CMU student found dead in off-campus apartment

By Tony Wittkowski | Managing Editor | Central Michigan Life

A Central Michigan University student was found dead Tuesday afternoon in his apartment in Jamestown Apartments.

Isabella County Sheriff Leo Mioduszewski said the ICSD received a call around 1:30 p.m. about a male who was found dead in an off-campus apartment, where he was confirmed to be a CMU student.

“It was not a homicide,” Mioduszewski said. “Unless the autopsy shows something else, it was nothing criminal.”

Mioduszewski was unaware of whether or not the parents of the student had been notified of his death, so the name of the student and apartment complex he was discovered in were not released.

The age of the student could not be confirmed, however, Mioduszewski said he heard the deceased was a senior.

CMU officials were reached for comment, but did not know any additional information surrounding the student’s death.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 25, 2014)

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Jack-of-all trades volunteer helps to keep the fair rolling in Lowell

By Tony Wittkowski | Contributing Reporter | The Lowell Ledger

The man who can be seen walking the fairgrounds has been involved with the Kent County Youth Fair for more than a decade in nearly every form imaginable.

Bruce Doll first joined the youth fair in 2000, shortly after he and his family moved from Kentwood. Doll became involved in Cub Scouts, but felt a drawn toward the fair.

“I’m a photographer, so I had taken a lot of pictures of the fair,” Doll said. “When I gave the photos to them they said, ‘you need to be on board.'”

Now Doll is the vice president of the fair where he books the entertainment, special programs, sponsorships and helps deal with the technological aspect of the fair.

“That doesn’t mean those are the responsibilities for every vice president,” Doll said. “That’s just what I’ve done, I’ve got my niche.”

Since Doll has been involved, the fair has received four times the amount of sponsorship money in the past four years. But to this day the most difficult part of his job is that he can’t be there all the time.

“I have a real job outside of this,” Doll said. “I would love to be able to do this a lot more because there are so many things we could do.”

Doll works in Hudsonville and can usually be spotted at the fairgrounds in his spare time and after work when he stops in to see if anything needs to be done.

In the past decade, the man has held about every position except treasurer because “that would be a mistake.” Those positions have included vice president, president, secretary and as a board member.

Over the years, the one thing that struck a chord with Doll was the tractor structure dedicated to Ron Wenger, the fair manager who died two years ago. Doll can never run out of good things to talk about when it comes to Wenger.

To pile onto his job and responsibilities at the fair, Doll’s wife passed away six weeks ago. Now he is dealing with the loss of his wife of 34 years, with the help of his sons Justin and Tom.

“That’s been difficult at times to handle, with everything else going on,” Doll admits. “Two days after she passed, I realized there were things that just had to be done.”

A year ago, while the fair was in full swing, she fell ill and was out into the hospital. As a result, Doll was here and then there with not much sleep in between.

The disease that took his wife has no known cause or cure, prompting doctors to treat it with steroids. She fought it for a year.

Yet the most difficult thing Doll has had to deal with in regards to the fair was freeing up more of his time to volunteer when the flood hit Lowell. The town had it pretty bad, but the fairgrounds was another story.

Doll and a handful of volunteers scrambled to get all the boats out of the barns and were forced to watch as the water level constantly rose.

Despite all the obstacles, Doll remains adamant on increasing the success of the fair, while keeping an eye on the future.

“I think Lowell is a great place to live and it’s got great people. That’s why the events in Lowell are so great,” Doll said.

(Author’s Note: this article was originally published on July 31, 2013)

All by Design: Lowell resident welds pieces of metal into art

Some of the sculptures Franky has created over the years have included scorpions, motorcycles and flowers. (Photo by Tony Wittkowski)

Some of the sculptures Franky has created over the years have included scorpions, motorcycles and flowers. (Photo by Tony Wittkowski)

By Tony Wittkowski | Contributing Reporter | The Lowell Ledger

LOWELL, Mich. — Among the numerous booths on hand at the Riverwalk Festival in July, was one that sold sculptures made entirely of recycled metal.

Made from automotive parts and silverware, Rob Rose takes old metal and turns it into art. The result garners metal motorcycles, birds, planes, scorpions, spiders, and flowers, leaving the benefactor and opportunity every weekend at art shows.

Around friends he’s known as Franky, which is short for Frankenstein,

Like the doctor who created the famous monster, Franky has a knack for combining bits of pieces to make art.

Born and raised in Lowell, Franky graduated from Lowell High School and proceeded to marry his high school sweetheart, while settling in Saranac. The couple wanted to remain close to their Lowell roots without moving to a big city.

Three years ago Franky was laid off from a factory job and went back to school for welding. However, he soon realized he could not find a job welding in the area. Instead, Franky was stuck with an abundance of metal, which he kept in both the house and garage.

Early beginnings

While pondering what to do next, he received a picture from a friend of an old recycled bike, made from small pieces of metal.

This jump started the beginning stages of Franky’s new hobby. In the spare time he had, Franky began to construct the very statues and sculptures that now decorate several lawns and houses to this day.

“One of my wife’s friends set me up with a show to do an art gallery,” Franky said. “Now I’ve got people contacting me to do art shows all the way through wintertime, mainly recycled art markets which turn out to be pretty big in Grand Rapids.”

Franky still remembers the first gallery he went to. To him it seemed weird, and based on what he wore, the welder from Lowell stuck out like a sore thumb.

“My first show I remember doing was at a ballroom,” Franky said with a chuckle. “They had a doorman at the door and everything.”

Franky, who is known among his friends to dislike the city and being around one entirely, walked up to the hotel with a straw hat, long hair and beard accompanied with tattered jeans. Other artists that night wore black tie suits and the usual full dress one would see on the red carpet.

“The doorman stopped me at the door and asked me if I was lost,” Franky said. “I grabbed my artist card and showed it to him. He looked down at me from head to toe and said, ‘good luck.'”

Inside the ballroom was another story.

After passing the doorman/security guard, Franky came to realize that he wasn’t walking into a glorified flea market, but a showcased art gallery. Luckily, the lady who was running the gallery spotted Franky right away and showed him where to set up. By the end of the night he was a hit, and had sold the most out of every other artist in attendance.

Later that night he ran out of business cards to handout and has since been contacted by art galleries for his coveted recycled art.

However, When asking Franky about his art, he’s quick to remain humble.

“I don’t consider myself to be an artist,” Franky said, pushing the question aside. “I’d call myself a guy who welds junk together and tries to make a profit.”

A lot of his friends are mechanics, leaving him with spare car parts that would otherwise be thrown away. Franky also visits bike shops in Ada and Ionia that have spare chains and other parts that are normally hard to get rid of.

The sprockets and chains prove to be useful for the craftsman. most of the material Franky comes up with are free, with a few items being purchased at salvage yards and garage sales.

“Sometimes I have to spend a little to make a little,” Franky said. “But the turnout ratio after a show is profitable.”

The price Franky chooses stems from how much time he puts into the piece, ranging from several hours to several days. His friends tell him his prices are too low compared to what has been seen on eBay. These same friends tell him he should consider branching out.

His response: “Not looking for the fame, just looking for the fortune.”

With the future in mind, there are only two things Franky continues to think about.

More metal. More work.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 31, 2013)

Lowell Farmer’s Market: Changes in the making

By Tony Wittkowski | Contributing Reporter | The Lowell Ledger

The farmer’s market that Lowell is so accustomed to seeing in the spring has made several changes to its operation.

Liz Baker, the director of the Chamber of Commerce, who has helped jump start the weekly event, revealed a few changes to the market this year.

“We actually shortened the season up this year,” Baker said. “The farmers market has been kind of a rough haul for us, we haven’t found our niche yet.”

By shortening the season, baker meant the market will begin June 13 and run through Sept. 12, cutting nearly two months farmers had to sell portions of their crops.

The reason for excluding the eight weeks is due to the amount of competition, with every small town now showcasing markets of their own.

The Lowell market started at the fairgrounds and drew success in its first few years, until Ada opened a market on Tuesdays.

“We were getting a lot of people from Ada in our market, and of course they are not there anymore because they have their own market now,” Baker said. “We also lost vendors because, all of a sudden, we don’t have as many people coming to patronize the market.”

Market Masters Dave and Betty Dean revealed additional changes, which included the use of the flea market that was only allowed at the farmer’s market once a month. Now it will return regularly every week.

The market used to open in May and was held until the second week in October, but now it is expected to end in September, right after school begins in the area.

The market will still take place at the Tractor Supply parking lot, where it has been for the last couple of years. Around a dozen vendors are expected this year for the market, which will be held every Thursday afternoon.

“We’ve been tweaking it ever since the market opened,” Dave said. “We have continued to take suggestions from vendors and people who come through the market.”

Closing in on their third year as market masters and their eighth year in participation, the Deans will be allowing the community again to expose local programs which included FROM, the library and the museum last year.

“We want to service the community with what they need,” Betty said. “We are always learning, always listening to our customers.”

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 29, 2013)

Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department investigating fraudulent phone calls

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI – The Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department is investigating a series of phone fraud complaints of a caller impersonating an officer.

According to a press release from Detective Lt. James Christiansen, the suspect is reportedly telling victims there is a warrant out for their arrest and then advises them how to avoid being arrested by paying for the bond using Green Dot MoneyPak cards.

The Sheriff’s Office stressed that they do not contact people to pay bonds over the phone.

“If you receive one of these calls, hang up and do not send them any money,” the release reads. “If you have sent money to someone reporting to be from the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office, contact the Sheriff’s Office to file a report.”

Although the phone number that is being used to reach out to the victims is a local number, authorities believe the suspects are working out of another state.

The same scam has been used involving other sheriff’s offices in the country since the beginning of this year, the release said.

Green Dot MoneyPak cards are prepaid cards which allow the user to add money without an actual bank account.

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 30, 2014)

Fruitport Old Fashioned Days ‘always a good time,’ longtime festival attendee says

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By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

FRUITPORT, MI – Brad Kostamo has been to the Fruitport Old Fashioned Days festival in Pomona Park — which annually extends over the Memorial Day weekend — for the last 40 years.

He continued his personal tradition of attending the festival Friday, May 23.

The festival, back for its 65th year, is being held through Monday, May 26. It began this year on Wednesday, featuring events that range from carnival rides, a petting zoo, fireworks and food.

Kostamo, a native of Fruitport, brought his daughter out for the carnival rides, which included a Ferris wheel, the zipper and the gauntlet.

“It’s Old Fashioned Days. I don’t think it has changed a whole lot,” Kostamo said. “It’s still the same old carnival, the same old fun, the same old parade, but it’s always a good time.”

With a large crowd moving among the games and rides, the cars they arrived in were lined up on either side of the streets near the park.

Fruitport Township Police Officer Robert Atkinson was assigned to special event detail for the week, and he took note of the amount of people coming and going during the five-day festival.

RELATED: Art fair, carriage rides among new additions to Fruitport Old Fashioned Days lineup

“I didn’t attend last year’s, but so far people have been friendly,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of people leaving at the same time at the end of the night. It’s a big event, so the people have to squeeze in wherever they can.”

Tracy Bekins was one of those in attendance who had to find a parking spot. Accompanying her was Zoe, her 3-year-old daughter.

This year was different for her because it was the first time she was able to take her daughter on some of the rides.

“We have been here for many years and it was her first year riding the rides,” Bekins said. “It’s a lot of fun, very family friendly and it’s by Spring Lake so it’s really beautiful.”

Bekins has been coming out to the festival since she was a kid and plans on coming back with her daughter in the years to come.

The petting zoo, which is part of the Whisper Pines Mobile Zoo, is featured on the west end of the park.

Brendan Finerty, who is a volunteer for the zoo, said the staff for the festival arrived Tuesday night to begin setting up.

“We travel all over the state of Michigan doing educational programs,” Finerty said. “We do a lot of fairs, festivals, schools and libraries trying to educate the general public on domestic and exotic animals while giving them a hands-on experience that some of the bigger zoos are unable to do.”

The petting zoo featured goats, sheep, llamas, miniature cattle, exotic birds, tortoises, camels, monkeys, prairie dogs, lemurs, jackals, kangaroos and 70 different species of reptiles.

While handling the reptiles, Finerty took the opportunity to show a few spectators an Albino Burmese python named Edna.

“She’s a big baby,” Finerty said of the snake. “We actually have a lot of people who go inside the reptile trailer because the exotic stuff tends to attract a lot of attention.”

Finerty was in Fruitport for the first time last year with the zoo when they were asked to take part in the festival. Since then, the town has been a highlight of his trips across Michigan.

“It’s really nice, open and clean, everyone I’ve dealt with has been pretty nice,” Finerty said. “I love the town, we always feel welcomed when we’re here.”

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 23, 2014)

Former Muskegon Heights Principal remembered as dedicated educator full of ‘Tiger Pride’

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, MI – Danny Smith was known throughout the community as an educator, and even more for his role as the high school principal for Muskegon Heights.

He passed away at his home at the age of 61 on Friday, May 16.

Dwight Vines, the board president of the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, served as the president of the Muskegon Heights School Board during Smith’s tenure as principal.

Danny Leroy Smith passed away at the age of 61 on May 16. (MLive File Photo)

Danny Leroy Smith passed away at the age of 61 on May 16. (MLive File Photo)

Vines said he had known Smith for the majority of his life, as he was a teacher when Vines was still in junior high and high school.

“I remember Danny best as an educator,” Vines said. “He was a really dedicated teacher, particularly to the Heights. If you looked at his home it was always decorated in orange and black for the Tigers.”

Smith was a middle and high school social studies teacher, who became principal of the middle school before serving as the high school principal for a decade.

After 35 years with the district, Smith retired but continued to help his school and community.

Smith was an alumnus of the high school where he taught, and was well known for touting his “Tiger Pride.” He stayed local as his three children also graduated from Muskegon Heights.

“He put a lot of emphasis on education as a former teacher,” Vines said. “In an administrative role he was a true, dedicated Muskegon Heights Tiger.”

Life as a mentor, teacher

West Michigan Lake Hawks coach Ron Jenkins was the former vice president of the school board, but knew Smith first as a student.

“I first met him in a government history class,” Jenkins said. “He always had a joke to tell to get our attention. He wanted to make sure his students were educated not only in the books, but in life itself.”

Shortly before Smith became ill, Jenkins had an opportunity to talk to him.

“He was encouraging me through my coaching,” Jenkins said. “He gave me advice for coaching young people and has always been there to advise me.”

After Vines left the school board, Avery Burrell took over as president for the board, where he met Smith for the first time.

Burrell, who is now a minister for the Christ Temple Apostolic Church, met Smith when he took a tour of the new high school that was being built. His experience with the fabled principal only grew from there.

“I knew him best from how well he treated the students,” Burrell said. “They just really loved Danny and he was so personable with the students.”

As a minister, Burrell recognized how Smith lived by his faith as well as how he treated his students as the hard-working principal the school came to know him by.

“He got the job done, but he would still go out of his way to support the children and the things they would do,” he said. “He was a wonderful and genuine man. He’s a great loss to the community and will be missed.”

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 22, 2104)