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Dream come true

MONTAGUE – The name Nordlund is Swedish, and when translated means North Grove. Thus was the inspiration for the name North Grove Brewers.

Nordlund also happens to be the last name of the brewery co-owner RJ Nordlund.

The newly opened Montague brewery held a ribbon cutting on Wednesday, January 15, marking the grand opening of the business. Later in the evening the celebration continued with musical act Feed The Dog performing at 7 p.m.

Co-owner Jason Jaekel, North Grove Brewery, said he and his business partners were so eager to open that they held their soft opening the same day they received their licensing.

“Funny story — I drove to Lansing (on Wednesday, Jan. 8) to pick up the license, that’s how bad we wanted to open,” said Jaekel.

Jaekel and Nordlund co-own the brewery with two other people: Billy Darke and Greg Peyer.

Nordlund, who is the brewmaster, has worked at both Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, and Fetch in Whitehall. Previously, he worked as the brewmaster at Bare Bones Brewery in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Nordlund said he first started dreaming of opening his own brewery in 2012. Working at Founders inspired him to eventually open up a place he could call his own.

“Once I started working at Founders and really got a taste of the industry — that is when I knew that someday I was going to (open a brewery),” said Nordlund.

While working at Bare Bones Brewery, Nordlund had developed a business relationship with Jaekel back in his hometown. Jaekel, co-owns a hops farm called the Hops Yard.

Jaekel also leases and manages the Montague Dog-n-Suds with his wife, Misty.

“There was a hops shortage back in 2013. I and my other business partners were sitting around drinking some beers (in 2012), and we were like, we really want to take advantage of this growing craft brew industry,” said Jaekel.

Nordlund was a customer during his time spent in Wisconsin, but was purchasing all of his hops from Jaekel back home. Nordlund expressed an interest in opening a brewery during a conversation the two had. Jaekel said he was also interested, but only if it was in Montague.

“I was like, ‘I wanna open a brewery.’ He was like, ‘I do too, but I want to open your brewery here in Montague,’” said Nordlund.

Nordlund had already been working on a business plan, but moving back to Montague seemed like a no-brainer

The LLC was purchased in March of 2018, and the building was later secured that April. Since then it has been a long process with the construction, installation of equipment and getting required licensing.

North Grove Brewery is outfitted with a five barrel stout tank system, five barrel fermenters, and a unitank fermenter. Nordlund said everything is made out of stainless steel.

North Grove features nine beer flavors, and one cider. They plan to rotate their flavors to keep things fresh. Nordlund said they have no plans to distribute beer.

“Every time I’ve gone somewhere my responsibility has grown. I’ve picked things up, I learn here, I learn there. I was running Bare Bones Brewery in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. There I was the brewmaster, I did the whole thing, I ran the whole production, dealt with distribution, and did all that stuff,” said Nordlund.

He learned during this time of his life that distribution is a headache to deal with.

“We want to make this a destination. You have to come here and get everything here. Plus I’m not a big fan of distribution, you have to invest a lot more into equipment. You gotta be making a lot more product to make money back when you’re distributing,” said Nordlund.

North Grove does have the ability to can beers at a small capacity. Nordlund said he may do small runs of canned beer only available at the brewery.

In addition to beer and cider, North Grove Brewery is also offering food. They serve deli style sandwiches, salads, and starter plates. For entertainment they have installed a jukebox, a pool table, dart boards and a pool table.

They hope to continue to offer more entertainment options with arcade video games, and in the warmer months, starting an outdoor corn hole league.

For more information visit: https://www.facebook.com/northgrovebrewers/.


Greg Means / By Greg Means Beacon Editor 

By Greg Means/Beacon Editor

Some girls took advantage of a light snow on Thursday to slide down Hanson hill in downtown Whitehall after school. From left to right, are sisters, April Howard, Carmen Howard, Lucy Howard (behind Carmen) and friend Marleigh Jobbins, all from Montague. Standing behind the girls who are heading down the hill are parents, Amber and Billy Howard.


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Appeals on two murder convictions denied by court

The Michigan Court of Appeals has recently denied appeals by convicted murderer Jeffrey Willis who is serving life sentences for the murders of two Muskegon County women.

Willis was appealing the Muskegon Circuit Court jury convictions and court sentencing for the kidnapping and murder of Norton Shores gas station attendant Jessica Heeringa who disappeared from her workplace on April 26, 2013 and the June 29, 2014 murder of Rebekah Bletsch while she was jogging near her home in Dalton Township.

The denial of the Heeringa conviction and sentencing was rendered by the Court of Appeals on December 26, 2019, and the denial of the Willis conviction and sentencing was rendered January 2, 2020.

The defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment June 18, 2018 on a felony murder charge in the Heeringa case. He was also sentenced to 18 years, nine months on a kidnapping charge.

Willis was sentenced to life in prison for felony murder and a two year term for felony firearm on December 18, 2017 in the Bletsch case.

He is currently incarcerated in the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia.

In the Heeringa appeal, the Appeals Court ruled the majority of Willis’ claims of error by the prosecutor , including claims of jury partiality, his challenge to the search of his electronic services, his arguments about most substantial of the MRE (404 (b) evidence and the claims in his Standard 4 brief, are without merit.

As discussed, the court wrote that the defendant’s only viable claims of error involve the admission of the homemade, voyeuristic videos and mention of the serial-killer list. “However, given the strong evidence of defendant’s guilt as detailed earlier, the cumulative effect of these relatively minor errors in the admission of other-acts evidence did not deny defendant a fair trial. Accordingly, the defendant is not entitled to reversal on the basis of cumulative error.”

In the Heeringa case, the victim’s body has not been found.

However, in the basic facts of the crime which is a part of the appeals court document, Willis’ convictions of felony murder and kidnapping arise from the disappearance of Jessica Heeringa on April 26, 2013 when she worked the closing shift at an Exxon gas station. She was last seen by a customer whose receipt was timestamped at 10:52 p.m. At approximately 11:00 p.m., two witnesses saw a silver minivan outside the back door of the gas station. As they watched, the van’s back hatch opened and closed and then the van drove away. At 11:14 p.m., a customer called 911 after finding the gas station open — unlocked and lights on — but deserted.

According to the court document, when police arrived on the scene, Heeringa’s belongings, including her purse and wallet with $400 inside were in the store, and her car was in the parking lot. Nothing appeared to have been taken, but there was evidence she was cleaning and closing out the till. Outside the back door police found some of Heeringa’s blood, a battery cover to a laser sight for a Walther P22 pistol and two watch batteries.

Over the next several years authorities ran “proof of life” searches in databases, but those never revealed any signs Heeringa was still alive. Testimony also suggested she would never leave her three-year-old son.

Acting on a tip that defendant owned a silver minivan, officers spoke to the defendant in 2013 shortly after Heeringa’s disappearance. Officers looked inside of the van with the defendant’s permission and noticed it had been recently cleaned.

On the night of Heeringa’s disappearance, Willis attended a card game at a shop near the gas station. He drove the silver minivan to the game. At 11:23 p.m., cell phone records indicate the defendant was in the vicinity of an empty property at 3038 Baile that had passed to him after his grandfather’s death in 2011. Yet, Willis told police he was at home until 12:30 a.m. The document reported Willis kept that property padlocked, and various cleaning products, including bleach, were later found in the empty home’s basement.

According to testimony at trial, defendant’s coworkers recalled Willis coming to work with deep scratches on his face and arms shortly after Heeringa’s disappearance.

Although police talked to Willis in 2013 he did not become a suspect in Heeringa’s disappearance until 2016 when a driver in a silver minivan attempted to abduct a teenage girl who was walking on the side of the road coming home from a party. The male driver pulled up next to her and asked if she needed a ride. She asked to use his cell phone and he agreed but asked her to get in the van to do so. Once in the van, he told her the phone was dead, and then he pointed a gun at her. She escaped by leaping from the moving van. The teen later identified Willis as her attempted abductor.

During a search of the defendants van in 2016, police found a Walther P22 pistol with the serial number obscured. Police were able to restore the serial number and locate the owner who was a coworker of Willis’. The owner testified the gun has been stolen from her home. She also testified that the gun had a laser sight when she purchased it. However, when the gun was recovered by police, the laser sight was missing.

According to the evidence at trial, defendant used the Walther P22 to kill Rebekah Bletsch on June 29, 2014.

Bletsch’s DNA was found on gloves and other items in a locked toolbox located in Willis’ van. In the toolbox and locked box in the van, investigators found what is described as a “rape kit.”

In a computer analysis of Willis’ devices, “vics” folders were uncovered with subfolders specific to Heeringa and Bletsch. The Heeringa file contained photos of the victim, a missing kidnapped flyer and a news article about her disappearance.

In Willis’ appeal, the defendant claimed interference with attorney-client privilege when deputies discovered some writing materials in clothing sent to the jail laundry and an envelope in his jail cell, the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence found on his electronic devices, the court erred in other-acts evidence involving the Heeringa disappearance, that defense counsel provided ineffective assistants by failing to call experts in ballistics and DNA at trial, that the prosecutor withheld evidence and allowed a ballistic expert to commit perjury, the court erred in denying his motion to change the trial venue, that the prosecutor’s office should be disqualified in the trial because his former attorney joined the prosecutor’s office during the case, that media was allowed in the courtroom during the trial, and that the court erred in excluding portions of a transcript of a police interview with the defendant’s cousin Kevin Bluhm.

The appeals court denied the defendant’s claims.

According the appeals court record, Bletsch was shot to death while walking or jogging near her home. Bletsch’s body was found on the side of the road. During an 11-day trial the prosecutor called dozens of witnesses and submitted hundreds of exhibits as evidence, including the stolen Walther P22 pistol with defendant’s DNA on it and the toolbox and lock box with “rape kit” materials inside. The prosecutor also provided electronic evidence from Willis’ devices similar to the materials found in the Heeringa case.


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Driver arraigned in Jan. 14 hit-and-run incident

DALTON TWP. – A 22-year-old Twin Lake man has been arraigned in 60th District Court in the hit-and-run incident involving two 14-year-old siblings who were boarding a school bus on Tuesday, January 14.

Mathew Potter was arraigned Thursday on two charges, operating while intoxicated causing serious injury and failure to stop at the scene of a serious personal injury crash. He is being held in the Muskegon County jail in lieu of $50,000 bond.

Potter was arrested Wednesday, January 15, by a trooper from the Michigan State Police Rockford Post, according to a State Police report.

Reeths-Puffer eighth grader Tajen Pannell, and his twin sister, not named, were struck by a vehicle while waiting at a Russell Road bus stop early Tuesday morning.

According to the statement, “Through continued investigation by MSP Rockford detectives and troopers throughout yesterday and this morning, a suspect vehicle and driver were developed [sic]. The suspect vehicle was recovered with damage consistent with the crash, and the suspect driver, a 22-year-old Twin Lake man, was arrested this morning for hit and run causing serious injury and moving violation causing serious injury.

“The suspect is lodged at the Muskegon Co. Jail. The 14-year-old victim remains at Helen DeVos (Children’s) Hospital in Grand Rapids. The incident remains under investigation.”

Tajen Pannell was first admitted to Mercy Health Hackley Campus following the incident, but was transported to the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. The extent of his injuries were not released, but school superintendent Steve Edwards had e-mailed that Pannell is believed to have at least two broken legs.

His sister only sustained minor injuries.

“According to an eyewitness, the bus was stopped with the red flashers fully operational. The car approached from the rear and passed the stopped bus, when the accident occurred,” e-mailed Edwards on Jan. 14.

In his e-mails Edwards said students at the middle school were made aware of the situation during their second hour classes.

Potter’s driving record shows on May 25, 2015 he was arrested by a Muskegon County Sheriff’s deputy for failure to stop or identify after a property damage accident.

People are asked to report any additional information they can regarding the incident. To make a report people can call either the Michigan State Police Rockford Post at 616-866-4411, Muskegon County Dispatch at 231-722-3524 or the Silent Observer at 231-722-7463.