Walk to Remember enters 11th year in helping parents cope with losing a child

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — Melissa Near knows what it’s like to lose a child.

In 2003, Near and her husband, Chris, lost their daughter from stillbirth at 35 weeks of pregnancy. Three weeks later, her dad approached her for a support group.

Thousands from across the state arrived in Muskegon for the two-day Shoreline Jazz Festival on Saturday, Aug. 23 at Heritage Landing. (Tony Wittkowski | Reporter)

The 11th annual Walk to Remember was created to help parents cope with the loss of a child. (Tony Wittkowski | Reporter)

“We weren’t sure, but as time went on more and more doors were opening,” the Muskegon resident said. “As we were leaving the hospitals, it seemed like this was something the Lord was calling us to do. We opened our home and did meetings.”

The Walk to Remember came to fruition from the experience and has since helped many parents with their loss. This year’s event is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 4 at Heritage Landing.

This event was created for anyone who has been touched by the loss of a child from pregnancy loss, stillbirth or early infant death, Near said. These losses are collectively called perinatal losses, with more than a million of these deaths being recorded every year.

“We walk to remember our loved ones, to celebrate and mourn them, and to raise awareness of these types of losses,” Near said. “We usually bring our photo album of our daughter. There are all sorts of pictures of her and our family and other scrap-booking things.”

One of the other mementos Near will bring are letters her husband writes from their daughter’s perspective. Attendees are encouraged to bring anything from baby pictures to teddy bears for the memorial table. The walk also includes a short service and a ceremonial balloon release.

The walk began in 2004, shortly after the couple’s loss. The idea came from another Walk to Remember they attended in Grand Rapids.

For Near and her husband, the walk provides them with a time where they can reflect and remember their daughter. People will sing, share a poem or a story close to their heart.

“It doesn’t get any easier. What we find is that when we comfort others, it comforts us as well,” Near said. “We have that hope we can see her again. Every year it’s a very touching time when many tears are shed.”

With the added comfort of others, the walk is one that gives parents a chance to celebrate a life.

“It doesn’t matter how long ago your loss was or how early your loss was,” Near said. “A loss is a loss no matter how far along you were with your pregnancy. That’s your child and we want you to be able to remember them because it affects us all.”

Registration and balloon personalization begins at 10 a.m. If you would like to share your story, a letter to your baby, a poem or a song in memory of a baby, contact the Nears so you can be scheduled in the program. Call 231-777-1983 and talk to Chris or Melissa.

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 Oct. 2, 2014)

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Michigan Irish American Hall of Fame selects Stan Tyler, others who have made impact across state

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — A Muskegon native has been named to the Michigan Irish American Hall of Fame for 2014.

The Hall of Fame has posthumously named Stan R. Tyler Jr. of Muskegon as its 2014 member in the field of Philanthropy.

Stan R. Tyler Jr.

Stan R. Tyler Jr.

The Michigan Irish American Hall of Fame was created to recognize Irish Americans who have made important contributions in various areas of life in Michigan.

This year’s new members will be inducted in Muskegon at a special ceremony on the Dance Stage of the Michigan Irish Music Festival at Heritage Landing at noon on Saturday, Sept. 13.

Tyler was the long-time owner of Tyler Sales Co. Inc., one of Michigan’s most successful beverage distributors. He was a major supporter of education and community causes during his lifetime in the Muskegon area.

Tyler passed away on Nov. 4, 2001 at the age of 66, but not before he helped launch some of Muskegon’s major festivals.

Four others were also selected to the Hall of Fame, which will include Norman R. Byrne, James L. Ryan, Michael Flanagan and Catherine Heinzman.

In the category of Business and Industry, Byrne was selected for his leadership in business and his contribution to his community in West Michigan.

The Ada resident founded Electrical Specialists, Inc., in Rockford, and has remained a supporter of business for more than 40 years.

In the area of Public Service, the new member is the Hon. James L. Ryan of Detroit. He is a former justice of the Michigan Supreme Court and retired judge of the United States 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ryan also served as Military Judge in the U.S. Marine Corps and Naval Reserve for more than 30 years.

In the field of Education, the Hall of Fame will be admitting Flanagan, who is the first Michigan superintendent of education to receive the distinguished service award from the National Association of State Boards of Education.

The Lansing resident has been the superintendent of education for the State of Michigan since 2005.

Heinzman was selected in the area of Arts and Entertainment for popularizing Irish dancing in Michigan by instructing three generations of young students.

The Detroit resident is a native of Westport in County Mayo, Ireland, and founded the Ardan Academy of Irish Dance, one of Michigan’s prominent Irish dance schools.

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

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Sept. 12, 2014)

Shoreline Jazz Festival proves to be ‘great way to end the summer’ for attendees

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By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — The two-day Shoreline Jazz Festival kicked off on Saturday, Aug. 23 at Heritage Landing.

Thousands were in the makeshift orchestral seating, while a select few hundred paid extra for the reserved seating located in the front near the performers.

Ann Arbor resident Jerry Clayton, along with his wife, was among the spectators who were seated near the front.

The two had never been to any of the jazz festivals that took place in Muskegon prior to Shoreline’s and said they thought they would try their luck at Heritage Landing.

“The first two artists were great and we look forward to Tim Bowman,” Clayton said. “My wife has all the CDs, so we are familiar with all the music.”

After only two performers, Clayton said he and his wife have already talked about returning next year.

As a jazz enthusiast, Clayton said he jumps at the chance to attend any festival or concert that includes jazz.

“It’s a good opportunity to get away from the day-to-day grind that you have to do,” he said. “It’s a great way to end the summer, so we are really appreciative of the Muskegon community for putting this on.”

The couple had learned about the Shoreline Jazz Festival two weeks ago through an advertisement in a magazine and quickly made arrangements in their schedules.

Since Clayton saw his first jazz concert 30 years ago, he hasn’t looked back.

“At the time (of my first concert), my wife and I had actually just met,” Clayton said. “As I’ve gotten older, I have grown to appreciate jazz.”

RELATED: 4-time Grammy nominee Boney James ready to headline Shoreline Jazz Festival

Two hours into the festival, the guitars, saxophones and drums could be heard across the grounds, blending in one uniform sound that produced the smooth and often fast-paced jazz the spectators had come for.

Many came prepared with an array of umbrellas and lawn chairs. One of the avid listeners was Angela Flowers, who was seated under an enveloping umbrella that nearly doubled as a tent.

Flowers, who also traveled from the other side of the state, was there to enjoy every musician. This was evident by her ability to name off all the artists that were performing.

“We’ll be here for both days, but we’re not camping out, we didn’t rough it,” she said.

Under her Sportbrella, the Detroit resident admitted that she, too, was a first-timer for the Shoreline Jazz Festival. However, it wasn’t her first time traveling to hear some jazz.

“Oh, we attend a lot of other jazz festivals around the state,” Flowers said. “We average about five or six a year.”

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

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

Unity Christian Music Festival crowd turns out for music’s ‘amazing message’ on last day

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By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — Despite having to work all week, Christine Morse made it her mission to attend the Unity Christian Music Festival each day.

On the fourth and most crowded day, Morse was thankful to be part of the experience.

“You just want to take that time and forget about the rest of the chaos in the world,” the Fruitport resident said Saturday, Aug. 9. “We’re all here for the same reason and there is always an amazing message in the music.”

Since Day Zero on Wednesday, Morse said she has been driving back and forth from her job in Norton Shores. Amid the hectic week, the 14-year-old festival has served as a music getaway for her and thousands of others.

The packed Heritage Landing listens as bands play at the last day of the Unity Christian Music Festival at Heritage Landing on Aug. 9, 2014. (Tommy Martino | Photographer)

The packed Heritage Landing listens as bands play at the last day of the Unity Christian Music Festival at Heritage Landing on Aug. 9, 2014. (Tommy Martino | Photographer)

“I think this is a great event, it just looks like every year it gets bigger and bigger,” Morse said. “It just makes you want to come together and show love for everybody.”

The crowd in itself on Saturday had multiplied since the festival’s opening day, expanding even further out to the borders of Heritage Landing. Decorative wristbands covered the wrists and forearms of fans that chanted and sang along to their favorite songs.

Some took naps in between performances, while others sought shelter under their umbrellas. The most dedicated of fans gathered around the stage and clapped their hands ceremoniously to the beat of the music.

The stage itself extended out into the crowd as several of the musicians took the opportunity to perform in the middle of their fans.

Children’s activities located across the bridge on the other side of the water at Heritage Landing were being put to good use. Some had the opportunity to shoot arrows from a bow, while others tested their slap shot at the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ station.

One of the main attractions was the two-sided rock wall that had participants of all ages willing to give it a try.

RELATED: Crowd of 60,000 expected as Unity Christian Music Festival gets underway

A photo booth and a blow-up obstacle course were featured at various stations.

Cameron Nicholas took full advantage of the photo booth by wearing one of the spotted dresses for the rest of the Saturday performances.

“I was with some friends and they dared me to wear it at the photo booth,” Nicholas said. “A lot of people have been staring at me, laughing, wanting hugs, autographs and pictures.”

As a first-time festival-goer, Nicholas didn’t know what to expect. However, by the end of the fourth day, the Fremont resident was able to go on stage and meet a few of the artists.

Festival Director Kevin Newton said there have been a lot of first-timers at Unity, as the festival has grown considerably over the years. After witnessing the festival’s crowd on Saturday, Newton said Unity had surpassed the 65,000 mark for spectators this year.

“This is probably our biggest Unity ever,” Newton said. “Saturday is always our busiest day, as it kind of grows from Wednesday through Saturday. We’ve been full in the park all day long.”

This year the festival added new high-definition video screens, which allowed spectators way in the back to see what was happening on the stage.

The festival, which was founded to bring people and their families together for Christian entertainment, has grown considerably over the years.

Morse has been coming to Muskegon for the music festival for the last 10 years.

“I’ve been bringing my kids since they were 3 or 4 years old and now they’re 14 and 12,” Morse said. “It’s sad to see it go and I’m always very exhausted toward the end, but it’s a good exhaustion.”

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

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Aug. 9, 2014)

Crowd of 60,000 expected as Unity Christian Music Festival gets underway

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By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — A sea of multi-colored lawn chairs decorated the grounds of Heritage Landing as the first wave of spectators arrived for the Unity Christian Music Festival.

The four-day festival – which runs from Wednesday, Aug. 6 to Saturday, Aug. 9 – is one of the largest Christian music festivals in West Michigan that has increased in attendance over the years.

Christopher VanOosterhout, the media and marketing director for Unity, was on hand Wednesday to see the oncoming mass enter for what they called “Day Zero.” From the look of the crowd, VanOosterhout predicted there would be at least 60,000 spectators that would come through in the next few days.

“Today was a free event day, which is slightly scaled back as far as the scope of it,” VanOosterhout said. “During the full event, we will have double the size for the venue.”

The Muskegon-born festival was created 14 years ago as a three-day event, but eventually evolved into a four-day event after the seventh year to provide a free day, VanOosterhout said.

“The main purpose of this festival is to unite the community of Christian believers and allow them to gather in a very affordable way,” he said. “(Thursday) we will have age-targeted events from toddlers to the younger children and teens.”

For some, the festival could not have started soon enough.

Holland resident Matt Stilwell first began planning for the festival six months ago.

“I plan way ahead to see what kind of groups will play,” Stilwell said. “We’ve had some concerts back home, but nothing where it has been back-to-back, multi-day events.”

Stilwell has been coming to the festival for the last decade now. However, on Wednesday he drove up with his church’s youth group for the first time.

Many spectators came prepared by hauling in blankets, water bottles and sun glasses. As the various bands began playing, a large crowd made its way down to the foot of the stage near the large speakers that shook with every drum beat.

For those in the back, three larger-than-life screens were hoisted by lifts to provide a view. Half the crowd sat in its place, while others stood at attention, clapping and cheering to the music.

The Unity Music Festival took place on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014 at Heritage Landing. (Bryan Bosch | Photographer)

The Unity Music Festival took place on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014 at Heritage Landing. (Bryan Bosch | Photographer)

Stilwell was among those in the crowd who decided to seat himself farther toward the back.

“When I was younger, I would always be way up front, but it got louder and louder every year it seems like,” Stilwell said. “Generally, I’ve been drifting backwards. It’s almost as loud here as it is up front, though.”

Stilwell was not the only one to notice this.

As thousands began to filter in continuously, the music itself could be heard in the streets of downtown Muskegon to as far as the Amazon Apartments building. After the first two hours, the gates were open to the public. There wasn’t a grass spot not covered by a blanket or chair.

In the hours leading up to the music festival, hundreds lined the sidewalks along the railroad track on Shoreline Drive. At the front of the pack near the entrance to Heritage Landing were Heather Gillard and her friends.

Gillard has been coming to the festival for years now and has gotten into a routine for the long line. As an early bird, she arrived to set up camp at 6:30 a.m., a full 45 minutes before the next group arrived.

“We have a whole group that meets down here every year,” Gillard said. “We’ve been doing this for 14 years. I come and get our spots and they show up throughout the day and we all go in as a group together.”

Having been to the Unity Christian Music Festival every year since its inception, the family-friendly aspect of the event is what keeps Gillard and her group coming back for more.

“I like it because it allows us get together without alcohol,” Gillard said. “I think it is such an amazing event for Muskegon, as we have had amazing turnouts every year and it just continues to grow and I hope it continues to get bigger. Maybe we have to add a day.”

Here is a look at the upcoming set lists for the Unity Christian Music Festival. All times, dates and artists should be considered tentative. For additional information, readers are recommended to access the web site here.

THURSDAY: Band line-up from 2-9 p.m. in order will include Joel Weldon and the Unity Choir, All Things New, Love & The Outcome, Rend Collective, Big Daddy Weave and Third Day.

FRIDAY: Band line-up from 2-9 p.m. in order will include Joel Weldon and the Unity Choir, Everfound, Jason Gray, Hawk Nelson, Britt Nicole, Keewani’s Story and Matthew West.

SATURDAY: Band line-up from 2-9 p.m. in order will include Joel Weldon and the Unity Choir, The Neverclaim, Aaron Shust, Sanctus Real, Graham Saber, Mandisa and Steven Curtis Chapman.

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

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Aug. 6, 2014)

Midwest Showdown Car and Bike Show moves to Heritage Landing in search of larger venue

The Midwest Car and Bike Show will take place at Heritage Landing on Sunday, July 27 from noon to 6 p.m. (Danielle Duval | MLive.com)

The Midwest Car and Bike Show will take place at Heritage Landing on Sunday, July 27 from noon to 6 p.m. (Danielle Duval | MLive.com)

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — Jason Pittman and TeAngelo Robinson love cars.

In fact, they love cars so much they decided to get together four years ago to create a car show in Muskegon.

“My partner and I, we both have a passion for cars,” Robinson said. “We just came together back in 2011 and reached out to a lot of friends and family that are into the cars scene and word spread.”

The Midwest Showdown Car and Bike Show, which was previously held at Mona Lake Park in Muskegon Heights, will move to Heritage Landing and take place Sunday, July 27 from noon to 8 p.m.

The car show will include awards that will range from Best Paint Job to Best Interior. The awards ceremony is set to begin at 6 p.m.

The entry fees are $20 for cars and $15 for bikes.

According to organizers, the event outgrew the space at Mona Lake Park, as each year the numbers increased considerably.

After speaking to officials at Heritage Landing, Robinson said, the two car enthusiasts were told there had never been a car show there before.

Before agreeing to move the car show to Heritage Landing, the two promoters briefly considered taking it to the racetrack in Martin, but quickly discarded the notion.

“We’re from Muskegon and the people from Muskegon support cars,” Robinson said. “We felt that would have been an injustice to move the car show outside of the Muskegon area.”

The two have restored older vehicles in the past and wanted to do more, but on a larger scale. That’s how they wanted to stand out from other car shows.

“We wanted to incorporate and try to display vehicles that were older, but showed newer technology,” Pittman said. “We didn’t want to add to the existing world of car shows. We wanted to really go after cars of this nature.”

With about 75 percent of the car show’s participants being from other cities, their main intention was to bring some attention and revenue to Muskegon.

“We have a beautiful waterfront right there, but this car show can actually bring people to see our premier landmark,” Pittman said. “If this car show can highlight that, that’s something I would be very proud of.”

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

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

Budweiser Clydesdales kick off Here’s to the Heroes festival with downtown Muskegon parade

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By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — Thousands of spectators lined the streets of downtown Muskegon as the Budweiser Clydesdales made their way up Western Avenue on Wednesday, July 2.

As part of the Here’s to the Heroes festival, which focuses on the military veterans of the community, the Clydesdales kicked off the five-day festival with a parade that led back to their stations at Heritage Landing.

Despite the parade starting at 7:30 p.m., Shanon Rederstorf was one of the first on scene at the roundabout located on Third Street and W. Western Avenue.

The Muskegon resident was in search of prime seating as she brought her granddaughter to see the Clydesdales.

“I have a granddaughter, and I want to see her reaction to the horses,” Rederstorf said. “This is more for her than for me.”

As the parade began and the fabled horses came within site, people from all over West Michigan stepped out past the curb to get an early look.

One of those eager spectators included Fruitport residents Heather VanDonkelaar and her 2-year-old daughter, Konlee.

“(My daughter) really likes animals, especially horses. So, we figured it was worth a drive,” VanDonkelaar said. “They came to Ludington two Labor Day weekends ago and we wanted to go then, but we weren’t able to get up there.”

Leading the pack was the color guard, where applause followed the officers as they continued along the parade route.

Next came the eight Budweiser Clydesdales, equipped with their tethers and braided manes that were topped with red-and-white flowers to match the very beer they carried. Bringing up the tail end of the parade were several military vehicles, followed by the American Red Cross, the U.S. Coast Guard, and fire/police department vehicles representing Muskegon, Norton Shores and Fruitport Township.

Not everyone was out for the horses alone, as Laurin Jahnke said he drove in from North Muskegon to be with his family and pay tribute to the veterans.

“We have to watch the horses walk and to honor the veterans,” Jahnke said. “Just honoring the heroes is a good enough reason to come out with the family.”

Jahnke said he was lucky enough to have seen the Clydesdales in person before, once in Detroit and again at Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury. However, he wanted his wife and three stepchildren to witness the Clydesdales for themselves.

While stationed along Western Avenue near the Tipsy Toad Tavern, Jahnke had time to think back on some of his favorite Clydesdales commercials.

“My favorite is probably the little Clydesdale when it was following the big one,” Jahnke said. “Either that or the one when they trained the Clydesdale and took it out on the tour and it saw its original owner.”

Many missed their chance at a second viewing of the Clydesdales, as a good portion of the crowd left as soon as they got a glimpse.

Dozens more followed the eight horses as they made brief stops at the roundabout, as well as Mike’s Saloon and the Tipsy Toad Tavern. While at the local bars, a member of the crew stopped to deliver a ceremonious 24-pack of Budweiser to an awaiting patron.

After making a loop through downtown Muskegon, which took nearly an hour to do so, the Clydesdales stopped for photo opportunities one last time before crossing Shoreline Drive into Heritage Landing.

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

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 3, 2014)