By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
On Feb. 27, 1967, the City of Kentwood had its first commission meeting at Bowen Elementary School. Fifty years to the day, the city commission will once again meet at Bowen Elementary to kick off Kentwood’s golden anniversary.
“February 27 marks a truly historic occasion for the City of Kentwood,” said Kentwood Mayor Stephen Kepley. “Celebrating the original City Commission meeting is a memorable way to honor Kentwood’s past while looking forward to our future.”
Long before the city was even mapped out as Paris Township, people were coming to the area mostly because it reminded them of their former homes, with rolling hills and good soil, said Ray Boisvenue, a local historian who has helped collect oral histories of many of Kentwood’s residents.
In 1939, the township organized with resident Joel Guild suggesting the name Paris for the area after his former home of Paris, New York. Guild was then elected the first township supervisor. The township at that time was a perfect square, bordered by Hall Street to the north, 60th Street to the south, Division Avenue to the west and Patterson Avenue to the east.
As the township grew, so did the neighboring City of Grand Rapids, which slowly chipped away at the township’s area though annexations. The first annexation took place in 1891 but the bulk happened from 1958 to 1963 causing residents to fight for incorporation. It would take three attempts and the announcement of a new $4 million shopping center – Woodland Mall – for the vote of incorporation to pass by a slim margin of 177 votes in favor on Feb. 20, 1967.
A few minor details had to be worked out, but the newly formed city had its first meeting Feb. 27, 1967, with Peter Lamberts elected as the city’s first mayor. The rest of the city commission include Dale Heyboer and Robert Ide as commissioners-at-large, Preston Miller and Quinten (Jack) Ward from Ward 1 and Gordon Gezon and Clifford Barnes from Ward 2.
The anniversary commission meeting – which will feature the current City Commission, Mayor Stephen Kepley, Commissioner-at-Large Betsy Artz, First Ward commissioners Gerald DeMaagd and Robert Coughlin and Second Ward commissioners Erwin Haas and Michael Brown – is at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27, at Bowen Elementary, 4483 Kalamazoo Ave. SE. The event will feature special programming provided by the current city commission. The meeting will flow much like a typical city commission meeting but with special tributes and fun facts about the city and will include a two-minute clip of the Kentwood 50th Anniversary documentary produced by WKTV.
According to organizers, the evening will be a celebration of the community’s growth and recognition of the residents, schools, businesses and nonprofit that have made Kentwood a great place to live, work and raise a family. Among the special guests scheduled to attend are Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, both of whom will be presenting proclamations honoring the city.
Kentwood 50th Anniversary events have been planned throughout the year. Among the public events coming up in the next couple of months are the Taste of Kentwood set for March 2, the Kentwood’s Got Talent auditions March 9 (registration deadline is March 3), and an Easter Egg Hunt April 15. There is also a breakfast planned to honor businesses that have been in Kentwood since 1967 on March 23. Also, Railtown Brewing Company, 3555 68th St. SE, Dutton, will be unveiling a special beer next week in honor of Kentwood’s 50th Anniversary.
“We have been working really hard to make this a special year for our community,” said Kentwood Treasurer and Kentwood 50 committee leader Laurie Sheldon. “Our residents, businesses and organizations have made Kentwood an amazing city and we are making sure we express our thanks through great events in 2017.”
Other programs include The Vibe – a Parks and Recreation Gala that raises money for the department’s programs will be May 19 and a weekend-long street fair and festival August 11 and 12 that will include food, kid-friendly events, live entertainment and the finale of the Kentwood’s Got Talent.
The Farmer’s Market, Fourth of July celebration and parade and all other city-sponsored events also will be focused on the Kentwood 50th Anniversary.
WKTV also will be providing coverage of many of the events along with special Kentwood 50 stories at now.wktv.org.
For more about Kentwood’s 50th Anniversary celebration, visit www.kentwood50.com.