Monday, November 1, 2010

Blind Rockford resident plays guitar in multiple bands, venues

Blind Rockford resident plays guitar in multiple bands, venues
The Rockford Squire - October 21, 2010

by Matt Marn

Rockford resident Keith Eadie was born blind. But blindness did not stop him from picking up a guitar and learning how to play. And it did not stop him from taking the stage, playing to proud family and excited fans.

“Sometimes I am walking around a store and I am stopped by people who heard me play,” Eadie said. “I get stopped in downtown Rockford or on the White Pine Trail. It feels pretty good.”

Eadie usually has a full schedule, full of performances for bands he regularly plays in, as well as one of the four bands where he fills in for an absent member. He plays in a variety of locations, from restaurants to churches and nursing homes to a local Rockford fire station and the Rockford Ambulance office, often performing four or five times a week.

“Last month, I played 20 days in a row,” Eadie said. “I love doing it, it’s awesome. In bigger places, you still get butterflies.”

As a kid, Eadie found secondhand “flea market guitars,” but when high school rolled around, he wanted to learn to play newer, more complex songs. He got his chance to sharpen his skills when a neighbor asked Joe Kelly, a local teacher, to get him started.

“He taught me scales and fundamentals, and showed me how to put it all together,” Eadie said.

As for Kelly, he is proud of Eadie and his growth on the strings. “It wasn’t real hard to work with him,” Kelly said. “It was obvious he had the ear and the ambition. Once he got his chops down, he fit right in almost everywhere.”

Kelly said they had to try something different, as Eadie couldn’t visually learn the fret placement or sheet music, but Eadie had good coordination, a good ear for music, and a good sense of humor to match.

“He had more of a desire to learn,” Kelly said. “It meant more to Keith than other students. And he’s not down in the dumps, he works through things. His personality helps him deal, helps him fit in anywhere.”

When Eadie’s family heard that he had an ear for music and could hold his own, they were thrilled. Eadie began to play in a gospel group with his aunt and uncle, performing around a dozen shows annually. Those shows got his feet wet, but didn’t fend off the butterflies, he said.

Now Eadie plays regularly at a number of venues, including Maxine’s Family Restaurant in Sparta every Wednesday evening, where local fans and friends fill the room to watch him play with his band, Keith and the Rowdies. The group formed about a year ago and includes Eadie and band mates Terry Winright and Bill Ridley. Friends come by their table before the show to say hello, and some even pick up an extra guitar and join them on stage for a number or two.

“I’m very proud of Keith,” said Karen Eadie, Keith’s mother. “He’s a good guy. He can play. When he practiced, my husband and I would listen. We’d fall asleep to his music. But when he knew we were listening, he’d shut his door. He’s always had an ear for music. He just loves to play. He’d sit and play if nobody’s listening.”

Gordon Pickerd - Trustee, treasurer, woodcarver extraordinaire

This article, first published in the Rockford Squire, details some of the many activities and volunteer work of Algoma Township trustee Gordon Pickerd. You can find the article here.

Algoma Twp. trustee Pickerd finds calling in getting involved, giving back
October 14, 2010


Gordon Pickerd wears many hats in his community, from Algoma Township trustee to Rockford Sportsman’s Club treasurer to woodcarver. No matter the method, he is always ready to help.

Gordon Pickerd shows off the carving he created for Algoma Township Hall.

For example, when Algoma Township grew from needing five trustees to needing seven, a friend suggested Pickerd run, and he answered the call to serve.

“I never thought I’d run for political office,” Pickerd said. “I hope when people look at what we’ve done, they see we’re doing the job the township wants.”

Pickerd said final decisions before the board lie with the trustees. “Someone has to accept responsibility,” he said. “If people don’t like our decisions, they come after us. Hard choices need to be made, not because I like it or because I agree; following the law is not always an easy course.”

Algoma Township Supervisor Dennis Hoemke said Pickerd is an excellent addition to the township board. “He’s done a great job,” Hoemke said. “He brings a good knowledge base to us because of his past experience. He’s not afraid to do what he needs to do after he looks into the issue.”

Pickerd, also the treasurer of the Rockford Sportsman’s Club for the last 15 years, said the treasurer must keep the books in order and, since the club is a charitable organization, log where all the donations go.

“I was at a board of directors’ budget meeting, and the treasurer at the time wasn’t prepared for all of my questions. After the meeting, a friend asked me when I was going to run for the treasurer position, and I told him next year. The person with the money has to be responsible for the club to run.”

A pattern model maker by trade, Pickerd’s career path later took other directions into sales. But when Pickerd retired six years ago, he was reunited with his first love: woodcarving.

“I’ve done a number of turnings,” Pickerd said. “I sold some, but I gave most to charities over the last five years.”

Pickerd said he has done woodcarving pieces to aid in fundraising efforts for the hunt for a cure for cystic fibrosis, as well as the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding in Rockford. He also does volunteer work for organizations such as the Equest Center.

Angela Taylor, office manager for the Equest Center, said while Pickerd is not as interested in riding horses—at least she’s never seen him ride—he is very interested in helping people.

“He came to us, he saw a need, and he took care of it. Without him, we’d be faced with issues we’d have to find solutions to. We just need to call him and he’s there,” Taylor explained.

Shelly Fox is the assistant equine coordinator at the Equest Center. Fox thinks “Gordy” is an amazing man. “He takes care of work here, and brings his own tractor, and uses farm equipment for our heavy lifting,” Fox said. “He and his wife donate to our organization, too. He donated to a new tractor—not the one he drives, he just knows we need it.”

He has also recently carved a piece for the meeting hall in the Algoma Township offices, bearing the township’s new emblem. The emblem is made of five different types of wood. Pickerd said as a trustee, he thought it would add to the appearance of the meeting halls.

Township supervisor Hoemke is impressed with Pickerd’s carvings, having seen some of them up close, including the Algoma emblem on a regular basis.

“He’s very talented,” Hoemke said. “These are gorgeous works. And he doesn’t do them to toot his own horn. He likes to be active; he likes to be involved.”

Pickerd was quick to quick to point out that none of his work would be possible without the love, support and encouragement of his wife Sharon.

But no matter what he is working on today, Pickerd’s reasons and mantra stay the same. “Find something you’re passionate about, and help that organization get better, become a better place or community. Once you give back, it’s hard to say no.”

Pickerd said not only does he care deeply about his community, but everyone should have a chance to give back. He said he cares less about leaving his mark than just helping wherever needed. He said he’d rather be remembered as “the guy that had the smile on his face.”

“I have been blessed numerous times, and now I have a chance to give back. Our country could use a few less greedy people and a few more helping people,” added Pickerd. “Just get involved. It doesn’t matter where. Young parents, get involved in school or Little League, or get involved in the city or parks department, or church, or help neighbors care for their yard. Heck, I’ll give them a list of a dozen places. There are always places that need volunteers to give a few hours. You become the blessed one that gets back.”

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ada Trail follow-up article

This article, also written exclusively for my journalism class at GVSU, was a follow-up to the Ada trails article, and chronicled the town hall meeting gauging feedback from the townspeople about the proposed trail project. It became quite heated and controversial, so I like to use this as an example of putting an interesting spin on a town hall meeting.

* * * *

Phase two of trail project sparks controversy among residents

By Matt Marn

Tempers flared as Ada Township residents became divided down the center of Knapp Street as residents came to a trail planning meeting Thursday evening.

The dispute developed when the updated plans showed the non-vehicular bike and pedestrian trail to be placed on the South side of Knapp Street, while on the ballot in 2006, the proposal for the millage allegedly displayed the trail on the North side.

Several residents argued it was put on the ballot that way so it would pass, and then the township pulled a bait-and-switch.

Ada Township resident Tracy Baij said the township should have proposed a general 15-mile trail so everyone would have “equal skin in the game.”

“You pitted those who stood to gain against those who stood to lose, and they outnumbered them,” Baij told the township board.

Township trustee John Westra said the key thing to focus on is all of the trail committee meetings were published and were available on the website for community members’ knowledge.

The committee originally outlined the path of the trail and when they had to project it, it chose the North side of Knapp, Westra said.

“None of our information said it would stay on that side,” he said. “The purpose [of that projection] was not to determine what side of the road the trail would go on, but which street and communities would be served.”

Landowners also expressed concern over easements, which Ada Township is in the process of discussing with residents whose property will be affected by the trail.

“We always want to have a project like this to take place in an area of support,” Westra said. “We also depend on easements, or agreements between the township and the property owner. These are all voluntary.”

Westra said the township could put the trail all on the trail’s right-of-way, the section of the land closest to the street. This 33 feet from the center line of the road toward the property is not owned by the property owner. However, if the township obtains permission from landowners to go further into their property to make the trail, it would be more attractive, he said.

While some residents are opposed to the plan, Bill and Donna Havenga are in favor of the trail because it would provide a safer route for community members during their walks.

“It happens to be on the other side of the road, but we’d be for it if it was on our side,” said Donna Havenga. “My husband walks. He’s had two open-heart surgeries, so he walks a mile or more every day.”

Havenga said she thinks it could benefit the community greatly because it will allow residents to walk from one house to another, which would be nice.

“If it will bring us together as neighbors, it would be great, but I don’t think it will,” she said.

Westra said this new trail would allow residents a location or safe route to use in their efforts to live a healthier lifestyle on either foot or bicycle, as well as connect the community.

“My main worry, however, is safety,” he said. “We have to make sure the people are safe, especially children and young people. Whenever the trails cross roads you have a potential for problems. We need those areas to be as few and safe as possible.”

Ada Trail budget article

This article has never been published; I wrote this article in a journalism class at Grand Valley State University in March 2008 as an undergraduate student. As the class assignments, we were given a "beat" township to cover locally, to write stories covering the affairs of the township.

I was given Ada township, and I started by going to introduce myself around the township offices and looking through their budget. When I found a special budget for building a trail along the side of the road, I decided to take a closer look.

* * * *

Ada Township enters phase two of trail project

By Matt Marn

Ada Township residents will soon be one step closer to enjoying a new trail winding around their community.

Thanks to nearly $1.5 million approved for trail construction, with $1.2 million going toward phase one of Ada Township’s non-vehicular plan, the community has already put the existing trails to good use.

“The trail millage passed a few years back, and we decided to bond [the projects] all together,” said Deborah Ensing Millhuff, Ada Township clerk. “If you do it trail by trail, piece by piece, then by the time you’re done, the first part has to be redone. Most of the people want it done, but the controversy is on what side of the road it should be done.”

Township Planner Jim Ferro said whenever a trail is built, residents have an opinion on what side of the road it should be placed. But either way, he said it will do a lot of good.

“It’s been needed for probably ten years, and it’s been in the works for five years or more,” Ferro said. “There was a great amount of citizen interest in having safe and healthier means to get around.”

Ferro said the plan’s timetable, one phase per year, began in 2007.

During the first phase, the township placed a trail on Grand River Drive from Fulton Street to Knapp Street. In the second phase – scheduled to start in early summer and finish in the fall – the township will lay a trail on Knapp Street from the Grand River to Honey Creek Avenue. The final phase, scheduled in 2009, will include Honey Creek Avenue, Conservation Street, McCabe Avenue and Bailey Drive. The trails are designed to form a loop throughout the community.

Diane Pratt, Ada Township treasurer, said the community has had numerous trails in Ada Township, and most citizens respond favorably.

“It’s a safer way to walk and bike,” Pratt said. “It’s been a plan of the township to link the trails up, so they aren’t just trails that lead to nowhere.”

Pratt was in charge of the bonding for the trails, the millage of which was put on the ballot and passed in November 2006. They started collecting for the millage that winter.

Pratt said the bonding was over $4.5 million up front for all three phases of the trail project. After the lengthy process of getting a bond rating and finding a bank to loan the money, Pratt said they were ready to begin.

Ferro said the plan is going according to schedule and on-budget, and he does not foresee any problems in carrying out the rest of the project.

“We need to gauge feedback and make adjustments,” he said. “The first phase is already being used by people; it’s very well received. It encourages people to stay healthy and fit by getting out there, and it keeps bikers and pedestrians safe, not to mention raises property value. People are out using them before they’re finished.”

A Hero's Welcome, Long Overdue

This article was written recently for the Rockford Squire newspaper, and I feel is a powerful look at not only the welcome home event for Vietnam veterans, but also the people and emotions behind the Vietnam War, as well as anyone close to military life. You can find the original article here.
Hope you enjoy.

* * * *

5/3 Ballpark Hosts LZ Michigan, a welcome home for Vietnam vets

By Matt Marn

A parade of motorcycle riders cruised into 5/3 Ballpark on a hot and sunny July 3 to kick off LZ Michigan, a reunion and welcome home for Vietnam veterans. LZ Michigan was also a chance for the community to show their gratitude for all the veterans went through and sacrificed for their country.

Vietnam War veterans Ken McKay and Rod VanOeveren reunite after serving together decades ago. They saw each other for the first time here in the United States at the Fifth/Third LZ Michigan welcome home event honoring servicemen and women.

LZ, a military slang term for “Landing Zone,” refers to a safe place for helicopters to land. That day, it meant a safe place to return to; a safe place to get the hero’s welcome they earned so long ago.

The Michigan Traveling Memorial wall outside the stadium displayed and paid respects to all those killed and missing in Vietnam from the state of Michigan. Nearby tables, draped in black tablecloths and littered with tissue boxes, offered dozens of binders with names, ranks, pictures and stories of soldiers who paid the ultimate price.

Ken McKay of Grand Rapids came to LZ Michigan with his wife, Joan, to remember the sacrifices made by soldiers in Vietnam. McKay is one such soldier, who spent his 21st birthday calling in F-4 Phantom airstrikes on military targets.

“At the time, we hadn’t heard about all the demonstrations, we were just fighting,” McKay said. “We came back, and were called baby-killers.”

The American people were, at times, unwelcoming upon the return of our soldiers after Vietnam, sometimes downright hostile. But LZ Michigan, McKay said, is a start to the healing process.

“This is the best day that has ever happened to me.”

McKay went through grade school, high school, even Boy Scouts, with his good friend Rod VanOeveren. They enlisted together, went through basic training and boot camp together, and were deployed into separate areas of combat.

Later, when he was in the room calling in airstrikes at 21, McKay heard his name called across the room. He looked over to the man who was calling for him. It was VanOeveren, calling in naval targets himself.

And when VanOeveren found McKay at LZ Michigan, the men shook hands and embraced, friends reunited once more.

Stefanie Leiter brought her father-in-law, Lester Amburgey, a Vietnam veteran, to LZ Michigan to help show her gratitude. Having served January 1968 to October 1970, Amburgey only recently began sharing his experiences after he attended a number of reunions, Leiter said.

“It’s about time this happened,” Amburgey said of LZ Michigan’s welcome home. “I just feel bad about the guys we left behind. It’s kind of bittersweet. I go to reunions every year. We’ve still got our commanding general with us. He’s 83 years old now. But it still doesn’t get any easier. We keep losing guys.”

A Vietnam vet who goes by the name “Big Mike” pointed out the thought, “as a generation leaves us, so do the memories.”

Big Mike said the day was about honoring those who did what they had to do.

“But we don’t want to see it happen again, he said. “Desert Storm vets will have to carry the load. We’re not going to be here much more. Well, should we go get more to carry on? No, we don’t want more. We want to have a day where there’s none of this.”

Next to Big Mike sits a man proudly waving a black POW/MIA flag in the breeze. The man has been carrying this flag with him for miles. In fact, he is running a mile with the flag for all 58, 226 Americans that were killed in Vietnam. “Flag Man,” as he is called by his friends, said he has logged over 54,000 miles so far.

“When it gets tough, I think about the guys who didn’t come home,” he said. “The main point of all of this is to honor our vets, to let them know we love them, and that you are not forgotten.”

This respect for those in uniform is never more real than among fellow soldiers. An example of this was shown for all to see when a man in a POW/MIA T-shirt and a Vietnam veteran cap stopped a young soldier as he passed by, asking him if he was an Iraq War veteran.

The young man, clad in fatigues, black beret and combat boots, said yes and stood in silence as he was presented a medal by his Vietnam brother-in-arms.

“We Vietnam veterans want to present you with this medal to show our gratitude and appreciation for what you have done,” the man said. “From one generation to another, welcome home.”

The LZ Michigan ceremony featured guest speakers, musicians, writers, and clips from two upcoming documentaries on the Vietnam War and what happened when the soldiers returned. 2,654 small American flags stood planted in center field, one representing each soldier from Michigan that has yet to come home. In the closing ceremony, there was a moment of silence for a bugle rendition of TAPS, followed by a fireworks show.

The master of ceremonies of the night, retired U.S. Navy Captain Paul Ryan, ended the evening with a last, thundering round of applause from the audience for all war veterans present in the stands. He reminded everyone that the next day was July 4, when 234 years ago a group of brave men, a group of patriots, stood up for freedom and started more than any could imagine.

“When you came home, you were called anything but patriots,” Ryan said. “Welcome home, patriots! Welcome home.”

-Pictured above: Childhood friends Ken McKay, left, and Rod VanOeveren, right, are reunited after serving together in Vietnam.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Reb Roberts - Sanctuary Folk Art

This article is one of my features that I like to look back on. It features a local gallery owner who not only features local artists, but helps brighten up and educate his community through art and art appreciation. The article is also up on Rapid Growth Media at Enjoy!

* * * *

Reb Roberts, the Grand Rapids artist and gallery owner, seems capable of willing urban revitalization into existence simply by imagining and painting it. Wherever he adds art to the city’s landscape, development follows.

Ten years ago, Roberts put five brightly colored paintings in an empty lot at the corner of Diamond and Lake Drive. At the time the property – a former gas station – was contaminated, abandoned, and an eyesore in the community, Robert says. But the pace of change accelerated as the art attracted more attention to the blight. Today that corner is a thriving urban hub housing a restaurant, retail, and a nonprofit group.

“When we planted the artwork, Shell got upset and took the paintings down,” he says. “They put up a fence around the lot. So we put up the painting in front of the fence. Later, when they began development of Marie Catribs on that corner, I got a call from the restaurant saying they wanted to keep the painting and hang it on the wall. It said ‘East Hills: Center of the Universe.’ Now that area is branded ‘the Center of the Universe.’”

Today Roberts is busy egging on redevelopment in another regenerating part of the city – the four-block stretch of South Division known as the Avenue for the Arts.

A Gallery on the Street
Roberts and his wife Carmel Loftis opened a gallery, Sanctuary Folk Art, in the neighborhood in 1999 as a place to create and display their own artwork. The duo also welcomed and worked closely with artists from the Heartside Ministries art program, a project that nurtures the creative instincts of low-income and homeless people.

“I was very enthused about the art they were doing,” Roberts says. “Our styles and approach to creating art were similar. There was a kinship in the way my compatriots and I created. It’s intuitive, raw, and straight from the heart.”

It wasn’t long before that art was spilling out of the gallery onto nearby rundown properties. Roberts, Loftis and 24 other neighborhood artists first put up a mural on four-foot-square panels beside Division Street.

But Roberts didn’t stop there. When he opened the gallery, the windows in several buildings in the area were boarded up. So Roberts got permission to paint on the exterior walls. Today numerous structures that were once drab and disregarded are coated with eye catching colors and attracting new interest. And the South Division corridor now is in the midst of unprecedented redevelopment.

"It’s kind of like a gallery on the street," Roberts says. “Passersby get used to the disrepair; it’s like an eyesore,” he says. “But when you put art up there, it attracts attention. When people notice that, they look at the buildings, the neighborhood, the cityscape. People wonder what’s coming next; they want to get in on it."

The art, Roberts says, also is a way for residents to stake a claim in the neighborhood, express their dissatisfaction with the disinvestment and decay, and visualize a much brighter future. It also helps neighbors, visitors, and even potential investors establish more personal connections with the area and feel more a part of the neighborhood.

The Art of Revitalization
These days, Roberts is taking that message beyond the streets. He recently contributed artwork for the Grand Rapids Children's Museum's recent Bob the Builder exhibit, and spoke to kids about using their imagination to physically build a community. He also regularly visits the Frederick Meijer Gardens, local mental health facilities, and other community institutions to spread the word about the transformative affects of art. In the summer, he teams up with kids to create banners for neighborhoods around the city.

The purpose of that public art is to evoke emotion and stimulate new interest in too often forgotten or neglected areas.

“Neighborhoods can become pedestals for art, and make people want even more art,” Roberts says. “I know a lot of people who find something that uplifts them, it makes their day. If there’s enough in [a particular work of art] to make you feel something, that’s why we do what we do. That’s part of the emotion, the excitement of watching other people get excited, too.”

Roberts believes that an unwavering commitment to the arts also can help Grand Rapids become a destination city in an era that prizes creativity and bold ideas. The city is filled with young talented artists, he says, and a longstanding passion for art in the broadest sense.

But those strong assets are not always promoted and celebrated in a strategic way. For starters, he says, city leaders could erect an archway over the Avenue for the Arts, similar to the famous entrance to Chinatown in San Francisco, to call greater attention to the local art scene, and the emerging cultural district.

“Why not build one entering onto Division?” Roberts says. “Then you know you’re entering ‘the Avenue for the Arts,’ like the light when you come out of a tunnel.”

The idea makes sense. But for now Reb Roberts will keep painting up signs and blighted buildings with his colleagues and neighbors. That, he says, will continue to inspire the community to embrace a fresh perspective, chart new courses for action, and make the community's mark on the Heartside neighborhood.

“There’s a little fear among people who have been here for awhile, that as things get gentrified, they fear they would be pushed aside,” Roberts says. “But the art is like putting a signature on the neighborhood. And since it's often times a collaboration, the people are part of something that’s a part of this community.”

Introduction to Faces Behind the Stories

Hello, my name is Matt Marn, and I am a recent graduate from Grand Valley State University over in West Michigan. Now armed with a journalism degree, I am getting this collection of clips started to get my name further out there and show everyone what I can do.

I tend to write more on the features side of the news, I try to show more detail, emotion, try to show the human side of the story. The face behind the news, if you will. I hope you enjoy reading this collection of articles I have written.