Riding the pine: Whirlpool holds Pinewood Derby for charity

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By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Mike Fiori has a passion for woodworking.

This was made evident when the lead mechanical engineer submitted a handmade wooden car for the first Pinewood Derby race at Whirlpool Corp.’s Benton Harbor Technology Center.

Along with more than 50 other engineers and makers, Fiori paid $10 for a block of wood to turn it into a derby car for charity. Cars faced off against one another inside the Tech Center’s cafeteria, using a 35-foot track created in the building’s model shop. The money will go toward helping six families Whirlpool “adopted” at Christmas, as well as buy and stuff backpacks for the Benton Harbor Boys and Girls Club.

Deb Kazmierzak, a senior administrative assistant in refrigeration, is in charge of engagement activities at the Tech Center and came up with the idea for the derby.

“The point of all this was to raise money and have fun doing it. I was trying to come up with something we could do to incorporate what engineers would like to do,” she said. “I thought this would be cool because each of the engineers and model makers have their own talents. My goal was to beat all of them because being model makers, they think they know everything.”

They began selling derby car kits Nov. 1, where participants had to weigh in their cars and apply the normal rules from what was learned in Cub Scouts.

Fiori took part in derby racing for two years, but he admitted it was his dad who did most of the wok back then. However, Fiori now has his own wood shop where he spent 12 to 14 hours putting together his car.

His car was meticulously created by cutting down the original block of wood, adding layers of cherry, walnut and maple. He then cut out fenders for the rear wheels, while refusing to use lead to weigh down the car. Next Fiori sanded the body, fashioned the spoiler at the back of the car and applied a red oak stain.

Fiori settled on the name “The Mach 6” for his car, taking a similar name from the car in “Speed Racer.” However, the number on the car is 95, which signifies the year his Corvette was made.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “This is for a good cause and that was the No. 1 reason for why we were doing this. The $10 to buy a car is almost nothing. They should have charged more!”

Kazmierzak said the plan is to have another Pinewood Derby at Whirlpool’s plant in Amana, Iowa – which deals with refrigeration. The same track will be transported to Iowa along with Benton Harbor’s fastest car, which will race against the fastest at the Iowa plant for bragging rights and a trophy.

Robert Dillard Jr., a senior model maker at the Tech Center, sacrificed speed for creativity with his car.

“I got really busy and thought of something simple for my car,” Dillard said. “I cut the front off and the back off and made it shaped like an eraser and painted it pink. I thought it was clever.”

When his coworkers saw the pink block with the term “E-Racer” on it, many didn’t have to ask whose car it was.

“They knew it was mine right away. There were a lot of laughs,” Dillard said. “I actually started working on mine yesterday, even though we’ve had them for two months. That’s why I tried to think of something real simple. Some of these guys went all out.”

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 Jan. 22, 2016)

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SJPS Foundation happy with 2015 fundraising

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — The St. Joseph Public Schools Foundation raised more than $400,000 in 2015, far surpassing its goal of $300,000, the St. Joseph school board learned Monday night.

Foundation President Bill Marohn provided some context to the board during its monthly meeting.

“It was a quite bit less than last year and the primary reason is because of Encore,” Marohn said. “Last year we had Encore and we grossed $93,000 from that. We are going to have Encore in 2016 and we have set a goal for $100,000 of revenue from it for this year. This is something we don’t feel we can do every year. Hopefully we can do it every other year.”

Encore is a collaboration between the Foundation, St. Joseph High School and alumni, which features acts that were presented on stage from the 1950s to the 1990s.

About $347,000 of the foundation’s total revenue came from unrestricted funds – with the biggest donor being Whirlpool Corp. at $119,000.

“As you know, they have this golf outing in August where they bring in their suppliers,” Marohn said. “They take the proceeds from that golf outing and divide it across three school districts – St. Joe, Benton Harbor and Lakeshore. Our one-third share was $119,000.”

Four of the major projects the Foundation funded included the 1-to-1 Initiative for sixth-grade students ($100,000), buying 300 loaner devices between January and July for the Bring Your Own Device program ($60,000), scholarships ($45,000) and professional learning communities ($41,000).

Marohn said all Foundation officers committed to another year of service.

Other agenda items

SJPS Superintendent Ann Cardon read a letter to the board from state Rep. Dave Pagel, R-Berrien Springs, which explained the process of how Senate Bill 571 was approved after items were added by the Senate.

If signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, SB571 would prohibit a public body, including school officials, from using public resources for factual communications referencing local ballot questions for 60 days prior to an election.

Cardon said she has reached out to Snyder to urge him veto the bill. She asked board members to do likewise.

Trustee Corey Carolla was not present for Monday’s meeting.

The board will next meet for a study session at 6 p.m. on Feb. 1 in the Lincoln Elementary Media Center at 1102 Orchard Lane in St. Joseph.

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 Jan. 5, 2016)

 

Carving out some charity: Professional sculptors carve pumpkins in support of Benton Harbor Library

William Wilson, from Cincinnati, carves a Frankenstein head into a pumpkin Wednesday during the Inn at Harbor Shores’ “PumpkINN” Carving Competition. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

William Wilson, from Cincinnati, carves a Frankenstein head into a pumpkin Wednesday during the Inn at Harbor Shores’ “PumpkINN” Carving Competition. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Titus Arensberg created a stick of dynamite for charity Wednesday night.

The Columbus, Ohio, resident is a sculptor who dabbles in every medium from ice to sand. During his stay in St. Joseph, he sculpted a bomb squad trying to extinguish dynamite out of several pumpkins.

Arensberg, along with three other Ohio natives, crafted pumpkins that will benefit the Benton Harbor Public Library. Carving took place outside of the Inn at Harbor Shores, as a part of the “PumpkINN” Carving Competition. People voted on their favorite pumpkin, with the first ballot being free. Additional ballots were purchased for $5 each, where proceeds went to the library.

Brianne Schmidke, director of sales and marketing for the inn, said they wanted to do something different for the community.

“The Benton Harbor Library can be forgotten sometimes,” Schmidke said. “Pumpkin carving is something that isn’t done in our area. We have a great ice sculpting competition in downtown St. Joseph, so the idea stemmed from that.”

By getting a library representative to come out and read scary stories to children – who arrived in costume – parents and guests were able to vote for their favorite carved pumpkin. Carving and voting continues at the Inn on Thursday.

Rock on Ice, an ice-carving company based in Ohio, carves any temporary medium such as cheese, clay, ice, melon, sand and pumpkins. The company takes part in the St. Joseph ice sculpting contest every year and was contacted by the inn to carve up some charity.

The four sculptors who were carving outside Wednesday evening brought a few pieces that were done the night before as well.

Cincinnati resident William Wilson created a Frankenstein monster pumpkin the night before and was busily working on a more silly face for the bidding war.

“It takes a lot of creativity,” said Wilson, a former gourmet chef. “There are more and more people carving in different ways with different tools. I do more 3-D pieces. I think it’s something that is growing and progressing.”

Arensberg said he has been carving pumpkins for a decade. In that time he said each sculptor changes their profession by the season, as autumn is reserved for pumpkins.

Like Wilson, Arensberg said he has a different style when it comes to carving.

“I’m a builder. I refer to it as drop-out engineering,” he said, scalpel in hand. “We went and started school in engineering. I like to build, but it’s just that little random stuff that’s more my style. I’m not the best carver, but I like to come up with new ideas like these bombs as accessories.”

Jonathon Michaels of Cincinnati made some silly-faced pumpkins to go along with a buzzard he had made earlier.

With a collage of more than two dozen utensils, Michaels used clay-carving ribbon tools – which vary in size, but all accomplish the end goal.

Most of the time, Michaels walks through a pumpkin patch and sees ones that are funky-looking and bent over. These ones hold death-defying marks and folds that resemble a face.

Something Michaels said people might not know when it comes to pumpkins is they are essentially a large sponge.

“Once it dries out you can replenish it by letting it soak in water,” he said. “You can make your pumpkins last a lot longer than you would think.”

Shannon Gerasimchik said it takes him up to three hours to carve his pumpkins, though some can do it faster.

When he chooses a pumpkin, Gerasimchik said, he goes for one that is heavy and has a healthy stalk. If the stalk is green, then the stalk is still giving nutrients to the pumpkin.

“I love being able to use my creativity,” Gerasimchik said. When coming up with an idea, Gerasimchik said things can change when you start to cut into a pumpkin. “I saw a fat face in this one and that’s what I’m going with it. It can be hit or miss. Sometimes you can have an idea in mind and make it come to life.”

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 Oct. 29, 2015)

Saving Soles: Local cobbler donating 10 percent of sales toward cancer research

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — The month of October has Cassandra Lopez seeing pink.

And readers may see a lot more of it, too – on the bottom of people’s shoes.Lopez, owner of Gagliardo Shoe Repair at 810 Highland Ave. in St. Joseph, plans on getting her customers to not only save their soles, but help save lives in the process.

“We will donate 10 percent of the proceeds from all of the pink heels and soles we put on in October to breast cancer research,” Lopez said. “Our customers can make a statement by wearing their pink soles and heels and, together, we can support the research to find a cure.”

The pink soles come as part of Repair with Pink – an initiative launched by Shoe Repair International.

For the Repair with Pink program, Gagliardo Shoe Repair has pink heels and protective soles available for both women’s and men’s shoes.

“One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime,” Lopez said. “By repairing with pink, both women and men can show solidarity and support the grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and friends who have fought and continue to fight breast cancer.”

With this being the inaugural year for the breast cancer-fighting program, Lopez said she jumped at the chance to help.

Lopez’s business partner, Lisa Hubbs, said they have already had one customer order pink heel caps. The offered pink protective oversole is permanent, giving the shoe more grip on either men’s or women’s shoes. The material is the same, just a different color.

Hubbs said they have received a lot of attention after putting up signs for the pink soles last week.

“We had a woman who came in earlier this week that said she was literally going to go and buy a pair of shoes to be able to put (pink soles) on,” Hubbs said.

With more than 50 shops in the country participating in the Repair with Pink program, Lopez said they are one of three Michigan shops taking part. The other two are in the Detroit region. The effort has even stretched beyond this country’s borders, appearing in shoe repair shops in the Netherlands and Sweden.

Lopez said if enough people wear these pink soles, it may start a much-needed conversation.

“Hopefully more will come do this,” she said. “It’s a way to increase breast cancer awareness because it’s a constant problem. This is a nice way to remind people.”

For more information about Repair with Pink, visit www.repairwithpink.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 Sept. 18, 2015)

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)

A fountain of goodwill

Marc Bitzer, left, vice chairman at Whirlpool Corp., and Dave Binkley, senior vice president, global human resources at Whirlpool, celebrate Wednesday after running through the Whirlpool Compass Fountain in St. Joseph. (Don Campbell | Staff)

Marc Bitzer, left, vice chairman at Whirlpool Corp., and Dave Binkley, senior vice president, global human resources at Whirlpool, celebrate Wednesday after running through the Whirlpool Compass Fountain in St. Joseph. (Don Campbell | Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — The sight of people frolicking in the Whirlpool Compass Fountain is not unusual this time of year.

However, the sight Wednesday of two men dressed in regular business attire getting soaked in the fountain did qualify as strange.

But it was all for a good cause.

The two men were Whirlpool Corp. Vice Chairmen Marc Bitzer and Whirlpool Senior Vice President, Global Human Resources Dave Binkley. They cooled off in the fountain as a means to raise money for the United Way of Southwest Michigan.

Similar to last summer’s ubiquitous Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money and awareness for ALS, Whirlpool and the United Way have created what’s called the Splash or Cash Challenge.

The challenge idea was generated out of a brainstorming session at Whirlpool, Bitzer said.

“We focused on how we could dial up the fun factor around giving to United Way,” said Bitzer, who carried a United Way flag through the fountain. “With the Whirlpool Compass Fountain in our backyard, it was a natural fit and something we thought would catch on with our fellow employees.”

The rules are simple. If challenged, participants have the option to consider taking a splash in the Whirlpool Fountain or making a $20 contribution to United Way online.

If a nominee is chosen to participate in the splash, they must have someone film them going through the fountain and nominate three others. Community donations for the Splash and Cash Challenge can be made to the United Way of Southwest Michigan online at www.uwsm.org.

Since beginning July 22, Bitzer said the challenge has caught on among senior Whirlpool officials, and among plant workers in other cities working to replicate the challenge in their areas.

The challenge will continue until Aug. 31 and is open to anyone in the community. Juliet Johnson, Whirlpool’s Media and Public Relations manager, said Whirlpool’s local fundraising goal is set at $2.4 million.

Bitzer and Binkley pledged $1,000 Wednesday. They later challenged Whirlpool Chairman & CEO Jeff Fettig and Executive Vice President, Global Product Organization David Szczupak, respectively, to take part.

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. 6, 2015)

A philanthropic celebration: United Way volunteers recognized at Heritage Center

J.C. Anderson accepts the Margaret B. Upton Volunteer Leadership Award Thursday night during the Volunteer Recognition Event hosted by the United Way of Southwest Michigan. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

J.C. Anderson accepts the Margaret B. Upton Volunteer Leadership Award Thursday night during the Volunteer Recognition Event hosted by the United Way of Southwest Michigan. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Inside the Heritage Center in front of more than 100 people, J.C. Anderson couldn’t help but smile when his name was read Thursday night.

The reason being was Anderson was given the Margaret B. Upton Award during the United Way of Southwest Michigan’s annual Volunteer Recognition Event.

As the 33rd winner of the award, Anderson was recognized for his years of service to organizations including the Lakeshore Excellence Foundation, YMCA, Young Life of Southwest Michigan, Benton Harbor Schools and United Way of Southwest Michigan.

“The real winner tonight is the community for everything that’s been done here,” Anderson said afterward. “That’s another $3,000 that will go toward the education for the students at LEF.”

As the award winner, Anderson gets to donate $3,000 to the nonprofit of his choice. He said he plans on giving the money to the organization that nominated him – the Lakeshore Excellence Foundation.

When he was called up to accept the award, Anderson asked for the projectionist to put up the names of all previous winners of the award and proceeded to thank them for laying the grounds for volunteer work in Berrien and Cass counties.

“The key to volunteerism is you have to have a passion for it,” he said. “If you love your community and love raising a family here, you ought to volunteer in programs that can meet your passion.”

Anna Murphy, United Way of Southwest Michigan president, gave a brief introduction to kick off the event as the majority of tables were filled with friends and families of those nominated.

In addition to his board service with Lakeshore Excellence Foundation, Anderson has served on several other boards, including the Economic Club of Southwest Michigan, the Senior PGA Championship, Well of Grace Ministries, First Church of God and Rotary International.

“J.C. is a great selection for this award because he is a great leader,” Murphy said. “His work has helped make this a great place to live, work and play.”

Anderson was one of four nominees for the award, which included Sandy Hayes, Beth Mandarino and Anne Odden.

One by one, each nominee was called to the front, where they were presented with a plaque and a few words on their accomplishments in the philanthropic community.

Other winners

The United Way presented the Powerful Giving Award to Chris Damaske, who has donated more than 2,000 lifetime service hours to Hospice at Home.

Damaske works alongside the Hospice chef in the kitchen from 100-150 hours a month preparing whatever food the patients want.

The Berrien County Live United Scholarship winner was Allison Grant of Niles, whose volunteerism included coaching for Girls on the Run, making blankets for chemotherapy patients, and managing a school-wide fundraiser. The Niles High School graduate will attend the University of Michigan this fall for degrees in biomedical engineering and orthopedics.

Michael Cloud was announced as winner of the Cass County Live United Youth Scholarship Award. Cloud was chosen for his volunteer work with Fine Arts Booster, where he assembles meals for families in need, for completing odd jobs at Hope’s Door Women’s Rehabilitation Home and for his participation in Relay for Life.

Having graduated from Dowagiac Union High School, Cloud said he plans on studying music at Southwestern Michigan College.

Each scholarship winner received $500, which goes toward college tuition.

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 July 24, 2015)