Whirlpool to host fundraiser Saturday for Project Fierce

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

CHICAGO – Whirlpool Corp. will open its doors for a private fundraising event in Chicago on Saturday.

The Whirlpool Pride event will celebrate June as Pride month in order to raise money for homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. Project Fierce Chicago is the beneficiary. It is known as a collective group of social workers and housing advocates who try to provide transitional housing and support services to homeless LGBT young adults.

Erin Brown, who works in eBusiness Marketing at Whirlpool and is the Pride Network Co-Lead, said this is the third for the event.

“The Fierce Rooftop Cookout is held at the World of Whirlpool, which is our brand experience showplace in Chicago, normally not open to the public,” she said.

Keeping with the LGBT theme, three celebrity chefs are providing food demonstrations at the event.

The Hearty Boys were the first-ever gay celebrity chefs with a show on the Food Network. Steve is expected to prepare a couple of summer cocktails and Dan will be making merguez burger sliders and roasted red potato salad, Brown said.

The third chef is Honey LaBronx, a vegan drag queen celebrity chef from New York City. She is the host of “My Big Fat Vegan” radio show. She will show attendees how to make delicious vegan picnic food, Brown said.

In addition to cooking demonstrations, the event will feature a live disc jockey on the rooftop overlooking the Chicago river, selfie photo stations, a silent auction and a cocktail social.

All proceeds collected from ticket sales and the silent auction will go into Project Fierce Chicago.

“The Whirlpool Pride team wanted to be able to celebrate Pride Month with a signature event, while raising money for a cause to support equality,” Brown said. “This is part of Whirlpool’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and giving back to communities where we work and live.”

The venue has a capacity of about 200, but Brown said they are hoping to sell out. About 180 tickets were sold for last year’s event.

The event is from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday at the World of Whirlpool, 325 N. LaSalle St. A limited number of tickets are available for $50, which includes an open bar. Tickets can be purchased online at www.whirlpoolpride2015.eventbrite.com.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 26, 2015)

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Humane Society 5K fundraiser set for Saturday in St. Joseph

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP – The Humane Society of Southwestern Michigan is mixing things up this year.

The group that runs a sanctuary for cats and dogs plans on holding a 5K fun run/walk Saturday at Silver Beach Center in the hopes of raising money for food and animal care. Registration begins at 8 a.m., while the 5K starts at 9 a.m.

Jill Svoboda, Humane Society executive director and 5K chair, said this year’s run will be different from last year.

“This is our second one; we did an Eastern Harbor Hop with Easter eggs last year,” she said. “This year we are giving free carousel rides to all participants, face painters, magicians and other kids activities.”

The activities are free to those who register with the exception of the face painters, who will be accepting donations for the animals. There will also be a bake sale in the morning of the 5K in case a runner misses breakfast. Svoboda said they have volunteers who are making baked goods to sell for the animals.

All registered participants get a “swag bag” donated from Honor Credit Union, the main sponsor of the 5K. Svoboda said the United Federal Credit Union is the sponsor of the activities for participants and children.

“This has taken months of planning,” Svoboda said. “All of the proceeds go back to the animals. There is really no expense to us since the banks are sponsoring the event. We work on a shoestring budget.”

Each 5K participant pays $25, which will go into food for the animals.

Svoboda said the event has collected about 100 runners so far, but is expecting more to sign up the day of the event. Those who register the day of must pay in cash or by check. The prices stay the same for late registration.

There is no cap on runners for the 5K, though Svoboda said the city of St. Joe told her they could handle 400 people.

“Last year we had upwards of 200,” she said. “So, we are good to go.”

While runners can take their dogs on the route, Svoboda said animals will not be allowed inside the Silver Beach Center, per their request.

As co-chair of the 5K event, Kelly Nate has spent the better part of five months planning activities. She said the new location of the 5K was a long time in the making.

“Silver Beach Center actually did approach us. We had been trying to put together an event with them,” she said. “We held one at the carousel six years ago – the first year they opened. But we haven’t had one since and this happened to be the right fit.

As for next year, Svoboda said there is no telling whether the 5K will continue to move each year.

“It depends on the success of this one,” she said. “So many 5Ks take place in downtown St. Joe. We could keep it the same or we could make a change.”

Those who wish to register can sign up online or go in person to the shelter at 641 Crystal Ave. in Benton Township.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 24, 2015)

The Maytag Man makes a splash on social media

The Maytag Man, portrayed by actor Colin Ferguson, became the brand’s new spokesman in 2014 as part of a new advertising campaign. (Courtesy of Maytag)

The Maytag Man, portrayed by actor Colin Ferguson, became the brand’s new spokesman in 2014 as part of a new advertising campaign. (Courtesy of Maytag)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR – With lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights at the forefront of the American spotlight, businesses and companies are beginning to take sides on the issue.

Some have refused service to members of the LGBT community, while others take out full-page ads in support of their rights. Maytag, a commercial appliance brand owned by Whirlpool Corp., chose the latter.

Maytag introduced Twitter and Facebook messages earlier this month that showed the Maytag Man supporting gay marriage in honor of June being LGBT Pride Month.

The Maytag Man is shown holding a rainbow-colored cake with the message “cake and equality for all” and “proud to be in any home.” The image was in reference to Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows bakers to refuse to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

“We have long been committed to equality and pride ourselves on a diverse workforce,” said Brendan Bosch, senior brand manager for Maytag. “Maytag has shown support for the LGBT community in the past, and the support and positive feedback has been inspiring.”

These Maytag messages have gone viral and are resonating with consumers.

On Twitter, Maytag said this post performed 419 percent better than its typical posts. In terms of organic reach on Facebook, the post performed 846 percent better than a standard still photo post and received numerous positive responses and words of praise.

The post on Twitter has been retweeted 2,064 times and favorited 3,983.

Responses have varied, but remained positive for the most part.

One Twitter user posted, “Thank you @TheMaytagMan. Looks delicious and tastes even better. The party’s best when everyone is included.”

User @keralajane said: “@TheMaytagMan is definitely my favorite major appliance company spokesman (mascot?)”

Maytag first introduced its iconic spokesman known as the Maytag Man in 1967, when its then ad agency tried to convey how its appliances’ durability made repairmen the “loneliest guy in town.”

The new Maytag Man, played by actor Colin Ferguson, was introduced in 2014, featuring a new role for the iconic character across TV, print, online and social media.

No longer the bored repairman of old, the new Maytag Man takes on the role of the Maytag appliances themselves – crouching in uncomfortable positions while holding food, washing dishes and drying clothes.

In fact, the Maytag Man’s Twitter page has post after post of quirky remarks and nods to specific holidays, like Father’s Day. The Maytag Man on social media has even adapted in an effort to reach a younger audience by posting GIFs and other short videos.

By giving Maytag a new face, Bosch said the campaign increased the company’s brand health and market share.

The brand spent $49.9 million on advertising last year, up from $23.4 million in 2013, according to Kantar Media.

Bosch said there is more in store for the Maytag Man, who is quick to point out Whirlpool was the first appliance company to achieve a 100 score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index – something it has held for more than a decade.

“Our social post in honor of Pride Month last year was a top performer in terms of engagement,” Bosch said. “We felt it was important to continue to recognize the strides being made in our society in support of this diversity.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 24, 2015)

Silver Beach Pizza to introduce upper deck seating next week

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By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH – After a year’s worth of planning and anticipation, Tony Bertig and Jay Costas will finally get their wish.

As owners of Silver Beach Pizza, stationed in the Amtrak Railroad Station Depot at 410 Vine St., the two have been hard at work to build an addition to the existing structure with second-floor seating.

Barring any setbacks, Costas said the second floor will be open for business next Monday.

“It’s been a long process,” he said. “We have been doing some limited testing with tables. We’re ready to get going for sure.”

The second floor offers a seating capacity of more than 75, adding to the 210 seats below.

“It’s got a lot of nice touches by local artists,” Costas said of the decor. “People who have seen it have liked it.”

Silver Beach Pizza will unveil its new second floor seating next week. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Silver Beach Pizza will unveil its new second floor seating next week. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

The elevated structure on the south end of Silver Beach Pizza includes schooner lights, a half-moon banquette, a rail-bed table, a square bar centered in the room, adjustable garage bay windows, a lounge area with a large-screen TV on the wall and several other tables.

The rail-bed table, added as a nod to the restaurant’s location and history, showcases a stretch of railroad tracks with wooden ties covered with a glass top.

Jill DeMars, a server who has worked at Silver Beach Pizza for six years, was bartending and serving during the restaurant’s test run and said it offers a great atmosphere. She anticipates the rail-bed table will be a popular spot for customers.

“I think it’s definitely a great addition to the restaurant,” DeMars said. “My favorite part are the schooner lights – the light bulbs are covered by schooners and they are custom metal. They give the room a nice lighting at night.”

The second floor is reserved for customers age 21 and older, for safety reasons, Costas said.

Reservations for new seating

The popular pizzeria also will introduce a reservation system exclusively to dine on the second level. People hoping to reserve an upstairs table can do so up to one week ahead of time at www.opentable.com, or through the site’s phone app.

“This is for our normal customers,” he said. “Our hope is that people who dine with us year round can make reservations with us and get into our restaurant during the busy summer.”

The owners of Silver Beach Pizza have leased a portion of the depot from the city since 2005.

St. Joseph city commissioners initially objected to construction of the second level, feeling that part of the view from the bluff was blocked. However, plans for the original concept were altered to eliminate most of the obstruction, and the addition received approval.

As for Costas, the addition is another way of thanking customers.

“Restaurants can fall out of favor, but from the very beginning it was never about making money,” Costas said. “We just wanted to create a special place. The depot is a special building – it’s a 100 years old. It sounds corny, but we are just happy we can exist there and create a cool place that people can go to.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 23, 2015)

Benton Township church holds vigil for Charleston shooting victims

Beulah Wade, 70, of Benton Harbor holds a candle Thursday at the Union Memorial AME Church in Benton Township during a vigil for victims of the AME church shooting in South Carolina. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Beulah Wade, 70, of Benton Harbor holds a candle Thursday at the Union Memorial AME Church in Benton Township during a vigil for victims of the AME church shooting in South Carolina. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP – The shock of a mass killing in a South Carolina church is reaching Southwest Michigan.

The news prompted a prayer vigil Thursday afternoon at Union Memorial AME Church in Benton Township.

“I’ve been praying all day as most of us have been,” said the Rev. Minnie Autry, pastor of Union Memorial at 911 S. Crystal Ave. “It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around. At such a time like this, we have to seek comfort from the lord. Anytime there is tragedy such as this, we try to come together in prayer.”

A gunman opened fire and killed nine people Wednesday night during a prayer service at a historic black church in downtown Charleston. The alleged gunman, identified as Dylann Roof, 21, was arrested Thursday in North Carolina at a traffic stop. He is believed to be the only shooter.

Autry helped organize the vigil for the victims and their families.

The shooting took place at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston at about 9 p.m. It is considered the deadliest mass shooting in the United States since 12 people were killed inside the Washington Navy Yard in September 2013.

Autry said she had first heard about the shooting Wednesday night, but at that time there was no word on if anyone had died.

“It sounds to me like it really was a hate crime,” Autry said. “It has been a very sad day. I’m praying for this young man who has so much hatred to walk into a place of worship and commit such acts of violence.”

More than two dozen people from various churches came together to pray and sing hymns at Union Memorial AME.

Emery Varrie, a pastor for Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Benton Harbor, was present and spoke in support of the families for their loss, and against the egregious actions of the gunman.

“This will have a rippling effect,” he said. “Those nine people have had an effect on hundreds. This is a 21-year-old, it was a learned behavior. You have to learn to hate people. My concern is where and when did he learn this?”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 19, 2015)

National organization visits Michigan, Jollay Orchards

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By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

COLOMA – Michigan is known for the diverse amount of crops it produces.

This was one of the reasons representatives from American Agri-Women hit the road for Michigan as part of its Drive Across America campaign.

The campaign, with stops Friday in Southwest Michigan, was a way to celebrate the organization’s 40 years of existence.

Sue McCrum and Doris Mold, president and first vice president for AAW, have spent the last three weeks driving to different affiliates of the national organization, talking to local farmers and making memories along the way.

McCrum told attendees at Jollay Orchards Farm Market in Coloma Township that it was a good time to let the public know where the country’s food and fiber comes from.

“We have never done this before,” she said. “We are harvesting our past. History is important, but we need to move forward. We plan on traveling to California, zigzagging back and forth into Texas and heading back through Maine.”

The duo has already worked its way through North Carolina, Kentucky and Indiana. The next stop is Illinois.

They will finish the drive at the national convention in Maine on Nov. 1.

A planned tour for visiting members of American Agri-Women began at Jollay Orchards Farm Market on Friday in Coloma Township. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

A planned tour for visiting members of American Agri-Women began at Jollay Orchards Farm Market on Friday in Coloma Township. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Mold referred to Michigan as the Garden of Eden when it came to the state’s agriculture.

“There were fruits and vegetables in all the other states we visited, but this is really kind of a premiere location for everything,” Mold said. “It’s nice to see some diversity in Michigan. We had just come from a state that is just known for its corn and soybeans.”

AAW is the nation’s largest coalition of farm, ranch and agribusiness women with 56 affiliate organizations and more than 40,000 members scattered throughout the country. The group was formed to advocate women’s agriculture and affordable food, fiber and fuel supply.

Michigan Agri-Women President Kim Schmuhl has a farm in Coloma and said she was ecstatic when she learned the two women would come through her neck of the woods.

“We just wanted to give them a showcase of what the Michigan fruit belt is all about,” she said. “We came up with this schedule based on what we have in production that they can see. If they would have come in November we wouldn’t have much to show them.”

The day’s tour included affiliates Jollay Orchards and Contessa Wine Cellars in Coloma Township, Nye’s Apple Barn in St. Joseph Township, strawberry fields in Hartford and some of the greenhouses in the area.

There was also a welcome ceremony Thursday night when the two voyagers arrived in Southwest Michigan.

Michigan Agri-Women was actually the founder of the national organization, Schmuhl said.

“It began in Michigan, so its nice to have them come here and see where it all began,” she said. “We still have some ladies that were here when it first began. It’s so important to our industry just to get more women involved.

“We need to have voices and what better voice to have than a woman on the farm.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 20, 2015)

Airport welcomes new leadership at new ceremony

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR – Southwest Michigan Regional Airport is changing leadership in style.

The airport’s terminal hosted a luncheon and leadership transition ceremony for two hours as a way to give outgoing Airport Manager Lee Scherwitz a send-off and welcome incoming manager Vincent DesJardins.

“I’m leaving the airport in very capable hands,” said Scherwitz, who also spent 26 years with the Air Force. “This is a fun day for me because he is in terror right now.”

DesJardins said he had wanted to be considered for the airport’s managerial position since he was first hired as an operations supervisor. The moment came to fruition when the airport committee decided to hire from within.

Vincent DesJardins, left, listens as Lee Scherwitz talks about making a transition in leadership for the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport during a press conference Thursday. DesJardins will be succeeding Scherwitz as airport manager on June 30. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Vincent DesJardins, left, listens as Lee Scherwitz talks about making a transition in leadership for the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport during a press conference Thursday. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

“I was ecstatic. It feels good, but slightly terrifying,” DesJardins said. “It’s a lot of responsibility and we have a lot of projects we are working on.”

Scherwitz and DesJardins stood in front of more than 50 people, who spoke highly of both men and presented Scherwitz with mementos for his 15 years of service to the airport.

Scherwitz, who was called “the sheriff of the airport,” was known by his friends and colleagues for having plenty of energy and everlasting tenacity.

Betsy Steudle, program manager at the Michigan Department of Transportation’s aeronautics office, presented both men certificates for their service to the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph area.

Even Whirlpool Corp. officials made appearances to express their thanks to Scherwitz.

“Were it not for your leadership we would not be able to harbor so much traveling for our business,” said Jeff Noel, vice president of communications and public affairs. “There is no one more dedicated, no one more hardworking than Lee Scherwitz. He’s not the kind of guy that likes to take credit for much, but I could stand up here for a half an hour talking about what he’s done for this community.”

While Scherwitz’s last official day will be June 30 – ushering in the new fiscal year for the airport – no one will know better because he plans on returning part time.

“I’m not going to miss anything because I’m still going to be here,” he said afterward. “This is my baby. It’s my life, blood, sweat and tears. It’s a part of me.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 19, 2015)