2010-12-30 / Front Page

New decade brings plenty of news

A new decade brought plenty of news to Roscommon County in 2010. Elections, recalls and acts of nature headlined the Resorter.

In January, the county lost 46 jobs with the closing of the Nokomis Challenge Center due to lack of funding. It began operation in 1960 as a Department of Natural Resources youth work camp.

Later in January, the annual Kids Count survey revealed that a third of Roscommon County’s children, ages 0-17, were considered living in poverty giving the county a ranking of 82nd out of 83 counties. Roscommon County is one of three Northern counties leading the childhood poverty statistic. The county’s rate of 33.7% is up almost 6% over the 2005 rate according to Kids Count.

Because of construction, the 2010 Miss Houghton Lake competition was moved from November to January where Houghton Lake’s Danielle Balbach was named Miss Houghton Lake 2010 at Houghton Lake High School’s 64th annual program. Bridgit Grant was named first runner-up and earned the title of Miss Prudenville.

In February, it was reported that for the second year in a row, property values in almost all townships in Roscommon County declined, according to 2009 figures computed by the Roscommon County Equalization Department. In April, Equalization Director John Clark told county commissioners that for the first time, taxable value also declined (by 2.1%), representing a decrease in property tax revenue. The total assessed value of property in the county is $1.69 billion, down 7.49% from the previous year. Clark told commissioners second home owners who have lost their jobs are a major factor in the dropping values as those second homes are being foreclosed.

Quick thinking turned a potentially life-threatening situation into something to be celebrated at Houghton Lake Middle School Feb. 22. Fourth grader Jackson Blanchard alerted a lunch aide his friend, Alec Frey, was choking and the aide, Kelly Tharp, was able to dislodge the food.

The “shoe tree” which stood sentinel beside F-97 between St. Helen and Kirtland Community College for years was felled by vandals March 3.

Higgins Lake’s Dave Schwartz helped save the life a fisherman who broke through the ice on Higgins Lake March 15. Schwartz pulled a canoe from shore to rescue the man who had gone through the ice riding a four-wheeler.

In April, Roscommon Township officials formed a committee to fight a decision by the Michigan Department of Transportation to remove the stoplight at M-55 and Loxley. Despite their efforts, the light is slated for removal in May, 2011, unless local officials pay for an upgrade costing upwards of $100,000.

Michigan businesses, including bars and restaurants, went smoke-free May 1st.

With the passage of a library millage in May by voters in Lyon, Gerrish and Higgins Townships, the Roscommon Area District Library opened in the fall with a new director, former Houghton Lake Community Schools Librarian Lisa Sutton.

At the age of 52, Sutton had been working as an educator for the same school district for 30 years. She was eligible for an early retirement incentive being offered by the State of Michigan, but was not really ready to retire. She knew that if she didn’t the school board would be forced to eliminate other jobs. Facing that dilemma, she took her second job in Roscommon after seeing an ad in the paper.

The Roscommon District Public Library was officially formed in January. John Rosczyk and June Karjalainen, both appointed to the board by Higgins Township, were elected president and vice-president, respectively. Suzi De- Haan and Annamarie Reno, both Lyon Township appointees, were elected secretary and treasurer, respectively. Other board members are Gerald Larson and Joyce Ballard of Gerrish Township and Michael Butler of Roscommon Village. The public library board held its first meeting after the State Library of Michigan approved an agreement between the four municipalities and the Roscommon Area Public Schools Board of Education.

The Lyon, Gerrish and Higgins Township Boards, the Roscommon Village Council and the Roscommon Area Public Schools Board of Education had approved an amended agreement stating that if the new public library board was not successful in passing a millage proposal within 18 months, library assets would be disbursed to the participating agencies, but the bal- lot proposal was for a property tax of 50 cents per $1,000 taxable value for five years to fund a public library passed by an overall margin of 662 votes (55%) to 543 (45%).

RADL Board Chairman John Rosczyk said Sutton was one of two candidates the board interviewed July 12. The board offered Sutton a contract the same day, and Sutton started work the next morning.

Political turmoil in Markey Township resulted in four of that township’s board members being recalled in the general election. In early May, members of Markey Township’s fire department and Emergency Medical Service took leaves of absences en masse to protest Ordinace 24, an ordinance governing the departments, and the suspensions -- and later termination -- of three fire department personnel. Less than a week later, the township board rescinded the ordinance and the departments returned to work. However, the political fallout of the event eventually led to the recall of four of the township’s board members in November’s general election.

Following the recall of Supervisor Larry Hagerty, Clerk Esther Rons, Treasurer Christa Willoughby and Trustee Joe VanOstenbridge in the November General Election, Robert Pray and Elizabeth Fortino were appointed to the Markey Township board by the Roscommon County Election Commission, Nov. 15 and held their first township meeting Nov. 16 with Trustee Sherrie Ciaramitaro. On Dec. 6 Wendy Bell was appointed township clerk and Pat Bendily treasurer. On Dec. 13, the interim board voted to rescind Ordinance 49, which governed the operation of the township fire department and had caused friction between the previous board and firefighters, and re-enacted Ordinance 24, which had last undergone revision in 1994.

A mid-May wildfire scorched over 8,500 acres in South Branch Township, Crawford County. Twelve residences were destroyed, six were damaged and 36 outbuildings were either destroyed or damaged. There were 181 structures that were threatened but undamaged.

The Houghton Lake area recorded the fifth driest January to May on record and set a record for average spring temperatures with a 6.4-degree departure. The Spring Average Temperature Data provided by the Gaylord office of the U. S. Weather Service showed Houghton Lake having the warmest spring with a record of 47.6 degrees.

In June, Richfield Township celebrated its 125th anniversary with “Olden Days” fun at the township park.

Earlier in the month, change came to the township with the closing of its elementary school. St. Helen Elementary was consolidated into Roscommon Elementary and staff members waved goodbye to students one last time June 10. The school was closed after 37 years.

June brought national attention to Denton Township when the president of the Detroit Lions Thomas Lewand, 41, of Royal Oak, was arrested for operating while under the influence of liquor at Houghton Lake June 25. On July 16 he pleaded guilty to operating while visibly impaired and was sentenced to six months probation and pay fines and costs totaling $870. The National Football League in August suspended Lewand for 30 days and fined him $100,000 for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy.

A July 18 storm left thousands without power as straight-line winds between 60 and 65 mph were reported in Roscommon County. A funnel cloud was also reported by a trained weather spotter about five miles north of Houghton Lake.

Roscommon Village Manager Tom Gromek left that position in September to take a position as assistant to the manager in Peters Township, PA. In early December, the Village Council hired Tim Sadowski as its new manager.

The Houghton Lake Improvement Board voted to lower the assessment for its Eurasian watermilfoil control program from $100 per unit to $60 per unit Sept. 28.

Residents of St. Helen and visitors to the area will also save some money as they may now access the Lake St. Helen boat launch free of charge as the township took possession of the boat launch from representatives from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. The township officially took control of the site Oct. 1 under a 25-year zero dollar renewable lease.

An open house was held Oct. 23 to celebrate the completion of a new Houghton Lake Ambulance building. The 6,000 square-foot building was built without any new millage and replaced a 2,800 square-foot building.

The area was hit by another windstorm in late October that downed trees and knocked out power to thousands of county residents. Wind gusts of 51 mph were recorded at Houghton Lake Oct. 27, along with a period of 35 mph sustained winds during the afternoon that lasted a couple of hours.

In November, Houghton Lake High School senior Paige Wisniewski earned the title of Miss Houghton Lake 2011 at the annual scholarship program. Named Miss Prudenville as first runner-up was Randi Kaminski.

The St. Helen Snowpackers snowmobile club was honored for its work by the Michigan Snowmobile Association’s Michigan Snowmobile News as “Snowmobile Club of the Year.”

Denton Township learned Dec. 1 that it received a development grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund for Trestle Park. The township received a $372,700 grant to develop the lakefront park.

On Dec. 15 Roscommon County Commissioners learned of the cost to upgrade dams at Lake St. Helen and Houghton Lake. Replacement was the verdict for the Lake St. Helen dam and repairs to the Houghton Lake dam combined could cost taxpayers over $1.5 million according to the Spicer Group, who made their final report to commissioners on Dec. 15th.

SCHOOLS

St. Helen Elementary students and staff spent their last day at the school June 10 saying goodbye to each other. The day started with a parade and continued with an awards program and field day.

The Roscommon Area Public Schools Board of Education, in September, 2009, had voted to consolidate St. Helen with Roscommon Elementary School.

Rural Education Matters, a group seeking to establish a charter school, called Charlton Heston Academy, in St. Helen, submitted an application to the Michigan Department of Education for a planning and implementation grant Jan. 6. Despite a plea from a REM consultant, Kirtland Community College Trustees in January unanimously turned down a request to become the authorizer for an elementary charter school.

Jennifer Jarosz, president of REM, announced in March the group was awarded a $160,000 Federal Charter School Planning Grant Award from the State of Michigan. By May, REM had yet to find an educational institution willing to be the school’s authorizer and it had yet to find a site for the proposed school.

The Michigan Natural Resources Commission in December approved a request by RAPS to remove deed restrictions from the St. Helen Elementary School property. The previous month Board of Education Vice-president Randy Hartman said that the “goal is to sell the St. Helen Elementary Building.”

In September, Houghton Lake Community Schools and Royal Medical and Technical Consultants closed in escrow on the former Prudenville and Merritt Elementary buildings, after accepting a counter-offer from Dr. Srinivas R. Gaddam, Chicago, president of the company, for $200,000. The first of four $50,000 land contract installments was submitted by Royal Medical.

Superintendent Kevin Murphy said the process took a little longer than he expected, but the school district received clear title to the properties, including a 75-foot strip of land between the elementary and a Denton Township park. In March the Denton Township board had sought a second opinion in the quiet title case of the former Prudenville school, which was formerly owned by the township.

The Houghton Lake Board of Education in June adopted a resolution agreeing to a consent judgment with the heirs of a portion of the Prudenville property. The heirs had learned about the quiet title lawsuit and appeared after a default judgment had been entered in Circuit Court. The school district then agreed to set aside the default May 3. Dr. Gaddam intends to use the Prudenville and Merritt buildings to create a private school, the American British Academy.

Houghton Lake Community Schools hired 18 new teachers over the summer, as the 2010-11 budget was aided by more than 20 teacher retirements and a stabilization in per pupil funding from Lansing. As a result, the district brought back the choir program, which had been eliminated five years ago.

In February, after 11 months of negotiating, the Houghton Lake Education Association and the Houghton Lake Board of Education reached an agreement on a new teachers’ contract. The two-year contract features a quarter-percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2009, and the increase will be applied toward increasing health insurance costs. A retirement program, Retirees as Teachers, was added to the contract language.

The board, in September, approved a three-year contract with the Houghton Lake Educational Support Personnel Association.

HLCS Business Manager Matt Lewis submitted his resignation Sept. 13 and headed for Wyoming Schools (near Grand Rapids) to be the new director of finance there. Chavon Nihls was hired as the new finance director in November.

In June, Roscommon Area Public Schools Board of Education approved the retirement of four teachers and five other employees, including Superintendent Dr. Millie Mellgren, expected in the summer of 2011.

Martin “Mort” Meier became interim principal of the school Jan. 4 at Roscommon Elementary School to lead RES through its transition with the anticipated closing of St. Helen Elementary. He took over from retiring RES Principal JoEllen McNitt.

RAPS Board of Education Sept. 15 ratified a two-year contract with the Roscommon Education Association, in which teachers received a 2.75% bump in pay the first year and an insurance change to Priority Health.

In April the Houghton Lake Board of Education began looking into its financial crystal ball, trying to anticipate possible cuts to its 2010-11 budget that may be caused by a decrease in per pupil funding and declining enrollment. In June, however, the board of education accepted the retirements of 27 employees. Of those, many returned part-time as “retired actively teaching.”

Other cost-savings came from not renewing Curriculum Director Arlene Jury’s contract. The district also benefitted from the sale of Merritt and Prudenville Elementaries. The board made no mid-year cuts and received a positive audit report in October.

The Roscommon Area Public Schools Board of Education in July planned to use part of the district’s 30% fund equity to balance the 2010-11 budget. Board members, at a special meeting June 30, approved a budget with an almost $1 million deficit.

Upgrades to Houghton Lake High School continued through early 2010. The changes were possible because voters passed a $7.1 million bond issue in 2008, and while they are not as visible to the public as the newly renovated football stands and concessions building, many of the changes will be seen and used daily by students. Among the improvements were technical upgrades in classrooms, a new board office-staff training room and a technical hub, which will serve as a home base for the district’s technology directors.

The summer’s bond projects at Houghton Lake High School were awarded to Grand Traverse Construction, Traverse City. By September, Houghton Lake High School had an updated heating and water supply system, upgraded bathrooms, fire alarm system, clocks and public address system and 801 new lockers. The middle school received new carpeting and upgrades to the boys and girls bathrooms and locker rooms off the gym. Of the elementary classrooms, 75% received new carpeting.

RAPS awarded $3 million in bond issue contracts Jan. 20 for renovations at Roscommon Elementary and Roscommon Middle School. District voters had approved a bond issue in 2008. Contracts totaling $2.52 million were approved for RES, where a new gym (including a stage) was among the year’s projects. Other amenities of the new addition were a music room and computer lab and upgrades, including new paint, windows, blinds, flooring and energy-efficient lights. Granger Construction Co., Lansing, oversaw the bond projects.

Ground was ceremonially broken in March for the new gymnasium at RES. It was expected to be used for assemblies, physical education classes and other activities as the number of students at RES grew with the merger with St. Helen Elementary in the fall.

Following a millage approval by voters in Lyon, Gerrish and Higgins Townships in May, former Houghton Lake Community Schools Librarian Lisa Sutton was hired as the Roscommon Area District Library’s first director.

Roscommon High School students performed Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods” in November and the school’s choirs hosted their first Madrigal Dinner in December.

Houghton Lake High School held auditions for “Beauty and the Beast,” to be presented in spring, 2011.

Roscommon High School named Casmera Gendernalik valedictorian and Jenna Kozumplik Salutatorian. At Kay Drogt and Sarah Elizabeth Herriman were named co-valedictorians and Mary-Jo Marie Julin was named salutatorian.

Named 2010 Homecoming Queen and King during halftime of Roscommon’s varsity football game Oct. 8 were Sky Page and A.J. Gojcaj. Elected Houghton Lake Homecoming royals were 2010 Homecoming Queen Dominique Csapo and King Eric Goodwin, along with Princess Autumn Beaudry and Prince Shayden Sample.

Houghton Lake High School senior Paige Wisniewski earned the title of Miss Houghton Lake 2011.

Kirtland Community College’s Firebird mascot was dubbed “Sparky” in March after Kathy (Peters) Gibson, a Level I nursing student at Kirtland who submitted the name because it sounded upbeat and “peppy,” was selected from more than 130 suggested names in a naming contest hosted by the college.

It was announced July 1 that officials from Kirtland Community College signed an articulation agreement in nursing with Ferris State University, Big Rapids, which enables students who have earned an associate’s degree in nursing from Kirtland to transition into the bachelor’s degree program at Ferris.

The Kirtland Community College Board of Trustees in November extended President Tom Quinn’s contract, approved a 5% raise and provided other perks.

CRIME Several court items made front page news in 2010, including the sentencing Boer Jr.

O’Neil was sentenced Jan. 19 to 37 1/2 years to 60 years in prison for the scalding death of a 14-month-old boy. He pleaded no contest to second degree homicide murder for the April 8, 2009 incident.

Former Houghton Lake accountant Robert DenBoer Jr., 34, was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison Nov. 3 in U.S. District Court, Bay City. The sentencing came after he pleaded guilty to single counts of willfully filing a false income tax return and wire fraud as part of a plea agreement filed in the Bay City court Nov. 18, 2009. DenBoer was also ordered to pay over $1.1 million in restitution and ordered two years of supervision after his release. DenBoer was set to report to federal prison on Jan. 2, 2011.

Embezzlements also made news in 2010.

A Prudenville woman was sentenced in 34th Circuit Court on April 20, for embezzling funds from a Houghton Lake Cub Scout Pack. Lynde J. Schieman, 31, was ordered to pay $6,837.48 restitution, $500 in fines and costs, a $500 attorney fee and $128 in other court assessments and to serve 18 months probation. Schieman had pleaded guilty to embezzlement by a trustee or agent of between $1,000 and $20,000.

The former treasurer of the Association to Rescue Kritters (A.R.K.) was arraigned on a charge of embezzlement in 83rd District Court, Roscommon on Dec. 6. Nancy A. Jackson, 52, Prudenville, demanded preliminary examination on a charge of embezzlement between $1,000 and $20,000 from a non-profit organization.

On Dec. 13, Roscommon’s Teresa A. Valko, 53, was arraigned in 83rd District Court on charges of embezzlement between $50,000 and $100,000 and obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. Valko was the office manager at Woodland Family Dental, Higgins Lake, and allegedly stole $77,000 from the business.

Other items also made news:

A former Houghton Lake man pleaded no contest in September to two counts of attempted resisting and obstructing an officer. Brian C. Szyska was shot by deputies from the Roscommon County Sheriff’s Department after pointing a weapon at the officers at the scene of a one-car accident March 21.

During the annual Bud Bash at Houghton Lake in early August, 138 arrests were made during a four-day period around the event.

Andrew B. Coker, 25, of Mt. Pleasant was sentenced to prison Aug. 17 in 34th Circuit Court, Roscommon, in connection with a Dec. 23, 2009, one-car accident that resulted in the death of Nicholas Osborn of St. Helen. He was sentenced to 29 months to 15 years in prison after causing death.

A Prudenville woman is set for pretrial Jan. 4, 2011, on charges of one count of first degree home invasion, three counts of felonious assault and three counts of unlawful imprisonment. Linda L. Khang, 24, was charged following a Sept. 2 incident in which she allegedly forced her way into a home where three young girls were home alone.

A scam involving Michigan Bridge Cards, a debit card used for food assistance benefits, was thwarted in November when Martin D. Lozon, 44, and Lisa A. Miller, 42, were arrested. The pair were were arraigned in 83rd District Court on charges of food stamp fraud over $1,000, common law fraud, welfare fraud over $500, conspiracy and criminal enterprise.

POLITICS

The political winds of change in 2010 swept not only the country and Markey Township, but also Roscommon County as Republican Party nominees found little resistance from voters in November.

In November county voters mirrored statewide election results for governor, attorney general, secretary of state, Supreme Court and for two proposals, one calling for a new constitutional convention and another that banned election or appointments for some convicted felons. And in another stamp of party approval, voters returned Republican Congressman Dave Camp to Washington, D.C. for another two years.

In May Houghton Lake Board of Education member Bill Burger lost his reelection bid to David Johnson. Former board member Daniel Tharp came in third.

Roscommon Area Public Schools (RAPS) voters elected two new board members, Kim Morley and Brenda Jo Milner. Incumbent Paul Menghini lost his bid and other unsuccessful candidates were Scott Mires, Russ Wintersheimer and Mark Gojacj. Incumbent Tom Dale did not seek reelection.

RAPS voters also approved a halfmill request for the new public library district by a 55% to 45% margin and approved renewal of the RAPS district non-homestead tax of $18 per $1,000 taxable value on second homes and businesses, which amounts to about half of the district’s operational budget.

In July Roscommon County Commissioners for Township Consolidation seeking to place township consolidation for Denton, Lake, Markey and Roscommon Townships on the November ballot. The commission cited four reasons including failure to meet a May deadline.

In the August Primary Election Republican Bruce Rendon, a Lake City farmer, won his bid for the 103rd. Dist. State Representative job over six challengers. Susan Vick, St. Helen, also a contender for the seat, won Roscommon County but was second to Rendon among district voters.

County voters also followed statewide voters in choices for governor in the August Primary Election.

Gypsy moth millage renewal and a proposal for county 911 service millage renewal were approved by voters. Denton Township voters approved two millage issues, one for ambulance and one for the police department. Lake Township voters approved a road millage by 31 votes. Roscommon Township voters approved a fire equipment millage while Nester and AuSable Township voters approved a fire and EMS millage.

Evart resident Darwin Booher won the Republican nomination for 35th Dist. State Senate seat and Democrat Roger Dunigan of Traverse City won his party’s nomination.

Embroiled Richfield Township Supervisor Jerry Campbell resigned his position in a letter addressed to the Richfield Township board, effective Sept. 20.

In November’s General Election incumbent Democrats George Pappas for road commission and Pam Stephan for county commissioner were defeated by Republican rivals, following state and national election trends. In the road commission race Republican Thomas McGinnis and incumbent Democrat Kim Akin were victors, Akin was the only county-wide Democrat incumbent reelected.

Stephan lost her county seat to Republican Lowell Souder, who had run as a Democrat two years earlier. Republicans Ken Melvin, the incumbent, and Dave Russo survived their races with Democrat opponents for county commission seats while the two other commission candidates were unopposed.

In Roscommon Village President Jesse Carlson survived a challenge by Beverly Luther with a 100 vote margin. In elected Gerrish Township clerk and Lake Township Supervisor Stan Christler was elected to a term ending in 2012.

DEATHS

Among present and former Roscommon County and area residents who died during 2010 were:

January

Former Michigan State Police Detective Lieutenant Edward F. Hancock, 77; Dennis G. Stegall, 67, owner of Houghton Lake Realty; Houghton Lake businessman Donald E. Widdis; former Houghton Lake teacher Grace J. Miller, 107; and former 34th Circuit Court Judge Carl L. Horn, 81,

February

Houghton Lake High School teacher Robert J. Kunik, 45; and former Au Sable Township Supervisor and Roscommon County Commissioner LeRoy “Doc” Wahl, 88.

March

Former Houghton Lake musician Joseph G. Polzin, 86; and former South Branch Township Supervisor and Gerrish-Higgins School District Board member Thomas R. DeWitt, 75.

April

Former Music Box owner Leland Jay “Lee” Kelly, 86; and former Resorter publisher and editor Robert J. Hamp Jr., 93.

May

Former drive-in movie theatre proprietor Sullivan “Sully” L. Ballou, 93; former Dairy Dome at Higgins Lake owner and founding member of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church Frederick A.D. Bancroft, 81; and former Michigan State Police Sgt. Clare Helms, 82.

June

Former President of the Higgins Lake Study Club Helen Rutkelis Stokas, 87; and St. Helen businessman Ralph A. Radenbaugh, 70.

July

Bart’s Fruit Market in Prudenville and Houghton Lake co-owner Jeanne Marie (Flaishans) Good, 52; Merritt Speedway promoter and VanDuinen Forest Products owner Edwin Frank VanDuinen Jr., 60, Merritt; former Roscommon High School Band Director Lorrance G. “Larry” Sumerix, 74; and former Cut River Restaurant owner Gregory Joseph LeFevere, 54;

August

Houghton Lake Community Schools teacher Donald C. Mainprize, 79; Roscommon businessman and lifelong resident Willard D. Williams, 101; and West Branch resident and CEO of G’s Pizzerias Sharon Lee Galea, 79.

September

Former Houghton Lake High School teacher and guidance counselor Walter Prestridge Creason 96; former Michigan Conservation Officer Derryl James Jones, 61; founder of Sara’s Bears, which services the ambulance, urgent care offices, and emergency rooms, where every child gets a bear, Sara E. Murdoch, 47; and former Michigan State Police Sgt. Leo Drumm, 87.

October

Letha Grace Carrick, 99, who owned and operated four different restaurants in the Houghton Lake area, all being well known as Letha’s Charcoal Kitchens; and Arita J. Yeager Good, who owned and operated Yeager’s Lake and Stream Party Store on the West Shore of Houghton Lake for over 30 years;

November

Enterprise Township (Missaukee County) Board member Ernest “Bud” Bowman, 94; former Houghton Lake resort owner and businessman Aloysius “Al” Plackowski, 86, Houghton Lake; former Houghton Lake Middle School teacher Clara A. Handy, 67; and former Don Nester Chevrolet-Oldsmobile coowner Beverly L. Nester, 77.

December

Houghton Lake Resorter reporter and columnist Glenn Earl Schicker, 60; former dean of business at Kirtland Community College Herbert Alden Ostrander, 90; and founding member of St. James Catholic Church, Houghton Lake, Frances H. Jury.

Compiled by Cheryl Holladay, Tom Hamp and Eric Hamp

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