A different path: Karate instructor uses eighth-degree black belt to teach life lessons

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By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — As soon as Salomon Villalpando steps onto the mat and takes his glasses off, he becomes another person.

For three nights a week, the eighth-degree black belt wears his red kimono and teaches life lessons using karate.

With an insignia on his back that reads “Train Like a Champion,” Villalpando begins to stretch in front of his Wednesday night class. With his feet wrapped in black tape, the 57-year-old karate instructor bows in front of his students as a sign of respect.

It’s on that mat where Villalpando faces the many difficulties he has come across.

“Karate challenged my life and taught me to go beyond those obstacles,” Villalpando said. “Martial arts keeps me on the right trial, but God’s faith keeps me going.”

The Norton Shores resident first got involved in karate when he was 15 years old after being jumped by some kids who went to his high school.

To this day Villalpando doesn’t know why they did it, but it was the main motivating factor that got him to where he is today.

Salomon Villalpando watches as his son Caleb, 19, perform what is instructed during one of Salomon's karate classes. (Andraya Croft | MLive.com)

Salomon Villalpando watches as his son Caleb, 19, perform what is instructed during one of Salomon’s karate classes. (Andraya Croft | MLive.com)

As the son of a pastor, Villalpando went down a different path than his father – although both would encourage peace and discipline in their undertakings.

When he began at first, it was just a way to defend himself. But as he grew bigger and became faster than others in his class, Villalpando realized he wanted to teach the sport to others.

During a training session in the Norton Pines Athletic Club, Villalpando spent the majority of his time as an attacker – taking an elbow to the head, being thrown to the ground and absorbing punches to the gut – in order to help his students react and counter any attack.

By reliving his days as that bullied 15-year-old who was a little too shy and timid, he was helping others avoid those scary scenarios.

“Karate comes in a variety of ways,” Villalpando said. “There is discipline, respect and self-confidence that are all a part of it.”

Making an impact

As a result of his teachings, Villalpando receives letters from former students thanking him. He’s gone on to speak at seminars and even taught a karate class at Muskegon Community College for years.

In his 42 years in karate, Villalpando has earned more than just his eighth-degree black belt.

His injuries have been chasing him throughout his career. Villalpando has had surgery on his knees, broken his shoulder, clavicle and nose, while also blowing out his Achilles – an injury that was the most difficult to come back from.

Yet, he’s the first one to say those injuries are not a big deal because those scars are a reminder of not only his mistakes, but what he has overcome.

This is something Villalpando tries to pass on to his son, Caleb, who took up karate at a younger age than he did.

“I didn’t want to push him, but I wanted to make sure this was a part of his life,” Villalpando said. “I’m glad he stayed with it.”

His son received his third-degree black belt this summer at the age of 19. The two train constantly and have never been closer as a result.

“He’s a big influence because he got me into karate,” Caleb said of his dad. “I was quite shy as a kid and I wouldn’t come out of my shell and talk to people a lot. Karate has given me more confidence and helped me become the best that I can be.”

In his sessions, Villalpando wears his black belt snug around his waist, which exhibits eight red dashes to symbolize the degree of expertise. His name is written in small, gold letters around the rest of the belt that hangs loosely at his hip.

When he moves with speed and fluidity, the red dashes seem to blend into one single band. Amid the palm attacks, tiger claws and front-snap kicks are brief periods of relaxation and solemnity. It’s easy to see that being on that mat next to his son and the wide array of students is what makes Villalpando the happiest.

“I’ve put everything into this. This is my life,” Villalpando said, smiling afterward. “If I could do this for a living, I would.”

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

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 2, 2014)

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Snurfer exhibit opens at Muskegon Community College library

This art piece, shown in this file photo, highlights the Snufer that was invented by Sherm Poppen. The Muskegon native is credited as the father of snowboarding. (MLive file)

This art piece, shown in this file photo, highlights the Snufer that was invented by Sherm Poppen. The Muskegon native is credited as the father of snowboarding. (MLive file)

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — Muskegon Community College is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Snurfer’s invention with an exhibit in the Hendrik Meijer Library on campus, 221 S. Quarterline Road, from Dec. 1-March 31.

The library exhibit will feature photographs of the World Championship Snurfing competition hosted by MCC, an array of vintage Snurfer boards, clothing and more for four months.

“MCC was an integral part of what became the Snurfer exhibitions in 1968,” said Ron Pesch, a local historian and organizer of the exhibit. “Back in the day, it was a big deal. Its real impact was on the kids who were fans of that sport that went on to modify it and create snowboarding. So, it had an impact on a national scale.”

The library hours are 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. on Mondays-Thursdays, 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on Fridays and 1-6 p.m. on Sundays. The library will be closed for the holidays Dec. 24-Jan. 5.

A special reception will be held 3-5:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 5, when the library will honor the invention of the iconic winter sport in Muskegon, as well as MCC’s special place in its early growth. The event is free and open to the public.

The MCC exhibit is part of a yearlong celebration of the Snurfer’s invention by Muskegon’s Sherman Poppen.

The Snurfer was featured this fall in a Travel Channel segment called “Granddaddy of Snowboarding,” as well as in the November edition of Michigan History Magazine.

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

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 2, 2014)

Bah Humbug! One-man show of ‘A Christmas Carol’ returns to Howmet Playhouse

Local actor and Muskegon Community College professor Tom Harryman will perform a one-man rendition of "A Christmas Carol" at the Howmet Playhouse on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. (MLive.com file)

Local actor and Muskegon Community College professor Tom Harryman will perform a one-man rendition of “A Christmas Carol” at the Howmet Playhouse on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. (MLive.com file)

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

WHITEHALL, MI — As an instructor of theater at Muskegon Community College, Tom Harryman knows his way around a stage.

One of his signature performances will be coming to the Howmet Playhouse for a 3 p.m. show Sunday, Dec. 7. Adapting Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” into a one-man show, Harryman will tell the story of Ebenezer Scrooge through a new narrative.

“It’s a challenge doing what is essentially a 70-minute presentation,” Harryman said. “It’s certainly a well-known story. The first time I did ‘A Christmas Carol’ was in 2006 or 2007. It’s been very popular around the area.”

The MCC faculty member has taken his one-man show out of the box and dusted it off every few years. Two years ago Harryman performed at the Howmet, in Big Rapids and later in Grand Haven.

This year he is expected to perform at the Howmet on Dec. 7 and the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts on Dec. 19 and Dec. 20.

“I’ve been in theater pretty much all of my life and the preparation is just getting the story down in my head,” Harryman said. “I like solo performance work. I’ve done a couple of shows that way. Plus, I love the story.”

One of the main things that come into play for choosing to do “A Christmas Carol” for Harryman is how spooky it can be, as well as its abundance of great characters.

With no costume or set changes, Harryman finds a way to take on more than one persona through the narrative.

“You come to hear a story and use your imagination,” he said. “It’s a little more direct contact with the audience.”

Beth Beaman, director for the Howmet, said she first began talking with Harryman about coming back for another show a couple months back.

Beaman first saw the college educator perform his one-man show at the Frauenthal, where he chose another production that combined several pieces of work from Edgar Allen Poe.

“It was amazing to watch him perform and see that after a short amount of time it was Edgar Allen Poe on that stage,” Beaman said.

Harryman said he gets requests for his shows all the time. However, it’s his love of the craft that keeps him coming back to the stage.

“I think that a lot of the themes that are addressed in ‘A Christmas Carol’ are probably as relevant today as they were when Dickens wrote them in terms of helping people, in terms of how we treat one another.”

Harbor Light Credit Union is sponsoring the event as tickets are being sold at $10 for adults and $5 for students. Attendees can get tickets at Whitehall City Hall or at the door. For more information regarding the show or tickets, visit the Howmet’s website at http://www.howmetplayhouse.org.

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

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 1, 2014)

Interactive walks in Grand Haven, Montague to highlight Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — Some churches in the Muskegon area will be providing church-goers with the opportunity to visit events featuring key elements of the Christmas season this December.

The religious focus of the season will be the focus of events in Montague and Grand Haven.

The Ferry Memorial Reformed Church in Montague will be hosting the Journey of Joy from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6 and Sunday, Dec. 7. The event is designed to allow friends and families to follow a recreation of the path to the birth place of Jesus Christ.

Jeanne Flanders, director for the Journey of Joy, said the church, 8637 Old Channel Trail, will have dozens of patrons moving in and out throughout the first weekend of December.

“There will be a scene with lepers and then eventually people travel on to the shepherds in a field and the angels start singing in another room,” Flanders said. “We travel outside to run into some nomads and we end up in what was the manger.”

The walk that features a guide has become a major attraction with its interactive aspects, hot chocolate and cookies. The interactive walk will have sheep, a donkey, chickens, roosters and a baby calf, Flanders said.

The walk has been going on for more than 20 years and has gone through some changes over time. Flanders has been the director of the walk for the last 10 years and in that time several scenes have been added, including the one with lepers.

“We probably have on an average night anywhere from 250 to 300 people,” Flanders said. “There is no cost to come in, but we do put a basket out for free will. We don’t do it for a money maker. It’s just a really neat way to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.”

A Journey to Bethlehem

A walk organized by St. John’s Lutheran Church that takes place at Duncan Woods in Grand Haven will be held over the course of three days.

With the walk starting at the United Methodist Church of the Dunes, 717 Sheldon Road, attendees can purchase their tickets for various walk times ranging from 5:45-9 p.m. Dec. 11-13.

Terri Metzger, project leader for the Journey to Bethlehem, said the walk is unique because it unifies approximately 28 churches from the Tri-Cities area.

“All different kinds of faiths and denominations are present at the walk at night,” Metzger said. “It represents the travels that Mary and Joseph made from Nazareth and Bethlehem.”

Entering its third year, the walk allows travelers in groups of 25 to be led by guides in costumes. Attendees start at United Methodist where they are then transported to the Duncan Woods for a 45-minute walk.

Metzger said afterward all participants have time to wind down and have cookies and hot chocolate at United Methodist.

“We have built the city of Bethlehem off site so we put it up in the park,” Metzger said. “People get to meet Roman soldiers on horseback, Rabbis, shepherds and sheep in a stable.”

St. John’s is still selling tickets at $5 a person. Metzger said they have been sold out the previous two years after selling 3,750 tickets. For more information on purchasing a ticket, visit the event website at www.journey2bethlehem.com/

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

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 1, 2014)

‘A Civil War Christmas’ being presented Dec. 3-6 at Overbrook Theater

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — Paula Vogel’s “A Civil War Christmas” will be presented by the Muskegon Community College Center for Theater from Dec. 3-6 in the Overbrook Theater. The start time for all four of the performances will be 7:30 p.m.

Sheila Wahamaki, director of the Center for Theater at MCC, said the play is relatively new, having been first performed in 2008.

“It’s set during the last Christmas before the end of the Civil War,” Wahamaki said. “It chronicles life around that particular time and moment.”

The Overbrook Theater will be transformed into Washington D.C. on Christmas Eve, a year after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

Known as “an American musical celebration,” the show integrates the singing of “Silent Night” and “O’ Christmas Tree.”

As for why the play was chosen, its holiday element could not be ignored.

“I select things that would be of interest in the community,” Wahamaki said. “I was looking for something that had a Christmas theme to it. The college offers a course in Civil War history and takes students to Gettysburg, so I thought this would be a nice tie in to the class.”

Out of the 27 cast members, 17 are current MCC students, with the rest comprised of alumni and community members.

The timing of the play is something Wahamaki thinks will draw in crowds as well.

“I think at Christmas time we want peace in the world,” she said. “It’s been interesting working on this Civil War play with what’s going on in Ferguson, Mo.”

Pre-show commentary and insights into the Civil War will be offered by MCC faculty members Kurt Troutman and George Maniates to coincide with the Thursday and Friday performances. Those programs are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the Overbrook Art Gallery.

Tickets are $10 for the general public and $5 for MCC students. For ticket information, call MCC’s box office at 231-777-0324. The box office hours are noon-4 p.m.

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

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

Spring Lake Sailing Club in New Orleans to face 40 other teams for national regatta

Frank Reeg and Caleb Boone have sailed their way to New Orleans for a national regatta. They will be joined by two other members of the Spring Lake Sailing Club. (Patrick Reeg | Courtesy Photo)

Frank Reeg and Caleb Boone have sailed their way to New Orleans for a national regatta. They will be joined by two other members of the Spring Lake Sailing Club. (Patrick Reeg | Courtesy Photo)

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

SPRING LAKE, MI — When it comes to November, sailing is not the first thing that comes to mind for most people.

But for the high school students who take part in the Spring Lake Sailing Club, it seems the waters are always acceptable. In brutally cold weather wearing wet suits, they raced in Chicago and qualified for a national race.

Spring Lake coach Joe Rotonda runs drills with the club on Tuesdays and Thursdays and has seen the willingness of the 24 members exceed everyone’s expectations.

Beginning on Saturday, Nov. 22 and carrying through to Sunday, Nov. 23, the Spring Lake Sailing Club will have four representatives in New Orleans for a national regatta known as the Great Oak Invitational. Those four students include Frank Reeg, Caleb Boone, Rachael Rantenen and Tommy Clover.

“We go out to an event every weekend,” Rotonda said. “The team is where it is today because of the parents who volunteer their time and the community that has backed it. The success we have has been a result of that.”

Reeg’s father, Patrick, said after practicing at the Spring Lake Yacht Club throughout the fall, those four will now be going up against the nation’s best.

“My son is sailing well this season. The high school team started four years ago as a club sport,” Patrick Reeg said. “It’s been a great opportunity for these kids to sail. We’ve been getting bigger and bigger each year.”

Having done well in the Great Lakes Championships and winning the Michigan State Championship, the team moved from regatta to regatta.

“We had more kids in the fall season than in the spring this year,” Rotonda said. “We are one of the few public schools in Michigan to have a sailing team. I mean, Grand Haven has one, too, but most of the time it is a private school that has one.”

Rotonda, who has sailed his whole life, said he started coaching as a way to pass some of that knowledge onto others.

“It’s a culmination of all our practices and we compete every week,” he said. “I think the kids are pretty excited. To go somewhere like New Orleans and sail is pretty cool.”

The two-day event will include 40 teams, which will be divided into two separate fleets on the second day – considered the gold and silver fleets.

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

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 21, 2014)

Personal Care Product Giveaway returns to The Gateway Church with higher hopes for December

Personal care products, like the products pictured above, will be given away to families or individuals in need on Sunday, Dec. 29 at The Gateway Church in Spring Lake. (MLive File Photo)

Personal care products, like the products pictured above, will be given away to families or individuals in need on Sunday, Dec. 29 at The Gateway Church in Spring Lake. (MLive File Photo)

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

SPRING LAKE, MI — Money can be tight around the holidays, so The Gateway Church plans on helping out families with a portion of their budget.

The fifth annual Personal Care Product Giveaway will take place Sunday, Dec. 28 at the church, located on 1641 Pontaluna Road in Spring Lake. Starting at 2:30 p.m., personal care products will be given away on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Our goal is to provide families and individuals in need with a one-month supply of personal care items,” said Ben Vegh, lead pastor at The Gateway Church. “Every year the demand for assistance grows and so does the amount of donations given.”

Products to be given away will include shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, deodorant, cleaning products and more. Last year, hundreds of people received more than 5,000 items for free.

Five years ago, the church was looking for a way to make an impact in the community when one of their members noticed there was a need for people who already had coats, scarves and gloves.

That same church member found out the food stamps and bridge cards do not cover personal care products. The discussion from their mission’s team and their board grew from there.

“The need is great,” Vegh said. “Every year we have hundreds of families that come through and it is just remarkable.”

In their first year of holding the giveaway, Vegh said the church had put the word out with the church all of the supplies. The next year, the group effort became more organized and produced an average of 15–20 personal care products for each family.

With at least one month’s cleaning supplies, Vegh has noticed families have made some of those products last a year, especially after they began giving away 1,000 Q-tips. At the end of the giveaway, the church also has volunteers helping families bring their personal care products back to their cars.

The Gateway Church had also begun to consider forming another personal care product giveaway in other areas along West Michigan.

“If we get the resources and the availability to do it, it can be expanded,” Vegh said. “We’ve talked with a few other churches along the lakeshore that could do a similar outreach to the backpack drive.”

Vegh said every family will be given the option of a prayer room, which is not mandatory. Vegh said they will be coordinating this giveaway through the honor system — no residents have to provide proof they are limited when it comes to funds.

“We do it after Christmas because we know a lot of budgets are tight coming into the New Year,” Vegh said. “(Parents) have sacrificed by purchasing what their kids wanted. Heating costs are up as well, so it’s a perfect time for an after-Christmas blessing.”

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

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 29, 2014)