It’s the time of year we all look forward to. April chill has finally given way to soft May breezes. The trees have leafed, the grass is thick, the tulips are up and all’s right with the world.
In actuality, nothing is right with the world. At least the world as we knew it. Ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit, humanity across the globe has been living in a whole new dimension, one of isolation, anxiety and uncertainty. The virus has affected virtually every aspect of life. We’ve been in lockdown, only going out for necessities, or to walk the dog. We wear masks in public, and stay at least six feet away from everyone. We haven’t seen our loved ones for weeks, or months. And all over America, and the world, businesses have shut down, many unsure if they’ll ever re-open.
Welcome to summer in Pentwater.
For a tourist community, the pandemic has created particularly difficult challenges. Which businesses will re-open, and when? What events, if any, will there be? Will people still be able to gather and enjoy the village’s beloved attractions, like the beach or the channel? And most concerning, what will be the effect of the inevitable influx of summer people, for whom Pentwater has always been an eagerly anticipated oasis, but who now may bring an unwanted visitor with them—the coronavirus?
“People are getting nervous,” admits Claudia Ressel-Hodan, president of the Pentwater Women’s Club and a member of the Pentwater Village Council and Downtown Development Authority. “When visitors come into town, they’re supposed to self-quarantine for two weeks. But I’m absolutely worried that they aren’t observing that requirement, which is difficult to enforce.”
Ressel-Hodan says that if an establishment isn’t requiring patrons and employees to wear proper face coverings, she’ll steer clear of it, especially after a disconcerting experience she had recently.
“I’m really disgusted that people aren’t wearing masks. The other day I went to the laundromat to wash my bed spread, and there was a man in there without a mask on. The place was empty and there were 13 dryers open and which one does he choose? The one next to me, of course!
“Already we see too many people walking around without masks, and that’s an executive order. Again, how do you enforce it? Laude (Chief of Police Laude Hartrum) might be taking names and passing them on to the county prosecuting attorney. But he won’t be issuing tickets. He’s put up a sign that reads, ‘Obey Social Distancing.’ People are on their honor, and many will comply. But many won’t.”
The energetic Ressel-Hodan, who at 66 is a peripatetic fixture in town, isn’t one to let anything get her down. For instance, she’s a lifelong cyclist who bikes an average of 15 miles a day; engineered the bicycle sharing program for Pentwater as a joint venture between the DDA and the Pentwater Police Department; started a weekly bike riding group; and is active in the Pentwater-Hart Bike Trail project. Two years ago, she set a local record of sorts when she bicycled to Milwaukee all by herself—with a torn meniscus. But even she admits that the coronavirus has given her pause.
“My husband is 82 and has heart disease and respiratory issues,” she notes. “So, yes, I’m terrified of this virus. I’m staying put. I have groceries delivered. I’ll go out to ride my bike, but that’s it.”
For Hartrum, the challenges the tourist season poses are many.
“We’re trying to balance the governor’s executive orders with what people want to do,” the PPD chief notes. “Fortunately the vast majority of our visitors and residents are compliant. Because we’ve got minimal agencies that can enforce the rules, we’re limited. People call us with information about someone who just arrived here and who isn’t quarantining, for instance, but when you’ve got a limited number of officers, we rely on people complying voluntarily. What we’re doing is mainly reminding people of the rules, and answering questions when people call us.”
Hartrum voices a number of concerns regarding the virus. “There’s no question in my mind that we’re going to get more cases in Oceana County,” he says.
Is he nervous?
“No,” he shrugs. “That’s the way it’s going to go, and we have to deal with it. But I’m concerned because while the state’s numbers are going down, Oceana, Mason and other counties in District 10 are going up. District 10 just reported 145 cases. Last week it was 57. But our medical resources have stayed the same.”
Even more worrisome, he says, is the economic impact of the pandemic.
“For a tourist town like Pentwater, it’s devastating. The businesses here have six weeks to make their money. Their very survival is at stake. What I’m dealing with are the business people who are stressed out, not knowing where their next dollars are coming from.”
Hartrum is particularly concerned about the seniors who make up so much of Pentwater’s population.
“We’ve got old people who are scared to go to the post office. Everybody goes to the post office for their mail. And I’ve been getting complaints about people not wearing their masks. The seniors are at a much higher risk of dying from the virus. People say, well, the flu is just as lethal. But what they don’t realize is, the flu kills X number of people over a 12-month period. This virus killed 50,000 in six weeks. And today, just a few weeks later, that number is nearly 100,000.
“People are petrified. And I don’t use that word lightly.”
The chief has had to wear several hats. He’s a lawman. But he’s also, at times, a counselor, consoler and friend to so many Pentwaterites who have known him, and his family, for not only years but generations.
“You know everyone, and everyone knows you,” he reflects. “When I first took this job, I was walking down the street and someone yelled, ‘Hey, Laudie!’ I hadn’t been called Laudie since I was little. There were people who knew my great-grandmother. Pentwater is a big family.
“The other day an elderly couple came to me, and they were so scared, about the pandemic, and needed advice. I reminded them about WWII, and how they lived through that, and that they’d make it through this. That made them feel better.”
For Hartrum, the pandemic has made his job a balancing act.
“What I’m dealing with is the interplay between the ones who are terrified and the ones who don’t want to believe there’s a risk,” he explains. “Some don’t want to wear a mask, because it’s a constant reminder of our anxiety, that we’re vulnerable, and they don’t want to admit it. But what wearing a mask really means is that you care about your fellow citizens.”
He admits that enforcing the rules of social distancing and community welfare is difficult, if not impossible.
“If we get a call that so-and-so is back in town and is not wearing a mask and is COVID-19 positive, I can check on them to see if that’s the case. If a caller says, so-and-so is back and not quarantining, we can visit them and give them a friendly reminder. You’ve got a bunch of cops who’ve been trained their whole lives to respect people and their privacy, so this is all counter-intuitive to that. At the same time, it’s respecting the welfare of the community. Fortunately, so far it hasn’t been a big problem. In general, the people who are coming to Pentwater are doing the right thing.”
And the PPD is doing the right thing as well.
“Our guys are taking precautions. We wear masks on all of our complaints. We’ve got N95’s, face shields, respirators—P100’s, like a gas mask—and sanitizers. Our cars are cleaned twice a day. We’re doing everything we can to protect our staff.”
For Donna Renshaw, the pandemic has affected both her social and professional life. The active 80-year-old is the owner, with her husband, Quintus, of West Shore Realty, which has been closed since mid-March.
“Our business is regulated by the Board of Realtors,” she notes. “So we have to go by their rules. We can’t even operate online until they give the OK.”
Renshaw has been using her time constructively, however. Along with other members of the Pentwater Women’s Club, she’s been making masks. Because the club had to cancel its May Wine and Art by the Water event—the annual fundraiser for Pentwater students—members are making and selling masks, with the proceeds going to the cause.
“People coming to Pentwater have been ordering masks to be mailed to them, so they can wear them when they come into town,” Renshaw says. “They’re thinking about being careful, so that’s a positive thing.”
Renshaw’s biggest concern has to do with people observing the self-quarantine edict.
“If you come into town, you’re supposed to self-quarantine for two weeks,” she says. “But how many people will follow the rules?”
She’s also worried about her fellow seniors. “So many people here are over 65, with pre-existing conditions. I don’t think anyone over 65 should be doing a lot of socializing.”
Does she worry about contracting the virus?
“No,” she maintains. “I have a deep faith in God. I feel like if I’m supposed to be here, I’ll be here, and if not, I won’t. That’s pretty much it!”