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Featured Story

Festival offers chance to be a ‘weekend Viking’

By Deb Malewski
– Contributing Writer

The Michigan Nordic Fire Festival is a unique experience that celebrates winter, fire and family fun in Charlotte. It is billed as a “medieval fantasy brought to life” — with historical reenactments, costumed participants, vendors and lots of Viking-themed entertainment, from fun contests and games to serious historical presentations.

This year’s event, the fifth annual, starts the evening of Friday, Feb. 28 and runs through Sunday, March 1. It takes place at 620 W. Shepherd Street in Charlotte, at Lincoln Park. Free parking is provided at the Charlotte High School, with free shuttle service to the venue. The festival is a non-profit, community organization. Dressing as a Viking is encouraged but not required.

The Nordic Fire Festival draws people from around the Midwest to attend this unique winter experience, which was originally created to showcase Charlotte in the winter and provide a fun activity for everyone. Thousands are expected to attend the event, as they have each year.

With many elaborately costumed visitors and participants in authentic Viking or fantasy gear, it’s an ideal opportunity to people watch. The event will provide visitors with a chance to throw spears and axes, engage in sword fights and to be a “weekend Viking,” organizers say. There are many games of skill for both adults and children.
The event opens on Friday with the burning of a replica Viking longship at 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday events are numerous, highly varied and include things for all ages. A complete schedule of activities is available on the festival website at

On both Friday and Saturday night, the Mead Hall will provide a chance to imbibe in locally produced craft beers and mead, a honey-based drink. The Mead Hall will be open Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and will have music and other entertainment. On Saturday, the Mead Hall opens at 5 p.m.
Event sponsors urge visitors to come to the event dressed weather-appropriately, although there are events that take place both outside and inside heated tents.

“I love this festival and its Renaissance feel,” said festival volunteer Julie Kimmer from the Courthouse Square Museum. “Everyone should come to see the new 27-foot Viking boat.”

The Viking boat, complete with elaborately carved dragons at each end, currently sits on the courthouse lawn, awaiting the big event. The boat was located near Detroit, and festival sponsors helped make the purchase. This is not the boat that will be burned in the bonfire, though.



Featured Story

Xact Excavating: Local grad takes to the dirt

Amy Jo Parish

Contributing Writer

There is a saying, “Give a man soil and he will prosper.” Gino Costello has taken that to heart this past year, sinking his shovel into the ground and opening his own business — Xact Excavating in Olivet.

For some, the summer after high school graduation is a time of celebration. When Costello graduated from Bellevue High School last year, it was time to get busy. His odd jobs with dirt and equipment while still in school helped him to prepare to branch out on his own.

His optimism and work ethic are apparent when Costello speaks about his business, and it is those qualities that have helped the business grow. 

Once customers experienced the quality and care he takes with the work, Costello said word of mouth brought in more and more jobs. What started as a few jobs on the side grew into a business all its own.

With the help of co-founder Brad Shrontz of Shrontz Trucking, Costello’s business has continued to grow since it opened, and Costello could not be more pleased.

“It has been pretty awesome, how it’s going so far,” said Costello.

From excavating, site work, ice and snow removal and even hauling, there is a long list of services that can be found at Xact Excavating.

The business gives Costello the chance to combine two things he really enjoys — working with equipment and working with people.

“I love working with people, and I think the best thing for me is that I get to do the whole job,” said Costello. “You get to see a project come together from beginning to end.”

The most surprising aspect, however, has been for the customers, not the young entrepreneur.

“My age surprises people. They sometimes aren’t sure at the start if I can do the job, but at the end, they say, ‘wow, you actually can.’”

For Costello, reading blueprints is like reading a book, and he looks forward to working in the dirt for years to come. His eagerness to learn has been a key part of his success thus far and helps him stay on top of new trends in the industry.

“I’m always trying to figure something out to make us better than the competition,” he explained.

For more information about Xact Excavating, visit the company online at Xact Excavating is located at 22105 T Drive North in Olivet. Costello can be reached at 517-706-1563 or

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Featured Story

Bronco basketball teams look to cap off perfect regular seasons

The road to perfect regular seasons for both the Bellevue boys and girls varsity basketball teams could go through Athens. 

The Bronco boys were 18-0 heading into its toughest remaining regular season test, a Friday, Feb. 22 showdown at Athens High School. Bellevue defeated Athens, which was undefeated at the time, earlier this season, 68-62 in Bellevue. The game could be much more difficult in a hostile environment.

The Lady Broncos, meanwhile, host Athens on Tuesday, Feb. 26. Bellevue defeated Athens on the road in their tightest contest of the season, 37-36. The girls were 16-0 heading into their game at Climax on Thursday, Feb. 21. Bellevue defeated Climax 49-15 at home earlier this season.

In their most recent action, Bellevue guards Wyatt Waterbury and Gino Costello led the Broncos to a 60-73 win over Climax, securing a third-straight SCAA West Division title. Waterbury paced the Broncos with 20 points, 6 steals and 4 assists. Costello added 14 points, and 4 assists. Carson Betz recorded a double-double, finishing with 10 points, 14 rebounds and 5 steals.

The team travels to Jackson Christian High School on Monday, Feb. 25 to open District play against Tekonsha.

In the girls most recent victory, Morgan Messenger led the way with 13 points as Bellevue defeated Waldron, 33-30. Mikayla Crawley finished with 10 points, 3 steals and 2 assists. 

The Lady Broncos host Colon on Saturday, Feb. 23, and finish off the regular season with home games against Athens on Tuesday, Feb. 26 and Tekonsha on Thursday, Feb. 28.

The team opens District play at Athens High School on Monday, March 4 against Battle Creek St. Philip.

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Eaton County

Eaton County

Featured Story

Debate over Canal/Columbia drain problem continues

By Deb Malewski

Residents and officials turned out in large numbers for a Feb. 6 meeting held at the Eaton Rapids Township Hall to discuss the ongoing flooding problem at Canal Road and Columbia Highway. In addition to dozens of residents, members of the Eaton County Board of Commissioners, the drain commissioner’s office and the road commissioner’s office were in attendance. Representatives of the engineering firm that handles the county drains, Spicer Group, were also there.
The Drain Code of 1956, through the State of Michigan, limits expenditures to $5,000 per mile per year for maintenance on drains, without a petition, it was explained at a previous meeting. This is money that is collected as taxes from the landholders in the drain district, not money from a special fund. Other improvements require a petition to take action.

Larry Protasiewicz, project manager of the Spicer Group, explained the process required by the drain code in order to start a drainage improvement project. According to Protasiewicz, it’s gotten to the point where a petition needs to be filed. The clay tile used for the drains has blowholes, collapses and requires frequent repair. The official name of the main drain in question is the Bentley-DePue Drain.
“The tile was never big enough,” Protasiewicz said. “But on repair we can’t change the size, due to the restraints from the drain code.”

To start the process, the following steps must be taken:
First, a petition is filed with the drain commissioner. It can be filed by five property owners, the municipality, the county, the road commission or the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The drain commissioner then appoints a Board of Determination — made up of three property owners who own property in the county but not in the drainage district. A public hearing is held to determine whether the drain or maintenance and improvement of the drain is necessary for the public health, safety or welfare. If the board determines necessity, a property owner has 10 days to challenge the determination in circuit court, and the township has 20 days after notification of the determination of necessity to appeal the decision in probate court.

The drain commissioner would determine the scope of the project, at which point the project is engineered and plans and specifications are prepared. Bids are requested, and notice is given to those in the district.
Michael Cronkright, who owns property at the corner of Canal and Columbia, expressed concerns over this procedure.

“There isn’t even a rough estimate yet for the cost,” Cronkright said. “If five property owners sign a petition, they are giving a blank check to the government without knowing the costs we are facing.
“The benefit is for the people down the road, not for the people getting their land flooded.”

Area resident Janice Heck said only a relatively few people would have to foot the bill for something that helps many more.
“Twenty-five hundred cars a day pass down Canal, on the shoulders of 200 people,” Heck said. “How is that fair?
“It is literally a seasonal road. We are being assessed as a primary road but not receiving the services.”
Patrick Murphy was another concerned citizen who spoke out at the meeting.
“We are obviously dealing with an antiquated system,” Murphy said.

Murphy went on to suggest that a survey be done to determine the water flow in the area and determine where the water is coming from.
Eaton County drain commissioner Richard Wagner said he has sought state funding sources to no avail and that he can shut the process down if it proves to be too expensive.
No decision has yet been made on the issue. Pumps were placed at the intersection and excavation was done to provide some relief from the flooding. This was done using $23,000 in emergency funding, according to representatives from the drain office.

Eaton Rapids Township Supervisor Scott Wilson said the township board will need to determine what is best for township constituents.

“We need to come up with a plan that will work for all,” Wilson said.
A special meeting, and vote on the drainage issue, has been scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. at the township hall. The hall is located at 2512 S. Canal Road.

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Featured Story

Maple Valley exchange students create positive impact

By Amy Jo Parish

Contributing Writer

Exchange students give up their home and their family for a year in order to gain new experiences in a foreign culture. Those experiences, however, can last a lifetime. This year, the Maple Valley School District welcomed nine exchange students into their halls. Though the students come from all around the globe, all were eager to experience America for themselves. For some, it was an eye-opening experience to come to the very rural setting of Maple Valley.

“I imagined it would be like the High School Musical movies, and it’s a lot more different,” laughs Julia Schnull from Germany. “It’s a lot more country life, but I really like it.”

Maria Sousa of Brazil made the journey without any preconceived notions of American life.

“I thought, it will be what it will be – no expectations,” said Sousa. “It is better than I could have expected.”

Along with a new language, the students have also been experiencing new cuisine. For the German students, they are used to sweet popcorn and the salty varieties have taken a bit of adjustment. Overall, the students said they have been enjoying the food.

“I’m gaining weight every week,” said Sousa.  a

A few students have found a new favorite food.

“Deep-fried pickles, they are so good,” said Sofia Kärki of Finland. “I would eat so many of them.”

The course work has been easier for all of the students, making it easier to adjust to new schedules and time zones.

“School here is so much easier, but it’s so different,” said Matilde Lenzi of Italy. “We don’t change classroom; teachers change, and we go on Saturday.”

Through all the differences and adjustments, Maple Valley High School Principal Michael Knapp said welcoming exchange students into the district creates a positive impact for not only the students but the community as well.

“It allows our students that don’t leave the area to get to experience other cultures,” said Knapp. “They get involved with extracurricular activities and in our school community, and our students just really embrace them.”

Maple Valley typically welcomes anywhere from 10 to 15 exchange students each year, some stay for a semester, others an entire year. The district works with CET USA, Share and other exchange programs to bring the students into the community. The organizations works with local families to match students’ interests with the families and ensure a positive experience for all those involved. Knapp said Maple Valley will continue to work with exchange student companies well into the future and is certain the host families and students are changed for the better because of the programs.

“In many cases, students and host families will visit each other down the road,” said Knapp. “It just spurs on what can be a lifelong friendship.”

The commitment of leaving family and friends for a year can be daunting, explained Knapp, but the experiences and memories make for an unforgettable 12 months.

“It’s a huge step for that student to commit to leaving their homes for a year,” he said.

The students could not agree more and would encourage other students who might be interested in becoming an exchange student to take the chance.

“It’s hard sometimes, but it’s worth it,” said Schnull.


Photo by Amy Jo Parish

This year’s Maple Valley High School exchange students include (front, from left) Veerin Yimsmerjit, Thailand; Matilde Lenzi, Italy; Leo Roskouetz, Germany; Luisa Pidun, Germany; Julia Schnull, Germany; Maria Sousa, Brazil; (back, from left), Vilma Viitanen, Finland; Sofia Kärki, Finland; and (missing from photo) Sally Park, South Korea.

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Featured Story

New Potterville High School boys varsity basketball coach sets first camp

Newly hired Potterville High School boys varsity basketball coach, Jacob Briney, and his entire coaching staff, is offering a four-day basketball camp for area youth in second through 12th grade. The camp will be held four consecutive Sundays beginning July 21 in the Potterville High School gymnasium.

Students entering ninth through 12th grade will attend from 2 to 4 p.m. July 21, July 28, Aug. 4 and Aug. 11. Students entering sixth through eighth grade will attend from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and students entering second through fifth grade will attend from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

The cost of the camp is $50 per participant, which includes access to all four Sundays, and a custom Moneyball practice jersey. Checks should be made payable to Potterville Public Schools, attention Boys Basketball.

Registration forms must be completed before the start of camp and are available in the Potterville High School athletic office. There will also be an opportunity to register your child on Sunday, July 21 prior to the start of camp.

For more information, contact coach Briney via email at

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Eaton Rapids

Eaton Rapids

Featured Story

Backward Glance antique shop continues tradition

By Deb Malewski
– Contributing Writer

Eaton Rapids has a new/ old business on Main Street. It is “old” because, for 30 years, it was The Basket Case — an antique shop owned by Ken and Sue Hayward. But it’s also new because it is now owned by their granddaughter, Nicole Byrd, and has been re-named “Backward Glance.” Byrd opened Backward Glance last fall. It is located at 217 S. Main St., right across the street from the Eaton Rapids Area District Library.
It appears the love of “picking” and selling antiques runs in the family. Byrd grew up going with her grandparents to garage sales, estate sales and old barns. She’s always enjoyed refinishing and cleaning up old furniture that they found.

“She was just raised that way,” said Cathy Bodell, her baby’s grandmother. “She loves her grandparents and grew up just like them.”

Byrd’s uncle, Wayne Hayward, owns “The Cool Store” on Knight Street.

Byrd grew up in Eaton Rapids and graduated from Eaton Rapids High School. She attended Lansing Community College, studying child development. She worked at preschools and later for a doctor’s office at McLaren Greater Lansing Hospital. After having her latest baby, she decided to start the new business.

“I bring in a truckload of new inventory each week,” Byrd said. “People come in and say that it looks completely different each time they are here.”
Her inventory includes jewelry, clothing, furniture, teacups, vinyl records, cast iron pans, clocks, modern decor and much more. Most items have a local provenance, or geographic origin, including a wooden desk used in the Dansville, Mich., post office.

“We try to have fun, interesting things,” Byrd said. “I hear comments that our prices are better than at the local antique malls.

“Vendors from the antique malls have been known to come in to buy things to re-sell at higher prices, even.”
Byrd enjoys hearing the reminiscing customers do about things they see in her shop, recalling that their mother or grandmother had the exact item, too.
“People should come in to be taken back,” said Kory Foote, who helps with the picking and is in the store a lot. “It’s a memory thing.

“I like it when seniors come in and enjoy browsing and remembering, especially since it doesn’t require them to drive very far. I learn more about my items, too, that way.”
As a single mother, with four children ranging in age from 6 months to 11 years, and having to search for new inventory on a regular basis, Byrd explained the store hours for Backward Glance are still being worked out. The shop is open most days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is closed on Tuesdays. The shop is also closed when there is an auction she must attend. She posts a phone number at the front door to contact her if the store is closed.

“The goal is to eventually have someone to help me and have set hours that should be expected when you have a business,” Byrd said.
Backward Glance can be reached by calling 517-803-0500 or by dropping in at the store at 217 S. Main Street in downtown Eaton Rapids.


Photo by Deb Malewski

Nicole Byrd owns and operates the Backward Glance antique shop in downtown Eaton Rapids. The shop used to be called The Basket Case and was owned by Byrd’s grandparents, Ken and Sue Hayward.






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