Walking for warriors: Friends trek from Chicago to South Haven for Wounded Warrior Project

From left, Matt Williams, from Chicago, Thomas Wolf, from Green Bay, Wis., Erik Stoltzner, from Chicago and Cole Andrekus, from Kenosha, Wis., walk along M-63 on their way to South Haven on Friday. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

From left, Matt Williams, from Chicago, Thomas Wolf, from Green Bay, Wis., Erik Stoltzner, from Chicago and Cole Andrekus, from Kenosha, Wis., walk along M-63 on their way to South Haven on Friday. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

COLOMA — They were nearing the end of their five-day trek along Lake Michigan, when the four men were honked at by a passing car on M-63.

Erik Stoltzner, of Chicago, raised the American flag he was carrying as a signal that the group appreciated the recognition.

Accompanying Stoltzner on the rounding curves of M-63 Friday morning were Matt Williams, from Chicago; Thomas Wolf, of Green Bay, Wis.; and Cole Andrekus, from Kenosha, Wis.

The four wore sunglasses, backpacks filled with supplies and sleeveless shirts marked with the initials “WWP” written across the chest. The letters stand for Wounded Warrior Project, a charitable organization that offers a variety of programs, services and events for wounded veterans. The group has already raised more than $15,000 in making the 136-mile walk from Wilmette Beach in Chicago to South Haven in less than a week.

The money will benefit Wounded Warriors – a cause very dear to them.

“Any pain we have had on this walk is nothing compared to what these warriors go through every single day of their lives after coming home from defending our freedom,” Stoltzner said. “We feel it’s our responsibility and our duty to give back to them the best we can. The debt we owe these warriors can never be repaid, but we can try the best we can.”

Stoltzner and company started planning the project in August of last year.

The Chicago resident came up with the idea during his time spent with the Army ROTC at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin. For workouts, cadets would throw a sack over their back and start walking. Through this experience, Stoltzner called Andrekus and Wolf – who also attend St. Norbert College – to pitch them the idea of walking to South Haven.

Without any hesitation both committed to the project.

Williams, who attended high school with Stoltzner, later discovered the project online and reached out to see if he could participate.

“I was impressed by what the other three wanted to do,” Williams said. “I spent a day or two thinking about it and decided I really wanted to do it with them. I felt like it was something I could really give back to.”

An arduous journey

They began at 7 a.m. Monday and have been moving through Illinois, Indiana and Michigan ever since.

Chicago Fire Department Station 46 in South Chicago lent them a few bunks to sleep in during the first night. The Burns Harbor Fire Department in Chesterton, Ind., put them up for the next night on Tuesday. On Thursday, the four of them made it to St. Joseph and slept in a room at the Silver Beach Hotel.

While it is easy to commit to walk 136 miles, it’s another thing to actually complete the distance.

“I thought we were going to be able to knock out 30 or 40 miles a day, but when you get down to actually walking, it’s an all-day thing,” Williams said. “(For Thursday) it was from 7 a.m. up until 9 p.m. last night. We stopped and talked to people, but it’s tough when you are walking 12-14 hours on your feet.”

To pass the time, Stoltzner said they talked about everything and anything.

“We’ve had some out there conversations about random stuff,” Stoltzner admitted. “Sometimes we talked a lot. Other times we just put our heads down and kept trucking. The best thing that helped us pass the time was the support from others. Everyone was driving by, showing support, and we kept in mind what we were doing this for.”

During their stay in St. Joseph, Stoltzner said someone was kind enough to donate a room for them.

Along the way they received monetary donations toward the project, words of encouragement from veterans, bottles of water and the occasional honk of support.

“The support we received through this walk has been unbelievable,” Stoltzner said. “We already had our sleeping arrangements ready to go, but some people even offered for us to stay with them. I really feel we are completing our mission of raising awareness.”

With the money raised and the end in sight, Stoltzner said the group has discussed doing this again. However, the decision remains up in the air.

“It’s been quite an experience along the way,” Stoltzner said. “We haven’t decided if we will do this again. But we are happy and honored to give back to our heroes who have given us so much.”

To learn more about their cause or to donate to the groups’s effort, go to http://fundraise.woundedwarrior project.org/rtt/Fundraising/team/forthem.

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 Aug. 15, 2015)

MDOT cameras along I-94 in Benton Harbor provide photos, video

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Driving along the Interstate 94 interchanges near various Benton Harbor on ramps, motorists may have noticed cameras posted atop towering utility poles.

These cameras, though not fully operational yet, were installed in the area about a year ago and are used to monitor traffic patterns and how weather affects roadway operations, said Michigan Department of Transportation Spokesman Nick Schirripa.

An MDOT camera, located along I-94 near Exit 27 in St. Joseph, is among hundreds across the state that send a live video feed or a series of photos to MDOT’s website. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

An MDOT camera, located along I-94 near Exit 27 in St. Joseph, is among hundreds across the state that send a live video feed or a series of photos to MDOT’s website. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

While the cameras were installed in the Benton Harbor region along the highway, Schirripa said they can be hard to spot.

“It varies by location, but they sit about 25-30 feet in the air on these aluminum utility poles,” he said. “Some are in the median while others are off the shoulder. They look like video cameras – a gray box with a lens sticking out of it. They are not terribly obvious, so if you are not looking for them its easy to miss.”

While he did not know how many were stationed in Benton Harbor, Schirripa said MDOT has installed hundreds across the state within the past three years.

Other than hanging out and watching traffic, these cameras send a feed to MDOT officials that project live video or photos that are updated every 60 seconds.

All the cameras are available for public review by going online to michigan.gov/drive. Each viewer of the site is given a map of Michigan, which showcases major streets and highways with construction updates and camera icons that can be accessed through the click of a mouse. The majority of these cameras fall in major cities like Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids.

However, other towns have feeds online, including a handful in the Upper Peninsula.

Through a lens

While the majority of cameras across the state take pictures that are updated each minute, Schirripa said the ones with a live video feed are predominantly in the Metro Detroit region. The cameras along I-94 in Benton Harbor are not online yet, but they will be streaming images by the end of this year, Schirripa said.

“We are working to get them all connected,” he said. “I think they’ll be useful for drivers because if you are traveling from Benton Harbor to Detroit, you can look at all those cameras along I-94 to give yourself an idea of what’s happening on the road.”

Schirripa said he does not know if there are plans for cameras to go in other Berrien County locations, but that doesn’t mean any are being ruled out.

“We are taking it one interchange at a time,” he said. “I’m sure there will be more in the future. It’s just a matter of identifying key locations for them and where they work best.”

MDOT is in charge of installing the cameras and keeping them maintained. The state agency has a third-party agreement with private contractors for hosting all the video and uploading still photos to its website.

“I think the ability for us and motorists to get a bird’s eye view of what’s happening before we get there is interesting,” Schirripa said. “We’ve been able to help motorists avoid traffic back ups, especially when weather changes. If we can get a jump on things like lake effect snow ahead of time, we can send out emails, texts and alerts from our digital message signs to let people know what’s coming.”

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 Aug. 17, 2015)

Lincoln Township Trustees fill vacant planning post

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

STEVENSVILLE — It was an evening of appointments and reappointments for the Lincoln Township Board of Trustees.

Supervisor Dick Stauffer introduced Charles Olszewski to the board Tuesday night, before naming him the next member of the township planning commission. He will be sworn in later this week.

Stauffer arranged for Planning Commission Chairman Michael Freehling to form a subcommittee to review commission candidates for open positions and to later recommend a candidate for board approval after a string of resignations.

“(Olszewski) has conveyed a willingness to attend planning and zoning training,” Stauffer said. “I believe his resume is very strong and I think he would be an excellent contributor to the planning commission.”

The appointment follows Juan Ganum’s resignation from the commission. Ganum left for a new job in Bridgman. The township placed advertisements for the open position, and they proceeded to hire Jae Guetschow.

Stauffer said Guetschow also resigned after accepting another position out of the area, which led to the hiring of Olszewski on Tuesday.

Olszewski has a master’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in educational psychology. He will fill Guetschow’s term, which ends on March 31, 2018.

Trustees also appointed Chris Brooks to join the township’s Construction Board of Appeals, effective Nov. 1. The appointment will take effect that day due to Rod Thomson’s resignation on Oct. 31. Brooks will finish Thomson’s term which expires on March 31, 2016.

Stauffer said Thomson is retiring at the end of October and will not be renewing his architect license. Since the township’s bylaws requires a licensed architect on the construction board of appeals, Brooks was asked to step in.

Clerk Stacy Loar-Porter announced an event called “Start Back with the Pack” will take place Aug. 22, which will see Lakeshore Chamber, Chemical Bank and Honor Credit Union provide secure document shredding services to local residents in exchange for donated school supplies. The event is from 9 a.m. to noon in the Lincoln Township parking lot at 2055 W. John Beers Road.

The next board meeting will be at 7 p.m., Sept. 8 at Lincoln Township Hall.

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 Aug. 12, 2015)

Sonic restaurant on pace to open in September

Construction for the new Sonic restaurant at 2680 M-139 continues as developers expect it to open in September. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Construction for the new Sonic restaurant at 2680 M-139 continues as developers expect it to open in September. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Construction for the new Sonic restaurant in Benton Township has progressed without any setbacks, developers say.

Brian Cronkrite, vice president of Marketing for Trigo Hospitality, said they are happy with the pace of construction progress as the company is still searching for other tenants to occupy the remainder of the restaurant/retail complex.

“We are still working on finalizing additional tenants for the building,” he said. “We have approached a number of potential tenants, but there is nothing to announce.”

Cronkrite said workers are starting wall finishes and have completed the majority of doors and windows. They are expected to start installing equipment in a few weeks, with a projected opening for Sonic to be “sometime in September.”

While the Sonic space is halfway completed, Cronkrite said the non-Sonic tenant spaces are being left empty to accommodate customization for potential clients. The project’s main contractor is Priority Construction, Inc., based out of Wyoming, Mich.

“We will begin paving in the next three weeks,” Cronkrite said. “The parking lot, landscaping and Sonic build out will be completed at the same time. The last touches would be on the Sonic restaurant itself.”

The restaurant/retail complex is at 2680 M-139 at the site of the former Maxton Motors building. Demolition of the used car building began in late May, a week after site plans were approved by the Benton Township Board of Trustees and its planning commission.

Greg Molter, of Acquisitions LLC – a Stevensville-based company – submitted a site plan for the 1.8-acre site near the Interstate-94 exit earlier this year. Plans included construction of a 9,200-square-foot, 22-foot-tall building.

The total cost for the project is $4 million, which Cronkrite said includes the price for the property and further development.

Cronkrite said the location was chosen because of the close proximity to the interstate that brings in a high amount of traffic.

In addition to the Sonic location, Molter co-owns the St. Joseph Township plaza off of I-94, home to Panera and Moe’s Southwest Grill.

Before Maxton, the location was the site of the Bill Knapp’s restaurant, which opened in 1963 and closed in 2002. Molter told the Benton Township Planning Commission in May that he wanted to bring back food establishments to the former Bill Knapp’s location.

Cronkrite said they are still in the process of hiring and training management for Sonic. Those interested in a managerial position can send an email to timvy@trigohospitality.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 Aug. 13, 2015)

Computing a career: Stevensville business owner ponders life after retirement

Fred Wolf, owner of PC Services in Stevensville, is retiring after nearly two decades as owner of the business. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Fred Wolf, owner of PC Services in Stevensville, is retiring after nearly two decades as owner of the business. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

STEVENSVILLE — As the owner of PC Services Computer Solutions, Fred Wolf made a difficult decision a month ago.

Known around the Stevensville area as a man with a knack for understanding microprocessors, Wolf plans to retire on Aug. 31. While he can’t recall how long he has been running his own business – his best guess is 17 or 18 years – Wolf is sure of how thankful he is for his clientele. Before starting PC Services, Wolf worked at an electronics store for about 15 years.

He’s always been handy. As a teenager, he remembered fixing a neighbor’s radio and charging a couple bucks. He started in radio and television in the early days when computers weren’t readily available. After moving to the region 42 years ago from Bangor to attend Lake Michigan College, Wolf made this area his home.

The Benton Harbor resident said he chose to retire at the end of August – not just to mark his 66th birthday – but because he felt it was time to move on.

With his business sold and ready for the new owner to take over Sept. 1, Wolf sat down with Herald Palladium Staff Writer Tony Wittkowski to discuss his professional life and what it will be like to step away.

Are you a Mac or PC guy?

We’re a PC shop, but I prefer PCs because I have to. The majority of the businesses that we support are PC based and so are the applications they use.

Tell me a little bit about your job. What is your daily routine?

Some days it’s glamorous, some days it’s pretty mundane. That’s what I love about the job, it’s never the same thing two days in a row. I can get a phone call that Mrs. Jones gets strange things popping up on her screen and I can go fight a trojan (horse) or some other malware that was installed. On the other end, we’ve got networks that when PCs are down, lives are at risk. When they call, we are there to make it right.

What’s the hardest challenge you’ve faced?

An intermittent. It’s something where the customer calls and we show up and everything is working fine. They are probably the most difficult and challenging to make them right. A good example would be if I’m working and all of a sudden my screen goes black and then it comes back. It’s annoying and it messes up productivity.

How has your work changed since you first picked up a mouse?

The technology is ever-evolving. When I first started the business, we were still doing MS-Dos based PCs. Now we are anxiously waiting Windows 10 arrival. The intelligence of the PCs have remarkably changed. Before you had to know more technical information. Now things are more automatic to install applications.

What did a lot of your customers say when they found out you would be retiring?

That I couldn’t do it and that I had to stay here forever. Most of my customers are my friends. That’s probably what distinguishes PC Services from most other companies. The people that run these companies know me by first name and probably my children as well.

What do you think you’ll miss the most?

Probably the support response. That’s something I prided myself on. When they would call, we would take care of them. They had that satisfaction of knowing they would be taken care of. I would like to thank all my customers for their friendship and support. I’m extremely blessed to live in this community and have that kind of support.

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 Aug. 17, 2015)

Administrators, secretarial staff get 2 percent salary increase

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — After running a deficit for the past five years, the St. Joseph school district will be operating with a surplus for the upcoming school year.

As a result, the school board approved a 2 percent salary increase to administrators and secretarial staff.

Superintendent Ann Cardon, who made the recommendation, said all groups will get raises this year – including bus drivers, custodians and teachers, who are getting their steps plus a 1 percent increase.

“We are pleased to be able to do this because of the tough decisions we made a year ago in order to make budget cuts,” Cardon said. “We are on the right track. We are coming into this school year with a surplus and we will be putting money in the fund balance for the first time in five years. It’s good to see all the other groups are getting an increase this year.”

Cardon said they would not release how much would be added to the fund balance until the district’s audit is completed.

It’s been two years since administrators had a raise, Cardon added.

The board then approved the hiring of nine staff members, including Special Education Director Denise Reisig – who was present at Monday’s meeting.

Reisig comes in after the school district had originally hired Michelle Allison in June, who went on to tender her resignation last month. Reisig attended the administrative retreat last Friday before her first day on Monday.

“We have some teachers coming in that are brand new and some that have experience,” Cardon said. “We are thrilled with Denise coming on board. She’s from Benton Harbor and was their special ed supervisor.”

The board also adopted the resolution for the lease and purchase of 235 computers from Apple, Inc. as part of the district’s One-to-One initiative at Upton Middle School.

This marks the fourth year Upton sixth-graders are given a laptop, which was made possible through the $38 million bond issue passed by voters in 2010.

“As you know, every year with the incoming sixth graders, we lease and purchase them Mac Book Air laptops,” Cardon said. “That computer is assigned to them which they keep all three years in middle school. They have the option to buy them at the end of the eighth-grade year.”

Board President Amy Porritt-Pierce, Treasurer Chris Cook and Trustee Corey Corolla were not present for Monday’s proceedings.

The board will hold a workshop meeting at 5 p.m. on Aug. 17 inside the Harbor Shores Conference Room in Benton Harbor.

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 Aug. 11, 2015)

South Shore buys running retail store

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — A St. Joseph running retail store has a new owner as of Monday.

Taylor’d Running, which caters to runners and serious walkers, was bought by South Shore Health & Racquet Club in order to expand its pedestrian sports offerings.

South Shore General Manager John Phillips said in a news release that the store’s addition to the club’s umbrella of services bodes well for its current customers.

“We are acquiring Taylor’d Running’s upscale lines of footwear, apparel and gear, as well as their highly trained and knowledgeable staff,” Phillips said. “Now, not only can we properly outfit runners and walkers, but we can enhance our personalized training programs.”

Phillips said the decision to purchase the 9-year-old business came after the store’s founder, Ryan Taylor, announced he would focus his energy on a new venture in Grand Rapids.

South Shore plans to retain the Taylor’d Running name and lease its current location at 1501 Niles Ave. in the Cycle and Fitness building, across from Milton Park.

“We plan to build on their excellent reputation in the running community and leverage our fitness expertise to grow the business in the region,” Phillips said.

South Shore administrative assistant Sarah Monte said the current staff will remain intact and will be used to help train additional hires.

“Together we’ll help personalize the training programs for runners in the area,” she said. “It’s a great expansion for our business. This was something we wanted to jump on as soon as (Taylor) posted on Facebook that he wanted to sell.”

Under new ownership, Taylor’d Running will add brands and products so avid runners and walkers can find what they need locally. Phillips said South Shore members will be eligible for store discounts and customers will have access to club membership specials and events.

South Shore Health & Racquet Club is a year-round tennis, fitness and aquatics club.

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 Aug. 11, 2015)