Because of its omnipresence, the pesky Coronavirus easily wins the title as the most important story in these parts for the now departed year 2021.
It’s the virus to which I would guess everyone would tell, “How can we miss you if you won’t go away?”
Covid-19 and its newfangled variants affected all of us virtually every day of the year and it created new challenges and difficulties.
Yet I choose to carve up 2021 in eight sections I believe best told our collective story in history. These eight sections I call The Pesky Coronavirus, Infrastructure, Business Comes and Goes, The Changing of the Guard, Unpleasant Developments, Community Comebacks and the Irrepressible Category that Is Sports.
The Pesky Coronavirus.
Allegan County started the year with 73 reports of deaths as a result of Covid-19. With just a week left in this year, the figure had nearly quadrupled to 268.
People became so sick and tired of Covid that some of them banded together with imaginary torches and pitchforks and stormed a handful of Wayland Board of Education meetings. At first they demanded all classes be held in schools instead of on line, no masks for students, no requirements for vaccines, and though irrelevant, banning teaching of Critical Race Theory.
Despite the negative publicity, all three local school districts finished this year with all students in the classroom and not wearing masks. To be sure, there were hiccups along the way, with both Hopkins and Wayland having to go back to virtual learning or the hybrid model, as needed.
One of the most interesting Covid-related developments was the series of vaccine clinics at the Wayland High School in February and March, which at one time beckoned more than 1,000 arms.
In one of the most frustrating aspects of the pandemic, this editor opined that the most worthless sign ever was the one at public buildings telling those who enter they must wear a mask. Nearly half of local public officials did not comply.
The most visible physical changes this year hovered around the Gun Lake Casino, where the Tribe agreed to pay for improvements at Exit No. 61 (Bradley) and resurfacing and paving of 129th Street (M-179) all the way to Gun Lake.
Meanwhile the casino itself underwent massive expansion and added three new restaurants. This, while rebounding from its worst economic year (2020) because of the Covid pandemic.
Perhaps the most promising newcomer to the scene was a Sustainable Business Park in the northeast corner of Dorr Township near 146th Avenue. Kent County already owns the parcel, and when it finally closes the landfill in a few years, plans call for opening a new business park with emphasis on recycling up to 90 percent of the waste. The park’s anchor tenant promises to manufacture roofing materials from most of the waste and create as many as 65 jobs.
The Copart firm announced plans in Dorr to install a salvage yard and on-line auction business to the immediate east of the water tower at U.S.-131 and 142nd Avenue.
The Hopkins Township Board announces creation of a downtown development authority covering 13 parcels along the west edge of the U.S.-131 expressway and seeks a sewer agreement with the Village of Hopkins. Realtor Brian Silvernail calls foul, insisting parcel owners want water and sewer from the City of Wayland instead and seek annexation. The State Boundary Commission is called in for a hearing, but nothing has been decided as yet.
On a more negative front, Leighton Township officials note again that Leighton is one of the fastest growing in Michigan, but roads are woefully lacking. Millage efforts thus far have failed over the past two years.
The Wayland City Council also has fielded complaints about the condition of streets and pleads poverty.
Businesses Come and Go
Dick’s Market, a fixture in Dorr for 65 years, is sold by the Dutkiewicz family to the Leppinks grocery chain. Interestingly, shopping cart corrals spring up in the parking lot for the first time.
Meanwhile, Harding’s Market for the first time installs a self-serve checkout lane, just like the ones used by the big retailers.
The times, they are a-changing.
Five Lakes Brewing, which a couple of years ago ceased its Brewhouse Lanes operations, pulls up stakes in the Dorr strip mall and moves to Tanger Outlet in Byron Township.
The local Big Boy Restaurant manager dies and rumors abound that the eatery chair will go out of business, just as others are doing, like in Plainwell and Hastings, and be replaced by a Culver’s.
The Village Green Apartments complex off Forrest Street in Wayland announced plans to build a new apartment building and plans proceed despite some public opposition.
Sex trafficking continues to be a big issue, and it hits home unexpectedly with the arrest and charges for Robert Grigsby on Maple Street and his alleged business associate Vanessa Ann Phillips of Grand Rapids.
A Rhode Island man is arrested and convicted of abducting a 15-year-old Hopkins girl and sexually assaulting her, earning him a prison sentence.
Wayland, Dorr and Leighton township residents’ complaints of burglaries from cars and home break-ins grow alarmingly. Some perpetrators are caught. Some got away.
Though not accused of a crime, Hopkins social studies teacher Robert Wiersma, former president of the Wayland Board of Education, continues his leave of absence for a Michigan State Police investigation into comments he made to students immediately after the Oxford school shootings.
Changing of the Guard
Longtime Fire Chief Joe Miller retires after serving as a firefighter for nearly 50 years. He is succeeded by Jim Stoddard.
The Hopkins and Dorr public libraries, formerly overseen by one director, each loses its director, Dorr’s since has been filled, but Hopkins is still searching.
Clayton Baugh continues to oversee the oldest local retail business in town, but his wife, Lois, dies not long after their 70th wedding anniversary.
Among the victims of Covid-19 in 2020 are community celebrations and festivals. Roaring back in 2021 were Fourth of July observances in Dorr, Leighton and Hopkins, Martin’s Hometown Day, the Wayland Main Street Festival and Art Hop. Newcomers include a Wayland Police block party at the City Park and a “Balloonfest” at the airport just north of town.
One huge positive development was the Michigan Historic District designation for Wayland’s downtown, featuring the more than 120-year-old stately Henika Library.
Developments in the Body Politique
It was a year for redistricting. Closest to home, Allegan County Board of Commissioners’ districts were pared from seven to five.
Redistricting for Congressional seats has prompted prospects for incumbent Republicans Fred Upton, who first went to Washington D.C. in 1987, and Bill Huizenga, who has served six two-year terms from Ottawa County and the lakeshore.
The Michigan Legislature weighed in on the Covid mask controversy in Allegan County, threatening to withhold funding for the health department if it continues to insist that children in grades K-6 mask up in the classrooms. The state’s action is welcomed by the County Board of Commissioners.
The Watson Township Board approves healthy double digit pay raises for themselves and then faces criticism from Trustee Michelle Harris and Townbroadcast for suggesting the hire of an office manager at $10,000 a year.
The Irrepressible Category that Is Sports
The hugely successful Martin eight-man football team made it three years in a row in finally bowing out iof the post-season playoffs in the semifinals, losing only to the eventual state champion. The Clippers this time went undefeated in the regular season before losing in Nov ember to Adrian Lenawee Christian, the same team they lost to in January 2021.
Another big story was the local girls’ teams regaining their chops. The Wayland and Martin girls’ basketball squads captured conference, district and regional championships before finally losing in the quarterfinals, WHS girls’ softball, which suffered through an unusal losing season in 2019 and did not play in the spring of 2020, rode a 20-game winning streak and conference, district and regional titles before losing to eventual champ Owosso in the quarterfinals. It was just like old times for coach Cheri Ritz.
The Wildcats’ volleyball team, coached by all-state alum Krissy Dill, finished a more than respectable second in the always tough O-K Gold Conference.
The Hopkins boys won the Class B regional hoops title by besting an overachieving Wayland quintet. Wayland football team sets a school record in points allowed (386) and goes 0-9 for the fourth time in the past dozen seasons.
Hopkins football made the playoffs, but lost in the opening round to Portland.
Wildcat boys’ cross-country team showed promise by missing qualifying for state by just 5 points, taking third in the O-K Gold and second in county without one senior.
Gracie Shettler scored an amazing 30 points in one half as Clippers double up West Michigan Aviation Academy. Ashtyn Bennett set a record at Hopkins for career wrestlingvictories.
Kadence Bottrall emerged as regional champion in bowling.
WHS junior hurler Emma Ludema threw three straight no-hitters and Hopkins frosh pitcher Laura Veldhouse tossed one.
Wayland Middle School School seventh-grader Evie Mathis was ranked No. 2 nationally in pole vault and her 10-6 effort already has tied her for the school record.