Category Archives: Local Faces

Music’s part in life’s harmony

Fuentes is a professor of music at Calvin College and he also enjoys composing music for theater, television and the concert hall. (Photo courtesy Calvin College.)

By Hannah Ebeling, Calvin College

David Fuentes believes it is impossible to find a piece of music that is not about who we are and what we care about. “In fact, I even offer $500 to any student that can find one,” said the music professor. “I’m not out any money yet.”

Fuentes addresses this in his writing for, Vocation across the Academy, a book collaboration with NetVUE, a nationwide network of colleges and universities. NetVUE is working to create resources that empower students in vocational exploration, said Fuentes. Fuentes contributed chapter five, “To whom do I sing, and why,” addressing the place of music in human flourishing.

Fuentes began his musical journey when his mother picked up his first instrument, an accordion, at a garage sale. From then on, said Fuentes, he had a knack for music and liked making up his own songs. Since then, Fuentes has enjoyed composing music for theater, television and the concert hall as well as teaching a number of Calvin’s music courses.

Music as vocation

The topic of vocation is particularly important to Fuentes because part of his job is to help students uncover their personal calling and understand how much of their lives will be directly related to music. “For some this will be 100 percent, for others it will be a smaller part,” he said.

Fuentes believes the way students approach education has changed over the years. In the past, it was about learning reasoning and critical thinking, he said. Then, in whatever field you pursue, you would be pulling from a pool of knowledge. “Students today are trying to be practical about what they are going to go into. If they don’t have a job right out of college, they feel like a failure.”

Fuentes said students are often so focused on finding a career that they forget to ask: What are my gifts and loves? How can I contribute to God’s Kingdom? Educating students about vocation helps them fine-tune and understand all of their giftings, he said. It also gives students permission or a calling to help people.

“I have been nervous about pursuing music as a major for the longest time, but I definitely felt more comfortable after taking his class,” said Alexia White, a student of Fuentes.

Why music matters

Each semester Fuentes asks his students: Why does music matter in human lives? Are people just listening because they like it or is there something deeper?

“I assumed that when I took this class it would be about how music is only meant to bring glory and honor to God,” said White. “But Professor Fuentes helped us understand how that can be one purpose for music, but music can help us explain our biblical worldview. Music can teach us about God, others and ourselves.”

In the chapter he wrote in Vocation across the Academy, Fuentes tackles the issues of artists creating only for self-expression and audiences expecting a profound emotional experience with every artistic encounter. According to Fuentes, this is only a small part of what music can do.

“Sometimes people use music to escape; music is good at that. We go into a different state of mind and can experience great emotion there. On the other hand, music can help us delve into issues,” said Fuentes. “The deepest and most profound emotions come when we realize something. Rather than escaping from reality, music can bring us deeper into reality,” said Fuentes.

“There are two basic ways human beings make sense of the world: rationality and intuition,” said Fuentes. “Music brings those two together beautifully.”

Copyright Calvin College, reprinted by permission.

‘Boots and Badges’ brings first responders, community together for day of appreciation and fun

Two of the area’s finest with Shake Broukian and her son, Charlie

By Catherine Kooyers


June 24th was an action-packed day on the grounds of Grace Bible College, and the weather couldn’t have been any better. Happy people, food, ice cones and family friendly activities brought the community and businesses together with firefighters, police officers and other first responders.


It was all part of ‘Boots and Badges’, an annual event hosted by the Wyoming-Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce to honor and show appreciation for the area’s first responders. The idea is to get people connected with their local law enforcement outside of an emergency or distress call.


A fun-filled game of kickball between firefighters and police was just one of the highlights. Families posed for photos with mascots of the White Caps and Drive #1, hit the button on the dunk tank, competed in 9 Square (a volleyball-type game), checked out the vehicles used by first responders, and even became “honorary” first responders, complete with hats and badges.



Blandford Nature Center founder/director to be honored with President’s Award

Mary Jane Dockeray attends to a sassafras tree at the Blandford Nature Center 9/27/66 in this Press file photo.

By Katelyn Nettler, Blandford Nature Center

The Association of Nature Center Administrators will distinguish Former Blandford Nature Center Founder and Director Mary Jane Dockeray as the inaugural ANCA President’s Award recipient for foundational leadership in the Nature and Environmental Learning Center Profession.

During a near 70-year career, Dockeray has helped instill youth environmental education as part of the nature and environmental learning center profession. Since boldly asking for the donation of ten acres of private land in 1964 for “getting kids boots on the ground”, Dockeray has displayed what Jason Meyer, current President/CEO of the Blandford Nature Center calls “her characteristic willingness to push boundaries.”

Over 43 years, Dockeray grew those ten acres into a 143-acre refuge that has served over two million visitors, an astounding accomplishment. Among her innovative achievements is the foundation of the Blandford School, a sixth grade program where 60 public school students spend their entire school year using the nature center as their classroom.

Beyond Blandford, Dockeray helped build youth environmental education into the ethos of the profession by freely offering her knowledge. She hosted and supported an early professional association of nature center administrators: the Michigan Coalition of Nature Centers. Corky McReynolds, PhD, CPF, and former Coalition member writes, “Her inspiration to me helped launch my career, and I am just one of literally thousands of lives she has touched.”

Dockeray exemplifies the exceptional contribution to the nature and environmental learning center profession that the President’s Award was created to acknowledge. ANCA Board President, Francis Velazquez, writes, “It is how Mary Jane’s story touches on all the aspects of our profession that captured my attention. It was the humility, simple directness, foresight, and sustained effort that brought her consideration for the President’s Award. It was how she educated one child, through one program, one field trip, one nature center, one pioneering idea after another and how she influenced one community and one profession with such lasting effects that made it clear she should be awarded by ANCA.”

Jen Levy, ANCA Executive Director, writes, “Mary Jane represents an exceptional group of individuals who recognized the need to secure the places that are now a vital network of nature education sites. Our profession is indebted to Mary Jane and her fellow nature education pioneers, and I am thrilled the board is recognizing her.”

To no surprise, at age 90, Dockeray continues to live out her commitment to environmental education. You can find her captivating young learners and mentees weekly at the Blandford Nature Center. On behalf of the nature and environmental learning center profession, we recognize Mary Jane Dockeray for her unwavering commitment to youth, nature, and the profession with the ANCA President’s Award — rock on Mary Jane!

The President’s Award will be given to Mary Jane Dockeray at the Association of Nature Center Administrator’s Annual Summit in August in Nauvoo, Alabama.


Measure What Matters: River City Improv is a force for good

By Local First

This is an installment in Local First’s Measure What Matters series where Local First Members who have taken the Quick Impact Assessment are interviewed and asked how the assessment has helped them use their business as a force for good and be Good for Grand Rapids.

Started by a group of Calvin College alumni back in the 1993, River City Improv has been making Grand Rapids residents laugh for over 20 years. Since its inception, River City Improv has evolved into a comedy group that’s passionate about making a positive difference in West Michigan through fun and witty humor.

“We love making people laugh – it’s how we give back to the community,” said Rick Treur, co-founder and business manager for River City Improv. “Many of our performers also make a positive difference by donating their time and talents to various nonprofits around Grand Rapids.”

River City Improv entertains audiences using comedic improvisation. Many of their shows weave together skits, games, and songs with audience suggestions to create a unique show every time. Hosting approximately 20 public shows and up to 40 private shows per year, River City Improv still makes time for volunteering. Some of the ways they give back are by performing volunteer shows or donating free passes to nonprofits for auctions. If a performer is involved with a nonprofit, they can also donate a performance to the organization of their choice.

River City Improv joined Local First in 2010 and Treur recently took Local First’s Quick Impact Assessment to identify more opportunities for River City Improv to make a positive impact.

“Getting involved with Local First seemed like a natural fit for River City Improv because of our commitment to giving back to the community,” said Treur. “We took the Quick Impact Assessment because we like supporting B Corp values and believe it’s important to be mindful of what we’re doing as a business.”

When taking the Quick Impact Assessment, Treur realized there were many practices that he could be tracking and measuring for River City Improv. One of Treur’s major takeaways from the assessment was learning about the significance of buying local and using sustainable products for their shows.

“Even though we are a small business, the Quick Impact Assessment made me realize that there are things we can do better,” said Treur. “You can make a positive impact in the community no matter the size of your business, field, industry or level of community involvement.”

Treur added that getting involved with Good for Grand Rapids has been a great way to strengthen the community by showing support for local businesses.

“Look around at our local businesses in Grand Rapids and you’ll notice that many of them have a global reach and can have a positive impact on the world,” said Treur. “By using our resources for good and being thoughtful about how we run our business, we can make a difference in our local community, West Michigan and beyond.”

Interested in learning how your business performs against best practices on employee, community and environmental impact? Take the Quick Impact Assessment today to learn how much good your business is doing for the local economy and community at Meet these and other values-aligned businesses at the Measure What Matters Workshop on June 21!


Three community members to be honored at César E. Chávez celebration on May 5


By Michele Coffill, Grand Valley State University


The Committee to Honor César E. Chávez has partnered with the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the Unity Committee to host the 2017 César E. Chávez “5 de mayo” Celebration.


The public is invited to this annual event, Friday, May 5, at the museum, 272 Pearl St NW, from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 per individual, or a table of 10 for $300; purchase tickets online here.


“We are proud to be a partner with the Committee to Honor César E. Chávez in hosting this important community celebration,” said Dale A. Robertson, Grand Rapids Public Museum president and CEO. “The museum is a fitting place for this historical event; we believe in the value of working together to share stories and lessons that inspire and expand cultural opportunities for all.”


Three community members will be honored for their service and social justice work:

  • Andrés Abreu, editor-in-chief, El Vocero Hispano;
  • Carol Hennessey, Kent County commissioner, 14th district; and
  • José Reyna, community health programs director for Spectrum Health.

The celebration will feature authentic Mexican food, music and dancing.


Area colleges and universities joining the Committee to Honor César E. Chávez to support this event include: Aquinas College, Calvin College, Kendall College of Art and Design, Davenport University, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, and Western Michigan University-Grand Rapids.


“Many of our campus partners serve a diverse populations and Grand Valley is proud to partner with and support this annual cultural event alongside our partner universities and colleges,” said Jesse Bernal, vice president for Inclusion and Equity at Grand Valley.


The Proud Aguila sponsors of the event are AT&T, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grand Valley State University and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Lupe Ramos-Montigny “Si Se Puede” Legacy Endowed Scholarship at Grand Valley. Scholarships will be awarded in October to Hispanic students who are pursuing college degrees.


Questions about the event can be directed to Lupe Ramos-Montigny, chair of the Committee to Honor César E. Chávez, at or 616.443.5922.

Historic family-owned Italian grocer celebrates 112 years in West Michigan

By Jeremy Witt


Family-owned Italian grocer, G.B. Russo & Son, has announced a rebrand to commemorate the company’s history dating back to 1905.


For 112 years the Russo family has been committed to the Grand Rapids community by offering one of the largest selection of wine and gourmet food; craft beer and liquor, kitchenware, homemade Italian entrees and more. G.B. Russo & Son will now be known as Russo’s International Market. Russo’s will host a variety of giveaways, in-store events, and promotions spanning over a three-month period. A community celebration will be held in May.


“My grandfather left Montelepre, Sicily at the age of 17 and by 20 years of age had opened his first store in East Grand Rapids,” said Phil Russo, President of Russo’s International Market.


“He made it his mission to serve the community and fed many through the Great Depression regardless of background or race. He was an entrepreneur and risk-taker and in spite of natural disasters, the Great Depression and race riots, the store continued to prosper and expand to make us what we are today.”


In 2008, the business doubled the size of the store to 18,000 square feet and expanded parking at the 29th Street location. Today, the store has a 45-foot deli case with over 300 meats and cheeses from around the world, olives, fresh baked breads, oils, private label pastas and sauces, homemade Villa Russo frozen entrees, a vast selection of craft beers and liquor, thousands of wines, kitchenware and more.


Russo’s International Market is currently run by the 3rd and 4th generation of the family and in the past few years the business has expanded to include:

  • Catering for events, business meetings and more
  • Wine delivery
  • Custom corporate gifts
  • In-store educational beverage tasting events and more
  • A large selection of Michigan and Grand Rapids products
  • Additional private-labeled items
  • Expanded homemade products such as sandwiches, dips, sauces, breads and more

“In honor of our anniversary we will share history on Grand Rapids in the 1900s while celebrating the present and future endeavors,” said Kelley Russo of Russo’s International Market.


“It is our goal to constantly reinvent ourselves as my great-grandfather would’ve encouraged us to do.”


Historic Items of Note:

  • In 1908, Giovanni Russo moved the store to Division near Franklin. This area was once known as Little Italy. At that location, he owned apartments, Roma Dance Hall, Grand Rapid’s first pizzeria, a pasta-making factory, and warehouse.
  • In 1914, a near kidnapping of his 18-month-old daughter by the Black Hands Gang was thwarted by the Russo nanny. The gang went on to threaten and harass the family until the Grand Rapids City Police were able to build a case, with Giovanni’s help. The Grand Rapids Press wrote an article dated Nov. 5, 2914, that stated: “It was through Russo’s activities and his disregard for the Black Hand warning that enabled police to capture the gang.”
  • Russo established Roma Hall above the store on Division during the Great Depression and prohibition era. Throughout the Hall’s history, Giovanni rented it to anyone, regardless of ethnicity or status, for dances, weddings, dinners and jam sessions featuring the likes of Ray Charles and Jimmy Reed.
  • Known musicians such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Mary Wells performed for Roma Hall audiences in the 1950s and 60s.
  • Due to Giovanni’s acceptance of all races and economic backgrounds, his was the only business on the block not burned down during the race riots of the 1960s.

Visit Russo’s Facebook page for more information.


Godfrey-Lee schools induct new members into Hall of Fame

Godfrey-Lee Public Schools inducted six new members into their Hall of Fame prior to a boys basketball game on Jan. 20 at Lee High School. (WKTV)

By K.D. Norris


Godfrey-Lee Public Schools inducted six new members into its Hall of Fame late last month, and while the most Rebel-rousing acceptance speech was given by — no surprise — long-time football coach and educator Thomas DeGennaro, the district’s hall of fame is for more than only athletic personalities.


The induction ceremony, which took place prior to a boys basketball game on Jan. 20 at Lee High School, also included a war hero, a university professor, a long-time school board member, a school band leader and a woman who gave back to the school system almost up to her last day.


Football coach and educator Thomas DeGennaro. (WKTV)

DeGennaro — who has served as teacher, principal and now, again, varsity football coach — was the final of the inductees to speak, and he spoke clearly about what it means to be a Lee High Rebel.


“I have been grateful to work with some of the toughest kids in the United States,” DeGennaro said. “To be a Rebel means you are willing to stand up against the establishment. You have to be willing to put yourself on the line when you stand up. Our kids here do this every day.


“They overcome obstacles that would unimaginable to surrounding districts. Many of our students are immigrants, or children of immigrants, much like my grandparents … These students overcome language, cultural and other challenges that stall most students learning process. Not only do they overcome these obstacles, they excel. … The establishment loves to keep these kids down, but they rebel. They are Rebels.”


DeGennaro’s history in the district includes taking a position on the Lee High faculty in 2002, teaching U.S. History and Geography as well as a variety of other elective social studies courses. But it is on the football field where he did most of his teaching. In 1998, he took over the Rebel football program and coached the first Lee football team ever to make it into the MHSAA playoffs, when his team went 8-2 in the fall of 2006. After an eight-year absence from the sidelines at Lee Field, he returned this past fall and has begun the process of rebuilding a program that has not experience much success since his last season in 2007.


Starting in 2007, the Rebel Hall of Fame selection committee, comprised of members of the Board of Education, district administration, faculty, alumni and the Godfrey-Lee community has selected alumni, staff and other individuals associated with Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in recognition of their achievements and contributions.


The six new members joined forty-two other individuals and one athletic team in the Hall of Fame. David Britten, superintendent of Godfrey-Lee School District, was master of ceremonies of the event.


This year’s inductees also included Staff Sgt. Daniel Hayes, Lee High School class of 2004; Dr. Carl J. Bajema, class of 1955; Dennis E. Groendyke, class of 1979 and Board of Education member from 1999 to 2016; Christine Vettese, district SIG Coordinator for 2010 to 2013; and Robert Hill, high school band director from 1967 to 1981.


Douglas Greenwold, class of 1960, was also selected but requested to delay participation in the induction ceremony until 2018.


Personal stories of dedication


Staff Sgt. Hayes is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan military operations where, with the 101st Airborne Division, he earned the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in combat in Iraq in 2006. He was later personally awarded the Silver Star, the third highest decoration for valor for gallant actions and devotion to duty, while serving in Afghanistan in 2010. In 2011, he sustained another injury and earned a second Purple Heart. His award was accepted by his aunt.


Dr. Carl J. Bajema, with his wife, Claudia.

Dr. Bajema, after graduating from Lee, earned his Ph.D. in zoology from Michigan State University and retired from Grand Valley State University with the designation of Professor Emeritus in 2007 following a forty-three year teaching and scientific research career. He was also the recipient of the 2009 Distinguished Volunteer Service Award from the Historical Society of Michigan.


And his wife, reading from a statement and speaking for him due to a medical condition that hampers his ability to speak clearly, revealed a little of Dr. Bajema’s own history.


“When I learned I was to receive this Rebel award, I dug into my archives for my report cards, I actually had all my report cards,” Claudia Bajema said, as Carl waved an old report card for the audience to see. “Well, I can assure you that anyone viewing those would not conclude that I would be given one of these prestigious awards.


“I left my mark on the high school in an unconventional way. For several years following my graduation … my lab mate and me were given as an example of how not to do experiments. … we were in a hurry and failed to read all the instructions on how to conduct an experiment … (and) a chemical reaction caused an explosion, a volcano of sorts, leaving a very nasty stain on the ceiling.”


Dennis E. Groendyke

Groendyke, Board of Education member from 1999 to 2016, is a lifelong resident of the district who chose to raise his own family of seven children here and watch them attend Godfrey-Lee schools, according to supplied material. He concluded his service this winter following 17 years, including four-and-one-half years leading the board as president. A strong supporter of athletics, he has provided many hours of volunteer coaching for baseball and softball, including weekend clinics for youth during the school year.


“I love this district, I love the people in it, most of all I love the children,” Groendyke said. “My heart will always be here.”


Robert Hill

Hill was Lee High band director from 1967 to 1981, where he yearly took a “sometimes unruly” group of teen musicians unifying them into well organized marching and concert bands, according to supplied material. A visible teacher and mentor, he could be seen leading his bands at every home football and basketball game, believing that the band was central to inspiring young athletes and building school pride. His musical talents also carried him to perform with the Grand Valley State University faculty orchestra.


“This high school has, and always will, have a very special place in my heart,” Hill said. “I will always remember the joy of teaching students.”


Roberta Burke, sister of Christine Vettese.

Vettese was district SIG coordinator from 2010-13. She died in 2015. When Lee High School needed help with academic improvement to get off a state list of low-performing schools, she came out of retirement from East Grand Rapids schools and applied her many leadership, curriculum, and personal relationship skills to serve as a principle leader in that effort, according to supplied material. Through her advocacy, guidance and dogged persistence, she helped secure grants in excess of $3.5 million dollars over the three years to support the work of teachers, administrators, and students.


Her sister, Roberta Burke, accepted the award.


“I know if she were here today, she would say … its all about the students, and how to get them to be the best they can be,” Burke said, pointing to the heavens. “I know she is looking down right now and saying ‘bravo’ ” for what the district has accomplished.


Vietnamese student gains experiences, court time, at Wyoming school

Riley Nguyen, a 17-year-old exchange student from Vietnam, with West Michigan Lutheran girls basketball coach Aaron Cochrill. (WKTV)

By K.D. Norris


West Michigan Lutheran, a very small high school in Wyoming, had five players available for its girls basketball team this season — what you call a really thin bench. But that was before an unlikely import from Southeast Asia joined girls basketball Coach Aaron Cochrill’s team.


For Riley Nguyen, a 17-year-old exchange student from Vietnam, playing on the team was just another way for her to fit in at her school and with her West Michigan host family — Darian Blanchard, the junior co-captain of the team, is her “home sister” in America.


For Cochrill, getting Riley to join was part being a basketball coach and part just being a teacher and mentor to students.


“What Riley brings to our team, first, is a bench — she is the sixth player,” Cochrill said. “But she is so intelligent, and she has a willingness, a ‘Whatever you want me to do coach, I’ll do it.’ So, against Aviation Academy, one of our starting point guards got in foul trouble early and we needed big minutes of her. I just said ‘Riley, it is your turn. Get in there.’ That is what she does, I ask her do something and she does it.”


Thing is, though, Riley really does not play basketball much back in Viet Nam, let along play at the level of American players, even at a small high school.


“I really like basketball, but I am a newbie,” she said. “So its takes a while to catch up with them. They are really good. The challenge is the skills I have to learn. That’s a lot. But the thing I enjoy the most is when I am out on the basketball court. I just go for it. Just do it.”


Riley Nguyen, left, with the rest of her West Michigan Lutheran girls basketball, getting some coaching from coach Aaron Cochrill. (WKTV)

Just going for it is also an apt way to describe what brought Riley to Western Michigan.


She is in America as part of the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP). Her real home is Tan An City, outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, with a four-member family including a father who works as an account/auditor. This is her family’s first experience in America.


Riley Nguyen

“I enjoy the new experiences here, the food, the people here,” she said. “I get to know so many people. There lifestyles is not like ours. I also (get to) know so many things about their cultures, too. I really enjoyed Christmas break here. You have Christmas break and spring break and summer break — actually, I think there are a lot of breaks here. … But I like it.”


There were also some challenges off the basketball court. “Sometimes I miss the food in my country. I am so used to Vietnamese food that, sometimes, I have belly ache. … But that is a minor problem.”


Her new “home sister” has been helping her, though, on and off the court. And they have developed quite a friendship, both say.


“I told Riley it is kind of like having a sleepover with your best friend everyday and I really enjoy it,” Darian said. “We really connected. Even before she came here, we were Skyping back and forth, and we found we had a lot in common, a lot of interests together.


Darian Blanchard

“Back home, Riley had a dance group that she was in, so we play games on the Wii, like ‘Just Dance’, a lot. … One of the fun parts about this is showing her everything. A different perspective, a different life. It has been really fun to see her go ‘This is so cool.’ … the look on her face when she sees food that is new, the look on her face is ‘Oh, my God. I cannot believe I have lived without this.’”


And then there is that Michigan State connection.


“I was so surprised, the first time I came here, and I talked to them,” Riley said. “ My dream college is Michigan State, and they are big fans of Michigan State. I was like ‘Ohhh. Yep, we were meant to be.’ We get along really well. They care about me a lot, little things like food, my sleep and stuff like that. Darian, my home sister, she takes care of me.”


And the relationship might not end with the end of this school year. Riley has applied for acceptance at Michigan State and should hear before the end of this school year.


Her American basketball career most assuredly ends with coming off the bench for the Mustangs, however. But coach Cochrill’s favorite story about Riley does show she has at least a little game.


“Our first game. She got fouled. She got to go to the line,” he said. “She made a free throw and she turns around and looks at me, a kind of look that says ‘Is that for real? Did that just happen?’ She kind of gets this grin on her face. … That is her personality to a tee.”


Cat of the week: Meet Caspian!
















WKTV is pleased to announce that each week we will feature an adoptable cat from Crash’s Landing or Big Sid’s Sanctuary. Both cat rescue organizations were founded by Jennifer Petrovich, DVM (Dr. Jen), who is on staff at Clyde Park Veterinary Clinic (4245 Clyde Park Ave SW).


Just look at this handsome mug!


Not only is Caspian gorgeous, but more importantly, he is a genuine sweetheart who loves to snuggle — and is very good at it. This chubby-cheeked, squinty-eyed (former) Tom cat was welcomed into Big Sid’s this past Aug. 2 after being transferred from the Humane Society of SW Michigan.


Although he had seen a veterinarian three days after his arrival at the Humane Society in mid-July, the condition causing his lower eyelids to roll inward and rub on his corneas was not diagnosed, so the appropriate treatment was not undertaken; by the time Dr. Jen got her hands on this fabulous ‘fat-head’ (born in the summer of 2012), his right eye had suffered scarring and both lids were incredibly swollen and painful. He was FIV-positive and Dr. Jen also discovered that he had torn a toenail back to the base and was sparse in the hair coat department due to a flea infestation that has since been successfully treated.


Once at the sanctuary, Caspian immediately took to wooing the ladies; his heavy-lidded, half-closed glance made it appear as if he was gazing longingly at those who stepped into his line of sight, so the volunteers couldn’t help but swoon, swoop in and scoop him up for some major cuddle time — and at 13 pounds of muscle, he is quite an armful!


At his recheck exam on Sept. 6, Dr. Jen was dismayed to see that Caspian’s FIV test was still a firm positive, but since he was having a blast in his new home she had no worries. He had a second surgery on his eyelids and, as he did before, Caspian bounced back with flying colors, sporting fancy purple sutures once again for the next week.


He left the clinic with eyes wide open — something he hadn’t really done up to this point — weighing in at 14 pounds and showing off his lustrous, almost luminous coat that good nutrition and parasite control had afforded him.


Caspian still has a tiny scar remaining on his right eye but his vision isn’t impaired in the least; he can look deep into your soul with those baby blues and you will absolutely, paws-itively MELT!

Want to adopt Caspian? Go here to read about the adoption process and then fill out an application form here.


Caspian’s Petfinder bio is here.


Interested in volunteering at one of the cat shelters? Email


Crash’s Landing and Big Sid’s Sanctuary have a common mission: To take at-risk stray cats off the streets of the Greater Grand Rapids area, provide them with veterinary care and house them in free-roaming, no-kill facilities until dedicated, loving, permanent homes can be found.


‘Waiting on Division’ photography exhibit is Nov. 18

Photo copyright Tom Gunnels, Waiting On Division

The exhibit will showcase the photographs of Tom Gunnels taken throughout the summer, along with the stories of how the photos and friendships came to be.


Come down, learn more and maybe meet some cool people along the way.


Where: The Collective Artspace, 40 Division Ave S, Grand Rapids, MI; call 517.899.6766 for more info.


When: Friday, Nov. 18 – 6-9 pm

Students need civics more than ever, educators say

Ellen Zwarensteyn
Ellen Zwarensteyn

By: Erin Albanese – School News Network


Hillary Baker and Ellen Zwarensteyn have coached students in becoming so well-versed in government and civics that they take home national awards.


Baker has led outstanding We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution teams, made up of high school students who rattle off informed opinions about different facets of the U.S. Constitution in front of lawyers, judges and professors. Zwarensteyn has coached award-winning high school debaters who argue different sides of complex policy.


But despite their track records in engaging students in civics, politics and government, both educators say there is much work to be done. As the U.S. presidential campaign creeps closer and closer toward Election Day, evidence mounts that good civics education is more important than ever.


Baker and Zwarensteyn are crafting civics curriculum and training teachers nationally, as well as working to get debate and We the People teams in more schools.


“It’s been a real interesting year in how might we craft how we talk about the election and really getting kids to explore issues,” Baker said. “How do you go beyond the candidates and really unearth and look at issues, and be able to talk about the election in a way that promotes deep understanding?”


screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-1-31-19-pmBaker and Zwarensteyn’s work spans more than two decades at East Kentwood High School. Baker taught civics, Advanced Placement government, and coached We the People for over 15 years. She is now Forest Hills Central High School’s assistant principal. Zwarensteyn coached debate for 15 years and has served as a teacher and coach since 2006. She is on leave to work on other projects focused on civics teaching.


How Have We Gotten Here?


Because of their work, the pair have a sense of the current teaching climate. Many teachers don’t feel up to the task of even including the election in classroom discussion, they say.


“We’ve had civics teachers say they are not going to talk about it at all,” Zwarensteyn said.


But skipping lessons on polemic issues fuels the divide even further, she said.


“That’s the $20,000 question,” Baker said. “Many teachers are afraid to talk about politics in the classroom because they are afraid of backlash from parents or the administration.”


But students quickly pick up on tone and what is considered OK to say. Hateful, insulting talk and rhetoric can be contagious. Knowing how to appropriately conduct political discourse is a vanishing skill set, Zwarensteyn said.


“It’s almost as if someone might have given other people permission to speak that way,” she said. “Honestly, many students are afraid. What we have seen is that they don’t have a fundamental understanding of themselves yet enough to filter what they are hearing in the news.”


Added Baker: “(It’s) that whole idea of civil discourse and how do we appropriately model it in the classroom? How do we engage in ideas and issues, especially when the adults in the national spotlight don’t necessarily do that very well themselves?”


hillarybakerAdults Create the Climate


While students are influenced by candidates, more than anything they mimic other adults, Zwarensteyn said.


“If people at home aren’t filtering or watching multiple news sources or aren’t getting their news from multiple different perspectives, then there’s very little chance for that kid to see other divergent points of view.”


That’s perhaps one reason the country is so polarized, she added: “We only seek out information that confirms an existing bias, and students don’t see that as a particular problem yet. They see news as news, not a perspective.”


Baker and Zwarensteyn are encouraging teachers to think deeper and consider these questions: How do we teach ethical listening to one another? How do we teach what privilege looks like or taking multiple perspectives on an issue? How do we honor different opinions and still have a baseline of civility?


The goal of their far-ranging work is to give students a broader view and deeper knowledge of things that impact their lives.


“These programs are good for all kids,” Baker said. “It’s the kind of learning students are doing that really engages them in current issues and what’s going on around them in their communities, in the state and the nation and even around the world.”


Be sure to check out School News Network for more stories about our great students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan!

West Michigan filmmaker’s ‘Two Guns and a Body Bag’ premieres Oct. 20


By Victoria Mullen



West Michigan filmmaker Chris Penney and actor Sophia Maslowski visited our studio to talk about Penney’s eighth feature film, Two Guns and a Body Bag, which premieres at Celebration Cinema Woodland Thursday, Oct. 20 at 8 pm. Tickets are on sale now on Celebration Cinema Woodland’s website.



Legacy matters, says GVSU keynote speaker

The photo that helped launch a legacy – ‘Hands Up’

By Victoria Mullen



At the age of 23, Grand Rapids native Leighton Watson is striving to leave a legacy that matters, and he is confident that his life path is on target to achieve that goal.


Watson was in Grand Rapids Sept. 26  to share with Grand Valley State University students the importance of finding solutions to social injustice within each community. The former student body president of Howard University was the keynote speaker for a presentation called ‘The Power of Student Voices,’ a component of GVSU’s Student Assembly Week. The purpose of the assembly was to encourage students to actively engage in conversation about social and political issues and have their voices heard.

Leighton Watson


Although he is active in addressing the issues of Civil Rights and social injustice, Watson says he doesn’t think of himself as an ‘activist.’


“I’d rather be called a human being,” he said. “Everyone wants to put you in a box and label you. I’m an American.”


Watson’s current life path crystallized during his senior year of college, around the time of the Ferguson riots. Deeply disturbed by the increasing civil unrest and injustice, he gathered fellow students for a photo, ‘Hands Up’ (as in ‘don’t shoot’). He also traveled to Ferguson to see the situation firsthand.


“You can’t prescribe a remedy for a situation you don’t know about,” Watson said.


Meanwhile, the ‘Hands Up’ image rapidly went viral on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and CNN took notice. The station invited him to the studio to share his views and possible remedies for civic unrest.


“We don’t have to wait until we get to the point of Ferguson,” he said. “A lot of the same symptoms are happening now in other cities, but people don’t realize it until things blow up. If America was what it’s supposed to be, what it says on paper, you’d never have the movement, women’s rights, etc. I still think that there is a gap and that means there’s work for me and us to close that gap.”


Watson and POTUS

After seeing Watson’s CNN appearance — and impressed with his proactive approach to identifying solutions (rather than simply pointing out the problems) — the White House invited him to Washington to be a part of a task force on policing.


“The President asked me what I wanted him to do about Ferguson,” said Watson. “There is no national solution to this issue. It’s something that must be addressed state by state, local government by local government — it has to happen on a local level.”


Since then, Watson has kept busy visiting communities across the country to talk to school children and organizations, discussng concerns and organizing movements. He stresses the importance of preparation and solution-finding, even at the middle school level.


“And I say to middle-schoolers, ‘You have to be prepared to answer the question. Preparation is an ongoing process; you must be prepared to meet the president in that moment.'”

Watson addressing GVSU students (Photo courtesy of GVSU


Watson learned the importance of legacy from his grandfather, who started the Section 8 Housing Authority in South Bend, Indiana. Years after his death, people remember and speak very highly of him.


“I was about four years old when he died,” said Watson. “My grandpa taught me that achievement is not a resting place, it’s a trampoline.


“Fifty years from now, history will have written about this time, that these police shootings happened. The question I’ll have to answer my grandchildren is, ‘Grandpa, where were you when this happened?’ And I’ll want to answer that question confidently, that I did do something about it.


“Legacy is important. What you do with your time is important,” said Watson. “I want to look back on my life and be confident about what I did with my time.”



‘Waiting On Division’ showcases artists’ talents


By Victoria Mullen



Since our story on Tom Gunnels’s project, Waiting On Division ran on September 6, Gunnels has been keeping busy — visiting and filming people on the streets, setting up art shows at The Collective Artspace on Division and filming musicians jamming at Rocky’s Bar and Grill — all to showcase the talents of the people he has come to know as his friends.


And on Friday, November 18 at 6-9 pm, the public is invited  to check out a photography exhibit at The Collective Artspace, 40 Division Ave. S. in Grand Rapids.


The exhibit will showcase Gunnells’s photography from throughout the summer as well as stories of how the photos and friendships came to be.


“I am extremely excited to announce that VAGUE photography will be making a trip up from Kalamazoo to help contribute to this show,” said Gunnels. “He will be doing tintypes of some of our friends and some of the veterans who are currently out on the street.


“Come down, learn more, and maybe meet some cool people along the way,” Gunnels said.


Gunnels does not intend to sell the photos for profit and has limited resources for printing. Anyone with a lead on a resource for discounted printing rates, please message Gunnels on the project page.


Be sure to checkout our previous story about Gunnels and his efforts.

Art.Write.Now.Tour. showcases best student work through Oct. 14 at KCAD

“Portrait 1” by Shira Karni, a high school student from Grandville, Mich. is featured in the Art.Write.Now.Tour. Exhibition

Now through October 14, you can see work from some of the most talented young writers and artists in America at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD). The traveling exhibition will feature the work of three students from Michigan: Shira Karni of Grandville; Scott Hanna of Beverly Hills; and Abe Cone of Chelsea.


The Art.Write.Now.Tour. traveling exhibition showcases innovative and inspiring works from national winners in the 2016 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and it’s on display in the Helen Miller Kendall Gallery (HMK Gallery) on the first floor of KCAD’s 17 Fountain St. NW building.


The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — recognized as the nation’s preeminent and longest-running scholarship and recognition program for students in grades 7-12 — spotlights outstanding original work in a variety of different creative mediums, including writing, illustration, photography, drawing, sculpture and more. Works were first adjudicated regionally, then again on the national level by leading creative professionals. KCAD has played host to the Awards’ West Central Michigan region for a number of years, with support from Howard Miller.


“This selection of teen work is truly remarkable,” said Virginia McEnerney, Executive Director of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. “The visual art and the written pieces delve into themes ranging from the most intimate of human emotions to the current political climate. It’s a privilege to glance into the minds of some of our country’s most talented teens and an honor to have their work on display nationwide in our traveling Tour and in the DC exhibit.”


Approximately 50 visual art works selected from the Art.Write.Now. 2016 National Exhibition which took place in New York City at Parsons School of Design and the Pratt Institute this past June will be on display, as well as The Best Teen Writing of 2016, an annual anthology of selected Gold Medal writing, which will be displayed in the exhibition on iPads.


After Grand Rapids, the exhibition will visit Houston, TX; Bozeman, MT; and Jackson, MS.


For more information on the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, visit

New School Leader Loves ‘100 Percent Authenticity’ of Students

New middle school principal Aaron Berlin meets future students
New middle school principal Aaron Berlin meets future students

By: Erin Albanese — School News Network


School: Godwin Heights Middle School


Previous job?

For the past few years I have been working as the assistant principal at Godwin Heights High School. We are a small school district of just over 2,000 students. We are one of the most diverse districts in Kent County, and we believe it is our diversity that makes us special.



I earned my bachelor of arts in education from Cornerstone University, majoring in social studies and minoring in health. I earned my master’s in educational leadership from Western Michigan University.


Other positions you have held in education (title, school, district, state):

I have had a variety of positions in educational settings, including in-school suspension supervisor and dean of students at Grandville Public Schools. My first job here at Godwin Heights was as a youth development coordinator at the middle school. I transferred to the high school as dean of students, then became assistant principal.


How about jobs outside education (even the unexpected is welcome!)?

I am 48. In my earlier years I had a variety of jobs. I spent a few years in the restaurant business as head chef at a restaurant. After a few years of working 70 hours a week I decided to go back to school and earn my degree in education.


Besides getting to know the staff and families, what are you most looking forward to as principal here?

I am looking forward to having the chance to come to school every day and work with all of my students. I believe it is my job as principal to pour into these children, and to give my staff the support they need to help the students develop the tools they will need to achieve their goals as they grow older.


Aaron Berlin
Aaron Berlin

What kind of kid were you at the age of students at this new school (your personality, interests, hobbies, activities)?

Funny, I was just talking about my experiences as a middle-school student with another staff member last week. I was a terrible student back in middle school. I was extremely smart but really struggled to find success in the classroom. I struggled because I never learned to be a good student in the classroom, to take good notes, do my homework and simply stay organized. Most importantly, I never was willing to ask the people around me for help. I had family and teachers in my corner pushing me to do better and never really lived up to those expectations.


It was not until I was much older and went to school as an adult that I figured out how to be a good student.



My wife and I have been married for going on 21 years. Linda is a teacher and has spent the last 20 years teaching at Grandville Public Schools. We have a daughter named Sierra; she is almost 14 years old and entering her first year at Grandville. Both of the women in my life are much smarter than I am.



My biggest interest outside of work is spending time with my family. We love watching movies and playing golf as a family. I have spent 20 years coaching high school football. My role as a principal has taken up my time and so I am no longer coaching. My goal, when all is said and done, is to find myself coaching some seventh- and eighth-grade football, spending my time working with the younger players.


What inspires you, both in your educational role and in your own life?

My goal is to grow as a husband, a father and a friend. The older I get the more I understand how challenging that goal can be. Everyday life gives us opportunities to learn through our own experiences. My hope it to get better at those three things on a daily basis.


What makes you laugh (we bet you’ll say kids – what else?)

I love hearing the honesty that comes from student conversations. If you are having a rough day and just take a movement and spend some time with a bunch of fifth grade students during lunch, they will say some of the funniest things you will ever hear. They are 100 percent authentic at that age and it is just awesome to hear all of them laughing at the same time. It almost becomes contagious.


What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Some people would be surprised that I love to golf. I try to get out as much as possible. Being out of the course is one way that I find to relax. I am not very good, but I love to play and have fun with friends and family.


Tell us about a non-professional book you recommend and why:

In my free time I love to read mysteries, thrillers and good old-fashioned spy novels. I just finished all the books in the Mitch Rapp series written by Vince Flynn. Sometimes it is good to simply get away and shut the mind down for a bit.


Be sure to check out School News Network for more stories about our great students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan!

Seven Wyoming and Kentwood artists featured in ArtPrize Eight

Photo courtesy of ArtPrize

By Victoria Mullen



ArtPrize Eight will take place in downtown Grand Rapids from September 21-October 9, 2016 — when everyone is invited to voice their opinions on contemporary art and select the winners of $500,000 in cash prizes.


Seven artists with ties to Wyoming and Kentwood, Michigan have artwork in this year’s ArtPrize Eight. Here is some information about the artists, their work and where to see their entries.


‘Watcher’, by Nicole Burkholder Bluekamp

Nicole Burkholder Bluekamp

Wyoming, Michigan


Nicole is a self taught artist born and raised in Wyoming, Michigan. Painting and drawing always having been a love and main interest since childhood.


Further education was not an option for Nicole, leading to much experimentation and use of available materials for painting.


Being introverted and an empath, Nicole loves to hide out at home with her family.


Her entry, ‘Watcher’, may be seen at Georgio’s Gourmet Pizza, 15 Ionia Ave SW Suite 150 in downtown Grand Rapids.


‘SoulTribe’, by Malia Rae

Malie Rae

Austin, Texas


Malia Rae was born and raised in Wyoming, Michigan and spent her childhood creating memories by exploring nature. she first picked up a camera 20 years ago. She received her BFA in Advertising Photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. She spent 10 years post-graduation living in Chicago and about a year ago, moved to Austin, Texas for a new perspective.


Her ArtPrize entry, ‘SoulTribe‘ is the next step of her photographic journey and in many ways the journey of her life. She is inspired to bring the spirit of her everyday self exploration into her images.


“The love of human transformation, the will of spirit, and the growth that takes place when you embark on the journey of finding your truth in life… is the passion that drives me to create,” she said.


jewelry by nona bushman
‘Diversity by Nona’, by Nona Bushman

Nona Bushman

Wyoming, Michigan


Nona (Voss) Bushman is a graduate of Wyoming Park H.S. and Western Michigan University. Her degree is in Art Education with an emphasis in jewelry. She has been making jewelry from silver, gold, copper, brass, precious & semi- precious stones for the past 47 years.


Nona was in Art Education for 34 years with 33 years at East Kentwood H.S. specializing in the 3-dimensional areas of Jewelry, Sculpture and Ceramics. Bushman makes one-of-a-kind custom designed jewelry pieces.


Her entry, ‘Diversity by Nona‘, is a series of pendant neck pieces, bracelets, pins and earrings and may be seen at Homewood Suites by Hilton Grand Rapids Downtown & Jam’n Bean Coffee Company at the Waters Center, 161 Ottawa NW in downtown Grand Rapids.


river and vine
‘River and Vine’, by Mark Minier

Mark Minier

Plymouth, Michigan


Growing up just south of Grand Rapids in Wyoming, Mark Minier went to school at Godwin Heights High School. He is an alumni of Eastern Michigan Universities School of Technology and has been painting oil on canvas since 1998.


“I love the self expression aspect of painting,” Minier said. “The best explanation I can give here is to quote Paul Klee, ‘art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible.’ When I look at groups of my paintings, I see them autobiographical pages. For many of my paintings I can still recall the song I was listening to during the rendering.”


Minier’s ArtPrize entry, ‘River and Vine‘, may be seen at the city water building by the richard app gallery, 1101 Monroe Ave. NE, Grand Rapids.
the soul's shadows
‘The Soul’s Shadows’, by Mitchell Eilers

Mitchell Eilers

Wyoming, Michigan

Current resident of the Wyoming area, Mitchell Eilers was born and raised in the small town of Shelby, Mich. and has been involved in the arts from a very young age, from sketching to photography. He graduated from Central Michigan University where he completed his Bachelor of Science graduating in May of 2014.


Eilers described his entry, ‘The Soul’s Shadows’ thus: “An entrancing stare and a beautiful face; but who really knows what demons hide behind her beautiful mask.”


His entry may be seen at the bitter end coffeehouse, 752 West Fulton St. in Grand Rapids.


panel from the seasons
Panel from Matthew Piechocki’s ‘The Seasons’

Matthew Piechocki

Grand Rapids, Michigan


“I’ve always found beauty by taking the time to just look around and I love the symbolism of an image that describes or conveys a feeling better than words ever could,” said Matthew Piechocki.


Piechocki was born in Muskegon in 1970 and grew up in Wyoming where he attended school in Grand Rapids. Art has been part of his life from the earliest days of drawing unicorns for classmates to working in the art room in high school, then on to doing private portraits or other paintings as commissioned sales as an adult.


“My influences range from the Great Masters of the Renaissance, Classical and the Baroque and simply can’t get enough of the Art Deco and Art Nouveau Styles,” Piechocki said.


See his entry, ‘The Seasons‘ at Grand Rapids Brewing Company, 1 Ionia Ave. SW, Apt. 1 in Grand Rapids.



Eric J. Hartfield

Grand Rapids, Michigan


Eric J. Hartfield was born in Benton Harbor Michigan in 1962, where the influence of his older brother took hold. With only one art class under his belt in the ninth grade, he drew pencil sketches of racing cars. After leaving Benton Harbor in the tenth grade, he attended East Kentwood High School, where he took a few more art at guff creek


His medium of choice is oil paint, but he has shown promise in oil pastel, color pencil, watercolors, acrylic, chalk (pastels) and a variety of mixed media. Eric is presently known as a Neo-mannerist/Surrealist which he calls ‘Mann realism’. He has developed a mixed-media technique that involves yarn, hair, string and calking placed on canvas and with the use of oils or acrylics, his works tell a story with imagery.


See his entry, ‘Gift at Guff Creek‘ at Grand Rapids City Hall, 300 Monroe Ave NW, Apt 4 in Grand Rapids.

ArtPrize Eight Preview Week: September 14-20
ArtPrize Eight: September 21-October 9
Jurors’ Short List Announcement: September 26
Public Vote Final 20 Announcement: October 2
2016 ArtPrize Awards: October 7


The ArtPrize website and mobile app provide an interactive map feature to help visitors navigate to various Neighborhood HUB locations, including:

  • Center City HUB @ GRAM — located on Monroe Center, in the heart of one of West Michigan’s largest communities, outside of the Grand Rapids Art Museum gift shop as well as inside the museum lobby;
  • Heartside HUB @ UICA — close to many galleries, studios and architecturally significant buildings;
  • Hillside HUB @ Women’s City Club — one of the nation’s oldest and grandest neighborhoods with a collection of preserved 19th and 20th century homes;
  • Rumsey Street HUB @ SiTE:LAB — located at the three-acre public project in partnership with Habitat for Humanity;
  • Monroe North HUB @ DeVos Place — just steps away from many new Venues along the Grand River;
  • Westside HUB @ Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum — placed near Featured Public Projects, Artist Seed Grant and Venue Grant Winners;
  • Meijer Gardens HUB — featuring ArtPrize Artists as well as their permanent sculpture collection that blends art and nature; and
  • ArtPrize HUB/HQ @ 41 Sheldon


The ArtPrize HUB/HQ will open to the public on September 14, at the start of ArtPrize Preview Week — and will remain open throughout the event from 11 am-8 pm Monday through Saturday, and 11 am-6 pm on Sundays.


The ArtPrize Clubhouse will be open from 11 am-7 pm throughout the event, including ArtPrize Preview Week.

Cruising through DreamWheels!

2016 DreamWheels for newsWith Metro Cruise upon us and WKTV’s DreamWheels! set to film on Saturday, we take a look back on the stories of the people and cars who make the cruise such a large attraction. From the history surrounding the inception of Metro Cruise to the shops and talents it takes to rejuvenate the beauty of a classic car, and everything in between, our full coverage is below:


DreamWheels! comes to the red carpet

History of Metro Cruise

Art Cruise

Engine House No. 9

Steve’s Antique Auto Repair

Pal’s Diner

The ‘artwork’ of Dom Federico

Lowriders come to DreamWheels!

Metro Cruise Pin-Up Girls

SoCal Speed Shop comes to Metro Cruise

And then there were castles: visiting Loire Valley

By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales


Welcome to another chapter in the ongoing series by our world traveler, Lynn Strough. This week, we visit the castles of Loire Valley.

Spanning 280 kilometres, the Loire Valley is located in the middle stretch of the Loire River in central France. The area is covered in castles — dozens of castles. How do you choose? Forty-two chateaux make up this UNESCO World Heritage area. Without a car, I was reliant on either a tour, trains or buses, so for my first foray into fairytaleland, I opted for a tour. I usually avoid them, but this was a small tour of just eight in a mini-bus, which stopped at three castles, or chateaux, as the French call them, along with lunch at a small local spot. No prince or glass slippers, but some amazing art, architecture and gardens.


We first toured Blois, built in 1214 by a count, which combines four different wings, each corresponding to a different period and style –- Gothic, Flamboyant, Renaissance and Classicism. We saw furnishings typical of the periods, including beautiful tapestries, and I got to play queen for a day, or at least for a moment.


Next stop, Cheverny, which has been in the same family for more than 600 years. The descendants still live here in one of the wings. It’s been described as an “enchanted palace,” and you can see why. The interiors are lavish, full of elaborate furnishings and artworks, a castle worthy of Cinderella herself.


An interesting fact about this period is that people slept sitting up –- the lying flat position was reserved for the dead. Also, people were afraid of swallowing their tongues!


(Continued after the slideshow.)



  • We saw furnishings typical of the periods, including beautiful tapestries, and I got to play queen for a day, or at least for a moment…
  • Stunningly beautiful lavender beds studded the landscape, with two kinds of lavender.
  • It’s the gardens that truly steal the show at Villandry.
  • Boats lie tied to the dock waiting for passengers to take them for a row on the river…
  • …and if you’re lucky, you may even see a conservator restoring a painting inside.
  • You can tour everything from the kitchens to the bedrooms to the wine cellar.



Last on the tour was Chambord, initiated by King Francis I in 1519, who was only 25 years old at the time. It was intended as a hunting lodge, but grew to chateau proportions, with 426 rooms, including 282 fireplaces and 77 staircases. One of those staircases, in the center of the chateau, is a famous double spiral that links all three floors. It comprises two concentric spiral flights of stairs, independently winding around a central column. Two people can each take a different flight, and can see each other through the openings, but will never meet. It is suggested that Leonardo DaVinci himself may have been involved in the design.


27The tour was full of history, about kings and religious wars and assassinations, and royal cousins marrying royal cousins, and how cold the castles were. Personally, I’d much rather have a small cozy cottage than a big elaborate drafty chateau, but then that’s just my preference. They’re certainly lovely to look at, and attending a lavish ball might be kind of fun.


Then there’s Villandry, known for its elaborate gardens, and they truly are magnificent! Full of hedges and mazes, lavender and roses, they are carefully planned out each year to create a painting of plants, with complementary colors and textures. I was glad I took the bus there so I could spend as many hours as I wanted, wandering the grounds.


Stunningly beautiful lavender beds studded the landscape, with two kinds of lavender. I didn’t pick any, of course, but I rubbed a little between my fingers to smell, and it was so lovely, one of the few strong scents that doesn’t give me migraines.



I walked up through the area they call Belvedere, through the shady woods, all by myself, except for birds chirping and some small creature scurrying through the underbrush, and I also walked to the sun garden, where I took close up shots of brightly colored flowers, with a strange creature buzzing around the round yellow flower heads. It was too big to be a bee, although it behaved like one, buzzing from blossom to blossom. It had a thick gray body, small reddish-orange wings, and a long proboscis like a hummingbird. It was eventually identified by a friend in California, via Facebook, as a hummingbird hawk moth.


The interior of Villandry is also worth exploring. The chateau was built around 1536, the last of the great castles built along the Loire River during the Renaissance. You can view many elaborately decorated  rooms, as well as the only rustic room, the kitchen.


But I have to say, it’s the gardens that truly steal the show at Villandry –- the Ornamental Garden, the Woods, the Water Garden, the Sun Garden, the Maze, the Herb Garden, and the Vegetable Garden, a living-rainbow tapestry.


I’d been to Chenonceau many years before — in fact had painted a scene viewed from its bridge. It was so stunning that I had to go back, and it was just as beautiful as I’d remembered it, with its arched gallery spanning the river, once a place where balls were held, and with rose trees dotting the grounds in front of the castle and tower.


Chenonceau is known as the “women’s castle,” as it is the only one that was built, decorated, inhabited and saved by women.


29In 1547, King Henri II gave Chenonceau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, 20 years his senior, much to the dismay of his wife. When he was killed in a jousting tournament, Catherine de’ Medici, his widow, wanted Chenonceau back, and eventually got it, but only by trading a more valuable property. Diane was not invited to the King’s funeral.


If you aren’t castled out by now, make sure to make a stop at Chateau du Clos Luce, home of Leonardo daVinci in his later years, by invitation of the king. Built in 1471, it was a royal residence of the Kings of France for 200 years. In 1516, King Francois I invited Leonardo to Clos Luce, as “First painter, architect and engineer of the King.” He was given residence, a large allowance, and his works were financed. All the King asked for in return was “the pleasure of hearing him talk.”


At the age of 64, Da Vinci crossed the Alps on a mule, bringing with him three of his favorite paintings, including the Mona Lisa. You can see where he slept and dined, and his chapel, as well as several of his amazing inventions. He truly was a genius and Renaissance man.


The extensive grounds are also worth a visit, including the garden and the dovecot, where 1,000 boulins, or niches, can each hold a pair of pigeons.


Princes may be in short supply, and glass slippers too uncomfortable to wear while walking, but the castles in the Loire Valley make for a land of fairy tales, and are worth spending several days to explore.


33About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.


“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission


DreamWheels!: The artwork of Dom Federico

By: Mike DeWitt


At its base, a car is a machine built of metal with an ability to transport people from point A to point B. However, cars — especially classic cars — are never seen at their base level. For some, cars are an expression of individuality. A way to make a statement on their own personality and interests. For others, cars are a model of engineering at its finest and how far that engineering can be pushed.


For Dom Federico, cars are works of art.


IMG_1767“I just love them, and when I got this car and I looked at that fin,” said Dom with his finger pointed towards a fin on a beautiful teal 1961 Cadillac Convertible, “All of a sudden I realized that what I really was doing wasn’t collecting cars, but collecting art. Each one of these is an art form, if you look at the faces of each one of these cars, each one is completely different.”


Dom and his wife have been collecting art since 1973 with the goal focused on every car as an individual. Their private garage houses more than 30 unique and classic cars, but simply filling the garage was never the focus. Instead of seeking out cars one by one, Dom waits until the cars “find him.”


His approach stems from Saturdays in August during his childhood where he would take his bike from one car dealership to another in hopes of seeing the new cars set to be unveiled and introduced in September. Throughout August, the new cars would be in the back with high canvas coverings on the chain link fences to conceal the cars. Dom would climb the fences just to get a look at what was in store for the next year, and when the right car came along, it left an impact.


IMG_1777“When the ’63 Corvette came out, I stayed in the showroom for hours. I couldn’t stop looking at it because of the artwork of it,” he said.


Those late summer Saturdays led to an infatuation that couldn’t be quelled with a single car. What started as one car eventually became two, and then three, until one day Dom finally came to the realization — thanks to his daughter — that what he owned was a little more than an extension of a normal garage.


“When I got to 10 cars, my daughter who was 8 at the time, said to me, ‘Dad, we’re in double-digits.’ And it hit me.”


Dom’s interest and passion had become a collection, something worthy of sharing with others around him. His garage has hosted parties and charity events with the cars as the main attraction, but one of his favorite showcases is the 28th Street Metro Cruise and on the red carpet at DreamWheels!. Since the inception of Metro Cruise in 2005, Dom has only missed one year and loves sharing his artwork with people who truly appreciate cars.


IMG_1764Lately, Dom’s participation in Metro Cruise has shifted towards being an annual member on the red carpet at WKTV’s DreamWheels!. This year he plans on bringing his ’79 Ferrari.


“We had been to Metro Cruise multiple times in the past and actually stopped going because it became too crowded to even drive cars. With DreamWheels!, we can still drive our cars and show them off. It’s kind of like a tradition now.”


Make sure to check out the “DreamWheels!” show which will broadcast live Saturday, Aug. 27 from 6 – 7:30 p.m. at Pal’s Diner, 6503 28th St. SE, and Rogers Plaza, 972 28th St. SW. The show will air Saturday, Sept. 3, at 7 p.m. on WKTV Channel 25.

Perfectly Paris

By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

35Welcome to another chapter in the ongoing series by our world traveler, Lynn Strough. This week, we visit Paris.

Ahh, Paris! City of lights and romance, art and architecture, amazing food and wine. It’s one of my all-time favorite cities.


There are, of course, the iconic sights, like the Eiffel Tower and Arc De Triomphe, the River Sienne and the Tuileries, and the Louvre, which is equally as lovely in rain or shine. Stick around for a day or two and you might get both.


As a tourist, you’re sure to enjoy all of this. But as a traveler, you get to see even more. After such a great experience couch surfing near Venice, I thought I’d see what Paris had to offer in the way of sofa accommodations. I wasn’t disappointed. An English teacher named Sylvie answered my query and offered me her couch in her small flat. The thing about couch surfing is that it’s not about the size of the accommodations, it’s about the generosity and heart of the people hosting. Sylvie and I both love art and travel, so we had common interests from the start. She opened her home to me and shared something amazing.



She tangos with a group late at night, dancing in front of the Eiffel Tower. She invited me to go watch and it was magical, hearing the music, seeing the dancers swirl and turn in front of the twinkling lights. I even got asked to dance. But between wearing my tourist gear (jeans and flats) I didn’t exactly look the part — the female dancers wore dresses and heels. Also, I’ve never danced the tango in my life, and who wants to fall flat on their face in Paris? Sadly, I had to decline.


We also climbed up to Montmartre and slipped into Sacre-Coeur just before closing one evening, where we each lit a candle. In addition, Sylvie gave me tons of directions and suggestions for making the most of my brief three-day stay. I was a short metro ride away from almost everything, and it was fun staying in a regular neighborhood versus in a touristy hotel. The metro is easy to navigate, and relatively clean, cheap and safe.


(continued under slide show)



  • Ahh, Paris! City of lights and romance, art and architecture, amazing food and wine. It’s one of my all-time favorite cities.
  • My couch-surfing accommodations.
  • Tangoing at night, lit by the Eiffel Tower.
  • The metro is easy to navigate and relatively clean, cheap and safe.
  • I wanted to go to the d’Orsay as it’s my favorite art museum in the world.
  • The architecture of the old converted train station...
  • ...and the views from the top are worth the visit alone.
  • But add in the works of the likes of Matisse, Monet, Morisot, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Bonnard and many more of my favorites, and I could spend all day there.
  • You never know what you'll find in the quaint and beautiful neighborhoods -- art is everywhere.
  • Hotel de Ville is another place I’d never been -- it’s not a hotel at all, but the City Hall.
  • It’s worth a visit to Galeries Lafayette, a gorgeous department store with stained glass, polished brass and chandeliers...
  • ...and designer shops so exclusive that they have armed guards minding the doors.
  • My head said go straight, but my heart nudged me to turn left, so I followed my heart, right to the wisteria-covered restaurant.
  • Frederico, the man in charge, said it was almost closing time -- between lunch and dinner -- but that I’d just made it.
  • The guide led us up a narrow spiral staircase to the top of Notre Dame, where the flying buttresses soared over our heads...
  • ...and the views of Paris were incredible.
  • And we got to slip into the secret rooms downstairs where the treasures of the church are stored.
  • Yes, Paris is a beautiful city!
  • As visits to cities go, in my book, Paris is perfect.



I’d been to Paris before, and because my stay this time around was so short, I knew I had to prioritize. I wanted to go to the d’Orsay as it’s my favorite art museum in the world. The architecture of the old converted train station and the views from the top are worth the visit alone, but add in the works of the likes of Matisse, Monet, Morisot, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Bonnard, and many more of my favorites, and I could spend all day there.33


Eventually, after five hours in the museum and on visual overload, it was time to wander some more, which is my other favorite thing to do in Paris. Not just the tourist streets, like the Champs Elysee, but the quaint and beautiful neighborhoods, where you never know what you’ll see –- art is everywhere.


I’d never been to Ille Saint-Louis, a tiny island behind Notre Dame, and would love to go back when I have more time just to look at the signs, peek in the windows, and gawk at the galleries and architecture.


20Hotel de Ville is another place I’d never been, and I discovered that it’s not a hotel at all, but the City Hall. It’s a place where tons of tourists and locals alike congregate, and I happened by right at the golden hour when everything glowed.


Even if you’re not in shopping mode like me, it’s still worth a visit to Galeries Lafayette, a gorgeous department store with stained glass, polished brass, and chandeliers, and designer shops within the shop so exclusive that they have armed guards minding the doors. What’s in those purses anyway, diamonds?


Sometimes, synchronicity creates amazing events, like a private tour of the top of Notre 17Dame. I was wandering around, trying to find a restaurant I’d gone to seven years before. I didn’t remember the name, only that it was somewhere near Notre Dame and covered with wisteria. I thought about stopping at the famed cathedral, but I’d been inside once on a previous trip, the entry line was long, and I was starving. My head said go straight, but my heart nudged me to turn left, so I followed my heart, right to the wisteria-covered restaurant.


16Frederico, the man in charge, said it was almost closing time, between lunch and dinner, but that I’d just made it. He reminded me that this was the oldest building in Paris. It was pricier than I’d remembered, but I had free accommodations and was eating mostly home-cooked meals, so this was my splurge. And it turned out to be the best splurge ever, as Frederico said, “What are you doing next?” He invited me and a couple of American guys to go on a private tour of nearby Notre Dame he’d organized for some of his friends. The two guys declined, but I gave an immediate yes. A few other couples joined us, and one was from my home state of Michigan. Later on Facebook, I learned a friend of mine in Atlanta knows Frederico as well. It truly is a small world.


We raced along the Paris street behind Frederico, dodging traffic, and followed his tour guide past the very long line into a special side door as people looked on, wondering who we were and why we had such privileges. I thought it would be just a standard tour, but the guide led us up, up, up a narrow spiral staircase to the top of Notre Dame, where the flying buttresses soared over our heads, and the views of Paris were incredible.


And we got to slip into the secret rooms downstairs where the treasures of the church are stored.


Yes, Paris is a beautiful city!


3About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50-something-year-old woman whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.


“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”


travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

The journey ends as District 9 falls to West 5-3 at the Big League World Series

District 9

By: Mike DeWitt


District 9 battled their way back from the bottom of the bracket at the Big League World Series but fell to West in a back-and-forth game that ended the team’s quest for a championship.


In a rematch of District 9’s first tournament game, a 3-0 loss, District 9 battled from an early 2-0 lead after West drove in two runs in the first inning. The score remained until Jarod Nickel made contact and brought home Drew Hernandez on a fielder’s choice. John Corey would strike out on the next at bat, but District 9 had finally found a groove in the batters box.


Two innings later, in the bottom of the sixth, Bruce Buurstra knotted the score at two with a line drive to right field that brought Jace Beatty home. Two batters later, Corey hit a sacrifice bunt to bring Brendan Oosse home and gave District 9 a 3-2 lead with one inning to play.


However, the lead would be short-lived as West scored on an error and then on a sacrifice fly by Kawena Alo Kaonohi that scored Shadd Santo and gave West the lead for good.


District 9 had one final chance in the bottom of the seventh that was quickly squashed due to two strikeouts and a groundout to the pitcher.


While the end result wasn’t what District 9 was hoping for, the boys had a fantastic tournament that started with four straight shutouts in the Regional Tournament and extended to the semifinals of the United States Bracket at the Big League World Series.

District 9 tops Southwest to move on in Big League World Series

District 9

By: Mike DeWitt


Statistical information for this story was Powered by Narrative Science and GameChanger Media. Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.


After staying dormant in a tournament open loss to West, District 9’s offense came alive against Southwest, producing five runs in the first three innings to coast to a 5-1 victory. Bruce Buurstra went 3-3 at the plate with an RBI.


Pitching stayed a strength for District 9 as Bennett Norry allowed only two hits and no earned runs while striking out four batters during his 4 2/3 innings of work. Bruce Buurstra and Mark Primus finished out the rest of the game with an inning each. Southwest only managed one run due to an error.


District 9 scored one run on a groundout by Brendan Oosse in the first inning. Two more runners were brought home in the second when a sacrifice fly by Jarod Nickel brought home Buurstra. In the third, Buurstra singled to bring home Isaiah House to start the inning.


With the win, District 9 moves on in the double-elimination tournament to play South Carolina on Friday night at 7:30pm.

Visions of Venice

By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales




When words simply won’t do… Lynn Strough takes us on a visual journey of Venice.



  • How can you not love Venice?! It’s a magical place where you feel as if you’re walking through a dream.
  • There are, of course, the classic scenes – the gondolas.
  • St. Mark’s square (Piazza San Marco, the main square of Venice, which Napoleon supposedly called “the drawing room of Europe”).
  • The many famous bridges, like the Bridge of Sighs, which connects the New Prison with the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace, the Rialto Bridge, and many smaller scenic bridges.
  • There is the Grand Canal, which is aptly named, and many museums with famous works of art.
  • But my favorite part of Venice is not so well known or recognized. It is the little alleyways, where the hordes of tourists from the cruise ships do not have time to discover or linger.
  • Where laundry flaps in the wind, black and white, like notes on a staff.
  • And in full technicolor, plain or prints.
  • Wander off and get lost in the myriad alleyways – you are never truly lost, as Venice is not that big.
  • But the best parts are the hidden parts that you randomly stumble upon.
  • This is what you’ll find in peak season in the main thoroughfares.
  • But if you fold up your map, stick it in your pocket, and just wander at will, you will find places almost all to yourself!
  • If you’re hungry, look for a little local place, far from the tourist crowds, where you’ll find local specialties, at small local prices.
  • And definitely do not forget the gelato for dessert.
  • The woman scooping is from the U.S., came here as a backpacker seven years ago and never left.
  • In the shopping districts, crazy Italian designs, where the shoes are encrusted with jewels...
  • ...and the eyeglasses are definitely different!
  • Murano glass is on display everywhere, including at the flea markets, scattered about...
  • …and of course, masks are a classic souvenir.
  • Keep your eyes open and look for the details that are Venice, including lots of lions…
  • and interesting windows…
  • …and doorways.
  • Look for reflections…
  • …and artistic graffiti.
  • You’ll discover a whole other side of Venice...
  • including answers to how the necessary business of the locals operates, such as how do they transport goods...
  • ...and how do they get rid of other unwanted products.
  • And just where do they make those gondolas anyway?
  • Yes, there are modern chains that intrude into all of the history, but you don’t have to patronize them, and at least they are made to conform to local building standards.
  • So climb the tower...
  • …hitch a ride in a gondola…
  • …get out of the main stream of traffic, and take a walk…
  • …and get lost in the dream that is Venice!





41About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50-something-year-old woman whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.


“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”



travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

District 9 falls in the first round at the Big League World Series

District 9After shutting out four straight opponents in the Regional Tournament last week, Wyoming District 9 looked to keep their pitching hot throughout the Big League World Series. In their first game against West on Wednesday afternoon, the pitching showed up but the offense didn’t follow suit as District 9 fell 3-0.


The game was a pitchers duel on both sides with scoreless innings littering the box score. District 9 pitcher Christian Falicki pitched a gem for six innings, striking out eight batters and giving up only three runs in the fourth inning due to a two-run blast by Shadd Santos. Falicki kept his team within striking distance all game but the District 9 offense couldn’t capitalize.


District 9 managed only four hits, all of them singles, and couldn’t connect on seven different at bats to drive home runners who were in scoring position.


With the loss, District 9 will have to work their way up from the bottom of the bracket. One more loss and the curtains will close on their bid for a World Series Championship. Their next game is tonight, Thursday, July 28 at 7:30pm.