Mighty Fine Arts

When I was in high school, if the marching band could play “Rock Around the Clock” and not bump into each other – it was a good day. As the assistant director of the school play my junior and senior year (there was only one play a year) we had to do “something funny” or no one (parents, community) would come. Forget anything involving singing, dancing, crying, etc. I should not complain. If we didn’t put on “Harvey” my senior year, I wouldn’t have met my husband, I don’t think a teen crush on the asst. director could have prompted him to try out for, say, “Oklahoma”.

Jazz Drummer Ali Jackson working with BCHS students. Photo: Marc Townley

Jazz Drummer Ali Jackson working with BCHS students. Photo: Marc Townley

 

Recently, I went to Byron Center High School’s “Artastic”, billed as “A Holiday Celebration of the Arts in our School!” Let me toss out some statistics gleaned from the program. First – it was well over two hours of amazing art: singing, musicians in groups and solos, and videos. There were two acts; the first had 20 performance pieces and the second had 21. While there was overlap, here are the number of members in the performing groups:
BCHS Orchestra – 42
BCHS Wind Ensemble – 71
BCHS Jazz Lab – 27
BCHS Symphonic Band – 80
BCHS Jazz Band – 18
BCHS Jazz Orchestra – 24
Women’s Chorus – 27
Concert Choir – 36
Vocal Expressions -22
Advanced Jazz Combo – 5
Sixteen Strings – 4
BCHS String Quartet – 4
Brass Quintet – 6
BCHS Theatre – 4
BCHS Audio/Visual – 6

That’s 376 positions – probably over 300 kids! In 1974 terms – everyone in the sophomore, junior, and senior classes. Then there was no “jazz”, there were no strings, there was certainly no “theatre”. We had a “play” and had a small marching band that occasionally performed sitting on folding chairs in the gymnasium.

One thing that struck me about these kids was how well they performed as a group, especially in formation or in unison. In the 70s, we were all individuals and we were like trying to herd the proverbial cats – we did nothing in unison. Being good at anything other than sports was scorned – it wasn’t cool. These kids I saw at Artastic had great technical skills, and also the very important life skills of being a team, supporting each other, acknowledging a solo performance, time management, and the discipline of daily practice. When there was a solo or another group performing, the others on stage where quiet and focused on the performers. I saw no fidgeting – and I was looking for it because it was remarkable for its absence. I wonder if it’s too late for me to learn.

Growing Carefully

Last Monday night I went to another Byron Township Board meeting. Yes, I know, I should just get Cable. This promised to be well-attended with heated discussions. The Board was to approve, or not, the rezoning application for Tanger Outlet Mall that would officially move Byron Center out of the “rural” classification. The meeting started at 7pm with a packed room and a group of men in business suits representing Tanger. The regular Call To Order and Approval of the Minutes led to New Business.

The group representing Tanger gave a presentation explaining what had been discussed at the Planning meeting and how the mall would be situated at 84th Street and US 131 (one mile from where I grew up and about a quarter mile from my elementary school). I expected huge pushback when it came to the public hearing part. Most people were for it – it would bring jobs -just so no fast food places came with it, if Alles Drive could be made a cul-de-sac, and if it would bring in lots of tax revenue. Everyone was very polite and had obviously taken much time to gather their thoughts. Then the Byron Township lawyer stated that just that afternoon he had received petitions from two businesses on properties next to the proposed mall site and there had to be a settlement procedure before the board could vote on anything, so tabled.

Now it’s about 8pm. All the Tanger people and interested parties leave. Still a pretty full room. The next item is a rezoning application to build apartments. Now comes the real passion. Interesting dynamics here. For the mall discussion, the people who came and spoke for or against the mall had all lived here forever. The apartment discussion was different. Now the apartments (gated community with pool, pet spa, granite counters and stainless steel appliances) would be 256 units (studio, 1,2,3,and 4 bedrooms) on a plot of land bordered by Byron Center Avenue, M6, a hospital and a church. Oh, and a recently built, lovely single family home development: VanSingel Farms.

Perhaps I should mention that one of the Board members is John VanSingel. A little history. John’s father was President of Byron Center State Bank when I was in school. It was the only bank in town and funded many of the town’s activities. John has been very successful on his own and has contributed much to the direction, growth, and success of Byron Center. VanSingel Farms is the poster child of the wealth and stability that has taken Byron from the thrifty, conservative, farm village of my youth to the thrifty, conservative, prestigious town that I have returned to.

The Springs group presents their vision for the site. This is valuable land now – certainly wasn’t before M6 and the hospitals were built. Byron is a single family detached house place. “Owning” your house and a “good place to raise kids” are two of the highest values here. Renting and raising kids – not so much.

There were two arguments against building the Springs Apartment Complex. The first: is this the best use of the land, tax-wise? Would business/professional offices be better for taxes and for developing an area that recently was all farm land? Second: renters are scum, their kids will break our schools, and they will strain our police and fire department resources. Shall I go on? They have no “values”, have no interest in what they vote for, pay no taxes, and in months it will be subsidized housing and Byron Center will have become “Kentwood” – which apparently is the code word for “trashy renters destroying any town they inhabit and possibly bringing on the Apocalypse”.

One after another, they got up to speak out against the proposed apartment development. They stated their name and address (VanSingel Farms) and then noted that they had recently (some just a few months ago) moved here from Kentwood or other parts of the country and came to have a nice house in a nice area with good schools and while they just got here and were nice, well, renters would destroy property values, traffic patterns, school excellence, and would generally need tax dollars that these homeowners would have to pay.

As a renter for most of my life, I was shocked at how my housing choice branded me a drag on the community. I know many renters who have made positive contributions to society. Some have stayed renters and some have advanced to the desired mortgage situation. Another phenomena that not many understand in this area is that not everyone marries and not everyone has children -ever. In my years in Chicago, a minority of my friends/colleagues were married. Of those married, only a few had children, either by choice or circumstance.  (Here, I don’t know anyone that didn’t marry and/or have children.)  People moved around – around the city, to different states. It was easier to follow career paths and opportunities without a house to buy/sell/maintain. There are two hospitals in walking distance (except you’d have to walk across a highway) of the proposed apartments. Sounds perfect for medical staff that are training or on a rotation of a couple months or years. They probably don’t have kids, are professionals that are working more than 8 hour days and don’t know if they will be staying beyond their term.

After the public had spoken, the Township lawyer spoke again. And once again, this time a sort of bureaucratic glitch, the vote could not be taken and had to be tabled.

It’s now 9pm. I have to leave, because dogs must be let out and teenager accounted for. There are still six items of business that I would have liked to stayed for. Pretty much everyone else left, too. They have dogs and kids to put to bed. I don’t know how much longer the meeting went but I have sat through some or their sewer discussions and they might still be there.

My October – in brief.

It’s November 1st, and grey and rainy. Where did October go?

It started with a great birthday/reunion on October 4th.

Me and our teacher - now State Rep. Hooker.

Me and our teacher – now State Rep. Hooker.

Had some great sunrises.

One of the many beautiful sunrises this month.

One of the many beautiful sunrises this month.

Got distracted by this dog several thousand times.

Don't be fooled by the cute face! He has a never-ending need for walks, treats, and belly-rubs.

Don’t be fooled by the cute face! He has a never-ending need for walks, treats, and belly-rubs.

Spent way more time on a piece for Byron Center Life than I planned. But, learned a lot.

BCHS Marching Band and Color Guard

BCHS Marching Band and Color Guard

A regular practice.

A regular practice.

Made a last minute visit to Florida to help my stepmother.

My bedroom at Casa Ginny - 15 stories above the ocean.

My bedroom at Casa Ginny – 15 stories above the ocean.

The pool I never got to use.

The pool I never got to use.

Atlantic sunrise.

Atlantic sunrise.

Got to see my brother.

My 6'5" baby brother.

My 6’5″ baby brother.

The 1965 Corvair that took me to the airport.

The 1965 Corvair that took me to the airport.

And now am preparing to officially become Catholic tomorrow.

Cathedral of Saint Andrew window.

Cathedral of Saint Andrew window.

It was a good October.

 

Stop me before I read again.

Those of you who know me at all, know of my love of reading instructions – only for a laugh – never to actually, you know, assemble anything.

I also read a lot of things that I really could take a pass on (“but, if someone went to the trouble to write and publish something…”).  Here are three things that have drawn my attention during the past week.

This has a better ziplock than my deli cheese.

This has a better ziplock than my deli cheese.

1. The first one is not so much instructions as just a curiosity. Why do packages of men’s briefs have a reusable ziplock top? Do you only take them out as you use them and want to keep the others fresh? I didn’t see an expiration date. I have heard legends about men and their underwear and none of them have involved the concern for their “freshness”. I am waiting to be enlightened – perhaps Hanes can help me out.

Packed with love?

Packed with love?

2. Target up&up lunch bags. I read the packaging and thought that this could also describe me in a strange way. “Giant Size, Self-standing, Flat Bottom, Easy to Open, Packed with love.” I think someone went to way too much effort in the copywriting department, but I guess the graphics department was out having Tazo tea.

3. My third entry is the box for some Tazo Green Tea.  I was sold at, “This bright green tea blend has a kick from ginger and a sweet note of pear.”  I did not realize that this was no ordinary tea. Drinking this tea would send me on “a journey that spans continents and centuries…Each cup is a story, unfolding with every sip.”

The living history of my ancestors?

The living history of my ancestors?

This is not tea that I should drink while still in my bathrobe – I should get dressed and have my suitcase packed before I toss that teabag into the steamy pool of clear filtered water in my mug made from the sacred clay brought down the mountains by royal llamas.

Or at least have fresh underwear.

Local Governing, like Math, is hard – but important.

In keeping with my curiosity about Byron Center and how it’s changed over the last 30 years, I went to a Township Board meeting.

Byron Township Hall - still like new.

Byron Township Hall – still like new.

The first thing I noticed as I walked up to the “new” building, was that I don’t recall ever seeing a building in Chicago that had a place to wipe the mud off my shoes before I entered. Just part of the overall clean and orderly look of a town still dominated by Dutch sensibilities.

No smoking and clean your shoes/boots before entering.

No smoking and clean your shoes/boots before entering.

I was the first visitor in the meeting room and was soon joined by a high school government class. They sat in back at some tables. They had brought laptops and iPads and I’m certain were totally paying attention to the meeting for the entire hour. It was a good meeting to show the details of local government and the passion of issues that strike home – or in this case homes.
An upscale development was entering phase two and there was an issue about lot size. (Forty years ago “upscale” and “Byron Center” would not ever be used in the same sentence.) The builder/developer had come with architectural posters and a lawyer. The President of the Homeowners association was also present. The lawyer spoke on how there had been no promise of specific lot size and the builder needed to add 6 more lots to make the development profitable for him. The HOA president countered that all 37 buyers involved had the same understanding of the larger lots and had all come to meetings in the past explaining that. The board voted 5 to 2 in favor of the homeowners.
Next was something involving drain maintenance. It was especially appropriate as that morning we had 5 inches of rain in 3 hours. The Drain Guy said this was a 500 year event. (Really? We had that in Chicago every couple years. Highways flooded, O’Hare closed, power out for days.) I was amazed by the precise formulas that took into account how much of the drain was in each township or county it went through, size of homeowner lot, and I think if you were at the end of the drain or beginning. It would cost each Byron homeowner along the drain an assessment of $3 – which could be spread over 2 years. I tried to imagine how long it took to work the original formula and then get it passed by the governing entities. I thought if I had been in on those meetings I be the one spinning around in my chair with pencils stuck up my nose. Guess my dream of being in politics was correctly abandoned. The measure passed.
Thank you Audrey and the Board for dealing with boring but really important stuff and also making decisions that Solomon might have wanted to take a pass on.

This is the entrance of the women's restroom. This wreath would also look great on my front door.

This is the entrance of the women’s restroom. This wreath would also look great on my front door.

 

Tractor Envy at the Fair

For many years growing up, my year was driven by the 4H Fair. I didn’t have any cool animals like horses or cows. My area was sewing. I have been this tall almost since birth so making my own clothes was necessary, and I enjoyed it (both being tall and sewing). In fall I would get to pick out a pattern and the fabric for the outfit I would work on all winter. My mother insisted on plaids as she said they were harder to work with and would impress the judges more.

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Getting together with the other girls in my 4H group every week, the goal was to work on our project and help each other. More talking than work was done – and we were giving up watching The Monkees on TV that night. So as spring arrived, we had a fashion show to prepare for. It was the week before that all the work got done. There were tears and ripping out of seams and redoing to make the stitches neater. But, then the Saturday would come when all the 4H groups from the county would get together and we would model our fashion projects.

I could make a mean plaid outfit!

I could make a mean plaid outfit!

We would be judged and blue (1st place), red (2nd), and white (3rd) ribbons would be awarded. Then couldn’t wear our clothing until the summer 4H fair judging and display. I can still describe all of my projects.

I was curious how the Hudsonville Fair, which included 4H exhibits, would compare. I did not go until the last day of it. The animals and the care needed for them was the same. Camping out at the Fair and sleeping on straw with the animals still goes on.

 Prize Beet

Prize Beet

The sewing projects were all very simple (no plaids) and were either in glass cases or out of reach. The food items had been on display all week under plastic in open-air buildings and most had developed coverings of mold. The vegetables and flowers were droopy and withered. There was a whole building for businesses to have booths – like a local convention area.

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There were the usual Fair Treats – various items involving frying and sugar – the stuff that will not only kill you but make you suffer as soon as you eat it. Several churches had areas where they served food and had tables to eat at. I went up to one order area that listed pie. I asked if it was homemade as kinda the whole point of this fair was to highlight local and homemade. “No, we used to have homemade, but we can’t anymore because of government rules,” the woman at the order window informed me. Sigh.

I did enjoy the heavy equipment display.

This I could use for clearing snow off the driveway.

This I could use for clearing snow off the driveway.

There were no window stickers like on cars, so can’t even imagine how much they cost.

Could use this in pothole season.

Could use this in pothole season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way out, stopped by the rabbit barn. I had rabbits growing up, just as pets, not as fair exhibits. I had a white rabbit, Petunia, as a pet and we “loaned” it to Mary Post so “it would have babies”. Mary brought me a baby rabbit, it was so cute. I asked her when Petunia was coming back.

Not Petunia

Not Petunia

She looked a little puzzled, “We ate it.”

 

I remember it bigger.

Another visit to a building from my past. After attending Deb Sportel’s gallery showing, I stopped by my old elementary school. Blain was one of the “feeder” schools that were built in the early 60’s to accommodate baby boomers.

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There were several around the district and they had four rooms – one for each grade – first through fourth. Blain was pretty much on the other side of some hills that made up the acreage of our backyard. If there could have been a path cleared through woods and prairie, I could have walked to school instead of being the first one picked up by the bus and the last one dropped off (not that I’m bitter). Deb (Maier) Sportel was my best friend in grade school at Blain. I would go over to her house and we would put on musical shows in the barn.
Blain has been abandoned for several years. The playground area is overgrown and all the swings, monkey bars, and huge pieces of concrete pipe that we used for “safe” when playing tag – those are all gone.

 

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A new elementary school was built a couple miles away and has more than four rooms in it. It’s used by the kids and grandkids of my classmates at Blain and the many other people that have built the big new homes in the area that used to be farms and fields.

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