Yes It’s True: That was the year that was, with Covid

Faith Guritz

The year 2020 probably will go down in history as the most hated, all because of a viral pandemic, a seriously contentious presidential election and economic distress the likes of which we haven’t seen in almost a century.

Closer to home, the Covid-19 virus wreaked havoc with local schools, sports, businesses and community events and traditions. So if the Coronavirus was a person, it would be the Townbroadcast Person of the Year, hands down.

Covid-19 shut down the Martin, Hopkins and Wayland schools from March to June. It shut down local businesses, most notably restaurants and bowling alleys and even the Gun Lake Casino, and caused cancellation of athletic events, denying the Martin girls’ basketball team a shot at a Division 4 state title and delaying the Clippers’ football team’s quest for glory until next year.

Kadence Bottrall

Because of the viral threat, Wayland and Hopkins schools implemented a hybrid model for attendance, having one group of students attend in person Mondays and Thursdays and the other Tuesdays and Fridays while reserving Wednesdays for all virtual learning and catch-up. Martin, because of its small classroom sizes, opted for in-person instruction five days a week.

But all high schools were shut down again in mid-November because of a second wave of Covid-19.

Kennedy Gill

As the year came to a close, Michigan was showing significant improvements in “flattening the curve,” so all three were scheduled to go back to school on Monday, Jan. 4.

Covid also was blamed for the the demise this year of Art Hop, the Christmas Parade, the Allegan County Fair and the summertime concerts in the park. Undaunted, a group of Dorr Township citizens still put together a modified Fourth of July festival, defying health department protocol.

The pandemic was so omnipresent that the editor of this publication suggested a special all-scofflaw team made up of local political officials who refused to wear masks. John Tuinstra was named Scofflaw of the Year, and State Rep. Steve Johnson was given special mention for anti-mask crusades.

Big winners on the court, in the stadium, on the lanes

Martin will be at Adrian College Saturday afternoon, Jan. 9, to play undefeated Adrian Lenawee Christian in the semifinal round of the eight-man state grid playoffs. The Lady Clippers weren’t as fortunate, as their season was abruptly terminated March 13 before they were to play in the Division 4 regional finals. Regardless, Senior forward Faith Guritz was an easy pick for all-state honors.

However, two local bowlers, freshman sensation Kadence Bottrall of Wayland and junior Kennedy Gill of Hopkins, earned all-state accolades. Martin cross-country runner Carsen Young became the school’s first all-stater in that sport.

Carsen Young

The Hopkins football squad won the O-K Silver crown again, but suffered a revenge loss at the hands of Belding in the first round of the playoffs. Star tight end Colin Weber signed on the dotted line to play at NCAA Division I University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

Wayland snapped a 17-game losing skid on the gridiron by defeating Ottawa Hills under new coach Tim Gibson, but the basketball team lost all 21 games during its season.

Hopkins won an O-K Silver co-championship in volleyball and in boys’ basketball.



Elections yielded surprising, not surprising results

Dorr Township Library in March finally earned approval of a millage request after several frustrating failed attempts. In the August primary, the Wayland Union Schools survived a surprising scare for approval of a renewal of the 18-mill non-homestead millage, winning by just 10 votes.

Dorr Township Supervisor Jeff Miling turned back a challenge from Trustee Terri Rios and newcomer Steve Wolbrink defeated former Supervisor Spencer Moore. Watson Township, led by Supervisor Kevin Travis, nearly completed a turnover of party officials with a 4-1 advantage for the GOP over the 4-1 advantage the Democrats enjoyed four years earlier.

Jason Shane

One of the biggest surprises was Wayland Board of Education President Cinnamon Mellema losing to challenger Jason Shane, in a race marred by vote tabulation error. Hopkins, meanwhile, elected only two board members with three openings, so a new member will be appointed early next January. Former Townbroadcast contributor Austin Marsman became the youngest board member at Martin.

Overall, it was just another GOP stampede, with President Donald Trump and Senate candidate John James winning handily in losing causes. State Reps. Mary Whiteford and Steve Johnson both were elected to their last two-year terms.

Tim Bala and Tracy Bivins

In the non-partisan department, Mayor Tim Bala turned back a challenge from former Councilwoman Tracy Bivins and former Wayland Union Schools Supt. Norm Taylor sneaked in ahead of Councilman Tim Rose.

Taylor stepped down as school chief June 30 and was succeeded by Dr. Christina Hinds, who came here from Mattawan and was immediately saddled with the Covid crisis and how to get kids back in school. Though a majority of parents supported students showing up in the classrooms, Hinds and school board members stuck with the hybrid model, promising appropriate changes when health conditions warrant in 2021.

Rachel Cimak was selected new Baker Elementary Principal, succeeding Celeste Diehm, who resigned in August after 18 years.

Businesses shut down because of Covid, some for good

Downtown Wayland looked like a ghost town at times because of the pandemic. Perhaps the most visual threat of going belly up was the Rock ‘N Bowl establishment, but friends of Wayland High School and other community members rallied to save it through Go Fund Me, giving the very promising Wildcat girls’ bowling team a shot to repeat as O-K Gold Conference champions and Bottrall an opportunity to repeat Sydney Urben’s individual state championship feat.

The Hopkins bowling team lost its home site when Five Lakes Brewing’s lanes went belly up, and moved its matches to Allegan.

A local taste of the bizarre and frightening

Michael Null

William Null

The communities of Shelbyville and Prairieville received some unwanted national publicity when twin brothers William and Michael Null were arrested in connection with a bizarre plot to kidnap and execute Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Though there were 12 others apprehended by the FBI, the Nulls were prominent in West Michigan broadcast news reports. Neighboring Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf also picked up plenty of notoriety because of his defense of the brothers.

Another unusual and tragic incident was the accidental shooting death of Wayland High School graduate McKenna Dutkiewicz, 21, while she was visiting friends in Kalamazoo. The young man charged said he was fooling around with a firearm he didn’t think was loaded.

Some developments may show promise, headaches

Dorr Township officials were visited twice by representatives from “Reimagine Trash,” who propose to establish a business park in the northeast corner of the township under the leadership of Kent County. The reps said the Kent County landfill is nearing capacity and soon will have to come south, but a recycling operation would go in instead of a dump.

Wayland city officials have been approached by residents and owners of about a dozen properties along the west edge of the U.S.-131 expressway, inquiring about possibilities for them to hook up to the city’s water and sewer service.

Meanwhile, Hopkins Township Board is looking into establishing a downtown development district at the parcels, south from 135th Avenue to 129th Avenue. A public hearing is planned for early next year.

We lost a lot of prominent people in 2020

Lori Castello

The Coronavirus had a hand in adding to some of the larger than usual list of deaths in 2020, football coach Wayne Goodwin, City Councilman Gary Smith, business owners Carl VanderKolk, Ronald Hoeksema, Ed Wobma, Henry Gort, Jose Blanco,  John Hilbert, Mel Bartell, John Stamm, football coach Mick Francis, Principal Bob Marutz, teacher Marilyn Sipple, Clerk Bev Taylor, police officer Charlie George, former coach Dave Nightingale, Watson Township Trustee Chuck Andrysiak, Dr. Kenneth DeWeerd, Dr. Janis Pone, community activist Joan Medendorp and her granddaughter, inspirational teen Molly Rasmussen.

We almost lost Zoning Administrator Lori Castello, but she she pulled through after suffering a heart attack. So not all developments were negative.


1 Comment

  • Thank you for the obituary of my brother, Gary Smith. I have looked for it in past obituaries but haven’t found it. Not sure why it isn’t there. Gary told me about townbroadcast a few years ago. He loved Wayland and enjoyed the articles you have written.

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