Newaygo’s Berger named to Muskegon Area Sports Hall
N3 Editor Mercer captured the spirit of the Joe Berger Football Camp in her recent story on the event. The Camp has become a magnet for kids who have flocked to the Newaygo football field in hopes of honing their skills for their future feats on the gridiron.
This past Spring Joe Berger was inducted into the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame, a fitting honor for the former Newaygo Lion who spent 13 seasons facing down the best defensive linemen in the world, primarily as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
Beyond his football skills Joe is first and foremost a family man. He is also an engineer having earned a degree from Michigan Tech while playing football for the Huskies and now finds himself using the skills taught in what might be called a ‘second career’.
We caught up with him recently and posed a few questions about the HOF honor.
The last Newaygo inductees into the HOF were the Lion Girls basketball teams from the mid 80’s who entered in 2010. How does it feel to be chosen?
It is an Honor to be chosen. It was great to take time to reflect back on my career and all the memories and people that helped me along the way. My Aunt was part of that basketball team, so I'm not even the first Berger in the HOF.
Was football the first love when it came to sports?
Yes, as soon as I was old enough, I begged my mom to get me to camp. I believe there is no sport like it, and feel privileged that I got to play the game until I was 36.
When did you know you could compete on the highest level in the sport? How did you know?
It really wasn’t until I was into my NFL career a few years. I had a successful college career, but that didn't guarantee anything for the NFL. I feel like every year but maybe one of my NFL seasons I was fighting for a roster spot in training camp. I'm not sure I ever "knew" that I could compete, I had to prove it to myself and my team every time I put my cleats on.
You mentioned in your speech the support from your wife Abby during your years in the NFL. Can you reprise some of that for our readers?
Emotionally, physically, and mentally the NFL takes a toll on your body. The physical is obvious, I think. To have someone at home that you knew was taking care of the kids and handling the day-to-day tasks of raising a family and running a home was a relief. Mentally and emotionally is harder to quantify. The expectations and stress that a season puts on you are hard to describe. Having Abby as a partner in all of this, someone to talk with and confide in, helped get through all kinds of tough moments in both football and life. Having that same person to celebrate victories with makes them all that much sweeter.
Your family has lived in a number of larger cities before returning to Newaygo where you and Abby are both from. What city felt the most like home and was it an adjustment to return to the pace of a smaller town?
The small town was always home to us. I don't feel like I ever really fully left it. We enjoyed each city. Charlotte is a beautiful city and though short, was a great transition to the city culture. Miami was a bit of a shock my first time there, but we really enjoyed my second stay in South Florida. We found some friends and a great church, and it really became home to us. I'm not sure I'd choose to live there, but it is still my favorite place to vacation. Being a part of football in Texas was fun. The people there love football and love Texas. The food in Dallas was exceptional. After six years of being down south, coming north to Minnesota really did feel like home. Our daughters were born there, and kids went to school there, we made lifetime friendships in Minneapolis. Though I enjoyed each stop, MN definitely feels like a second home, and I love getting to go through there anytime I can. We have seven years of memories and built our family in the twin cities area. We were ready to get back home to Michigan and settle in. Having the chance to travel the country I'm confident that there is no better place than West Michigan to settle down. The seasons, the lakes, and the people in this region are unlike any place I have been. I am so thankful that I was able to grow up in Newaygo and am happy that I can offer that to my kids as well.
You were involved in highly competitive activities since you strapped on a helmet. What do you do these days to scratch that itch?
There is nothing that can compare to the rush of running out onto an NFL field on game day, but since my retirement from football I have transitioned to my other love, manufacturing and automation. I had the opportunity to work at a controls company 11 months out of football. The job allowed me to get back into the engineering world and learn about business and management on the job. Then, a little over two years ago an opportunity close to home came available that I couldn't turn down. I currently work for Modern Produce Equipment right here in Fremont. We sell vegetable handling equipment to farms and packhouses all over the country. I have enjoyed working with the equipment as well as having the ability to travel and work with farms. We sell equipment that is made in England, making that international connection has been a joy as well. I have gained a lot of respect for farmers all over. It's a tough job and at times it doesn't seem like anything is on their side. If I've learned anything, it's that next time you enjoy a meal remember to thank a farmer. The food didn't get there without a lot of stress, sweat, and some sleepless nights.
A transplanted Texan's take on his adopted water wonderland and a float down the Little M
By Charles Chandler
My morning routine usually begins with the crew from the Weather Channel and a cup of strong black coffee. I watch the big weather picture that is now mostly covered in red. These attractive metrologists, appearing to be frustrated drama majors, carry on about southern tier heat domes, broken temperature records, approaching super cells and tornado warnings. Having chatted with my “baking and broiling” Houston family the previous night, I heard all about their weather worries. Will my air-conditioner last through another summer? Can I pay my utility bills? Will the power grid hold up?
This morning as I sipped my coffee and watched the weather forecasters, it was with gratitude and a sense of unearned grace that I don’t have to deal with that mess today. My gratitude is because 15 years ago my adventurist, Canadian-born wife and I retired and left Texas’s 100-mile-wide mega cities and repotted here in Newaygo County.
I recognize that summers in western Michigan can get a little warm, now and then. However, our summer focus in Newaygo County is pretty straight forward. It is WATER and our chosen recreational activity with water. It could be a sunset cruise on one of the many residential lakes; a picnic with the family and assorted dogs, followed by a snooze on one of the world-class Michigan beaches; or joining a group of friends and kayaking or tubing down the ever-popular Muskegon River. Around here the summer challenge is not hot weather but choosing your favorite bodies of water and associated recreational activities. That’s it! Our single summertime problem is that we must choose. Well maybe a couple of other things too, like did we bring enough ice, and for goodness sakes, is Kokx’s sweet corn ready yet?
After watching our local weather forecast for this week, our choices are firmed up. If we get a fair breeze, it will be sailing in our pocket-sized sailboat on Hardy Pond. If breezes are insufficient, then it will be kayaking the White River from Taylor’s Bridge to Pines Point campground. Kayaking is the current house favorite but sailing is gaining ground.
Last week I discovered a beautiful little Newaygo County River that was new to me, and it was love at first stroke of the paddle. On a beautiful cool morning, three seniors launched our watercraft of choice at West County Line Road and the Little Muskegon River. Paddling the Little Muskegon on that day was a serene experience. It had rained the night before and the river was up with a heavy stain. The current was respectable and demanded our attention in the tight bends, shallow rapids, and occasional bolder garden.
This little river valley is exceptional. So many shades of green with huge oaks, maples and improbably tall pines that stretched up into the blue Michigan sky. Gawking at these distracting giants often resulted in a reminder bump from some rock or woody debris. All along this river corridor wildflowers thrived in every spot of sunlight, and we were treated to a selection of songs from the abundant Red-eyed Vireos and unseen warblers. Occasionally we would round a bend and be surprised by a remarkably high bluff that towered over the lush riverside vegetation.
There are very few houses and no other launches or takeouts along this stretch of the river. We never saw another paddler, heard a noisy boombox nor the irritating whine of a jet ski. All too soon we reached the slow backwater as this outstanding Newaygo County River entered Croton Pond. I have paddled other Michigan rivers but none as peaceful and secluded as this stretch of the Little Muskegon. Many years ago, one of those handsome Frisbie men recommended that I should paddle the Little Muskegon. I so wish I had taken that good advice then.
The paddle from West County Line Road down to the river mouth at Croton Pond took about four hours, including a couple of 30-minute rest stops. With permission, we were able to take out at the private dock of generous riverside homeowners and this kindness negated the long paddle across open Croton Pond to the public launch. Big bonus!
If you take this trip, I highly recommend you have intermediate river paddling skills. There is limited roadside parking at West County Line Road bridge and if you put in there, you are committed until you reach Croton Pond.
Democrat Summer Picnic Saturday August 5
The Newaygo County Democrats will host its Summer Fundraiser Picnic on Saturday, August 5 from 2pm-5pm at the John Graves Lodge (Newaygo County Welcome Center): 4684 Evergreen Dr, Newaygo, MI 49337.
This very family and kid friendly annual event will include delicious BBQ food catered by Down Home BBQ of Grant. Kids eat free! Fun games with great prizes will be provided. The silent auction of donations from local businesses and talented artists will entice attendees. Some of the items include original oil paintings, potted planters, salon gift cards, a pet acupuncture session, and a guided nature walk. Special auction items for kids include a Voyager hoverboard.
The afternoon will offer a great lineup of entertainment and speakers. MCing the event and keeping everyone laughing will be the local improv duo known as the CIA – “Chicago Improv Associates” – Marshall Stern and Nancy Howland Walker. Their performances have delighted thousands on cruises and corporate events. Find out more about Nancy & Marshall on Facebook @Chicago Improv Associates.
Music will be provided by local respected performer and educator Greg Miller. Greg plays guitar in a variety of styles including jazz, and works his way around the music scene in West Michigan and beyond. Learn about Gregg and his musical circuit on Facebook @ greg.miller.58910.
Featured speaker of the day is Paula Greear, President and CEO of Michigan Planned Parenthood. Ms. Greear is a proven executive leader with more than 26 years of experience across advocacy, nonprofit, and corporate sectors. She returned to her Michigan roots in 2022 to take the helm of the Michigan Chapter.
Also speaking will be the 2nd Michigan Congressional District Candidate Michael Lynch. Mr. Lynch has been a lifelong advocate for working- and middle-class families. He has made guaranteeing access to affordable, quality health care for all Michiganders, particularly those in rural areas, a top priority. You can learn more about Michael Lynch at www.electmichaellynch.com.
The link to ticket purchase and registration can be found at
For any questions, please call 231-709-9007.
School Board meeting reveals continuing community rift
Photos by Lil De Laat
Story by Ken De Laat
One thing that became clear after last night’s Grant School Board meeting? The board has lost the trust of a good share of their community.
The Board’s regular monthly meeting was held at the school’s Fine Arts Center and most of the roughly 300 of those in attendance were decidedly part of that share.
Superintendent Brett Zuver gave his report on various items adding he had been contacted by Fremont Area Community Foundation President & CEO Shelly Kasprzycki to say a grant could be available to cover the money the clinic costs the school, estimated at $5000. The expense of the CAHC was one of the primary reasons given by the board members who voted to cut ties with the clinic. The Board then discussed a couple of issues including a discussion on assessing the value of school property and a discussion ensued regarding the formation of ad hoc committees to interview school board applicants for the board's current vacant position.
As the meeting progressed there were occasional calls of “Resign” aimed at the Board as well as a few more pointed remarks and two people were removed for their outbursts, but the clearest message to the Board came via public comment. When the Board moved “to consider entering into negotiations with Family Health Care Center or another provider” it was more than apparent the citizens who made their way to the podium after this motion was passed were not assuaged by this action.
Nearly 50 members of the community along with staff, students, former students, parents, providers and others expressed frustration that their questions about the reasons for the initial move to discontinue the CAHC continued to go unanswered. Rachal Gort, Ken Thorne, Sabrina Veldkamp-Blok and Richard Vance, the 4 members of the Board who took the initial action of severing ties with FHC, were the primary recipients of such commentary. Many of the public spoke of having voted for those members and feeling betrayed by their performance after being elected.
Board Member Rob Schuitema, the lone member of the board who has supported the efforts to retain the Child and Adolescent Health Center, challenged his fellow board members about the motion, questioning the availability of other providers and asking why this wasn’t part of the initial action taken at the June 19th meeting to cut ties with the CAHC.
“I’m just stating that we are all fully aware of the fact that we provide medical care to our students," said Richard Vance. "That is a known. So, in the process of making decisions we also know…I know… that without discussion, without knowing other providers, of which I know there are 3 dozen health care providers throughout the state of Michigan that provide school based clinics.”
The vocal response from the crowd was immediate and punctuated once again by calls of “Resign”.
“You say there are all these other providers,” replied Schuitema. “ Why haven’t we heard about them the last 12 years? What is their capacity? What are their boundaries? This is a state funded program essentially for rural areas, especially those with a large migrant population. There are stipulations and guidelines for all of this and if you want to make a decision based off of that evidence, that’s fine. But that’s not what happened on June 19th.”
The crowd responded with applause as they did following the words of most who contributed during public comment.
Many speakers called the board dysfunctional and one speaker mentioned available training specifically for school board members and recommended they pursue this. Several spoke to what the loss of the clinic would mean to their ability to access health care and many pointed to the ongoing need for mental health services. One woman speaking through a translator stated, "There are no Hispanics here because they are busy working to put food on their table. That gives you no right to make decisions for them and take their rights away."
Clearly the board members who oppose the CAHC have their supporters. The actions they have taken are obviously congruent with the opinions of some members of the Grant community and perhaps even a significant number. It is easy to explore local social media and read the reasons being given for their skepticism when it comes to the Health Center, and although the CAHC has repeatedly attempted to clarify what they can and cannot do, the distrust remains.
But the contentious relationship that now exists between the board and a large percentage of the people they serve is troubling at best.
And no one is likely to get out of this one without some pretty significant damage being done.
On both sides.
“If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. -Abraham Lincoln
Gathering draws large, enthusiastic crowd
Above photos By Lil DeLaat
The First Annual Pride Celebration arrived at Brooks Park on Wednesday June 28th and provided an evening of fun and festivities for the hundreds who came to show their support for the LGBTQ community. The event proved to be a festival of love and acceptance with drag performer DeeDee Chaunte headlining a cavalcade of entertainment that included some extraordinary local vocalists in Iris Herrera and Megan Wirts who was joined by Cora Schuitema for one of her selections.
People danced and sang along with the performers and the crowd seemed to embrace the opportunity to express their individualism freely and openly.
Jen Braman and Lesly DeLaat spearheaded the efforts to make this happen and we caught up with them for a little post party interview
Why a Pride celebration in Newaygo?
Lesly: We needed to create an open, safe place for members of the community young and old to be able to feel comfortable with who they are in an environment that accepts them. Pride is far more than a group seeking attention, it’s a celebration of liberation with its roots in the Stonewall Uprising. It honors all that the people before us went through to allow us to be who we are today. It’s a freedom of expression in a fun and inclusive way, where the more bold, the more beautiful.
Jen As a therapist serving the LGBTQAI+ population I saw a need for community connection. Pride is a way the community gathers together and encourages celebration and expression I heard stories and could sense that the community was ready
Were you surprised at the turnout?
Jen: I was surprised at the turnout for a first time event that we planned in just 2 weeks. Clearly there is a need. Happy that it was a peaceful , happy celebration. Next year I think those who might have been fearful will feel encouraged by this.
Lesly: Shocking! The attendance of the event was said to exceed 450 people and that alone is outstanding. I anticipated around 200 so when that number began to double, I couldn’t believe what kind of community stood behind us. There were people from Big Rapids Pride, Muskegon Pride, Grand Rapids, Pride, and Up North Pride.
Personal highlights of the event?
Lesly: Deedee Chaunte did not disappoint! And the other performers she brought with her. The community performances were just outstanding and each one had a little special something to give. The poetry, the songs and the shows were definitely a big part, but the community that came together was definitely the highlight.
Jen: The joy that was felt among all those who attended It was clear that those who came were proud of how well the celebration turned out and pleasantly surprised at how far Newaygo has come.
What does this mean to the LGBTQ community?
Lesly: Everything and then some! When a small town like newaygo opens up to the LGBTQ community and shows an inch of acceptance that is big! We’re here, we’re queer and we’re not going anywhere.
Jen: Coming from an accomplice to the community, as Dee Dee Chaunte encouraged me to be, I hope this means they can feel more free to speak up for themselves and feel free to be who they want to be. I hope this means they can feel more comfortable living in this community and feel more acceptance and support.
Will there be another one?
Jen: Absolutely. This is just the beginning.
Lesly: See you in 2024 for an even bigger show!
Pride Images Below By Alex Flynn of AWF Photo
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