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)

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Becoming a legend: Whitehall’s Jessica Harris finishes senior cross country season in strong fashion

Senior Jessica Harris of Whitehall follows behind Maryssa Depies of Reeths-Puffer before advancing to first during the varsity girls 5000 meter run on Oct. 10, 2014. (Andraya Croft | MLive.com)

Senior Jessica Harris of Whitehall follows behind Maryssa Depies of Reeths-Puffer before advancing to first during the varsity girls 5000 meter run on Oct. 10, 2014. (Andraya Croft | MLive.com)

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

WHITEHALL, MI — Jessica Harris was the heart of the Whitehall girls cross country team during the 2014 season.

Harris won five meets while capping off her senior year by becoming an all-state runner in November. Her cross country career has come full circle.

Four years ago in the back of her coach’s classroom as a freshman, Harris looked up at a wall filled with the names of Whitehall’s greatest runners and realized she wanted to be on it.

“It was a really big deal to me. I remember looking up there thinking I wanted to be up there,” said Harris, who was named the MLive Muskegon Chronicle girls cross country runner of the year honor. “I used to look up to Carpenter and Danielson. It kind of shows when you’re given the opportunity how much it changes you.”

Harris began running cross country the way most do – through a family member. For Harris, it was her older brother who ran and told her she should follow suit.

“I remember he was worried about me,” she said. “He told me, ‘You are going to find a family there and they were going to take care of you.’”

Kathy Hector is the coach for Whitehall boys and girls cross country teams and said she knows talent when she sees it.

Having coached her older brother, Hector watched Harris run in middle school waited eagerly for her freshman year to come.

“We had a banquet (recently) and I looked over her career and talked about how she has set the standard,” Harris said. “Her name is synonymous in the area for being the top cross country runner in the area.”

Setting the standard

Her first race was at Hesperia and found the course to be extremely hilly. She wasn’t fast, but discovered the runner’s high in the process.

As someone who is not the most outgoing person, Harris found her stride as well as the extra confidence needed for the transition to high school.

“I am pretty shy and it takes a while for me to get comfortable with people,” Harris said. “I think one thing that it really helped was that it made everything more fun. High school was more fun. In a lot of ways it inspired me.”

She was well on her way to becoming a leader for Whitehall, but first she would have to lead herself. Harris began moving up through the ranks and landed on varsity where she began talking to herself during races and leading up to them.

The thoughts were a steady stream of concerns that she would go through on her checklist. “Are my knees going up? Are my elbows in? Am I focusing externally?”

“When it gets really hard, I talk to myself,” Harris said. “I really focus on what I can do in the moment. If I get negative, I know I just won’t race as well.”

Harris admits she didn’t know what she was doing as a freshman. In the beginning, she would get nervous or too excited, which forced her to find a medium where she would try not to think about the race until two hours leading up to the meet.

A leader of Vikings

As the only senior girl running on varsity this year, Harris can’t help but mention her other teammates.

Harris has a trickle-down effect when it comes to the rest of the Whitehall girls cross country team. Outside of earning a higher spot for the team’s overall finish, it’s what she does during practice that makes Hector smile.

She pushes the pace, getting others around her to run harder in return. As a result, Whitehall now has five runners who can break the 19-minute mark.

“For four years, every single practice and nearly every single race, Jessica was in front,” Hector said. “These girls were used to seeing her back. She knows the courses and she knows the reps and has just set the bar really high.”

Hector said Whitehall was in a rebuilding stretch for a while before Harris ran for the Vikings. Entering her senior year, Whitehall has been in contention at nearly every invitational this season.

Come next fall, Harris will be presented with a Hall of Fame plaque and her name will be added to the growing list at the back of Hector’s classroom. With Harris’ name on the wall, she can continue to inspire and push her teammates for years to come.

“Those used to be just legends and names,” Harris said. “Now (her teammates) know what a legend looks like in real life.”

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. 3, 2014)

MATS opening launch of regional bus service ‘beneficial’ to passengers

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By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — Normally, Shawn Peterson would have to hitch a ride to get from Whitehall to Muskegon.

However, Peterson was able to take advantage of the long-anticipated regional bus service the Muskegon Area Transit System enacted on Monday, Nov. 3. The bus service – called Muskegon Area Regional Connections – offers rides from Muskegon to more rural areas in the county, including Holton, Ravenna, Montague and Whitehall.

“Muskegon County really needed something big like this,” Peterson said. “It’s good for someone like me – who has a disability – who can’t physically drive. There are people in Whitehall that don’t drive and can’t afford Port City Cab.”

The standard fare costs $2.50, while the discounted fare for seniors, passengers with disabilities and Medicare cardholders is set at $1.25. A 10-ride ticket is available to both groups for $25 and $12.50, respectively, according to the MATS website.

Peterson said he was the first passenger to board one of the new MARC buses that ran from Whitehall to Muskegon. Prior to the new regional bus service, transportation was hard for the Whitehall resident.

“I usually get a ride from my mom and my friends,” Peterson said, “but since they have odd working schedules, it gets tough.”

The new MARC buses are similar in size, but differ in appearance based on their blue and green lines on the sides – a change from the blue and pink lines the MATS buses showcase. Each of the three new buses boasts 32 seats, standing room, space for two wheelchairs and a rack for two bikes.

The Muskegon County Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of the 35-foot MARC buses last year, using funds from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program.

Carey Kelley, along with his sister, Sandra, tested the MARC buses on nearly every new available route on Monday.

The two found out MATS was going to start the bus service on Nov. 3, and decided to go on three different runs – a ride from Montague, Whitehall and the Muskegon run to Holton.

“We had a good time, everybody was talking and smiling,” Kelley said. “Then we jumped on the Muskegon bus and rode to the (Herman) Ivory Terminal and took the Holton ride.”

Kelley, whose wife is employed by MATS, said he believes it is important to improve any transportation services, especially if it can help others who are unable to get around on their own.

“At some of the senior apartment buildings, most of those people have to get relatives or friends to drive them all the way down to Muskegon,” Kelley said. “But now with the bus system, they can ride here, go to Meijer and catch a different ride. It’s going to be beneficial for us.”

Route maps are now available for download on www.matsbus.com. For more information, call MATS at 231-724-6420.

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. 4, 2014)

White Lake Area Holiday Walk enters its 20th year of supporting local businesses

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI — The holiday season begins early for Whitehall and Montague retailers.

The 20th Annual White Lake Area Holiday Walk will take place in both towns on Friday, Nov. 21 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 22 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. as a way to increase foot traffic for local businesses.

“The idea of having it before Thanksgiving is to support some of the local businesses, instead of those large malls. It’s also a way to give our downtown retailers a chance to have their open houses at the same time,” said Amy VanLoon, executive director for the White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. “This gives them a head start on some of those holiday shoppers.”

The two-day event will have more than 20 participating businesses, along with a carriage ride to help shoppers through their self-guided tour of the White Lake area.

According to VanLoon, the holiday walk has continuously grown with more shoppers and more businesses taking part in it each year. On average, VanLoon said a couple dozen retailers and some 20 businesses are expected this year.

The carriage rides will begin in the downtown areas for both Whitehall and Montague on Friday evening from 5-8 p.m., VanLoon said.

“We will also have a trolley, which comes from Muskegon,” VanLoon said. “It does go on a loop back and forth from Whitehall and Montague. It transports the shoppers and, in addition to that, we have carolers.”

Some groups of singers also will be on hand during the holiday walk.

Friday night will include a tree-lighting ceremony in Whitehall, featuring a countdown from the city’s mayor. At 7 p.m., children of all ages are invited to bring a Christmas ornament to put on the tree.

In addition, VanLoon said Santa Claus will be at the tree-lighting ceremony and some of the other participating businesses on Saturday.

“More businesses have looked at this as an opportunity to get on the map,” VanLoon said of one of the benefits the walk includes. “The shoppers can get a star on their map for each business they visit. If you go to at least 15 of the businesses, you can be submitted for a drawing from the chamber for a gift certificate to any of the participating businesses.”

For more information on the holiday walk, call the chamber of commerce at 231-893-4585 or visit their website at www.whitelake.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 Nov. 13, 2014)

The Big Crunch: Muskegon-area schools, businesses break own record with 30,008 apple bites

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

WEST MICHIGAN — An apple a day keeps the doctor away, and 30,008 apples can break a record.

Students and staff from 12 school districts across West Michigan – along with community members from nearly 25 businesses – bit into an apple at the same time at about 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24 in an attempt to beat their record of 19,087 crunches.

The schools and businesses had planned on reaching the 20,000 mark, but instead cracked 30,000.

“I am very excited that we continue to get more students and community members involved in this event that highlights the great Michigan agriculture and healthy snacking,” said Dan Gorman, food service director Montague and Whitehall school districts.

The Big Crunch is a 1 in 21 Healthy Muskegon County-supported event that was created to promote healthy snacking among the young and old in West Michigan.

RELATED: Muskegon County schools, businesses participate in apple-eating event

Participating schools and businesses came from Muskegon, Oceana, Kent and Allegan counties. The event required participants to simultaneously bite into an apple in a joint effort to encourage healthy eating and garner attention for local agriculture.

Last fall, 1 in 21 Healthy Muskegon was successful in the efforts to reclaim the record from New Zealand schools, which previously claimed the record in the spring of 2013.

“I want to thank all the school districts that supported this effort, (as well as) Cherry Capital foods that provided Michigan apples and the Chartwells Corporation for engaging its school districts to participate in The Big Crunch USA,” Gorman said in a press release.

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. 6, 2014)

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow at White Lake Restoration Celebration: ‘It’s been a long time coming’

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MONTAGUE, MI — What was originally planned as a celebration of the restoration of White Lake, became a stage for an announcement some have been waiting to hear since 1985.

The celebration – coordinated by the White Lake Public Advisory Council at The Book Nook and Java Shop on Thursday, Oct. 30 – was meant to mark decades of work by the White Lake community in collaboration with state and federal officials in meeting necessary standards to eventually have the lake delisted from an international “toxic hot spot” list.

However, at approximately 9:30 a.m., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that White Lake had been officially delisted as a Great Lakes Area of Concern.

The timing was ideal for those who turned out at the celebration.

“We are happy that the powers that be moved heaven and earth to delist us today because it makes our celebration that much more exciting,” said Tanya Cabala, public outreach coordinator of the White Lake Public Advisory Council. “For me, this is also my birthday. I’m not often speechless.”

The Book Nook and Java Shop was filled with supporters of the lake restoration effort, leaving standing-room-only for late attendees.

Speakers at the celebration included U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Sen. Goeff Hansen, Michigan Rep. Collene Lamonte, the mayors of Whitehall and Montague, Muskegon County District 9 County Commissioner Ken Mahoney and White Lake Public Advisory Council Chairman Greg Mund.

“This is our first Great Lakes restoration initiative project to get a clean bill of health,” Stabenow said. “We knew that it would be sometime before the end of the year that the EPA would feel confident in delisting the lake from being an area of concern. It’s been a long time coming.”

In addition to White Lake being removed, Deer Lake – an Upper Peninsula lake in the Lake Superior basin – was also taken off the list of “toxic hot spots.”

“We got to take two off the list, so it’s a great thing for the Great Lakes,” said Cameron Davis, senior adviser to the administrator of the U.S. EPA. “We worked really hard to get the delisting to take place in a synchronized way with this event. I went to my first White Lake area of concern meeting back in 1987, so there have been a lot of people working really hard for a long time to get to this day.”

The celebration also involved poetry readings from Montague and Whitehall school students, as well as a brief presentation on White Lake’s pollution history and recovery.

Out of the speakers who took the stage, Mund displayed one of the biggest smiles.

The chairman for the White Lake Public Advisory Council said the council members knew for the last three years they were getting close to the time they would be delisted.

“Now it’s a delisting event as well as restoration,” Mund said. “We are as clean as every other lake in Michigan for the state’s standards. However, there are still nutrient issues in the lake to deal with. Our work is still ahead of us.”

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. 31, 2014)

‘The Big Crunch’: Muskegon County schools, businesses participate in apple-eating event

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI — Students and teachers across Muskegon County stood next to one another with an apple in hand and a smile on their faces.

Several schools and businesses in Muskegon, Oceana, Kent and Allegan counties took part in “The Big Crunch” on Friday, Oct. 24. The event required participants to simultaneously bite into an apple in a joint effort to encourage healthy eating and garner attention for local agriculture.

The apples that were eaten in Whitehall and Montague were provided by NJ Fox and Sons Farms in New Era and Gavin Orchards in Coopersville, which were also used to help propel the students into the history books.

“The goal is to set the world record for eating the most apples at one time,” said Dan Gorman, food service director for Montague and Whitehall school districts. “Students and staff hope to break their own record of the most people eating an apple at one time, which currently stands at 19,087.”

According to Gorman, an apple company based out of New Zealand challenged their crunching record, only to lose it the following year. This year the countywide effort hopes to beat their previous record by an additional 1,000 participants.

Although Gorman won’t know the official number until later next week, the large turnout at Montague was promising. Leading up to the 1 p.m. countdown, Gorman stood with Montague’s high school and middle school students as they bit down on Johnny Appleseed’s most-prized possession.

The Big Crunch is a 1 in 21 Healthy Muskegon County supported event that was created to promote healthy snacking among the young and old in West Michigan.

Gorman also serves as a chairman for the 1 in 21 Healthy Muskegon Education Committee, which partnered with educational leaders, health professionals and community members with the goal of making Muskegon County the healthiest county in Michigan by the year 2021.

“We talked a little bit about 1 in 21 and the importance of healthy eating habits,” Gorman said. “Today is National Food Day and this is in line with that while acknowledging local agriculture.”

The Big Crunch was created a number of years ago as part of a 1 in 21 initiative that grew out of the schools’ committee, Gorman said.

The event took place in myriad locations and school districts, which included Shoreline Elementary School.

David Hundt, principal of Shoreline Elementary, said they have been taking part in The Big Crunch on their playground for four years. However, for the last two years, the elementary school has gotten creative with the event.

“We have all the preschool through second-grade kids, so we like to do things a little differently,” Hundt said. “Last year there was going to be a fly-over, so we all dressed up in red in a Pac-Man formation that could be seen from the sky.”

This year Hundt planned to make a giant target with an arrow going through it, which was meant to represent the “learning target” that the school incorporates with its students.

Despite the clever formation, the clouds proved to be too low for a flyby on Friday.

“It’s really fun to be part of something bigger than the school,” Hundt said. “The learning target is something we are all working on so the kids know what they are supposed to be doing. It helps them feel more connected to the world outside of school.”

Gorman said he remains positive the effort will surpass the record and allow them to reach their goal of 20,000 synchronized bites due to the number of schools from outside their county that contacted him.

“This year I’ve heard back from most of the schools in the county,” Gorman said. “When all is said and done I think we’ll probably get it because (the students) get excited that it’s a world record.”

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. 24, 2014)