The one where I try to sum up my 2013

This was the year I regained my senses (at least sight and hearing), became a Catholic, and reconnected with high school classmates that I have not seen in 39 years.

That about sums it up.

The forbidden Wild Cheetos tree, the fruit of which, inspires Steelcase designers

The forbidden Wild Cheetos tree, the fruit of which, inspires Steelcase designers

Ok, if you insist, here are some details. First, the senses thing. The world had very quickly become dark and blurry in 2012. I went to see my new eye doctor (a BCHS grad) and had cataract surgery on both eyes before February. What an amazing procedure – but, I hate to think about the first person who had it, “You’re doing WHAT to my eyeball?”  I also developed some hearing problems that I didn’t take care of right away because I kinda liked having the world be not so loud. But, fixed that in the last couple weeks. I realized that I am more distracted by sounds than sights – hence, the beagle running through the house is OK, but his barking/howling bothers me.

 

Beagles, as a species, would be extinct if they weren't so cute.

Beagles, as a species, would be extinct if they weren’t so cute.

Second, it took a year for me to become an official Catholic, and I have so much more to learn. I love the Mass and have found comfort and power in the Rosary. I have met amazing people on my journey – Father Mel, Rhonda, Dan and Betty, Gene, and my sponsor, Linda (a BCHS classmate). I find that I love Ordinary Time. Perhaps I’m getting old, but I also appreciate vanilla ice cream, plain bagels with plain cream cheese, black coffee, plain chicken and rice, unflavored potato chips, simple dark chocolate. Ordinary – no frills.

And……I'm in!

And……I’m in!

Now, when I’m asked about my time on staff at an Evangelical megachurch, I can respond, “Well, I’m Catholic now,” and leave it at that. (It was the staff retreats at St. Mary’s Seminary that got me started if you want to know, not the shaming or the pressure to reinvent Christianity every week.)

Third, in a project that went way beyond what I had imagined, I started hunting down and meeting with members of my high school graduating class. I thought, with our 40th reunion looming, and with my returning from Chicago after several decades, what a great excuse to reconnect. Not everyone is on Facebook and not everyone has email.

It's good to have friends/classmates in high places.

It’s good to have friends/classmates in high places.

I found and talked to about 35 so far, out of a class of 109 graduates. We’ve had two small get-togethers and I started a newsletter. I’ve also been so impressed with the changes in my little hometown that I’ve been researching and writing about it (see my blog at www.cynthiahoppe.com).

The summer went by way too fast and I got too few walks on my beach.

Not my beach. Saugatuck, where we go when being around people is OK.

Not my beach. Saugatuck, where we go when being around people is OK.

I am discovering other county parks in the area (thanks to Bob, a BCHS classmate). And stay tuned (for those of you who know me at all, you better sit down) – as I start as a substitute teacher (there is, of course, a story). Yeah, just gonna drop that one there and wish you all a great 2014.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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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Classmates Project Update

As a person who has squandered many braincells learning (or not so much) DOS, MS-DOS, Windows, WordPerfect, Compuserv, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Pages, Keynote, Outlook, gmail, yahoo, WordPress, Palm Pilot, Final Draft, Scrivener, HTML, Movie Magic, my iPod, Evernote, various company specific software/lookups/cash register programs – and I won’t even get into cell phones, smartphones, iPhones, and all the required apps – I’m distressed by the number of my high school classmates that “don’t do the computer or email stuff.” I don’t know how you managed to do that and I envy the stress you avoided and the time you saved by not having to click on cute puppy videos.

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I planned to interview until August 15, being certain that I could hunt down 40 or 50 of my classmates. I got 21. There are, possibly, a couple more I could get. Took pages of notes. Had lots of pleasant surprises and a lot of fun. Working now on compiling my findings. Don’t know if there is a full-fledged reunion in our future but there may be some smaller events.