Category Archives: Mason Township

Honor Roll

There’s a large wall right in the center of downtown Mason.  I see it every time I drive there, and I have always wondered what it was for.

Today I stopped there and found out it’s a memorial wall dedicated to individuals from Ingham County who fought in the Korean and Vietnam wars as well as World War II.  There is a  walkway leading up to it with engraved bricks honoring anyone from Ingham County who has served in the armed forces during times of peace and war.

Now that I have been reporting in Mason for the semester, I actually felt a sort of connection while I was reading the names on the wall.  I have heard so many stories about old war veterans from the history buffs I have interviewed, it seemed fitting that I discovered the memorial now rather than at the beginning of my work.

But, one of the coolest things about being there today was when I noticed that the patriotism in Mason, especially at that memorial, was everywhere – even the fire hydrant was red, white and blue.  If that doesn’t say something, I don’t know what does.

Schools of Choice

Amy Al-Katib

The Mason Board of Education announced Monday, Feb. 11 that they would close Cedar Elementary School in accordance with the facilities consolidation plan. Following this, they informed the public that an in-district school of choice option wouldn’t be offered for elementary students during the 2008-2009 school year.

“Once we get past this facility consolidation piece we will go back to allowing schools of choice within the district among the three remaining schools,” said Superintendent James Harvey.

This is the first year the Board has voted against allowing the in-district schools of choice option. Harvey said it was intended to avoid chaos while closing a school. “You have all these kindergartners and first graders that you need to put somewhere,” said Diane Wilson, administrative assistant to the assistant superintendent of instruction. “And we don’t know how it’s going to unfold yet next year,” she said.

Kindergarten and first grade students who would normally attend Cedar will be redistricted to other schools next year as part one of the phase out. “We don’t want people leaving the schools they are assigned to,” said Harvey.

But, the question parents have is, How can we keep our kids together? The answer: students who are reassigned but have siblings in other schools can still apply for in-district schools of choice. “There’s no guarantee for any schools of choice student, but we don’t want to split up families,” said Harvey. Therefore, the students will be allowed to apply and will be granted permission given there are enough openings for the particular grade and building they will enter.

The Board will still allow for out-of-district schools of choice students to attend Mason schools. Because funding is distributed on a per pupil basis, the out-of-district students help balance the budget. Harvey said that most years they lose approximately 30 or 40 students, but they gain 40 or 50. “It’s about a net effect of zero, but we’re usually positive by at least a few,” he said.

The Board’s decision to target in-district rather than out-of-district schools of choice students has not raised many issues for the public. In-district schools of choice only applies to elementary students because there is only one building for both middle school and high school. Gina Stanley, principal at North Aurelius said she hasn’t heard any complaints. “I announced it at kindergarten round-up that we wouldn’t be allowing it because that’s where parents sign up for it, and I didn’t even get any questions,” she said.

Lisa Francisco, the principal at Cedar Elementary, said that with any institution there are always undesirable decisions that have to be made. And while she doesn’t like to see options taken away from her students, she said there’s not enough money in education.

Heather Waldrop, the Secretary at Alaiedon, feels that the Board made an excellent decision. The facilities consolidation plan was designed to reduce costs because of insufficient funding. “This policy will end up saving our district a lot of money just in transportation alone,” she said.

Harvey explained that out-of-district schools of choice students arrange their own transportation but that the district provides transportation for the in-district schools of choice students. However, he said costs will remain the same. “It really doesn’t have any bearing on the transportation because we already have connecting buses between every one of our buildings,” he said.

Therefore, the Board decided to stop in-district schools of choice only to make transitioning easier. “This way, a teacher at one school doesn’t have to wonder why they have 27 students when teachers in the same grade at other schools only have 17,” said Harvey.

And class size is a concern for parents too. In a previous interview, Dawn Stark, a parent of an elementary school student, said she worried that classes were going to get too big to provide a conducive learning environment.

“We’re trying to prevent a large exodus of students because we don’t have the slots to accommodate them anyway,” said Harvey. “But the decision not to allow in-district schools of choice is really a very minor piece of all this. The main significance is moving all of them out of there,” he said.

City Council Meeting

Amy Al-Katib

The Mason City Council discussed ways to reduce new businesses on Cedar Street to one driveway while maintaining traffic efficiency at their 7:30 p.m., Monday, January 21 meeting.

Martin Colburn, the city administrator, informed council members of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s plans to reduce the number of ingresses and egresses to prevent accidents.

On Wednesday, January 16, the Planning Commission approved a special use permit for a final site location for the new Biggby’s coffee shop, which is located at 661 N. Cedar St. but not yet open for business. “It looks like a tremendous plan,” said Naeyaert. The building is currently used as a location for the Mason State Bank, which will be moving to a new location, so the parking lot is designed for customers to enter at one location, park or circle around to the drive-thru and exit at a different location.

However, the plan MDOT designed for Cedar Street has the entrance and exit for Biggby’s combined, not separate. “The reality is, we’re going to try to find out how strict this policy is,” said Colburn. “I can see them asking to reduce the size, but having only one driveway, that doesn’t make any sense at all,” said council member Leslie Bruno Jr.

While the city of Mason will have to incur the cost of possibly removing one of these driveways, that doesn’t seem to be the main concern. “If you’ve got a situation where people come in one way and go out the other, forget the cost, it’s going to be hard to manage,” said council member Russell Whipple.

MDOT’s standard operating procedures does not include the limited driveway approach for select areas as a requirement, but they are thinking about adding it in the future, according to Colburn. “I support MDOT’s reasoning,” he said. However, he and the other council members agree that there are situations in which a separate entrance and exit are more logical. The decision concerning Biggby’s driveway remains to be made, but the City Council has been discussing other options with MDOT and will continue to do so until it is resolved. “It seems like we’ll have a good chance of at least being heard,” said Naeyaert.

In other business, a scheduling conflict for the annual budget workshop caused a small dispute among council members. During a previous meeting, the members had discussed tentative dates for the workshop, planned to take place on April 9 and 10. However, at this meeting, council member Whipple pointed out that he could not make one of these dates.

In response to his concern, Kathy Revels, the finance director, reminded him that last year they completed the budget workshop in one night, but that they planned for two just in case. “The ninth is no good for me,” he said. The members agreed to meet on April 10 instead, but Mayor Leon Clark said he would be unable to attend that day.

After a few moments of silence, Colburn moved to resolve the situation by saying that since there wasn’t a day that would work for everyone, they would leave it as planned. “I just though that in the past we tried to pick a day that everyone could be there because it’s so important,” said Whipple. “But whatever you want to do,” he added. Naeyaert then brought up the fact that these dates had already been agreed upon, and he is the one who changed his schedule. However, Whipple said he misunderstood the exactness of the dates and thought they were only tentative and would be decided upon at a later date.

Later, after some mediation among council members and some quick fact-checking, they successfully scheduled the workshop for April 8, and they will meet again on April 10 if necessary.

In addition to this, Phil Birdsall, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, spoke briefly to inform residents where they could find flyers with information about the project and to request approval for a grant application.

Elaine Ferris spoke in favor of applying for the downtown planning grant during the public comment segment of the meeting. “They have some really great things planned for downtown. I encourage everybody to pick up a flyer in the lobby (of City Hall) or go to one of the meetings to find out more,” she said in an interview after the meeting.

Other issues discussed at the meeting include a severe budget decrease for the drug task force, which will reduce funds by two-thirds, an announcement of the Boy Scouts troop 763 who attended the meeting to meet requirements to earn their citizenship merit badge, acceptance of a grant to allow sidewalk easement at the Riverwalk Meadows subdivision, the monthly revenue and expenditure report and the primary election turnout; approximately 19 percent of registered voters showed up.

Dave Downing

Amy Al-Katib

The Medal of Honor. It’s the highest military decoration awarded by U.S. government, often awarded after death. It’s a symbol of patriotism and bravery, and it’s a gift of honor and appreciation. It was also one of many items at a garage sale 43 years ago that no one bothered to buy. But today, that same medal belongs to someone who values it entirely too much to ever put a price a tag on it.

“It was like providence, it was just so bizarre of a story,” said Dave Downing.

Mr. Downing says his interest in history dates back to when he was 10. He and his family drove through Gettysburg on their way back from Washington D.C. “It happened to be the weekend of the 100th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg,” he said.

He raved about the celebration to everyone. But, when news traveled to his grandma, it turned out she had a better story to tell.

“My grandma told me we had an ancestor who fought in Gettysburg,” he said. “He was awarded the Medal of Honor.”

Mr. Downing dedicated a few years to doing research on his ancestor, Walter Mundale. His interest in the Civil War continued to grow the more he found out. In 1983, Mr. Downing joined the 7th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, Company B and has remained a member for 25 years. This Civil War reenactment group is based on an actual Mason militia, which entered the war in 1861.

Before the Civil War, several states had local militias organized, prepared to fight in the event of an attack. “It was mostly a social thing,” said Downing. The men would act out the drills and afterward their families would have picnics together and go home. But, when the war broke out, a lot of these groups would go in as a company since they were already cohesive military units.

One of Downing’s co-workers, Tyler Young, said he doesn’t talk about the reenactment group often. However, Young went to one of the events and said it was quite impressive. “The way he would talk about what was realistic and what wasn’t made me realize how much he really knew about the time period and how passionate he really was about it,” he said.

Downing’s daughter, Amanda, agrees with Young. She said he doesn’t talk about it much at home unless there’s an event soon, but he is undoubtedly dedicated to it. When she was a child, Downing forced her to attend events so she didn’t appreciate them as much, said Amanda. “Now that I am older I respect him for doing it and sticking with it,” she said.

According to Downing, members drop out frequently. “This is a hobby and people’s lives change and things happen. You do what you can,” he said.

“I joined the club 11 years ago and found Dave there. We went to high school together many, many years ago, so that was pretty interesting,” said Mark Lynch. “He’s always been passionate about the Civil War, even when he was a small child. And I think that passion just grew over the years, and that’s why he’s as involved in the club as he is,” said Lynch.

Throughout the years, Downing has reenacted several military rankings. “He was corporal for a while and he got promoted to adjutant, which is second in command for the union troops,” Amanda said. Corporals are out on the fields following orders for battle, and adjutants are the ones giving the orders. Now, because his knees are bad, and he can’t move around as easily, Downing’s an announcer, said Amanda. This means he remains stationary, while providing the audience with information about the battle.

“Generally what we’re trying to do at events is portray what life was like for the average person: both the soldiers and the civilians,” said Downing.

The 7th Michigan hosts one of the largest events in the Midwest, called Civil War Muster. It takes place at the Cascades in Jackson, Mich. “We have about 2000 reenactors show up, and a typical event has 200-400 people,” he said.

More people participate in this event because it’s so huge. For some people, especially people who used to be involved a lot, the Muster is the only event they will participate in each year. Lynch said he’s not as involved in the group as he used to be. “You get to a point where you get a little burnt out,” he said.

Not for Mr. Downing though. “This is what I love,” he said.

Two years after he visited Gettysburg, he tracked down a cousin who remembered his great-great-grandfather, and his parents invited her over for dinner. She brought over the Medal of Honor she had tried to sell when she came. “She was older, and she was moving into assisted living and needed to get rid of some things,” said Downing. “It had a price tag on it,” he said, and as he remembered, he looked down and chuckled in disbelief. “It was just fate I guess.”

Kean’s

Amy Al-Katib

In 1928, a Mason man with a Kean name and a keen sense for business opened a dime store downtown. And on Saturday, May 17, that store, Kean’s Hallmark, will celebrate its 80th anniversary. But the celebration isn’t all about age; it’s about change, too.

“Did they tell you about the farmers who used to shop here on Saturdays?” asked Judy Mohlman, an employee at Kean’s.

“Back then, when Kean’s first opened, the farmers worked such long hours during the week. They couldn’t go shopping. So, Kean’s stayed open late on Saturdays, and all the farmers would come in and shop,” she said.

Mohlman didn’t work at Kean’s during that time. In fact, she didn’t even live in Mason until 1964. But, she’s been shopping there and working there long enough to know and love the history of Kean’s.

The third-generation owner, who introduced herself as “Teresa Wren – it used to be Kean,” said all the employees know the history behind the store. And they don’t have to learn it by reading old articles or watching videos at orientation. They learn it all from conversation amongst employees and customers.

“One of the girls who works here with me had a grandmother who worked here with my grandfather,” she said. And chances are, everybody in town has someone in their family who has worked here at one time or another, she said.

“My family has been bringing me here since before I can remember,” said Sarah Pascal, 21, whose grandparents live in Mason. According to Wren, this is a common thing. “When people who live here have visitors, they bring them here,” she said, “They bring them to Kean’s.”

However, Kean’s doesn’t attract new and old customers or stay in business just because it’s old. “You can have an old store, and it could look like an old store, but to make it look really inviting and give you ideas of how things are supposed to look in your home makes world of difference,” said Wren.

Over the years, Kean’s has changed its products as well as its image to accommodate their shoppers. “My grandpa brought in Hallmark,” said Wren. “And then when Meijer came to town (1990’s), that’s when our dime shop turned into a gift shop.”

And the store did not look like it does now. Thanks to Mason’s downtown development grant, Wren was able to order a new sign, paint the building and install new windows after taking ownership in 2000.

In addition to this, she knocked out six built-in aisles that were installed when the store opened and moved the toys from the basement to the main level.

“We get complaints just like we get compliments,” she said. Some people don’t like the changes, but more people comment on how much they love it. And business is better now than it has ever been, according to Wren.

Carol Brooks, who has been a loyal customer at Kean’s and is now an employee, said she loves the changes. “I only see maybe one or two people a month who don’t like it,” she said.

“We’re definitely a specialty shop with some dime shop stuff mixed in,” said Wren. And she believes what stands out most about the store and what draws the new customers in is the beautiful displays.

The store has both a front and back entrance. Right next to the front door is a single cash register. Customers are greeted when they enter whether it’s by the cashier or the sign that’s visible upon entering the back door that says, “I love quilting!”

Because it’s so spacious inside, the store can easily be separated into sections.

The east side of the store contains all the dime shop merchandise still available. They have school supplies, children’s toys and an original dime store candy counter. “It’s not like Meijer where it’s just in tubs. It’s in the glass case, and we weigh it out for you. If you want half a pound, you’ll get half a pound,” said Wren.

On the west side, customers can find everything from the “desperately housewares” section to music, greeting cards and food and drink.

In the center of the store, customers can sit on a low, soft leather couch while waiting for fabric to be cut or to find out the meaning of life from a book with a wise looking frog on the cover.

Wren just finished the remodeling last month when she removed the last built-in aisle. For now, she’s not planning any other major changes. “But changes just kind of spur up,” she said.

At the moment, she is focused on the store’s anniversary. Kean’s will have live music, live radio, cake, door prizes, raffles and more. “It’s going to be a huge event,” she said. “I love my job, and I’m just trying to keep Kean’s going.”

Not-So-Pleasant Ville

When I started coming to Mason for my class, I was amazed.  I had never been to a city before where everyone was actually nice and friendly.  My professor would give people tips on how to do good community reporting.  He would tell us good places to go to meet people and ways we could approach people.  And even though I was willing to listen to his advice, I didn’t need to.  No matter where I went in Mason, someone approached me and talked to me.  I was welcomed everywhere I went, and people were excited to help me.  Being in Mason put me in a better mood because everyone around me was in a good mood too.

I was taking a trip to the library one day, and I had a few friends with me.  I had told them before about this “pleasant ville,” but they didn’t believe me and just acted like it was too good to be true.  But, while we were at the library, I was waiting in line to ask the librarian a question.  The man in front of me turned around a few seconds after I walked up and just sparked up a conversation.  When he left my friends just looked at me and laughed.

I had to make copies on the five-year recreation plan which was like 40 pages long.  There was a guy sitting next to the copy machine reading.  I apologized that I was being loud because I had to insert so many coins.  He just chuckled and told me I was no bother.  My thoughts: of course…

Before I even started copying, the librarian walked an elderly man back there to show him where the machine was.  She told him when I was done he could use it.  But, he only had one paper in his hand, so I told him to go ahead.  And I told him I already put money it, but he could just go ahead and use it because I didn’t mind.

After that, my life basically flashed before my eyes.  The guy FLIPPED OUT and threw his paper, which fell behind the copy machine, and yelled “GOD DAMNIT!”

I stood there, frozen, hugging the recreation plan, trying to decide whether or not I could take my eyes off the crazy guy long enough to sneak a glance at the friendly guy.  Finally I did, and he looked just as shocked as me.

Meanwhile, the crazy guy was floppin around behind the copy machine trying to get his paper while he was bitching to me about insurance and the grand canyon, his son because he doesn’t want his house, the government because it’s corrupt, Americans because they’re stupid, and life in general pretty much because he had to make a copy…on a weekend.

But, I don’t know if any of you have ever seen the movie Falling Down.  If you have, he totally reminded me of Michael Douglas.  And I seriously thought I was going to die!  I wish someone would have been video taping because I would love to see my face.  I’ve never felt so awkward and shocked and scared all at once.

But, turns out, he was just a bitter old man.  He was pissed because he went somewhere else to make the copy, but the machine wasn’t working.  So, he was angry he had to make two trips in the first place.  But to top things off…he left his quarter in the machine.  A QUARTER!  I’m so glad my friends were in a different section of the library and didn’t see it…otherwise they probably would have thought I was crazy for all the credit I give to people being kind.

Law Enforcement

Amy Al-Katib

On his last night working for the Ingham County Sherrif’s office, Darren Shackleford recalls hanging out with the Deputy Matt Wilson of Stockbridge Mich. when he was a child. “He rode his bike around town all the time,” he said. This helped Shackleford and Wilson develop a growing relationship. “I call him dad now,” he said.

Shackleford started his police training during his junior and senior years of high school. Immediately after graduation, he joined the Army where he served as a military police officer in the United States and over seas. At age 21, he joined the Ingham County Sheriff’s Department. “I grew up in Ingham County, so this is like the ideal place I wanted to work,” he said.

At 6 p.m. shift change starts and all deputies gather together in the break room. They take no notice of two ride-along strangers sitting among them. Each officer joins in on the lingering conversation, throwing out everything from police jargon and swear words to goals and advice for one another. From the conversation and the lack of concern on their faces, it appears they don’t care what people think of them. “There are some bad cops, and they make a bad name for the rest of us,” said Shackleford. But, you have to ignore the negativity, he said.

“I feel like cops waste time, and they’re a waste of our tax dollars,” said Bryan Howard, 23. He said cops pull people over for stupid reasons just because they can when they could be arresting people who are committing serious crimes. But, Shackleford said that as long as people are honest and they have a clean record, they’re not going to get a ticket for something stupid.

“We’re always looking for something else every time we pull someone over,” he said. Police officers are trained to look for certain signs that could lead to potential drug busts for example. “You have to have a reason to search someone’s car,” he said. And some of these probable causes cannot be proved, like smell for instance. “But it comes down to ethics,” said Shackleford.

Knowing who to pull over is another judgment call that comes with experience. “This looks like an awesome stop,” he said. Shackleford followed an old beat up truck. The back fender was smashed in, and the license plate light was out.

After pulling the driver over, he came back to the car with two names, and both brought up Friend of the Court warrants in the computer. Shackleford arrested Garold M. Phillips and Joseph F. Button for failure to pay child support. He verified with the lien that the warrants were valid and read them their rights.

But, even though he was nice and professional, they still had feelings of animosity toward Shackleford himself and cops in general. “Why you gotta be so mean?” yelled Phillips. “Why you gotta do me wrong like this?” he asked. Button didn’t say much directly to Shackleford, but he performed a seemingly never-ending monologue of rage while in the backseat. “I’m moving out of this country, I swear on my life,” he said. “Cops just want to arrest you for everything.”

Despite their hostility, Shackleford worked with Button and Phillips. He waited on the side of the road while someone drove up with bond money for Phillips, and he gave Button advice on how to handle his case during the car ride to Ingham County Jail.

In the break room where officers fill out their reports, Shackleford ran into Bowden who also had two arrests that night. They sat together and complained about the loads of paperwork they have to do. “But this is just a really fun job. The paperwork is the only bad part,” said Bowden. And Shackleford quickly chimed in. “I love my job,” he said.

However it’s not always easy. According to Shackleford, there’s a combination of two things that make the job enjoyable. You have to like the things that make a cop a cop: driving fast, being an authoritative figure, etc. “You feel bad when you arrest someone,” he said. And that’s where the second part comes into play. “You really have to want to serve and protect your community.”

Though it may have been Shackleford’s last shift with Ingham County, he’s not leaving the job behind. “I’ve always wanted to work in Stockbridge and Webberville and they had an opening so I put in for it and I got it,” he said. He will attend mountain bike school in June. After that, he will patrol the same streets as his “dad” did as he rides his bike all over town. “I’m pretty excited.”