better. If they don’t want to get with the approved by voters later that year. program, we will find a place for them On top of establishing a task force of to stay.”

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Over the last 15 years, Fitz and his team of assistant prosecutors have secured convictions on a number of high profile cases in Cass County, including a handful of murders, such as the killing of Darius Nickens, which occurred in Dowagiac in 2011. In 2017, his office helped bring to a close the 1977 murder of Edwardsburg’s Robert Stasiak, which Fitz said is the oldest cold case killing to be solved in the state of Michigan. Fitz has also been a leader at the state level as well, as a member and past president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, and as chair of the Michigan Crime Victim Services Commission. The prosecutor was instrumental in preserving the state’s truth in sentencing policies when the state was considering relaxing them several years ago. The Cassopolis man also helped bring the state’s restrictions on use of a watercraft while intoxicated in line with standards police use for drunk driving on state roads, prompted by the death of a 7-year-old on Donnell Lake in 2005, who was killed when an intoxicated man operating a jet ski collided with a water tube the child was inside. Fitz still keeps a keychain with the victim’s photo on a bookcase in his office: a reminder of why he does what he does. “There is a thin line between civilization and anarchy — and we are part of that thin blue line,” Fitz said. “We have to be ever vigilant. I truly do believe in the phrase ‘all that is required for evil to prevail is for good men and women to do nothing.’ We are trying to do something. Those are our marching orders.”


“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” — L. Frank Baum, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

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A good


Dowagiac woman offers online support to people experiencing hearing loss



n 2008, Dowagiac resident Wendy Kast was pushing a cart through the aisles at a crowded Costco, squeaky wheels echoing on linoleum floors as she decided what to buy for dinner. The hum of customers talking amongst each other, pushing their own carts, shuffling items on shelves surrounded her. This soundtrack of squeals and chitchat was hardly noticeable — until suddenly there were no sounds at all. “I still remember, my husband was talking to me,” Wendy recalled, relaxing nearly a decade later as she waits for the beep of the coffee maker to let her know that her beverage is ready. “I looked at him and said, ‘I can’t hear a word you’re saying. I’m just reading your lips. I can’t hear anything.’” Kast, 53, grew up with a hearing loss that was discovered when she was 4 years old. The cause of the hearing loss was unknown, so she was fitted for a hearing aid in her worst ear, and continued to live her life like any normal child would. Her hearing remained stable until 1993, when she lost complete hearing in her right ear. Then, on that day in Costco in 2008, she lost her hearing entirely. “It was really disconcerting,” Kast said. “It really happened in a matter of days. My hearing was just gone. It freaked me out. … It was incredibly terrifying.” On July 22, 2008, Kast underwent bilateral cochlear implant surgery, a procedure that would change her life. The implant, which attaches to the back of the head via magnets, bypasses the damaged portions of the ear and transmits sounds to the brain to be interpreted, which allows the recipient to regain hearing. The surgery inspired Kast — who refers to herself as a bionic woman — to start her blog, “Sudden Silence,” to share her experience with the world and help others who are going through what she went through. “There is so little support [ for people

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experiencing hearing loss],” Kast said, as her husband placed a cup of coffee in front of her, barely making a thud on the wooden table. “There was no one who told me where to get an alarm clock that would wake me up, now that I couldn’t hear. There was no one who told me that I needed a doorbell that flashed the lights. There’s no one to tell you how to make your life easier. I had to go online to find out those things on my own. … I do what I can to help others navigate the process.” “Sudden Silence” was launched in April 2008, as an outlet for Kast to share her experiences as she lost her hearing, and later morphed as a way for her to share knowledge and tips with others going through hearing loss. “I just had to do something. I had to get all these thoughts out of my head about what it felt like to lose my hearing, what it felt like to experience these things, like the first time

that I made microwave popcorn and realizing I had no way to know when it was done,” she said, tapping her fingers against her mug. “As I got over the emotion of it all, I started getting frustrated with the lack of help I was getting, and I thought, ‘let me get something out there.’ So, I made posts about how I got over obstacles I experienced on a daily basis and shared any resources I had, like how to use the captioned phone I have.” Once she knew she would be getting cochlear implants, she found other communities online for support, and eventually made several posts on her blog containing information about cochlear implants. Kast believes in the importance of creating online communities, such as her blog, for people with hearing loss, as it can spread information and help people find what might be the right treatment for them.

“It’s not like you walk down the street and find someone with a cochlear implant,” Kast said. “When I [ first lost my hearing], I thought that I was the first person this had ever happened to. It was just terrible, but then you realize that there are others. They are far-flung and not from my town, but I’m not the only one this has happened to. It makes you feel a little less alone.” Kast also shares her stories over Instagram, where she currently has nearly 2,000 followers. There, she shares not only her hearing loss journey, but also her love of cooking and testing recipes. Kast’s family has been supportive of her blog and social media usage, and said that they are glad that she is able to talk to others who are going through what she went through. “It makes her happy,” said Kast’s husband Dave, who is also hearing impaired. “I’m not bothered by it.” Because she has been documenting her experiences for so long, Kast has a reference to look at when recalling her memories, but there are some experiences that she and her family will never forget, even if they were not written down. “I remember this one time, [Wendy] kept asking me what a buzzing noise that she was hearing was. She said that it was annoying her,” Dave said, recalling the memory while clinking a stirring spoon against his cup of coffee. “It was a lawn mower. She was hearing a lawn mower for the first time, because she could hear better with the [cochlear implants] than she ever could with just hearing aids.” One of the stranger things Kast remembers during the

first few months of having the implants is having to relearn how to listen to music. “When I got the [Cochlear implants], it wasn’t like I just heard what I remembered. Everything was a bunch of weird buzzes and clanks that I didn’t recognize. The first time I heard music, it was just like crashing noise. It was awful,” she said. “I just had to keep listening to songs I knew before, and listen to it over and over and over. And each time, it made a little more sense, and eventually, I was able to make out different instruments, which I could never do before.” In the summer of 2017, Kast went to her first concert — Depeche Mode, one of her favorite bands — since getting her cochlear implants, an experience that she said was better thanshe ever imagined. “Being able to hear them properly, without having to take my hearing aids out and have everything

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The first time I heard music, it was just like crashing noise. It was awful. I just had to keep listening to songs I knew before, and listen to it over and over and over. And each time, it made a little more sense, and eventually, I was able to make out different instruments, which I could never do before.”

be muted, was incredible,” Kast said. Because she has had such a positive experience with cochlear implants, and recently received a new pair to improve her hearing even further, Kast plans to continue her blog and sharing her experiences online. “If the information helps one person, that’s great,” she said. “If someone is going through what I went through, I want to make it easier for them than it was for me.”

Serving the

FORGOTTEN Local jail ministry transforming lives of those in need Story and photos TED YOAKUM


lkhart’s Angelo Sebeck does not claim to be perfect. Growing up in New Jersey, Sebeck got into his fair share of trouble. After his mother fell and injured her knees, the 13-year-old teenager began working in order to support his family — as a consequence, he soon started roaming the streets, partying and running afoul of the authorities. However, after moving to the Michiana area in 2003, the man discovered a higher power that saved his life: God. Today, Sebeck is a man on a mission, committed to spreading the good word to those who were once like him — lost, confused and in need of guidance. “The lord gave me a second chance,” Sebeck said. “To keep his message holed up inside of me and not share it with others is selfish.”

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Sebeck has spent the last several years volunteering with the Cass County Forgotten Man Ministries, a jailhouse program that enlists the aid of dedicated ministers, who conduct prayer services and Bible study for men and women imprisoned in Cassopolis. Sebeck lends his gregarious spirit to the program’s Bible studies every Monday, where he works with a group of male inmates. On a snowy Saturday in December, Sebeck made the drive from Indiana to Lindy’s Restaurant in Cassopolis, where he met several other ministers with the program for lunch, as well as leaders with the jail and Cass County Sheriff ’s Office. After happily chatting with old friends, he and the rest of the party made the short journey to the jail, where the Forgotten Man Ministries members hosted the annual Christmas in Jail ceremony. Setting up inside the dimly lit gymnasium, the volunteers set up posters and a projector, which they used to put up lyrics to the various Christmas carols they planned to lead their guests in during the program. As the inmates shuffled in, Sebeck and the others happily greeted them, chatting with them about how they have been holding up and leading them in a prayer. For Sebeck, ceremonies like the Christmas program are what Forgotten Man Ministries is all about — giving the inmates a sense of normalcy in a troubled time in their lives, and providing them with an example of another way they can live their lives. Sebeck first got involved with the ministry after connecting with one of the other ministers at Niles’ Bertrand Bible Church, where he attends services. After joining his friend during one of the visits at the jail, he knew he had found what the lord was calling him to do. “It’s part of my life,” he said. “It’s who I am. I want to help people.” Over the years, Sebeck has witnessed first-hand the power

The lord gave me a second chance. To keep his message holed up inside of me and not share it with others is selfish.” — Angelo Sebeck prayer has on the lives of the inmates he works with, some of whom have never truly had someone show them right from wrong, or grew up without the guidance of their parents. For him, the most impactful moments are seeing men with gruff exteriors — or “big, tattooed guys,” as Sebeck described them — drop their defenses and break down crying, accepting God and wanting to change their lives. “It is more than just Bible study,” Sebeck said. “It’s about growing and

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becoming a better person. Some guys really need that. We all need a friend, someone to talk to.” Joining Sebeck during the Christmas service were Dowagiac’s George and Linda Myrkle. The couple has volunteered for the last seven years, helping out the jail chaplains with the Forgotten Man Ministries’ Sunday services. Like with Sebeck, George and Linda’s volunteerism is personal. When their son was a teenager, he spent several stints in jail. As he has

since turned his life around, Linda said she feels a drive to make sure that others get the same help. “As a mom, I understand what this kind ministry means to other moms,” she said. Like with Sebeck, Linda said the best part of her job is working with the inmates, helping them get closer to God and in, the process, learn that they can make better choices in the future to avoid a life of crime. “We have seen lives turned around,” she said. “It is wonderful.”

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Memory keeper Dowagiac man gives back with passion for photography



midst a renovation project in his Dowagiac home, a long lost memory buried deep in a box of forgotten documents brought tears to Scott Rose’s eyes. Discovered by his wife, Leslyn, the piece of paper appears to be nothing more than a receipt, faded numbers and information detailing a purchase made 40 years ago this spring. To Rose, however, the artifact represents a memory that sparked a lifelong passion — a hobby that bonded him to his father, who passed away last year. Scott’s father, David Rose, was known for his giving heart and his love for coaching and for teaching, among other things. As he grew older, though, Scott realized his father’s knack for taking pictures. “He always had a camera in his hands,” Scott said. Scott recalls borrowing his father’s camera to capture the Blizzard of 1977, trudging through the snow to get the perfect shot of the historic snowstorm. Following in David’s footsteps, Scott took a photography class his senior year, using his father’s camera to snap pictures on class trips and other adventures. “For a graduation gift, [my dad] took me to a camera store and said, ‘Scott, I

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want to get you a camera, but I want it to be a little bit better than the one I have,’” Scott said, stifling tears as he recalls his father’s generosity. So on May 26, 1978, 18-year-old Scott and his father explored the shelves at Prater’s camera store, picking up various Fuji models (the brand suggested by Scott’s teacher, Mr. Walls) and testing the features. Eventually, Scott picked up one camera and said, “I kind of like this one” — an all-manual camera he remembers like the back of his hand. “It had a stick that went up and down on the right of the viewfinder,” Scott said, miming a motion one would use to click a camera shutter. “To push the ISO, which was called ASA back then, you had to turn the knob for your film.” Although Scott took a brief hiatus from photography (other than taking photos of his wife and children, Justin and Kristin), when digital cameras began growing in popularity in the early 2000s, he dove headfirst back into his former passion. Now, any given night of the week, Scott can be found on the sideline of a sporting event, knelt down in front of a stage at a Miss Dowagiac pageant, or capturing memories at a choral performance, so much a fixture in these locations that most everyone in the community knows him by name.

A Chieftain heart Much like his father, Scott is wellknown throughout his community not only for his love of photography, but for his love for helping others. His Facebook page, Photography by Scott Rose, has more than 1,200 likes, and is filled with thousands of photos Scott has taken of Dowagiac students, all of which he shares for free. “Scott is a very humble individual who puts in long hours by investing in the community’s youth,” said Tracy Urbanski, who coordinates the Miss Dowagiac pageant. “He stays back in the shadows celebrating their accomplishments and supporting all they do, with little recognition.” Scott began photographing the Miss Dowagiac pageant several years ago when his daughter competed. He realized in the middle of the pageant that he had not actually watched more than five minutes of the event, as his face was behind the lens the entire night. “I thought, ‘if I can provide these pictures so people can actually watch the pageant and not miss their lovely ladies, how great would that be?’” Scott said. Scott shared a love for athletics with his father, who coached both boys and girls basketball teams at Brandywine. David often hosted basketball clinics, where he would teach athletes of all abilities how to play the game. “He never turned anybody away,” Scott said. “He wanted to help everybody.” Scott is also often found on the basketball court (and at most other athletic events), but instead of coaching athletes, he captures memories for them. “I like going to sporting events, not only getting the athletes pictured, but also the kids in the stands,” he said. Because he attends such a wide array of events, Scott said he can watch students grow up simply by looking through his photo archives. “For kids I know who are graduating, I try to put CDs together with photos of them at different events,” he said. “I’d say I

give away about 15 or 20 at the end of each year.” Scott takes professional senior portraits for several graduating seniors, and this year, decided to offer his expertise for free to seniors having trouble getting senior portraits. One day last fall, Scott set up a studio in the high school and invited seniors to take their yearbook photos. “There are a lot of kids in a lot of families that don’t have the means to put the time and expense into capturing these memories,” Scott said. Like his father, Scott feels it is important to use his skills to help others. “He was always doing things for other people,” Scott said. “I want to do that, too.” In the elements When Scott is not photographing students participating in extra-curricular activities, he is likely to be found hiking through the woods, capturing images of the sun reflecting off a creek, or carefully

trudging through the snow to snap photos of icicles on the St. Joseph lighthouse. For 34 years, Scott has worked at Cook Nuclear Plant, most recently in the environmental department, where he is often immersed in nature. He carries this passion for the outdoors with him after hours, often bringing a camera along on his ventures. Last winter, Scott was able to cross an item off of his photography bucket list when he captured snow coating a thistle plant. In the images, the plants appear to be illuminated by snowflakes dropping all around them, creating a mystical winter scene. “It had to be snowing, and there had to be snow sticking,” Scott said, describing his process. “I had to cover [the plants] with plastic bags to catch the shot, but I got it.” Other photos show dandelions backlit by a sunset, or horses grazing in a pasture. Scott said, to the outsider, he might look a bit crazy while trying to capture

the images. For example, one fall evening, Scott captured a series of photos of Dowagiac’s downtown corridor in the rain. “They had just streetscaped the area, and it was a beautiful thing to capture,” he said. “I lit a couple of speedlights and had to crawl around on the ground. I’m sure there were some people who thought I was a wacko.” In another photo, Scott wanted to capture a shadow walking across a Dowagiac street. “I was the only one around, so I set my timer and I walked in slow motion,” he said, miming a slow-paced walk. “I got some funny looks.” Scott said he does not care how silly he looks while capturing a photo; once he has an image in mind, he commits. Like his father taught him decades ago, when he finds a passion, he pours his heart into it, and the Dowagiac community feels fortunate to share his talents.

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Therapy dogs show heart for healing those in need in Niles Story KELSEY HAMMON


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urning the key in the front door lock after a long day, there is always a great consolation to see a pet eagerly awaiting your return. Whether it is the wagging tail of a dog or rapturous purrs of a cat, animals have a knack for relieving stress and easing daily woes. Perhaps this is why these furry friends have long taken on a bigger role than comforting people on the couch at home. In Niles, therapy dogs have been helping the young and old alike to cope with the day’s challenges — from students roaming the hallways of the high school to a family grieving the loss of a loved one. With the right training, pets can be one of nature’s best medicines.

NILES HIGH SCHOOL When the bell sounds for passing period and teenagers begin pouring into the hallway and rushing to their respective lockers, sophomore Shaye Webb often makes her way through the crowd and to the office of guidance counselor Carrie Rinehart. There, the hustle and bustle of jostling students, classroom deadlines and pressures of being a teen fall away for a moment. It is not just the bright office backlit by afternoon sun that provides solace to students, but rather Rinehart’s counterpart: Derby the therapy dog, who greets everyone who enters the space like an old friend. Since the Niles school board approved a therapy dog in early 2017, Webb has been a frequent visitor of the 7-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, whose chocolate brown fur and tail wags entice students and staff alike. “Even if I am having a rough day, she will put a smile on my face,” Webb said. On an average Friday, Webb is not the only one to spend part of his lunch hour or passing period fawning over the dog. As many as 15 students will cram into the office to pet Derby and sneak her treats from their lunch. “She is innately intuitive,” Rinehart said. “If she hears a student crying down the hall, she will be by the door.” The idea to bring a therapy dog on board was a collaboration between Rinehart and Niles High School Principal Molly Brawley. It was partially spurred by the death of a student in 2016, whose suicide attempt shook the whole community. The faculty poured over every possible tool to give students measures of coping with their grief. Derby was one such tool. “She has been an avenue to start a conversation with the roughly 905 students [who] attend Niles High School,” Rinehart said. “The students genuinely love and feel loved by her.” Derby received her official Therapy Dog Certification before joining the Niles High School team. Since Derby’s arrival, more students than ever have been visiting Rinehart’s office. As they pet the dog, they tend to open up more, whether by simply telling Rinehart about their day or telling her about their troubles. Rinehart said Derby has been the catalyst for change, allowing her to talk more easily with students and take action if they need help with something. When Rinehart was first mulling over the idea, she called Tim Brown, a funeral home director who had recently acquired a therapy dog himself.

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BROWN FUNERAL HOME It has been more than a year since that fateful day when Tim Brown visited Bennignton Hills in Fenton, Michigan, with the hopes of finding the perfect therapy dog. Brown is the owner and operator of Brown Funeral Home, and has run the business on Niles’ Main Street since 2004. That day, as he peered down at the litter of playfully pouncing and fluffy English golden retriever puppies, one dog stuck out among the others. The puppy caught Brown’s eye and began strutting about the kennel with his chest puffed out, almost as if in that moment he knew that he had been chosen. Brown noticed the puppy’s confidence, but noticed that he, while just as playful as his brothers and sisters, also possessed a unique sense of calm. Brown said he knew then that he had found the perfect addition to the staff at Brown Funeral Home. Since then the puppy, Sir Winston Bailey Brown, has been a staff member as well as a family member to those who work at or visit Brown Funeral Home. It may seem a bit unprecedented to have a dog become part of the staff at a funeral home — where most who visit go to grieve, but Brown did some research and noted that therapy dogs had become an integral part of nursing homes, hospitals and schools, offering a sense of comfort and understanding to those

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who need it most. These stories compelled Brown to offer the same to those who walk through the doors of the funeral home. Research also showed that some of the most common breeds with an aptitude for healing are golden retrievers, golden doodles and lab retrievers, Brown said. “I think it’s the floppy ears,” Brown said. When Brown first opened the doors of his business in 2004, he served between 30 to 40 families a year — a far cry from the roughly 300 families the funeral home now serves annually. A brief tour of the facility shows the number of efforts that staff take to make the place feel like one of comfort. Inside the double wooden doors, neatly lined packages of individual Kleenex are at ready disposal. Farther inside, a well-decorated kitchen area, reminiscent of home, offers patrons a hot cup of coffee or tea. The area is complete with an oven, comfy chairs and a phone with a notepad and pen nearby. Much like Winston, these comforts cannot absolve the loss of a loved one, but the environment is created to be a place that offers a bit of refuge and peace during a turbulent time. Winston shares a similar goal. “[Winston] doesn’t diminish grief,” Brown said. “Grief is there and grief is grief, but somehow [Winston] does add a sense of calmness and reassurance. There is a presence that he has about him.”

For the past year, Winston has been training to become a certified therapy dog. Once a week, his trainer comes to work with him and helps him to develop a keen sense for when a person is hurting. He is also trained to recognize those who do not want him to jump on their lap or provide wet puppy kisses. Winston is expected to receive official certification at the beginning of 2018. At the funeral home, Winston can be requested at services or provide comfort as a family grieves for their lost loved one. Brown has seen several occasions first hand where Winston has consoled those who are hurting. One day, a grief-stricken boy was sitting on the stairs of the funeral home while crying. When Brown noticed the child, he set Winston down beside him. Winston turned to the boy and licked the tears from his face. The boy laughed. Since his earliest training days at the funeral home, Winston has become a local celebrity. “We walk Main Street a lot,” Brown said. “People will honk and they say, ‘hi, Winston.’ People automatically know who he is. He’s become quite a popular dog, and he takes it all in stride.” On a wall inside the funeral home, several wooden plaques hold newspaper stories written about Winston’s adoption into the funeral home family, a further sign of the legacy for healing the dog leaves in his wake.



sk 10 boys under 12 years old what they want to be when they grow up, and at least three are apt to answer along the lines of “quarterback,” “pitcher” or “point guard.” By the time they make it to high school, several athletes have their sights set on college ball, but most have moved on from dreams of becoming a professional or star athlete. Among those who do go on to play in college, only a portion find success while balancing a heavy college course load with practices, games and workouts. However, some do. Brandywine’s Jared Owens realized the dream of playing football and running track at Albion College,

Standout athletes go the distance to play college, professional sports Story SCOTT NOVAK Photos EMILY SOBECKI

and years later was recognized for his star athleticism when he was inducted into the college’s hall of fame. David Garner, a Niles graduate, had his pick of three sports to play at the collegiate level. He chose baseball, and went on to star at Michigan State University before being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the seventh round of the 2013 amateur draft. Garner had the unique experience of being coached by a former minor league pitcher, Mike Vota, in high school. Vota, from DuBoise, Pennsylvania, was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 18th round of the 1995 amateur draft after a standout career at Towson University.

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three-sport standout for the Niles Vikings, Garner had his pick of which game to play in college. He looked at basketball and football, as well as baseball, and concluded that his best path to the professional level was with baseball. “I felt it was my best chance to excel at the next level and maybe play at the next level,” he said. “Basketball was probably my favorite sport. I really liked it. I just felt like in basketball your God-given attributes, height and speed, figure more into that.” Garner, 6’1”, knew that no matter his size, his passion for athletics was immeasurable. “You have to have heart in everything you do. With the way I played, there would not have been much out there for me [playing basketball] after high school,” Garner said. “It was the same in football. I did not like to tackle at all. I did not mind picking the ball off or scoring touchdowns. I would have had to have been faster and I did not want to redshirt my first year.” Garner has made a steady climb through the Chicago Cubs minor league, landing at Triple A Iowa to end the 2017 season. After spending three years at Michigan State, Garner was sent to the rookie league in Arizona after the June draft in 2013. “I will never forget that day,” Garner said. In an attempt to shake his rattled nerves, the athlete found a distraction to take his mind off the draft. “I kind of knew where I was going to be drafted,” Garner said. “So, I just went to the zoo. ... I just felt to this day, time has never moved more slowly — from the time I woke up that day until the next day.” The right-handed reliever left for Arizona in mid-January to continue his preparation for the 2018 season. He will not know where he will be assigned this year until right before spring training ends and teams break camp. Thanks in part to Hollywood, Garner said people have a romantic view of what minor league baseball life is like. With five years of experience under his belt, Garner said it is anything but the glamorous lifestyle many expect. “Anything in baseball that is not the ‘show’ is anything but glamorous,” he said. “It is not hard, it is a grind. You have to be able to tell yourself to believe. You have to really stick to that.”

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Name: David Garner Birthplace: Niles High school: Niles College: Michigan State Affiliation: Chicago Cubs Draft: Round 7 (2013) CAREER STATS Year Team 2013: Arizona 2014: Boise 2014: Kane County 2015: South Bend 2015: Myrtle Beach 2016: Tennessee 2017 Tennessee 2017: Iowa

Record 0-2 1-1 1-0 2-0 2-1 1-6 2-2 2-1

ERA 7.98 3.60 4.02 5.33 2.37 4.19 2.16 4.73

Garner said the toughest thing he had to learn his first season was that he was just another player. “You learn that you are nothing,” he said. “You really do not matter. You can be replaced like that. I did not feel like I was cocky or arrogant coming up, but sometimes you feel like, ‘I will be alright.’ But when you get up there is no more of that. There is a new class coming in every year. That was probably the biggest thing.” He also said he had to learn not to call anybody “coach.” “Everything is a first-name basis,” Garner said. “You do not call anybody coach. If you do, they call you out in front of the rest the team. They feel like they are higher than a coach because they are a manager now.” Getting his first call-up to the next level was exciting, but also daunting. “Of course, you are happy and you are one step closer, but you also realize you have so much more to do,” Garner said. “You are happy, you tell your family and friends, and then it is back to game-planning how you are going to get another one.” Getting promoted to the next level is an affirmation that all the hard work is paying off. Garner is hopeful the hard work he put in last season at Tennessee and Iowa, as well as this past offseason, will give him an opportunity to reach Chicago and pitch in the Major Leagues. “If you get moved up for good you have been doing something right,” he said. “You know you are ready to take on that next level.”



fter being a multi-sport standout at Brandywine High School, Jared Owens knew quickly that he was going to be an Albion Briton. “The fit was a no-brainer for me,” he said. “I literally took one visit to there and did not need to go anywhere else. It was the best decision I ever made. Coming off a good football team in high school to a national contending college football team helped make it an easy transition.” Although Albion is a private college with a smaller population than larger state schools, Owens had plenty of adjustments to make as he started his college career. “The Albion experience gave me a chance to experience the different cultures and aspects that they throw at you,” he said. “It is not an easy school whatsoever. It took me a little bit to figure out what I wanted to do.” Name: Jared Owens His football career may have gotten off Birthplace: Niles to a bit of a slow start, but Owens excelled High school: Brandywine on the track immediately at Albion. College: Albion “I came in as a running back, but about Sports played: Football, track a week and a half into camp, coach sat me down in a room and asked me how FOOTBALL ACHIEVEMENTS things were going,” he said. “I said I think 1999: 99-yard kickoff return vs. Hope I need to make a switch, so they moved 1999: Honorable mention All-MIAA me to wide receiver. The rest is history.” The transition from playing high 2000: Second-team All-MIAA as kick returner school to college ball was not necessarily 2001: First-team All-MIAA as kick returner an easy one. "My freshman year — everybody wants TRACK ACHIEVEMENTS to play, but for me it was a lot of practice 1999: MIAA champion 400-meter relay team squads and I was not used to that at all. (42.12) That was really difficult for me, but the 1999: First-team All-MIAA overall goal was to win a conference 2000: MIAA long jump champion (23-8.5) championship and make the playoffs 2000: First-team All-MIAA and compete for a national title.” 2001: MIAA long jump champion (22-11.5) Owens’ experience running for Albion 2001: MIAA 400-meter relay champion (41.9) was a bit different. 2001: First-team All-MIAA “Track was, ‘go out and see what happens.’ I came out with a bang my 2002: MIAA long jump champion (23-8.75) freshman year," he said. “There was one 2002: First-team All-MIAA goal in track that I never accomplished — winning a national championship.” Owens would scratch on his final collegiate jump trying to claim that elusive championship. “I am not upset about that at all because I left it all out on the track,” he said. His athletic accomplishments, which included being a six-time All-MIAA honoree in track and football, earned Owens a spot in the Albion Hall of Fame. He was inducted last fall as one of 11 individuals and three teams. “The athletic director at Albion [Bobby Lee], who had just become the AD there as I was going through Albion, calls me,” Owens said. “I honestly thought it was going to happen six years earlier, because you become eligible after 10 years. So, it did not happen that first year, I remember my coach, Lance Coleman, talking with him about his 10th year and not getting inducted. He had to wait until his 11th year. “That year came along, and then the 11th and I was like, ‘o h man, I am not in yet.’ So, when my buddy John went in two years ago, I was like, ‘o h yeah. Here we go.’ As soon as he called me up I was grinning. It was very humbling.”

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ota, who is now the assistant been here,” Vota said. “I came in with the director of the Niles New Tech mindset of no matter how good you are, you program as well as preparing for are only going to see the mound once every his 20th year as the Niles baseball five days. It is my job to protect your arm to get coach, has enjoyed being able to you to the next level if you are that kind of kid. offer advice to his players when it comes to “And even if you are not, I do not want to playing at the college level or taking that ruin the rest of your life. I do not want you to next step into the professional ranks. not be able to lift your arm over your head He, like Garner, was a three-sport when you are 30 years old and you are trying standout at DuBoise Area High School in to play catch with your own kid.” Pennsylvania, and also liked basketball Vota’s approach is to start slow and build over baseball and cross country. up your arm strength so that instead of being However, the summer before his senior tired at the end of the year when the state year of high school he grew and developed tournament rolls around, players are picking his arm strength, which allowed him to up velocity. improve in baseball. Because another Vota said he does not offer advice to player that graduated the year after him players, either about going to college or was drawing a lot of baseball scouts and about being drafted, unless they ask him for college coaches to watch the him, he it. was on scene “I tell them as and offered much as they Name: Mike Vota a scholarship want to know,” he Birthplace: DuBoise, Pennsylvania to Towson said. “If they come High school: DuBoise Area University. to me, I will give After a standout them advice and I College: Towson University career at Towson, will tell them what Affiliation: Chicago White Sox he was drafted in it is like. David and Draft: Round 18 (1995) the 18th round of I usually touch the 1995 amateur base about once Career Stats draft by the Chicago a month or every Year Team Record ERA White Sox. month and a half 1995: Bristol 1-2 4.65 He spent just or so through the 1996: South Bend 2-2 4.57 two seasons in summer just to the minor league, see how it is going. including a stop in I know how tough South Bend with the it is. It is a grind. It then Silver Hawks, where he became familiar is tough to get through. with southwest Michigan. “But I do not want to scare them away from “I went back to Towson just as a pitching it. I tell them to follow their dreams and their coach to get my feet wet in the coaching paths, and I will do anything I can to help arena,” Vota said. “A job happened to open up them get there. But it is not until they get in here in Niles, and I have been here ever since.” that I really start having those conversations.” Vota took the position of a biology teacher Vota understands that pursuing a in August 1999. He moved from teaching to professional baseball career requires a heavy administration in 2011. dose of reality. Vota said what he learned at Towson, both “Sometimes prior to the draft guys will as a player and then as a pitching coach after call me and ask if they should sign or go to he left the minor leagues, he has been able college. We just have an honest conversation to pass on to his players, both in the form of about what they want and what is the reality teaching them the correct way to throw the of it,” Vota said. “Even if you are a high draft ball, and how to prepare to play at the next pick, there is no guarantee you are going to level for those who have that opportunity. make it. You have to have a fallback.” “Even prior to the conversation about the Vota can use his own life story to illustrate rule changes and how we utilize and train that to his players and help them make good pitchers at the high school level, I think we choices moving forward that will last a have always had that approach since I have lifetime.

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MISSION accomplished Veteran educator retires after 31 years of service Story and photo SCOTT NOVAK


t took a leap of faith for Edwardsburg Superintendent Sherman Ostrander to move from Southwestern Michigan College to Edwardsburg 31 years ago, but it has all paid off as he has spent the last 23 years as the district’s superintendent. Ostrander announced he will retire the end of the 2017-18 school year at the Edwardsburg Board of Education meeting Dec. 18, 2017. When June rolls around, Ostrander will end a 45-year run as an educator. “I used to joke around and say ‘30 and done’ or ‘62 and through’ with all of my coaching buddies,” Ostrander said. “Now I look back and say ‘Where did it go?’ Each thing that I have been fortunate enough to do has worked out well for me,” Ostrander, a graduate of Brandywine High School, attended Northern Michigan University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1973. “I was fortunate enough to come back from college and have teaching offers in other locations, and accepted the one in Niles,” he said. Ostrander began his teaching career at Niles in August 1973. He also coached multiple Viking athletic teams, although he is best known for his years as the Niles varsity baseball coach. “I coached three sports my first eight years and baseball forever,” he said. While teaching at Niles, Ostrander earned his master’s degree in educational leadership from Western Michigan University in 1978. He left the Niles district to become the head baseball coach and director of financial aid at Southwestern Michigan College in July 1985. “Then I had another wonderful opportunity that did not require me to relocate when SMC came calling and asked if I was interested,” Ostrander said. “I thought we had a good run in my short time there. Each year we were one game away from the college world series. We reached the regional championship game, which I thought was good for a new program. The college was wonderful to me and so were the people of Dowagiac.” After two years at the college, Edwardsburg inquired whether or not he would be interested in joining its district. “I was gone a lot, so I had to reevaluate,” said Ostrander,

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who spent a lot of time away from home and family while recruiting and coaching games. Ostrander has been married to his wife Beverly for 44 years. They have two sons, Brad and Michael, and five grandchildren. “I was spending most of my summers up at the University of Michigan with that program, and then there was the recruiting, so I was not around much for the little guys,” he said. Ostrander made a two-year commitment to Edwardsburg, which “turned into 31,” he said. He joined the staff in the fall of 1987. “I did a lot of things here,” Ostrander said. “Initially,

I was a high school assistant principal, and then the next year a middle school principal, and then the high school principal. Five years later, I became the assistant superintendent and then they put me in this position.” Ostrander officially became superintendent in July 1994. He took over a district that was in need of updating its curriculum and its facilities. During his tenure, he was named regional Superintendent of the Year, served as North Central Association visitation chairman and was selected as only one of 100 superintendents nationally for membership in the Superintendent’s Institute of America, among other achievements.



“I wanted to instill some pride in our students, so they would say they were proud to go to Edwardsburg and get the orange and blue flowing again. I wanted to modernize and upgrade facilities, and I wanted to get an academic focus that would end up with a good reputation.”

“My goals were pretty simplistic,” Ostrander said. “I wanted to instill some pride in our students, so they would say they were proud to go to Edwardsburg and get the orange and blue flowing again. I wanted to modernize and upgrade facilities, and I wanted to get an academic focus that would end up with a good reputation.” Ostrander can walk out the doors of the district’s administration building at the end of June having checked each of those boxes and more. Under his guidance, Edwardsburg achieved Blue Ribbon recognition by the Michigan Department of Education for all five schools. The district earned international accreditation by AdvancED/NCA, reached fiscal stability, created the Edwardsburg Public Schools Foundation and established the Edwardsburg Hall of Fame. The district also provided what Ostrander describes as innovative, diverse and inspiring educational opportunities through its middle college, early college online, Berrien Math and Science Center, dual enrollment through Indiana University South Bend and Southwestern Michigan College, and multi-age, looping and gender specific classrooms. The district also upgraded its technology, and successfully passed bond referendums, as well as building and transportation improvements, which included the building of a new high school gymnasium and the performing arts center. “Mr. Ostrander has had an immeasurable impact on our district,” said Edwardsburg School Board President Birdella Holdread. “On behalf of the board, I want to thank him for his time, wisdom and dedication to Edwardsburg Public Schools. We have become the district of choice in southwest Michigan due to Mr. Ostrander’s commitment and perseverance to establish a Tradition of Educational Excellence. His leadership and clear vision for the future will be his lasting legacy for generations of Edwardsburg students to come.” Add to that the revamping of the Eddies’ sports facilities and making its athletic programs among the best in not only southwest Michigan, but the state, and Ostrander has accomplished all that he set out to do. “One goal was, I wanted to leave it better than I found it,” he said. “I think that is arguably the case. I had a lot of friends from the other communities I have been in jokingly say, ‘Sherm, you have done an excellent job with the academics. What about the athletics?’ I told them I was working on it.” Ostrander admitted that changing the athletic culture was a challenge as well. “The key to that was giving them the facilities they were proud of and giving them quality coaches,” he said. “It used to be everybody wanted to play us for homecoming, as the saying goes. Now nobody wants to play us.” Ostrander has always been about the students, be it on the athletic field, in the classroom or as an administrator. He can walk away from Edwardsburg with his head held high and his heart filled with pride for a job well-done. There’s no place like home | HORIZONS 2018 67




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ROPES Dowagiac veteran sharing passion for boxing with community Story TED YOAKUM Photos EMILY SOBECKI


hile his days of jabbing, hooking and upper cutting his way to victory in the squared circle are long behind him, Dowagiac’s Walter Swann is still a prizefighter. These days, though, Swann measures his success not with championship belts or purse money, but the satisfaction of knowing that he is helping others in the community to stay in shape and live a healthier lifestyle. The former professional boxer and U.S. Navy veteran has spent the last 20 years sharing his knowledge of fisticuffs with the people of Dowagiac, through various programs in the community. This fall, Swann began giving boxing instruction lessons at the Cass County Council on Aging Front Street Crossing facility in downtown Dowagiac, where he teaches people of all ages and all walks of life how to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Those worried about getting their bell rung or losing a tooth through the program should fear not. While the coach may be a former competitor in the Olympic Trials, Swann’s instruction is less focused on training locals for their big in-ring debut in the Golden Gloves and more about getting their hearts racing and sweat pumping, the Dowagiac man said. “You don’t need to actually box anybody to get a good workout in boxing,” Swann said. “You don’t even need to box anyone at all. You can just work out, hit the speed bag, the heavy bag, the pads, or jump rope. You don’t ever have to touch anybody else.” There’s no place like home | HORIZONS 2018 69

OPENING BELL Swann has been a student of The Sweet Science of Bruising since his days in the military, though his love of athleticism and competition runs even further back to his childhood, he said. Swann is a native of Salisbury, North Carolina. He grew up on his family’s farm as the youngest of 10 children. As a teenager, he began playing semiprofessional baseball with the Salisbury All Stars — in 1961, he had the chance to play in a game against legendary pitcher Satchel Paige: who struck him out immediately, Swann said. “I watched three straight balls fly straight by me,” he said. The following year, Swann graduated from Dunbar High School in East Spencer, North Carolina. While he held a number of different jobs in high school — including as a bus driver, ferrying his fellow students to class — Swann decided to enlist in the military after receiving his diploma, and followed in one of his older brother’s footsteps by joining the Navy. While in boot camp at the Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois, one of Swann’s superiors suggested that he compete in a “smoker” boxing match, an amateur competition against members of other Navy companies. As it turned out, the self-proclaimed “country boy” was a natural, swiftly winning the bout, Swann said. “They let me spar one time and they said ‘that’s it, you don’t need to spar anymore,’” Swann said. “Being raised on a farm, I was kind of a rough guy.” After completing his training, Swann was assigned to USS Tom Green County, which was stationed at the U.S. Naval base in Yokosuka, Japan. Feeling seasick during his voyage, Swann began spending a lot of time working out in the gym, where he caught the attention of a coach who asked if he would be interested in joining the Navy’s boxing team. Fighting as a 125-pound featherweight, Swann would periodically get flown from his ship to other Navy bases to compete in boxing matches, he said. His assignments took him throughout Japan, as well as Guam and Hawaii, he said. In 1964, Swann had the opportunity to compete in the U.S. trials for Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The amateur boxer made it through the semifinals in San Francisco, where he was eliminated after losing his bout by judge’s decision, he said. “It was a wonderful experience,” Swann about the trials. “I got to meet a lot of people through it.” Swann left the Navy in 1966, with a record of 39 wins and three losses. FROM FIGHTER TO COACH After his military service, Swann moved to Long Beach, California, where he went to work at the naval shipyard there (which closed in 1997). His transition to civilian life did not temper his passion for pugilism, though. In 1967, he began boxing professionally at The Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, where some of his bouts were broadcast on local TV, Swann said. “A lot of guys, like [Oscar] De La Hoya, they were little back then,” Swann said. “They came up after me. We had some real tough cats out there. They were really good.” Swann hung up his gloves the following year, after a loss at the Honolulu International Center in Hawaii. Following his retirement, Swann spent several years away from boxing. However, he could not resist the siren’s call of the ring for long, as he began working as a trainer — something he continued to do for the next 45 years. “You never get out of it,” Swann said. “It’s like any other sport: football, basketball. You are never out of it because it is part of your life. You want to pass it on to someone else, because you know it can keep them out of trouble or can lead to a lot of things.”

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DOWAGIAC AND BOXING: A ONE-TWO PUNCH In 1996, Swann retired from the shipyard and moved to Dowagiac with his wife, Alice, in order to help take care of her mother. He wasted little time getting back into the swing of things when it came to passing on his knowledge of boxing. He began working as an assistant trainer with the Dowagiac Police Athletic League’s youth boxing program, which he took over in 2005. Operating from a gym inside the former Lincoln School Building, Swann helped train local children in the art of boxing, with several of the program’s students winning Golden Gloves in regional tournaments. However, the PAL program was later shut down, and, in spite of Swann continuing to train children out of the former school building on his own, he was forced to shut down several years later. In 2013, Swann started a boxing program at Southwestern Michigan College as well. Swann’s motivation for coaching is simple: he wants to get youth up and moving again, instead of falling prey to a sedentary lifestyle that is made all too easy in today’s society, he said. “I want to get kids active,” Swann said. “My main thing is getting them in shape and exercising, not so much the boxing.” Boxing also gives youth something to work for, as well as provides them with a useful and productive outlet for their energy, Swann said. However, age is no excuse for older people to remain out of the ring, either. Swann himself is an example of that fact. Over the years, Swann has had to roll with some serious punches coming his way in regards to his health. He previously suffered from a heart attack — caused by problems from his exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam — which required him to receive five bypass surgeries, and is currently fighting diabetes, he said. In spite of these challenges, the 76-year-old managed to shed more than 40 pounds between September 2016 and October 2017, through good old diet, exercise — and, of course, putting on the gloves and throwing a few jabs. “[Boxing] keeps you young,” he said. “I’m living proof of that. I’m 76 and I feel good. I feel real good.”

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HEROES Community members recognize peers with giving hearts

ow in its fifth year, Leader Publications’ “Unsung Heroes” recognition is exactly what the name states: a way to honor the men and women in our community who go above and beyond to serve others and make our region a better place to live. Rather than our staff choosing these individuals we asked our readers to tell us about the people who they feel are making a difference but don’t get the recognition they deserve. This is truly just representative of the whole region, as we know there are countless other individuals working behind the scenes to make our communities thrive. All show humility, sacrifice and commitment through leading by example. Here are your 2018 “Unsung Heroes.”


My "Unsung Hero" candidates are Tom and Mary Westgate, of Berrien Center. They do everything and help so many people. They volunteer for the Red Cross, and have recently returned from a three-week stint in Texas helping flood victims. They were also sent to Florida for two weeks to help those flood victims. There was a spot on YouTube recently showing how the Red Cross sets up their "camps" in areas where they are volunteering, and Tom and Mary were featured on the Wood TV program. They volunteer for the ACTION Ministries in Dowagiac, which is a food pantry that operates four different food programs. Tom is

PAULA ROSE a trustee on the ACTION board, and fixes things. They both work all four food giveaways religiously. They volunteer to ring bells for the Salvation Army; and help raise money for the Feed the Hungry program (which provides money for mobile food trucks for Cass County)

in Dowagiac, sponsored by C. Wimberley Ford. They also belong to, and help in many ways, at the First United Methodist Church in Dowagiac. These two people have endless energy and a real heart for helping people. — Karen Benedix

Paula is a phenomenal woman. She is a kindergarten teacher, and makes learning fun for all of her students. She was a foster mom and fostered a total of 17 children. She adopted four and closed her foster license after her recent adoption in April. She is resilient, and she is strong. She deserves every good thing to come to her. She is, and always will be, my hero. — Ally Collins


Bonnie is a retired Dowagiac teacher. She volunteers at The Timbers of Cass County for activities, Dowagiac schools, Fitch Camp and her church. She passes on her love of art. There are probably more. She is rather quiet about what she does. I have never seen her pass up a chance to donate to a worthy cause. If she hears about an individual that needs help, she is there to help. If she sees someone needing a hand, she is there. Knowing her, I am sure there is more. — Joan Belew

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He has devoted his life to helping his mother — driving her, cleaning her house, doing all the groundwork, getting his dad into a nursing home, applying for Medicaid, and later obtaining hospice. The Medicaid process took all his time — very complicated, very difficult — three weeks of work. On top of all this, he had his own work at home, his own obligations. I don’t know how he did it, but he did and still is. In my book, he is a hero. — Helen Ness



We call Jay Clancy the Brett Favre of teaching. She retired years ago, yet manages to be in a classroom daily. She takes on extended subbing positions, spends months in classrooms, and often has a car full of my old toys or books that she is bringing in to the children. She had great intentions upon retiring of living a more relaxed lifestyle that she so deserves, I’m sure, but that simply is not who she is. She loves to serve her community. She throws herself into new teaching positions with new children’s names to learn, new technology to conquer, and long hours to endure because she thrives on watching children reach their potential and grow as learners. Her incredible ability to help others does not stop with the thousands of children she has impacted, and continues to impact as a teacher, however. Jay actively volunteers throughout Niles and Berrien Springs in many ways. She cleans St. Mary’s church, she works the Christian Center, she participates in a garden club with my grandpa, Bob Clancy, she takes her visually impaired friend on shopping trips, and she spent many years volunteering for the Girls on the Run program and both the Berrien Springs and Niles Relay for Life

events. She does all of this while also supporting her family and friends in every way. She has traveled all over the country to watch her granddaughter, Zarah, compete in pageants, and she can be seen at many sporting events for her other three grandchildren, Tori, Erin, and Michael. She participates in a book club, and you can always count on her to make a knockout cheese plate for a party if you ask. She goes above and beyond for anyone and everyone. Jay gives herself to anyone who needs her, even when she is juggling her own struggles. This year, my grandma lost all three of her siblings. While dealing with the heart-breaking passing of her siblings all in such a short amount of time, she never stopped helping others and giving back. For some, community service is a task or a chore. For others, it is a way to gain recognition. For Mrs. Clancy, it is the fuel that she runs off of and what makes her heart whole. She cannot turn off her desire to extend a helping hand to those who need it. She is an upstanding community member and a selfless person that we are incredibly proud to call friend and grandma. — Zarah Skelton and Bridget Mumaw


dinner for young women at SMC, she also is a Young Professional of Greater Dowagiac, president and cofounder of the Inspiration Scholarship Foundation, 100 Women Who Care and many other community involved activities — all this and she is still a great mother who is always willing to give to her community. —Patrick M. Bakeman


The drive she has to make sure that we get the treatment we need is amazing! Valerie truly is a blessing to all. There are no words that could ever thank her enough. Without doubt, she is appreciated and loved by those who really want to change and become more productive members of society, better for themselves and their families. Thank you, Valerie, for being an “Unsung Hero” to many! —Denise Flora

The first lady of Southwestern Michigan College is a true unsung hero. After becoming a lawyer in the state of Michigan by graduating second in her class at Cooley Law School, Sarah has set and accomplished more goals than most would in a lifetime. Not only does she host a mentoring

Valerie is a case manager for the Swift and Sure court program. She goes above and beyond her duties. Her passion is helping the sick (addiction is a disease) through. Her understanding, compassion and love is felt by those in the program. Seven days a week, she tends to our recovery and our well-being. As we continue to grow and move forward she becomes more like family. Her reward is watching us succeed.

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Both Candi and Mike have helped family members and people in the community whenever they can. Niles Lions Club, work, and taking people to doctor appointments are just a few of the ways they help others. They are indeed an incredible, giving couple. —Montgomery Family


Rosie M. Moore (West) was the mother of 10 children, 27 grandchildren and 27 greatgrandchildren. She was a godly woman, a strong woman, smart, funny, and kind and loving. She was our everything. Rosie Moore never asked or borrowed or begged from anyone or for anything. She knew how to sacrifice. Rosie would have given the shirt off her back to help and feed and give to anyone. She was our mother and father. She raised 10 children on her own. Two years ago, we lost our mother to cancer. God took her home. It has been hard on her. Birthdays, holidays, her favorite holiday (Christmas), she gave and asked of nothing. Rosie Moore is our hero, our mother and father, and rock, our everything. —Carla Hill

My mother Dawn passed away on Nov. 11, 2016, after 18 months of fighting lung cancer, at the young age of 44. All the while, she never complained, never asked for help, but still was there for everyone around her. She always opened her heart and her home to all those around her. She is not just a hero because she is my mom, but because she was so well liked and selfless, even in her dying days. She was so well loved that more than 400 people attended her SVG. I mean, that many people wouldn’t show up to a funeral service if the person hadn’t affected their lives in some way. At the age of 22, she battled cancer for the first time with two young children at home, and still finished college while going through chemo. My mother, Dawn Marie Vaughn, is the strongest, bravest, most selfless person I know. I just wish I could have written this while she was still here. I feel someone so brave, strong, and selfless deserves some sort of recognition because that’s what a hero is to me. —Kristen Low



Jeremy Truitt wears a lot of hats. He is the president and founding member of the Young Professionals of Greater Dowagiac, and a member of the Lee Memorial Foundation, Dowagiac Optimist Club, Dowagiac Rotary Club, Cass/ Vandalla Chamber of Commerce, manager of 5/3 in Cassopolis and owns his own DJ company. Jeremy Truitt helps set the standard for community activism by going above and beyond for Dowagiac. He is a true friend to all. —Patrick Bakeman

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Robin was the classroom teacher last year. This year she took a job at the Ad Center. Two days after the new teacher began teaching, she was badly hurt. Robin immediately volunteered to help with questions, computer problems, how-tos on lesson plans, IEPs and data collection. She has been here whenever there is a question, concern or just to check in. —Montgomery family


My daughter Sandra gave up having Thanksgiving dinner with her family, and grandchildren this year, and I asked her if she was sure about this and why? She said, "well Dad, I work with some elderly folks and some are not doing as well — I thought about them and this could be their ‘last’ Thanksgiving dinner together, and I wanted to make it as nice for them as I could by helping out." She is always helping us, (her family), and friends. — Jerry Cantrell


Carol is a retired special-ed teacher who served Berrien RESA for 11 years. Carol is a truly caring person with great energy for her patrons — raising a step granddaughter for the last four or five years has not been easy for Carol but she never gives up! She’s definitely my hero. — John Parker



He has volunteered at the Niles Haunted House for nearly 25 years and is so dependable. He has also been the president of the Apple Festival in the past, and still helps them out when he has the time. You could not ask for a better worker. —Don Kirkendall

Where to start? Mark is and has been a friend for 40 years. He helps his family, especially his mother, at any time of need. He is a wonderful mechanic and keeps everyone’s cars, lawn equipment, etc., running flawlessly. Mark’s help is not restricted to family, but friends like myself and even friends of mine and others. He will very seldom accept any payment for his deeds. Anytime I need help on a project, he is there for me, regardless of time of day or weather conditions. A better machinist and/or welder would be hard pressed for one to find. He worked full-time until retirement age and continues to work a part-time job. There is so much more I could say but I would fill the entire Leader if I were to go into much detail. To me he is the true Unsung Hero. —Larry Ashcraft



Meryl has held many paid and unpaid positions in the community of Edwardsburg. She is currently the Ontwa Township treasurer. She is a member of the Uptown Improvement Association and the Lady Lionesses. Meryl always has a smile and a warm welcome for everyone. She helps many people with whatever they need. No job is just a job for Meryl, it is always an opportunity to help. —Michele Black

Sandy has been a driving force for the Girl Scouts in our area for more than 25 years. She began as a troop leader when her three girls were in scouts. She became a trainer of leaders and now is the community coordinator for all of Cass County and eastern Berrien County. She is a marvelous tutor who loves to work with everyone who is challenged in the areas of reading and math. Sandy is also very active in the Methodist Church. She has been teaching Sunday school and adult Bible study all her adult life. —Michele Black

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COURAGE courage There’s no place like home | HORIZONS 2018 77

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COURAGE What does courage look like? Images of superheroes flexing muscles and daredevils leaping over cars on motorcycles come to mind. Right here in our backyard, there are countless individuals who put their lives on the line, voluntarily working high-stress jobs because the safety of others is their top priority. These individuals personify this character trait, often reserved for fictional characters, offering excellent illustrations of what it means to be courageous. Photos EMILY SOBECKI & KELSEY HAMMON

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Larry Lamb

Niles Fire Department Chief Larry Lamb is one of the most dedicated and courageous firefighters I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Chief Lamb has worked to improve the Niles City Fire Department service delivery to its citizens from the very first day. Chief Lamb created the “Captain Murph and Poky the clown” public education program that educated school age kids for many years with many credited saves. Chief Lamb never settled for good. He would reach out to involve other fire and police department personnel to enhance the safety program. Chief Lamb had the courage to take on both the fire marshal/code enforcement duties, as well as the fire chief duties when he became fire chief. It is no easy job being caught in the middle of tenant/landlord disputes, but Chief Lamb’s main goal is to provide a safe living place for tenants and educating both parties in the part they play. Chief Lamb has always worked to bring compliance of property maintenance code through educating, and getting people to see the positives in a safe clean building and property, instead of enforcement through writing tickets only. Chief Lamb’s dedication and courage really came to light when he forged the way to automatic aid with neighboring fire departments and combined trainings. It was met with resistance by a few politicians and firefighters, but that never stopped him because he knew that the citizens would receive more efficient fire protection and better equipped and trained firefighters. Chief Lamb’s best quality is the fact that he never stops working to improve the Niles City Fire Department and the Niles City Building Safety division so that our citizens can have a safe, warm place to live and work. It’s no small task he has been given, and it comes with more complaints than thanks, but he puts in a full day’s work every single day. — Captain Don Wise, Niles Fire Department

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Michigan State Police Trooper Jesse Binns is one of the most dedicated people to the community he serves that I have worked with in my 27 years of law enforcement. His compassion and desire to help others is evident in his job, his volunteerism as a fireman, and as a Cassopolis school board member. I am proud to say he is a member of the Michigan State Police Niles Post. Courage is measured in many ways, but for law enforcement, it’s an inherent characteristic. From the moment a person begins the Michigan State Police academy until retirement, a state trooper’s courage is challenged. There are many daily instances of courage, from simple to extreme. Giving a death notification, stopping a car, changing a tire with cars speeding by, arresting someone’s abusive loved one, providing first aid, interviewing a child, speaking in front of a group of people, observing horrific crime scenes, or trying to calm a person who is mad — it always takes some form of courage for all of the interactions. Because a police officer has courage doesn’t mean we aren’t affected by what our occupation requires us to face. Without proper ways to relieve that stress, police officers have increased risk for divorce, poor health and substance abuse. — Melinda Logan, assistant post

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Jason Hamel, MD

Lakeland Niles Emergency Emergency room doctors willingly place ourselves in an often chaotic, emotional and stressful environment so that we may have the opportunity to positively impact the lives of our patients and their loved ones. Our patients depend on us to maintain clarity of thought and level heads even in the midst of all the distractors in order to make important decisions regarding their care. —Jason Hamel, MD

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Kaitlyn Sutherland Lakeland Niles Emergency

Life in the ER is a multitude of things all at the same time. It can be fun, challenging, intimidating, rewarding, stressful and downright scary. As a nurse at the beginning of a shift, you never know what you’re walking into or what is going to happen. You have to have courage to do this job. You have to hold true to your beliefs while respecting the beliefs of others. You can’t be afraid to advocate for your patients and do what is right, even if the right thing is the hardest thing to do. It takes courage to be confident in your knowledge, to be able to speak up for those who can’t defend themselves, and to question orders when you believe they’re wrong. Being a nurse is hard no matter where you work. Often times, it’s a thankless job. In the ER, you have to rely heavily on your team. Your coworkers become your family. You build each other up and help each other in times of struggle, both in life and in the workplace. At the end of the day, you’re there to save lives and make a difference. You have to be able to act quickly when every second counts. When lives are on the line, there are no doovers; you only get one shot. Courage is everything when you’re a nurse, especially in the ER. —Kaitlyn Sutherland

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Doug Michels Firefighter, EMT

Firefighter Doug Michels has been serving with the Dowagiac Fire Department since 2009. Prior to that, Doug was a member of the department from about 1988 to 2000. Doug is a Michigan Certified Firefighter II and Fire Officer level II, as well as hazardous materials operations trained, qualified in ice rescue, vehicle extrication and confined space rescue. Doug is also a CPR and first aid instructor, as well as a licensed emergency medical technician. All of these qualifications account for well more than 1,000 hours of training, plus continued training. Most recently, Doug, along with the fire department, became qualified in active shooter rescue task force operations. Doug has been instrumental in helping keep our community a safe place to live and work. For many years, Doug has run the annual Educational Talent Search Junior Fire Academy program, where high school students across Cass County spend a week in Dowagiac working with and learning from firefighters about the science and basic tactics of firefighting suppression operations. This program is an alliance with Southwestern Michigan College. Doug has been awarded Fireman of The Year on a prior occasion, and last year, Doug earned the prestigious Dowagiac Fire Department Life Saving Award for his efforts and actions which saved the life of a motorcycle accident victim. Doug is an important and valuable component to the Dowagiac Fire Department team, and is an example of our motto of service with “compassion, pride and professionalism.” — Guy Evans, deputy fire chief, Dowagiac

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Donny Kennedy U.S. Marine

Since I’m only about a year and a half older than my brother Donny, I can attest to the fact that from the time he was really young, he was looking out for the people he loves. We’re talking as a 3-year-old telling the doctor to back off when our baby sister needed her shots. I can remember him standing up for me in grade school when I was picked on and all the way up to when I called him one day when I was 27 and asked him to drive three hours to pick me up and move me home when I needed help. Donny is a protector — to the core. I think of this part of his personality translated into courage as he grew up. Everyone has a different reason why they might run toward danger when others flee, but I’m quite certain that his drive to protect those he loves as well as those that cannot protect themselves led to his decision to join the United States Marine Corps. Donny left for boot camp shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 and he knew what was going to happen after he finished training. I’m sure he was concerned for his safety, but he was steadfast in his desire to do what he could to defend the United States, and his family. He completed two tours in Iraq and finished his commitment to the Marines. He returned home and resumed civilian life. The scars Veterans carry are not all visible. Donny struggled in silence with the weight of his service to our country for several years. Now he discusses his own battles, and it’s hard to face that kind of pain. His courage to discuss his experiences has morphed into dialogue in our community about the need to reach out to others that may be suffering silently. Proud isn’t a big enough word for how I feel about my brother. — Bethany Cowan

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What is


Third-graders from David Schiele and Cassie Bundy’s classes at Howard-Ellis Elementary were asked who is courageous and what makes them courageous.

COLE WOLLMERS My dad, Sam. He is not afraid of much stuff.

ABIGAIL DEVLESCHOWARD My sister Claire. How she stands up for people.

JACOB KEHOE A military person or a police officer or fireman. By going out and fighting for us and protecting the world.

LAYLA MCCRORY A military person. Going to war.

MIKEY TERRILL My dad Keith. He is not afraid of anything.

KATIE NICHOLS My dad, Justin. Whenever he has something broken on his truck, he fixes it. He always stands up for

LUCAS BENTLEY My uncle John. He stands up for himself.

VINNIE VANCE A firefighter and police officer. Firefighters run into houses and save people’s lives and cops protect us from bad people.

JORDYN MAYERSKY A policeman. They pull over people.

MAX RUCKER Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs. He does a lot of stuff for kids.

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HIGH NOTES Siblings take a leap into the music industry Story SARAH CULTON Photos EMILY SOBECKI


uried behind a maze of leaf blowers, tables and cars in a Niles home’s garage stands a makeshift stage, mostly bare except for a tangle of black cords, a set of microphones, and a few bits and pieces of sound equipment. At the front of the stage, recent Niles High School graduate Chloe Mattiford fumbles with the microphone as her brother Collin plucks a few strings on his guitar, their faces lit by a neon sign above them. “So, should we just get started, then?” Collin asks as his fingers begin to play the opening chords to “Stay with Me,” a 2014 radio hit by Sam Smith.


HORIZONS 2018 | There’s no place like home

There’s no place like home | HORIZONS 2018


It is a Wednesday night as the pair sings together — not too different than any other night for the musically talented siblings. “I love to sing, and Collin is crazy talented with any instrument you give him,” Chloe said. “It’s really cool when we get to play together.” Half-siblings Chloe, 18, and Collin, 24, have loved music for as long as they can remember, ever since they could sing along to the radio. Now that the Mattifords are adults, they said they are hoping to take their love of music to the professional level, despite the challenges they know come with choosing a creative job field. “There’s no guarantee it will work, but there will be a 100-percent chance it won’t work if we just give up,” Collin said. As the oldest, Collin got the earliest start in the music world, falling in love with instruments after mastering Guitar Hero on his gaming station before he reached the age of 10. After that, his stepfather bought him his first guitar and Collin began playing, later going on to write songs and join a number of bands. Currently, he plays in local band The Erly, which plays a mix of pop, rock, blues and folk. The band is currently working with Troy Gray, a producer that has worked with many artists in the Michiana area. Collin said that his stepfather, Robert Fortune, has been one of the biggest influences on his love of music and is one of his biggest supporters. Though Fortune said that he himself is does not have a musical bone in his body, he has always done everything he can to encourage Collin’s music. Starting when Collin was a teenager, Fortune began taking Collin to open mic nights to help him perform, eventually taking Collin to New York City to perform in Times Square. Fortune added that he and Collin’s mother never once questioned Collin’s pursuit of music. “When he was kid, I would never complain about him playing guitar in his room. I would always tell him to turn it up. ‘If you’re playing it, we want to hear it,’” Fortune said. “He’s a hell of a kid, and I love him very much. He’s the kind of kid you want to see succeed.” Even if musical performance does not work out for Collin, he said he always wants to keep music as a focal point of his career, and said that he would be happy


HORIZONS 2018 | There’s no place like home

There’s no guarantee it will work, but there will be a 100-percent chance it won’t work if we just give up. — Collin Mattiford

working as a studio musician that creates background music on recorded tracks. “I just want to create music,” Collin said. “And I want people to enjoy it.” For Chloe, her love of music and performance took a bit longer to foster, as she said she lacked confidence in her voice. “I always did the musicals and stuff in school. I really wanted to do choir, too, but I never knew if I was good enough, so I just stuck with percussion,” she said. Despite this, Chloe eventually found her confidence and a love in performing, dancing and acting. “Growing up, there was never really anything I was good at,” she said. “With soccer and everything else that I’ve tried, I was just mediocre, but singing, I was really good at, so I took that and ran with it.” Chloe and Collin’s father, David Mattiford, said that Chloe has always been a natural performer despite her confidence level, and that when she was young she would perform her own plays and musicals. “It’s always been something that makes her happy and she is so talented,” he said. “I support her 100 percent.” Though Chloe is currently playing her musical and performance career by ear, she said she soon hopes to create an EP, a half album, should she find a producer. “If I ever [ fail at music], I want to go back and do it again,” she said. “If I don’t do this, I don’t know what I would do. Nothing else has ever interested me.” Though the musical siblings are seeking out their own paths in the music world, both said that they find it truly special when they get the chance to perform together. The first time they played together was at the 2016

Niles Miss Apple Festival pageant. To prepare, the pair spent weeks memorizing lyrics and testing out harmonies, an experience that, while tedious, they said they enjoyed. “Together we have found that we are really good,” Chloe said. “[The Apple Festival] was really fun, and it was also really fun to have the time with him.” Since then, the brother/sister duo has performed together a few more times, even collaborating together on Chloe’s first professionally produced music video that she created with Upstate in South Bend. Collin said that working with Chloe is natural, because there is an ease and familiarity that comes with performing with a family member. “She can harmonize like that,” Collin said with a snap of his fingers. “I think she’s a much better singer than me.” Chloe laughed at the thought and tossed back a compliment in stride. “He’s literally amazing. He can play almost anything,” she said. “It’s easier to sing in front of him than in front of complete strangers. I feel comfortable with him.” Having a sibling to work with has made it easier to choose a career path that many people fail in, Chloe and Collin said. “Of course making it in music is difficult,” Collin said. “But, we just have got to push ourselves and challenge ourselves.” Though both Collin and Chloe have experienced discouragement from some about continuing in music, both said that most everyone in their lives has been supportive, none more so than their family. “Both Chloe and Collin, they can be big,” said their father David. “I mean, Niles is a nice place and a nice place to live, but I think they can go somewhere bigger and do something bigger.” Even with each other and their family, the ultimate driving force in Chloe and Collin’s futures in music will be something that all musicians have: a little leap of faith. “It’s one of those things that’s just got to work out,” Collin said. Chloe nodded in agreement. “Basically.”

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DOWAGIAC H& AirEATING Conditioning

LOVE is LOVE Same-sex couple shares what it is like to raise family in St. Joseph Story and photos KELSEY HAMMON


ourteen-year-old George Weber is used to people asking questions about his family. As the second child of two same-sex parents, people often express curiosity. His peers have asked him things like: “Were you born in a test tube?” His 17-year-old sister Catherine has heard similar inquiries, such as: “Why do you have two moms?” “Does this mean you’re gay, too?” “Who’s the real mom?” Sometimes George and Catherine answer, trying to educate those who don’t understand. Other times, it gets to be too exhausting. There’s no place like home | HORIZONS 2018 93


n a typical Friday afternoon, the family gathers in the living room of their home in St. Joseph. In the crockpot, buffalo chicken chili is cooking and will be done in time for dinner. George has returned from school and Catherine has finished her online course work. Ann has finished a day’s work as a tax accountant at Whirlpool. Marci, who works as a stay-at-home-mom, has seen to the daily duties of car pools, errands and her volunteer

work and takes a seat on the couch. Somewhere in their house, the family pet, a socially reclusive cat, hides in the shadows. It’s a portrait of family that likely is not too distant from others winding down before the weekend. But while the Weber family sees their lives and relationships as normal, they have often had to fight hard to convey this to others. When the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 June 26, 2015, to legalize gay marriage across the country, many felt great

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strides in equality for lesbian and gay people had been achieved. People cheered in the streets and the White House façade was lit up in rainbow colored lights to commemorate the historic occasion. But as anyone knows, perception cannot be changed overnight. For many same-sex families, daily life still includes thinking outside of the heterosexual box: will my family be safe in this neighborhood? What types of questions will my children

endure from their peers? How do you ignore people that condemn you to hell because of your sexual orientation? For the Webers, these are the only abnormalities that they identify in an otherwise “normal” life. These are the things that set them apart, but nevertheless motivate them to strive to educate others, while also showing their support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the Berrien County area.

A love story Marci and Ann first met in Rochester, New York. They had both signed up to join the same women’s community choir and Ann took notice of Marci right away. “She had just moved to town,” Ann recalled of their first encounter. “I thought she was beautiful — she thought I was batshit crazy.” This did not seem to deter Marci, who agreed to go out with Ann one night and the couple hit it off. When their relationship became serious, the couple did what most do and started thinking about their future together: they talked about marriage, children, where they would live. On the horizon they saw a promising future, so they arranged for a civil union in 1996, because at the time they could not legally be married. Family and friends gathered in a park outside of Rochester for the occasion, which, while not with much fanfare, was exactly what the couple wanted. Then came their two children — a part of their family history that often gets the most scrutiny. “We did what any other normal couple that has fertility issues would do,” Marci said. “We shopped for genes.” They agreed that Ann would carry the baby. After enduring the psychology visits, obtaining references and passing home visits that come with what is deemed an adoption process for fertility treatment, they were able to bring their daughter Catherine into the world, followed by George, who was born two weeks shy of Catherine’s third birthday. In 2012, the year after New York legalized gay marriage, the couple got married before the justice of peace at the Rochester Courthouse. The wedding was more of a formality than anything — a chance to assure that all legal securities were in place so that their children were rightfully documented as both of theirs. Topping their wedding cake was an ivory colored glass heart that now rests on top of a wooden cabinet, presiding over the family living room. Leaving everything behind When the family car broke down on Church Street in St. Joseph, Ann picked up her phone, but did not know who to call. With family more than 500 miles away, she felt very alone for the first time. “Leaving the safety net behind was probably the hardest thing,” Ann said. Most families who move to a new area will question the safety of their neighborhood. They might ask their realtor or landlord about the crime rates or break in statistics. They might inquire about the schools and distance to the supermarket. But can you ask your realtor if your neighbors are likely to be judgmental about your sexual orientation?

Ann did not ask her realtor, but she did ask her boss at Whirlpool during a job interview. “We wanted a place where we would feel safe,” Ann said. “We had to ask those questions. I had to be upfront in my interview and ask, ‘Is this a place I want to bring my family or not?’” Marci recalled visiting the area and searching for any signs of a pride community. When she saw the rainbow flag indicative of pride support on a brochure advocating for a pride concert, she said she felt relief that the family would once again find a support network outside of family and friends in New York. As any set of parents will do, Marci and Ann sought to find the best schooling for their children. George has high functioning autism and loves music. They wanted to find a place where he would be challenged academically, but also have a good

social environment. For Catherine, they wanted to find a place where she could pursue her passion for Irish dancing. Both are now enrolled in a school that fits these needs. George is a ninth-grader at St. Joseph High School and Catherine takes online courses through Michigan Connections Academy. She continues to pursue her passion for dance at a school in Kalamazoo. Educating others on their family is also a frequent occurrence. Most paperwork from doctor’s offices to schools requires a listing of children’s mother and father, to which, Marci and Ann have to cross it out and write “first” and “second parent.” “We have had to do some educating, because it is a different language to some people,” Marci said. “Sometimes they just are not aware that mother and father figures are ingrained into

everything we have.” Marci has been dedicated to that education and to helping lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons have access to the same support network that gave her relief when she was new to the area. Marci now serves as the vice chair to the OutCenter where she helps to oversee the board. Through her work, Marci still sees discrimination, including youth who come out to their families and are subsequently kicked out. But changing a cultural perception is not something done overnight. In the near future, the family hopes to see a world where if people hate someone it has everything to do with their personality and not their sexual orientation. Until then, they will just keep working to show that their family is similar to that of their peers and co-workers.

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Dowagiac man shares story of recovery Story AMBROSIA NELDON Photos EMILY SOBECKI


n a brisk January afternoon, a tall, slender man in his thirties enters the Baker’s Rhapsody in downtown Dowagiac, his glasses fogged as the winter air follows him into the warm coffee shop. He waves hello to a woman sipping a cup of tea and walks confidently to the front counter, offering a warm smile to the clerk as he orders a hazelnut latte. The two chat like old friends as the man pays and waits for his drink. He nods farewell and makes his way to a cluster of couches nearby. There is a casualness in his demeanor that suggests this is habit, a procedure he follows regularly in a familiar place. In the last 823 days, the Dowagiac man has found comfort in routine, depending on the structure of repetition as a lifeline. Two years and three months earlier, the same man was as much a fixture in another Dowagiac establishment, only instead of warming his hands on a cup of joe on a coffee shop couch, he was more apt to be warming his insides with a cold one — or 10 — on a barstool a few blocks up the street. The man settles on the couch at the coffee shop, his elbows propped on his knees, nursing his latte. He sips the steaming beverage, pauses briefly, and begins to share his story. “My name is Dave Comstock,” he says. “And I am an alcoholic.”

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Facing his demons Walking up the steps of St. Paul Episcopal Church, Comstock’s heartbeat echoes in his ears. The massive white structure looming before him symbolizes the enormity of the battle he is about to fight, the first step of many just on the other side of the door. “My thought the first time I walked up those stairs was, ‘this is Dowagiac. Who’s going to know? Who’s going to see?’” he said. “I was almost ashamed to walk in there.” This was not the first time Comstock had attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, but it was the first time in his hometown. In 2012, Comstock attempted to face his addiction after crashing into a guard rail and stop sign with a full fifth of rum coursing through his veins. “It scared me. I lost my job. My career was gone,” he said. “I was basically 35 years old and starting over.” Frightened by his circumstances, Comstock began attending AA meetings with his father, also an alcoholic, in Eau Claire. “I’d go to a meeting and go right to the bar afterwards and start drinking,” he said. “I realize now that I wasn’t ready to quit then. I was just scared of what happened to me.” Comstock describes his alcoholism as a habit he could control — until he started drinking.

“Everybody’s different,” he said. “There are people who have to have a drink when they first wake up. My main problem is once I started, I couldn’t stop.” At the time, Comstock worked three days a week for an ambulance service, and drank the other four. “One drink led to two, two led to four, four led to closing down the bar and asking for three for the road,” he said. “I didn’t drink every single day of the week 365 days of the year, but I drank more than I didn’t.” Then, in 2015, Comstock was asked to leave Four Winds Casino in Dowagiac when security guards felt he was being disorderly. Barely out of the parking lot, Comstock was stopped by the Pokagon Tribal Police. “I blew a .232 and that was that,” he said. “I went to jail. I got sentenced to Sobriety Court.” Road to recovery Twelve Fridays in a row, Comstock stood before Judge Stacey Rentfrow, who presides over Cass County’s Sobriety Court and various other adult treatment courts. When his name was called, he would stand in front of the judge, who kindly asked how his week had been and what projects he had been working on. “You have been sober 20 days,” she said, two weeks into the program. A round of applause filled the courtroom, encouragement for another week of

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Had I not had that court program, I am 99 percent sure I would not be sitting right here. For all I know, I’d be sitting in jail or prison.”

willpower. “See you next week.” After being accepted to the county’s sobriety court, Comstock’s case manager tailored a program specifically to him, like he had for dozens of other Cass County residents facing addiction. “It’s hard,” he said. “The first step in the 12-step program is ‘admit that you’re powerless over alcohol,’ and you have to do that. If you don’t surrender to your powerlessness over alcohol, you can’t continue.” In the first 90 days, Comstock

attended 90 meetings. Three to four times a week, a case aid would show up randomly at his apartment to test him for drug and alcohol use. He was required to undergo intensive outpatient therapy at Woodlands Behavioral Center in Cassopolis, and attend various other meetings. He was not allowed to visit anywhere that served or sold alcohol. At one point in his treatment, he was prohibited from speaking to any women at all because his case manager found a correlation between Comstock’s relapse and his relationships with women. “Everyone’s program is different,” he said. “For example, I didn’t have to go through as many classes as others did. But the root of the program, like the rules, drug and alcohol testing, checking in with case managers and ultimately living a productive, healthy and sober life is the same. The programs give you a ‘jump start’ in recovery under close supervision.” For 16 months, Comstock was told where he could and could not go and who he could and could not talk to. Meetings and counseling sessions consumed most of his schedule. Although he was not in jail, in many ways, his freedom had been revoked. Nonetheless, Comstock believes Sobriety Court saved his life. “Had I not had that court program, I am 99 percent sure I would not be sitting right here,” he said. “For all I know, I’d be sitting in jail or prison.”

A higher power On a night once reserved for house parties and football tailgates in a past life, Comstock finds a new way to celebrate — the occasion, his sobriety. Inside the walls of Federated Covenant Church, Comstock feels at home, surrounded by accepting, understanding peers with their own demons to chase, and a higher power to keep him on track. Depending on the week, he may lead a discussion, share testimony, or simply bend an ear to a fellow addict as one of the leaders at Celebrate Recovery, a program established by two former meth addicts designed to help people overcome abusive habits. Many of the people who attend Celebrate Recovery battle drug addictions that have caused them to commit serious crimes or lose their families. “Two years ago, some of the people I’ve met in this program, I never would have batted an eye at,” he said. “Call me judgmental, but I never would have befriended them. Now, some of the great friends I’ve made have spent a greater part of their life in prison. … It made me open my eyes to realize they’re people just like me. Hearing their stories helps me. It shows me where I could end up.” Comstock said he is happier now than he has ever been in his life. He feels surrounded by a strong support system, and though he has been sober for more than two years, he knows every day for the rest of his life will be a battle. “Everything in my life is a big ‘yet,’” he said. “I haven’t relapsed yet. I haven’t done drugs yet.” Comstock said all he can do is take it one day at a time. “It does take some strength to walk into a restaurant and order a Diet Coke to eat with my steak and not drink alcohol,” he said. “It’s easier now than I’m sure it would’ve been two years ago, but I didn’t have that opportunity two years ago to do it, because I didn’t have that court program. But tomorrow, who knows where I’ll be?” For now, he will sip his hazelnut latte in a coffee shop on Front Street, comforted by the warmth of his community, and 823 days conquered behind him.


HEIGHTS Buchanan native first female BMX freestyler to win world championship



erched on top of 6-foot tall ramp, Hannah Roberts, 16, of Buchanan, leans back on her bike and doles out pointers to 12-year-old Jacob Rorie. Leading by example, Roberts demonstrates the finesse of gliding down the ramp in her own run. Just months ago, Roberts stood on top of another ramp listening to the roaring crowd as she competed in the FISE World Series 2017 in Chengdu, China. Roberts walked away from the competition with two world cups and as the first woman to win the UCI World Championship. Back home in Michiana, these typical Wednesday night practices at the Kitchen Skate Park in South Bend, Indiana are part of Roberts’ weekly 28- to 36-hour practice routine. As any observer at the park can see, getting advice from Roberts is treasured, helping to conquer the fear of staring down a steep ramp. “When I see someone who needs the help, I try to make it easy for them to learn new stuff,” Roberts said. “The younger guys really think it is cool that I get to travel. A lot of them have told me I am doing what they want to do in life.” Practice makes perfect As the evening progresses, Roberts works her way to the more challenging ramps and the tricks become more complicated and daring. Peeling over the


HORIZONS 2018 | There’s no place like home

top of more than 10-foot ramp, Roberts removes her hand from the handle bars, spreading her arms wide as she glides mid-air for mere seconds, before she returns to the ground with her hands repositioned on the handle bars. Since finding her passion for BMX at the age of 8, Roberts said the Kitchen and its coaches have helped her to grow her skills and achieve fame at an international level. The Kitchen’s park terrain also challenged her skill level with each practice. “It really pushed me as a rider, because you have to learn to ride really big boxes,” Roberts said. “If you can do a trick over these jumps, then you can do it anywhere.” One of Roberts’ earlier coaches, Mark Osbourne, said he instantly recognized Roberts’ talent and passion. “She was so driven,” Osbourne recalled of Roberts’ first sessions. For Roberts, it is easy to picture her very first trick: a tuck no hander, which involved balancing the handlebars in her lap while balancing on the back wheel, without using hands. “When you learn a new trick, you get a lot of adrenaline,” Roberts said. “It was a good feeling. Nothing else can compare to when you land a new trick.” Roberts frequently rode BMX with her cousin Brett Banasiewicz, who founded the Kitchen Skate Park. She credits Banasiewicz for coaching and encouraging her throughout her career. “It’s amazing for me, because I was that young and pushing myself just as hard. Brett was my mentor and so I wanted to do what Brett did for me,” Roberts said.

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Banasiewicz also achieved fame as a BMX rider. In 2012, he fell and sustained a traumatic brain injury that dramatically changed the course of his career. Regardless of the injury, Banasiewicz has continued to be a coach and support Roberts. The support combined with Roberts’ perseverance as a rider has paid off. In November 2017, she had the opportunity to compete in the inaugural world championship contest in Chengdu, China, which was hosted by the International Cycling Organization. She earned two FISE World Cups and became the UCI World Champion. Among the highlights of the freestyle competition, Roberts impressed judges with a cleanly executed backflip with a 180 landing, called a Flair. “When they said I won, it felt like a big relief,” Roberts said. “I work all year to do these contests, so when I found out I won, it was a big release off my shoulders. It was an incredible feeling because you are surrounded by friends and people that you compete with all year. [You get to see] everybody grow as a rider.” She also earned a Vans BMX Pro World Cup while competing in Huntington Beach, California and was named one of the Top 5 Women Riders by Vital BMX. “That’s a pretty decent year,” Roberts said. The victory in China could also mean a chance to compete in the 2020 Olympics. To be in the running, she would have to make the national team two more times and do well at qualifying events. Learning to fly As one might expect, it takes tremendous courage to be a pro-BMX rider. Not only do riders defy gravity with tricks, but they also have to learn how to ride again after a fall. When Roberts was 10 years old, she fell face first down a 6-foot ramp. Her bike landed on top of her, breaking her back. “I was the youngest person the hospital had ever seen with that injury,” Roberts said. “It was definitely a really scary one.” After that injury, Roberts said there was a moment when she considered quitting riding, but while lying in her hospital bed, several pros from the BMX world reached out to her, including renowned biker Scotty Cranmer, encouraging her to get back on her bike and overcome her biggest fear. “When you come back from an injury, it is really hard to get back on pace and progress as much as you need to,” Roberts said. Once she overcomes the fear, Roberts said she can just enjoy the sport and the perk of traveling the globe and meeting some of the world’s best in the sport. 102

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“It’s everything I could ask for,” Roberts said. “I love meeting new people and I love exploring. This is just a way to get there.” Roberts thanked her parents, Rick and Betty, for being there to support her every pedal of the way, whether coming to her practices and filming her so that they can watch the footage and learn where she needs to improve, or helping her get to her next biggest competition. “They are the reason that I am here and I couldn’t ask for better,” Roberts said. Roberts is a Buchanan High School student, where she has also felt great support for her skills as a BMX rider. “Before I left for China, they put up a big sign across the front of the school that read: ‘Good luck, Hannah,’” Roberts said. “This community is just amazing.”

Roberts said she is also happy to see more women participating in competitions and says she typically sees double the number of women competitors than in years past. “The level of riding has just increased drastically and it is cool to see the sport as a whole coming together,” Roberts said. Osbourne said other girls who visit the Kitchen Skate Park watch Roberts practice and it encourages them to be part of the sport. “Hannah Roberts has proven that girls can do this,” Osbourne said. “She has influenced a lot of girls worldwide.” In April, Roberts will compete again for the FISE World Cup this time in Japan. Once again, she is looking to push herself to reach new limits. “You can’t be scared, unless you try,” Roberts said.


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Leader Publications

Defying the Niles teenager making miraculous recovery from spinal injury Story TED YOAKUM Photos EMILY SOBECKI


ILES — Niles’ Caiden Baxter is never one to shy away from a challenge. Since he was a toddler, Baxter has devoted himself to competitive sports. He was not even 3 years old before he started to play baseball, and, in the years that followed, he had done everything from swimming to basketball to biking to track and field — “pretty much any sport,” the teenager said. “I really like being active,” Baxter said. When he is not active, he enjoys some good-natured competition. While relaxing on his couch in front of his Xbox game console, the 17-year-old enjoys playing the team-based wartime shooter “Call of Duty,” or “Fortnite,” a game where players fight against one another to become the last person standing. Baxter pushes himself in the classroom as well. He took his first college course while he was in eighthgrade — English 103, he said — and is currently dual-enrolled at both Southwestern Michigan College and the Berrien County Math & Science Center, which is located on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs. “I wanted a challenge,” Baxter said when asked why he tested into the college-level program. For more than a year, the Niles teenager has been tackling his largest obstacle to date: to walk once again, without the assistance of a walker or cane. Since suffering from a spinal cord injury in October 2016, Baxter has spent countless hours in rehabilitation. Though he still has a way to go before he is back to the condition he was


in before his accident, with the support of his friends and family, the teenager has made tremendous leaps and strides over the past year — including defying doctor’s expectations that he would never escape the confines of a wheelchair. It was on a cornfield outside Niles during the afternoon of Oct. 14, 2016, when Baxter’s life changed. While hanging out at his friend’s place, the two

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decided to drive around the property on a couple of four-wheelers, so that Baxter could check out some of the cool spots on the property, as it was his first time coming out there, he said. Though they were riding pretty slowly, between 10 to 15 mph, Baxter was not familiar with the terrain, and did not notice a drop-off between the field and nearby dirt road until it was too late for him to stop. Though he slammed on the brakes of the four-wheeler, Baxter flipped over the handlebars of the vehicle and crashed to the ground several feet below. At

some point in the tumble, a portion of his spine was crushed, causing him to lose feeling in his legs, Baxter said. “When I went to grab my phone to call someone, I couldn’t feel my hand on my leg,” Baxter said. “It freaked me out for about 60 seconds.” In spite of his fears, and the intense pain he felt throughout his upper body — “like his back was coming through his stomach” as his mother, Lori, said he described it — Baxter managed to call his parents and tell him that he was laying in a cornfield, paralyzed from the waist down. “I was shaken,” Lori said, when describing how she felt listening to her son on the other end of the line. His parents managed to beat the ambulance out the property, with Lori staying by Caiden’s side during the ambulance ride to South Bend Memorial Hospital. Even with his mother’s comfort, the teenager said he accepted that he was completely paralyzed — something doctors at the South Bend hospital believed as well, telling he and his family that his spine was completely severed following an examination, meaning he would never walk again. However, the first signs of hope came while Caiden was being transported via helicopter to IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. “I felt my knees burning on the helicopter, so we knew it was not a complete injury,” Caiden said. “When he said his knees were burning, I started praying,” Lori recalled. “At the end of my prayer, I pictured a man and woman for some reason, though I had no idea why. When we arrived in Indy, they [the pair I envisioned] were part of his medical team. It gave me complete peace about what was happening. It completely took away any fear that I had that he wouldn’t walk again. It was probably the first time in my life where I felt that God was right there.”

There’s no place like home | HORIZONS 2018


Shortly after landing, Caiden was taken into surgery. What was supposed to be a five-hour procedure was completed in less than four, Lori said. While her husband was worried when the family was told that the surgeons had done everything they could do, Lori said her experience on the ride over gave her complete confidence that things would work out. This confidence did not shatter when Caiden was admitted into Mary Free Bed in Grand Rapids to begin rehabilitation shortly after his procedure. Lori was told by one of the facility’s doctors shortly after Caiden’s arrival that if he “had 100 Caidens, that 95 would not move forward in recovery, and only five of them would,” Lori said. “After he told me, I just said ‘OK,’” Lori said. “He said, ‘I don’t think you understand what I’m saying,’ and I told him, ‘I do. You just told me that my son is 1 in 5.’ I knew that [Caiden] was going to get better.” In spite his fears of never walking again right after the accident, Caiden himself was determined to walk again after he started his rehabilitation. He began spending four to five hours a day in physical therapy, often scheduling extra hours with therapists whenever he could to further his progress.


HORIZONS 2018 | There’s no place like home

“He had a choice to put forth a great effort, or to lay in bed and be upset about things,” Lori said. “I was proud to see him choose to work.” Only a few days after his admission into Mary Free Bed, Caiden was able to stand once again. On Nov. 13, he took his first steps since his accident, with assistance of some parallel bars, he said. By the time he left the rehab center, he could walk 2,000 feet in one stretch with the assistance of a walker, he said. Caiden continued to make strides in his recovery after returning home — and was, between rehabilitation exercises, able to make up three and half months’ worth of school work, he said. Though he initially told his mom he was just going to relax and “become a hermit” for the winter, his parents kept him motivated to continue his recovery — his mother would often place his phone across the house and send him text messages, just to get him to get off the couch to answer it. “I haven’t taken my wheelchair out of my house since May of last year,” Caiden said. “Everywhere I go, I’m walking.” In addition to exercises — and the rigors of getting to school and back several times a

week — Caiden and his family have traveled to a specialized rehabilitation center in California twice in the past year, where he spent several hours a day during his stay doing activity-based workouts, often working without leg braces, he said. He also joined a wheelchair-based basketball team, River City Rollers, which he has practiced and played games for since December 2016. “It was exciting,” Caiden said about joining the team. “I love being active, and I love competition. It was cool to be able to do that [play sports again]. Not to brag…but I’m pretty good at it. It’s pretty fast paced and intense. I love it.” In spite of his tremendous progress, Caiden said some days are still a challenge. Thankfully, his family, friends and the greater Niles community is always there to support him, and keep him motivated to push forward. Knowing that many have found his courage and determination inspirational has also been a huge drive for him to keep making progress in his recovery, he said. “It’s a lot easier to keep pushing forward when you know you have a lot of people there to support you, and who are just as excited for your recovery as you are,” Caiden said.

Legacy businesses 165 YEARS


Years of i H story



• Business • Home • Auto • Life • Farm

ASME Pressure Vessel Manufacturer Section l Section lV (HLW) Section Vlll, Div 1 Multiple Internal Coating Capabilities

214 N. 4th Street, Niles • (269) 683-4900 501 Main Street, St. Joseph • (269) 983-7101 www.imsinsuranceagency.com



OF POSITIVE REACTIONS. For a century, Chemical Bank’s hometown approach to banking has remained steadfast and focused on providing personalized banking services. We are as committed to providing the same personalized service to our customers and local communities today, as when we first opened our doors in 1917.


Phone 269.683.1910 l Fax 269.683.1953 l www.nilesst.com





brating Cele

403 N. Main Street, South Bend, IN

www.sbct.org or (574) 234-1112 for complete show schedules & tickets



Cash in your Coins, Jewelry, Gold & Silver WE BUY • SELL • TRADE

Nunemaker’s Coin Shop 2516 Lincolnway West • Mishawaka, IN


In isals! Appra


574-288-7464 Open: Monday – Saturday




A Division of L.L. Johnson Lumber Mfg. Co.




Johnson’s Workbench

51315 Indiana State Route 933 South Bend, IN 46637 574-277-8350 800-292-5937 theworkbench.com



America’s Propane Company Serving Berrien, Cass & St. Joe Counties

(574) 234-4633 • www.amerigas.com 25701 State Road 2, South Bend, IN


Home Improvement Skinner ConStruCtion Co. RESIDENTIAL & COMMERCIAL • New Construction • Home Improvement • Home Repair & Alteration • Insurance Claims Welcome James Skinner, Owner State License #21010857

(269) 684-5004

2220 Yankee, Niles, MI

Relax! Enjoy!

We have the appliance you want.

Open Year Round We do service & repair on all spas!



• Electronic leak detection • Above ground pools • Spa & pool maintenance • Replacement covers • Pool & spa chemicals • Liner replacement • Free water analysis • Large parts inventory • Qualified service technicians


Hours: M-F 10-6, Sat 10-2

160 N. Paw Paw St., Coloma, MI • 269-468-3118


Chimney Cleaning Insured & Bonded • Senior Discounts


Your Hometown Your Hometown Your Hometown SearS Premier Store SearS Premier SearS Premier Store Store

Sears of Dowagiac Sears ofDowagiac Dowagiac Sears of

John Fox (owner) John Fox John Fox(owner) (owner) 56153 m51 South 56153 m51 South • 269-782-1953 56153 m51 South• •269-782-1953 269-782-1953

Premier Store JohnSearSFox, Owner Your Hometown

SearsSouth of Dowagiac 56153 M51 • Dowagiac John Fox (owner) 56153 m51 South • 269-782-1953 269-782-1953

Best of the Best 2017



0 years Over 3 g the i serv n nity! commu

Farm • Residential • Commerical • Lake

Susan Loux

Certified Residential Appraiser License # 1201002510

125 S. Broadway Cassopolis, MI 49031

Office: 269/445-2633 Fax: 269/445-8293 Toll Free: 269/545-2633 wloux@louxhaydenrealty.com


HORIZONS 2018 | There’s no place like home

Apartments Four Flags Plaza Now Accepting Applications for Elderly

• Mobility Impaired Access • Pet Friendly (Restrictions Apply)


17 North 7th St • Niles

There’s no place like home | HORIZONS 2018


Food & fun

Daily Food & Drink Specials • Karaoke Every Friday

Automobiles ADDISON TIRE SERVICE, INC. Established Business since 1987

The Friendly Car Center

“We Service GM, Chryslers, Ford & Most Foreign Cars”


We do tires plus automotive repairs That’s how we roll! 26041 US Highway 12 Edwardsburg, MI (269) 663-7435

Religion & worship Worship Sunday at 10 a.m.

First Presbyterian Church

269- 423-4981

119 East Delaware Street, Decatur, MI 49045 • See Us on Facebook

Trinity Episcopal Church Sunday Worship @ 9:30 Wednesday Healing Service @ 5:30 Saturday Lunch In at 11:30am

9 South 4th Street, Niles - Corner of 4th and Broadway 269-683-6060 • trinityniles.org

There’s no place like home | HORIZONS 2018


Professional services Dowagiac District Library

Your Locally Owned and Operated LP Gas Company We Thank You for Your Business Where You’re Not Just a Customer, You’re a Neighbor.

800.226.6779 269.415.0425

37174 Red ARRow HwY, PAw PAw, MI www.Tapperpropane.com Serving ALL of Southwest Michigan

Professional services (cont.) Rifenberg Life & Health 165rs

• Business • Home • Auto • Life • Farm

Yea of History

214 N. 4th Street, Niles • (269) 683-4900 501 Main Street, St. Joseph • (269) 983-7101 www.imsinsuranceagency.com

Rifenberg Life & Health

Disability Disability • Life • Health • Annuities Insurance Long-Term Care • Medicare Tax-Deferred Paul Rifenberg Annuities

721 E. Main St. • Niles (269) 683-7400

CLU, ChFC Medicare

Advantage 721 E. Main St., Niles Plans (269) 683-7400

Disability • Life and Health Annuities • Long Term Medical Care


LongLong-Term Care

Rifenberg Life & Health

Health & beauty Thank you for your trust.

We offer pediatric to geriatric exams. We treat glaucoma, cataracts, diabetes and retinal problems, including macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

New Patients Welcome! A pAthwAy to Healthy SMILES richard L. beckermeyer, d.d.S., Pc www.drbeckermeyer.com

Niles (269) 684-6400

St. Joseph - Clinical Research Site (269) 428-3300 www.greateyecare.com

South Haven (800) 424-2393

123 marmont Street • niLeS, mi 269.683.6461 • FaX: 269.683.7618

Gold Standard in Ambulance Service Non-Emergencies & Transfers: 925-2141

Administrative & Business Calls: 925-2143


Fully Licensed & Experienced Paramedics Medicare & Medicaid Approved

For a Safer Healthier Community

For All Your Wheelchair Needs 7 Days A Week

Since 1977 • www.medic1ambulance.org

There’s no place like home | HORIZONS 2018


Senior living A grade above the rest! Services available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week Home Health Care & Staff Relief 1125 E. Milham Ave., Suite A, Kalamazoo, MI (269) 383-9112 (800) 531-0272

We Keep Memories Alive Our communities are thoughtfully designed to cater to the unique needs and demands of today’s seniors. Our care programs are designed specifically for each individual, providing the highest level of service when it’s most needed. As your needs change, we change with you. It is our privilege and honor to share in life’s journey.

Call us today for your personal tour!

269.782.5300 29601 Amerihost Dr • Dowagiac, MI 49047


Antiques & auctions Hahn

Auctioneers Inc. 1203 Market St. Napanee, IN 46550-2246


LICENSE # AC39800021

13th Anniversary Season!




Rain Or Shine • Buildings • Tents • Open-Air

St. Joseph County - Grange Fairgrounds



July 8 • Aug. 12 FALL MARKET


At State Hwy M86• 316 E. Charlotte, Centreville, MI 49032

Regular Admission: Sunday 8 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. / $4 Early Buyers: Saturday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. / $10

715-526-9769 • www.zurkopromotions.com

Integrity Realty Debbie Floor……………………………………………49 Mill Pond Apartments………………………………………………………90 Parkside Terrace Apartments…………………………………………64 Pawating Village……………………………………………………………63 Ruoff Home Mortgage……………………………………………………99


Division Tire & Battery…………………………………………………….30 Jim D’s Body Shop………………………………………………………………92


Custom Computer Company………………………………………………39 East Main Gardens…………………………………………………………78 Gateway Services…………………….....……………………………………99 Krumrie Saw Mill…………………………………………………………….46 North American Forest Products…………………………………….64 Padnos……………………………………………………....……………107


Berrien County Sheriff’s Department……..........................……45 Buchanan DDA…………………………………………………………………63 Bunk & Biscuit…………………………………………………………………61 City of Dowagiac...............................................................................39 Edwardsburg Sports Complex…………………………………………86 Fernwood Botanical Garden……………………………………………90 Medic 1 Ambulance…………………………………………………………49 Miss Kim’s School of Dance……………………………………………….46 Niles DDA Main Street………………………………………………………78 Niles District Library………………………………………………………76 Niles-Buchanan Meals on Wheels……………………………………45 Niles-Buchanan YMCA……………………………………………………..39 Southwest Michigan Community Ambulance Service…………8 United Way of Southwest Michigan…………………………………….3 Western Michigan University Fort St. Joseph …………………….45


Brandywine Community Schools..................................................6 Cassopolis Public Schools…………………………………………………..20 Dowagiac Union Schools………………………………………………..46 Edwardsburg Public Schools…………………………………………..59 Indiana University South Bend…………………………………………76 Lake Michigan College………………………………………………………78 Niles Community Schools………………………………………………….2 Southwestern Michigan College…………………………………………62


Lutz’s Drive-In…………………………………………………………………99 Pizza Transit…………………………………………………………....………78 Wings Etc. Niles ……………………………………………………….……….6


All Pro Services…………………………………………………………….....45 Big C Lumber………………………….....………………………………………49 Cass Outdoor Power………………………………………………………90 Dowagiac Heating…………………………………………………………92 Flo N Gro…………………………………………………………..........………107 Greenmark Equipment……………………………………....……………92 Hale’s Hardware……………………………………………………….……60 Hannapel Home……………………………………………………………76 Johnson’s Workbench…………………………………………..…………66 Judd Lumber.....................................................................................30 Williams A-1 Tree Service……………………………………………………107


Cindy McCall Insurance Agency ……………………………….....……49 Insurance Management Service……………………..…………………63 Kemner Iott Benz……………………………………..………………………92 Preferred Insurance………………………………….....……………………65 State Farm Insurance…………………………………………………..……86


Acoustic Audio…………………………………………………………………107 Beltone.......................................................................46 Cass Family Clinic Network…………………………………………………34 Dr. Beckermeyer, DDS………………………………………………………65 Great Lakes Eye Care………………………………………………………103 Niles Vision Clinic……........................................................…………34


Allegan Antique Market……………………………………………………..45 Bella’s Gifts and Memories………………………………………………64 Forever Clean Soapworks…………………………………………………..34 Lake St. Market................................................................................34 Rumor Records....................................................................................6 Shelton’s Farm Market………………………………………………………39 The Dugout………………………………………….....………………………66 Vite Greenhouses……………………………………………………………66 Who Knew? Consignment………………………………………………….20 Yarn on Front …………………………………………………………………65 Zick’s Specialty Meats……………………..………………………………65


1st Source Bank………………………............................……………….34 Dowagiac Area Federal Credit Union………………………………86 Edward Jones…………………………………………………………………99

Brown Funeral Home………………………………………………………20 Chalet of Niles……………………………………………………………….30 Halbritter-Wickens Funeral Home……………………………………103 West Woods of Niles………………………………………………………63



Acorn Theatre…………………………………………………………………49 The Boulevard Inn & Bistro………………………………………………90 Jim’s Smokin’ Cafe…………………………………………………………107

Amerigas........................................................................64 J&H Oil………………………..............…………………………………………66

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