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Featured Story

Historic Spartan fire trucks serve as multiple reminders of service

By Carla Bumstead


— Tradition runs deep in the firetruck industry, and Charlotte has been home to a major contributor to that industry for the past 45 years. Spartan Motors was founded in 1975 by three men who had been left unemployed after the Diamond Reo Truck company in Lansing was forced into bankruptcy. Since then, Spartan has produced a wide variety of special vehicles and trucks for customers all over the world and seen the custom chassis business grow and change immensely over the years.  However, one thing has remained consistent — Spartan employees’ pride in community and building world-class firetrucks.

Earlier this year, the fire truck division of Spartan Motors, known as Spartan Emergency Response, was sold to The REV Group, Inc. and renamed Spartan FIRE LLC. As a result of the acquisition, two of the division’s most-cherished vehicles were recently moved to a new location — the first firetruck ever built by Spartan (known as ‘Old No. 1”) and the 2001 911 Memorial Fire Truck.

Zac Soderberg, who has worked at Spartan for over 25 years, said the two vehicles mean a lot to the company and its employees. He and fellow long-time Spartan associate Mark Bartlett moved the two trucks to a local storage facility for safe keeping on May 2 and garnered quite a bit of attention as they drove through town. Bright red and shiny trucks are hard to miss.

“It was an impromptu event,” Soderberg said. “But a lot of people noticed us as we made our way through town, kids’ eyes lit up, and we honked the trucks’ air horns in response, which always makes for even bigger smiles and waves.”

He explained both vehicles are considered “historic and precious commodities” to Spartan employees because of their rich meaning and historical sentimental, vocational significance.”

‘Old No. 1’

William (Bill) Foster, company co-founder and vice president of sales, explained “Old No. 1,” a 1976 FMC cab, was the first-ever Spartan fire truck.

“It was the very first truck we built — took about 16 people,” Foster said. “We were just looking for something to do, being unemployed after Diamond Reo closed.”

Foster worked as a layout designer for Diamond Reo. He also had a close connection to, and understanding of, the fire service, as he served on the Delta Township Fire Department for 27 years. He was raised in Delta Township. In fact, the site of the farmhouse where he was born is now the Lansing Mall.

After Diamond Reo declared bankruptcy, Foster and two others were able to talk another truck manufacturer into giving them a chance at building their own fire trucks. That chance led to what is now Spartan Motors.

“Old No. 1 was hand constructed in our very first location in Charlotte — at 426 Sumpter St.,”  Foster said.

This first Spartan fire truck ended up serving on the front lines of two fire departments, first in Covington, Ohio, and the second in Chester Hill, Penn. Spartan got the truck back in early 1990s and had it restored.

 911 Memorial Truck

Both Foster and Soderberg explained that, after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Spartan employees were deeply affected by the impact on New York’s firefighters.

“Spartan came up with the idea to build and donate a truck to the New York Fire Department (NYFD),” Soderberg said. “Our associates donated their time, and we had suppliers and community donors participate and help make it possible.”

“The truck was a symbol of our dedication to the fire service and a way to do our part in the recovery after 911,” Foster added. “The loss of fire service personnel, emergency responders and police officers was devastating.”

Called the “Spartan 2001 911 Memorial Truck,” it was delivered to the NYFD in mid-2002.

“We felt a duty to support New York City,” Foster said. “It was an honor to provide a new piece of critical fire equipment to help New York heal and rebuild.”

He explained the vehicle was not used to fight fires but rather retrofitted and served a ceremonial purpose as a ‘caisson truck.’

“Whenever there was loss of life in the fire service, they would take the body to its final resting place on the truck rather than a hearse,” Foster said. “It was used in over a dozen services in the city of New York.”

Names of fallen officers and emergency personnel are dedicated in a special memorial side mural on the truck today.

However, when Hurricane Sandy ripped through the NYC area in 2012, the lot in which the truck was stored was flooded, and it suffered significant flood damage. The NYFD did not have the funds to repair it, and it was scrapped and sent to a company in New Jersey for auction in 2016.

“When they were scrapping it, they noticed the data plate and thought maybe Spartan would have an interest in it,” Foster said. “And it was Zac (Soderberg) that got the call.

“They made good money on their scrap. We brought it back here and had it restored and brought back to its former glory.”

Soderberg, said the effort was definitely a full team commitment. Restoration efforts were supported and funded by company senior leadership and associates put forth numerous hours in the restoration that was completed a year later, in late 2017.

“It was a special project, and the Spartan leadership truly allowed us what we needed to restore the truck to its present condition,” Soderberg said. “Today, the 911 truck serves many functions in support of the surrounding communities, including attending local parades, memorial services and regional events.

“It’s a consistent reminder of what we do — save lives and build awesome trucks. It is truly an honor to be a part of the industry, vocation and to support the fire service.”

In addition to being seen locally, the 911 truck is also used during the yearly Michigan Firemen’s Memorial Festival in Roscommon.

Foster added that the vehicle has also been made available as a caisson for area service personnel funerals. A well-known member of the Benton Township Fire Department passed away earlier this year, and the truck was used for his funeral.

“It touched the heart of a lot of people to see someone being carried away by the 911 truck,” Foster said. “It is quite a sight and honor to watch knowing the history and symbolism of that truck.”

Photo provided

The two Spartan fire trucks recently “on the move” are shown here. The company’s first truck, “Old No. 1,” is the one on the right.



Featured Story

Olivet dentist contributes to students’ dental health

By Deb Malewski

Contributing writer

— With most dental visits on hold right now, it’s still very important to maintain good dental health, says Dr. Lana Lewis of Main Street Dental, PLCC, in Olivet. Feeling very strongly about this, she decided to donate 400 toothbrushes, dental floss and toothpaste to be passed out with the free breakfast and lunches at the Olivet schools.

Lewis wanted to do something to help the community maintain their oral health during social isolation, she explained. Governor Whitmer’s executive order has limited dental health care to emergency services only, Lewis said, so it is more important than ever for people to take their oral health care into their own hands. 

“The need to limit close patient contact to decrease the spread of the coronavirus makes scientific sense,” Lewis said. “This has led me to think outside the box on ways to reach out to my community and my patients.” 

Lewis has been practicing in Olivet at Main Street Dental for almost 15 years and considers the community her home.

“We miss our patient family and hope to see them all soon. By promoting oral health, I am promoting whole-body health.”

For this special project, Lewis teamed up with Crest Oral B, who provided 10 percent of the supplies, with Lewis supplying the rest.

The dental hygiene supplies were handed out May 18 in the breakfast and lunch distribution program through the Olivet schools.

Parents and the community have been incredibly supportive and appreciative of this outreach effort to get oral hygiene tools in the hands of local kids, she said.

“I hope that everyone stays safe and continues to take every aspect of their health seriously.”

In keeping with the governor’s orders, Main Street Dental is temporarily closed through May 28. For dental emergencies, Lewis encourages patients to call the office at 269-749-9477. Lewis can also be reached through her website at and on Facebook.


Photo provided

Sasha and Avi Kelly (daughters of Dr. Lana Lewis of Main Street Dental) are shown packaging dental hygiene supplies.

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Featured Story

‘Convoy’ serves as send off for Bellevue graduates

By Carla Bumstead


On May 8, Bellevue High School seniors took their final “walk” through the district. But instead of walking the halls one last time, they drove through the district in the first-ever Senior Celebration Convoy.

In a letter from Bellevue Community Schools Superintendent Kathy Mohney, the community was invited to cheer them on.

“We are encouraging the entire community to join us in celebrating our amazing students by cheering them on as the convoy passes your homes or businesses – keeping our social distancing guidelines in place at all times,” Mohney stated. “We want each of our graduates to know how much our community loves them, so let’s cheer them on.”

The convoy lasted approximately two hours, and made its way down streets and highways all around the Bellevue area. But its most important stops were at the homes of the graduates, explained Cindy Gaedert-Gearhart, parent of one of the grads.

“It must have been such a lot of work for the people who organized it all, as they stopped at each kid’s house,” explained Gaedert-Gearhart, who rode in the convoy with her son Carter Wing. “And it was so nice to see how the community put signs in their windows, and people who didn’t even have kids in the school were out in their yards with signs, waving.”

After making its rounds, the convoy ended up at the high school, where students got out of their vehicles and had their photos taken in their caps and gowns by Candy Marie Robbins. As the day of the convoy was to have been the seniors’ last day of school, if not for COVID-19, there were also stations set up and manned by teachers. The stations gave the kids a chance to say goodbye. At the conclusion of the event, grads were able to pick up their yard signs and bring them home.

As a parent, Gaedert-Wing said the entire event was both delightful and quite sad.

“The kids were so happy, and you saw tons of smiles on their faces,” she said, while trying to choke back a few tears. “These poor kids haven’t seen each other in forever, and they were so happy to be able to talk to each other.”

Another Bellevue parent, Jessie McClelland, offered her thanks to the entire community for its show of support.

“Thank you to our awesome district, administrators, teachers, staff, fire department, parents and community for the parade honoring our students,” McClelland stated. “These kids have faced a lot of challenges and disappointment this year, and I can’t think of a more special way for them end their high school career.”


Photo by Candy Marie Photography

The convoy celebrating Bellevue High School seniors is shown making its way down the village’s main street.

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Eaton County

Eaton County

Featured Story

RESA’s Brocklehurst named ‘advisor of the year’

— The Eaton Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) recently announced that MaryEllen Brocklehurst, who serves as the Career Preparation Center student services coordinator and counselor, has been named the 2020 SkillsUSA Michigan Advisor of the Year. The SkillsUSA Advisor of the Year program recognizes professional members who support SkillsUSA’s mission of empowering students to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible American citizens.

Brocklehurst has served as the SkillsUSA advisor for the center for the past 21 years. In this role, she works with instructors, administration and the board of education to coordinate the logistics of regional, state and national competitions, often giving up her own school breaks to be with students for their competitions. She also works with the students, preparing them for leadership events by organizing mock interviews, job shadow experiences and supporting students as they prepare for their competition presentations and speeches.

“MaryEllen (Brocklehurst) continues to be a counselor, mentor and advocate for each of our students, whether they are on her caseload or not,” said Kathleen Szuminski, assistant superintendent for career and technical education for Eaton RESA. “She has a passion for working with nontraditional students, particularly girls interested in entering a male dominated career and technical education field and has successfully nominated several students for the State of Michigan Department of Education Breaking Traditions Award.”

Article submitted by Eaton RESA.


MaryEllen Brocklehurst is shown with Career Preparation Center students at a SkillsUSA competition.

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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

Potterville’s Jake Briney named All-State 2nd Team Coach

By Travis Silvas

Sports Writer

By most standards, the Potterville High School boys varsity basketball season was a tremendous success. By the Associated Press’ standards, it was All-State-worthy.

In guiding the Vikings to a 17-5 record, a 10-win improvement from last year, first-year head coach Jake Briney received AP Div. 3 All-State 2nd Team Co-Coach of the Year honors.

“Ultimately, it comes down to the people around you,” Briney said of the recognition. “You have to have a good staff.

“We had a lot of guys doing a great job implementing a brand new system. I was fortunate to have a great junior high staff and great high school staff. It’s the team around me that allowed me to get the award.”

While taking a moment to reflect on the team’s success, Briney can’t help but see the what-ifs in a season cut short by a global pandemic.

The season was put on hold just before the MHSAA Div. 3 District Finals, where the Vikings had the opportunity to match-up with defending state champs, Pewamo-Westphalia, for the third time.

“It’s always hard to beat a team a third time in a season,” Briney said of Potterville’s District-Finals match-up with Pewamo. “The coaches and I really feel we could have defeated PW that Friday.

“The regional had really opened up, too. We could have had a chance to make a run.”

Potterville, which only suited up a full roster once in 22 games, finally had its full lineup intact. The team was missing its second-leading scorer in both previous losses to the Pirates. Junior Adam Pickelman had returned in time for the MHSAA playoffs and had provided a spark.

“I was really confident going into that Friday game,” Briney said. “The way we played the first two games in the Districts, scoring a lot of points, it’s tough not to think of the what-ifs.”

Briney said, through injuries and ineligibilities, his team came together through a lot of adversity.

“We were constantly adjusting,” Briney said. “We wanted to do a lot more full-court stuff, but unfortunately couldn’t with our lack of depth.

“It’s a huge compliment to the boys who were constantly adjusting their roles and expectations.”

The sting of the what-ifs may fade with time, and Briney will be able to look back on the success of his first year and enjoy the recognition. Helping to ease the sting is the excitement now surrounding the program. The team will return 10 players next season and could see an influx of talent from a few underclassmen.

Briney also acknowledged the support of the Potterville administration and community as a whole as crucial factors in the program’s rebuild.

“We are fortunate to have an administration that trusts what we’re doing and allows us to do what we need to do to build this program,” Briney said. “A majority of our games, our gym was packed, which made it special.

“On top of that, for a very small school, we traveled well. Everyone, from the student section, cheerleaders, band and local businesses, was outstanding. We had a great place to be on a Wednesday or Friday night. Thanks to the community and administration for allowing us to build a program that everyone can be proud of moving forward.”

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Eaton Rapids

Eaton Rapids

Featured Story

Opinion: Missing school and missing our Spanish teenager

By Bill DeFrance

Superintendent, ERPS

— I have shared with you that our family hosted an exchange student son from Spain. While we had hosted girls from France, Germany and Denmark when our daughters were younger, close to two decades had passed since we had teenagers in the house.

Alex has been gone over six weeks now, but I thought I would share some thoughts about his final chapter with us in Eaton Rapids. Alex willingly contributed to articles, especially in the taking of pictures.

As each of his foreign exchange friends here and from around the country left, he had a sense of urgency to get home. Having no face-to face contact with teenagers plus the concern over family back in Spain made it quite stressful for him, especially when Alex had little control over the details of his return trip.

Spanish school is more traditional in its course offerings than American school. Sports are played for clubs not on high school teams. Classes like drama, metals and woodworking, publishing for yearbook and newspaper, gym and art are not course offerings for him back home. To that point, we wanted to thank Holly Ferguson and Larry Ott for integrating Alex into our spring musical (which unfortunately never was performed). Alex was also was on the bowling team, a shout out to Ned Palmer for his patience and coaching.

Since Alex could not drive, he relied on others. Emma and Kenzie helped get him to school and bowling; he particularly enjoyed the youth group at Emma’s church.

U.S history was a requirement for him to take. As host parents, it was interesting to see what gets emphasized by educators about our heritage. It was fun to have discussions and make comparisons between the U.S. and Spain, which has more history and as much intrigue as the U.S. does.

Since he slept in too close to school start time and did not like school lunches, Alex really enjoyed our dinners. We came to have dinner in the dining room as our daily update for here and back home in Spain.

Nancy and I got to be parents and consumers of Eaton Rapids High School (ERHS). We were quite pleased with how Alex was treated and taught. In essence, all foreign exchange students (ERHS had five) are ESL (English as a Second Language) students. With varying abilities to speak and comprehend English, each student has his or her own set of literacy challenges.

Given how school and socializing here have played out, leaving quickly would have been the right answer. Alex returned to Spain through the Lansing airport on a trip that was close to 24 hours to get to Barcelona. He returned to a family in isolation and to school being offered virtually. But at least, he was home.

I write this as we enter week nine of staying home from school. Teachers are telling me about how happy kids are to visit with one another virtually. And “visit and “see” are the key words. Nancy and I recognized by day two of the stay at home isolation that host parents cannot provide the engagement with others and the teaching that school provides for a teenager.

My guess is most parents have recognized this. I miss the teenager, and I miss school.

Photo info:

Alex (right) is shown with other exchange students at Eaton Rapids High School this year.




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