A1 A1
Stop your "wineing"

WHITEHALL – Local White Lake women have been “wineing” one another thanks to a new Facebook group created by one local Whitehall resident.

“Last week I had a friend invite me to this large Michigan Wine by Friends group. It had like 34,000 people in it, and the point of it was you share your address and put together little gift bags of wine, or chocolate or other pampering things,” said Whitehall resident Nikki Thompson.

“You are just gifting other people and trying to make them feel good during quarantine time.”

Due to the size of the group, Thompson found it very intimidating, and decided to start her own for her friends and acquaintances within her local community.

She said at first, she only invited her friends, but told them to invite people that they knew. She said the goal is to keep it small, trying to keep it to about 200 people, but it has grown a little beyond that.

Now, the Facebook group has a membership of 245 people, but she is working to set approval restrictions to help keep things manageable.

In the beginning the group asked members to post their addresses. Once posted, an anonymous person would deliver the person their wine and some gifts.

After a person has been “wined,” they are expected to post a picture and a thank you to the Facebook group. In return recipients are asked to pay it forward to someone else.

“It is just about spreading joy, and a sense of community, when we are not able to be physically together.”

It isn’t as common, but some people have received more than one bottle of wine. To try and prevent this Thompson has implemented a new policy.

“I started a new thread today (Monday, May 11), where you have a little bit of accountability, where you are responsible for ‘wining’ the person that commented above you. So that way people could get back into it if they’ve already been wined [sic], plus there is a little bit of a follow up.”

Now, she said, people don’t have to wonder when they will be receiving their wine and gifts.

Although the group was originally meant for wine drinkers, Thompson said there are also people who participate that don’t drink alcohol. These people just update the group in the comments on what it is they would prefer to receive.

There is no recommended spending limit, and the members of the group seem to be very understanding.

“People are really understanding, that they give as they are able [sic], and that it is the thought that counts.”

After the stay-at-home order concludes Thompson doesn’t think she will continue the group. Her hope is that people stay in the giving spirit afterwards, and continue doing things for their family, friends and neighbors.

Art in the age of quarantine

WHITEHALL – If the sidewalks of White Lake looked a little more colorful than usual this past weekend, well, chalk it up to Chalk White Lake.

The brainchild of the Arts Council of White Lake-Nuveen Center, the event was an effort, weather permitting, to support local businesses and celebrate National Drawing Day, May 16.

Businesses signed up to become Chalk Destinations, and participants—anyone armed with a set of chalk—picked a destination and created chalk art in front of it. Photos were taken of the artworks, and you can view them in an album on the council’s Facebook page, where you’re invited to vote for your favorite.

Then, this coming Friday, May 22, the council will announce the winning piece and artist, with the winner receiving an ACWL-Nuveen Gift Card, a Live White Lake hat, and a $10 gift certificate from the White Lake Chamber of Commerce.

Of course, safety recommendations were emphasized. “Head out with members of your household,” the event planners instructed. “Wear a mask. Stay six feet away from anyone not in your household. Do not share chalk with anyone outside of your household.” And oh, yes—“Have fun!”

It’s just one more way the council is trying to maneuver in a COVID-19 world.

“We’re making do,” says ACWL director Erin Peyer. “We’re re-evaluating the situation on a daily basis. We had to cancel our March and April classes, and we haven’t put out a new schedule yet because we’re waiting to see what’s happening.”

Nonetheless, like so many other organizations, the council is adapting to the new reality of a socially distanced world and focusing on the online and virtual opportunities that are taking the place of face-to-face interaction. For instance, addressing the increasingly concerning issue of mental and emotional anxiety in the face of the coronavirus, the council encourages you to “have some fun with your mental health” Friday, May 22 at 2 p.m. with an online journal making activity. On Tuesday, May 26, at 9 a.m. there will be a virtual round table on the arts and culture industry.

And whereas in the past, summer fundraisers were highly anticipated events to be enjoyed by the community, the council has devised a creative way to keep them going.

“We have two new fundraisers planned,” notes Peyer. “The first, ‘Quarantine Art,’ will be held in mid-June. The second online event is an auction that will replace our annual Art in the Barn event.”

As the arts have always been a reflection of the times, and a voice for humanity in those times, the ACWL is determined to address the issues created by a pandemic that is threatening society on virtually every level. At the same time, the council seems determined to turn fear into hope, paralysis into action, depression into creativity.

“Have you been using some form of art-making to stay sane during these lockdown days?,” reads the website promo for Quarantine Art. “Has the influx of COVID-19 news led you to find respite in your sketchbook, yarn, watercolors or guitar? The Arts Council of White Lake – Nuveen Center needs you! Please consider donating a piece to our Quarantine Art Fundraiser.”

The fundraiser is open to anyone, regardless of age, art background or lack thereof. Hey, we’re all artists, right? “Anything you make or made and have rediscovered during this time of quarantine can be donated,” we’re assured. The possibilities are endless—you can submit everything from paintings and drawings to multi-media, greeting cards, knitting, felting, quilting, framed photography, pottery, sculpture, jewelry, batik, carving, candles, soap, framed music score, hand-written poetry…Pretty much the opposite of a traditional restricted show.

The purpose of Quarantine Art is twofold: to provide a positive approach to a crisis, and to keep local arts alive. The ACWL’s summer fundraising has traditionally brought in 38 percent of its annual operating budget. Now, with the economy in peril, the fundraisers have taken on an even greater urgency. When things are sunny, we tend to take arts organizations for granted, enjoying the events they provide without thinking about what it actually takes to provide this critical service to the community.

“For our non-profit to survive and thrive through these uncertain times we need our community more than ever,” the council reminds us. “For 35 years, the mission of the ACWL-Nuveen Center has been to provide quality arts and cultural programming to the White Lake area. You rely on us to schedule a Free Summer Concert series, community theater programming, offer diverse art classes, display stimulating gallery exhibitions, and showcase the excellent regional artistic talent in our retail gallery.”

The date and place of the Quarantine Art event is still to be determined, but pledged work should be delivered in a drop-off by June 1. With the fluidity required of the times, the council is waiting to see if the fundraiser will be live, virtual—“or both.”

Peyer is making it as easy as possible to submit a work. “Simply email Erin Peyer – Director at nuveen@artswhitelake.org. and say that you want to pledge Quarantine Art for the cause. You do not need to be specific about the piece or include a photo – all we need at this time is your pledge. Just supply the following information: Name, e-mail, phone number, and type of art or project piece.” Your pledge will be confirmed with a return e-mail and Peyer will contact you by May 22 with information regarding drop-off.

Meanwhile, Peyer reports that the council is “working on making videos and kits for classes that people can pick up.” And Zoom events are also “in the works.”

“The arts bring people together,” she reflects. “They lift people’s spirits, however we participate in them.”

As for the plucky young director, a musician who only assumed her position in September, Peyer is making the most of “stay home, stay safe” restrictions.

“I’ve taken up crocheting,” she says. “It puts me in a different place than watching TV.”

Whitehall High School tabs Brett Westerlund as new principal

Whitehall High School will welcome a new principal next academic year, as former Fremont High School assistant principal Brett Westerlund was tabbed out of an applicant pool of about two dozen to replace retiring Dale McKenzie. The school announced the hiring on its Facebook page last week.

Westerlund is very familiar with the Whitehall area. He and wife Ashley live in Whitehall, and their two kids, daughter Claire and son Quinn, both attend Whitehall schools. Prior to taking his job in Fremont, Brett had been an assistant girls basketball coach at Whitehall, alongside his brother, varsity coach Derek.

Brett described the Whitehall job, which will be his first as a principal, as the one job that could have lured him away from Fremont, where he had a good experience. He credited Fremont superintendent Ken Haggart and principal Scott Sherman as being supportive throughout his time there and through the process of getting the job at Whitehall.

“I’ve always been a dedicated teacher and administrator at Fremont the past couple of years, and I’ve been committed to my job and my career, and now I’m looking forward to being able to share those things with my family,” Westerlund said. “In the past I’d go to Fremont stuff by myself, and now I’ll have the opportunity to support our kids at school and our teams and our programs and be able to take my kids with me, and that will be cool for all of us.”

Whitehall superintendent Jerry McDowell said that despite having to conduct the search virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the process went well. He said that the district whittled down its initial candidate list to six, and of those six, Westerlund stood out at every turn.

“Every time we talked with him, he was consistent, he was humble,” McDowell said of Westerlund. “He talked about teacher leadership. He’s a strong leader instructionally...He appeared to be really insightful to the needs of teachers and students. He delivered an approach that we thought would be beneficial to our community.”

Westerlund said the fact that the search was conducted virtually actually made it easier to meet with all the people making the decision than it might have been otherwise.

“With doing things online, it was easier to get in front of the entire staff, the office staff and administrative team,” Westerlund said. “In the past, before COVID, you had a hiring committee that might have 10 people on it, then the next round might have a different 10. In this process, most of the staff were able to see me and be part of the interview process, which I thought was pretty cool.”

Of course, Westerlund was familiar with many of the Whitehall staff from his time on the girls basketball staff, as well as from his kids’ experiences at Whitehall schools. Those relationships only made him more impressed with the school.

“It’s an awesome place,” Westerlund said. “During the interview process, I got to meet and get to know a few more people. Everyone talks about how great the staff is, and it built my desire to be part of not just the Whitehall community, but specifically Whitehall High School.”

McKenzie, the outgoing principal, doesn’t know Westerlund closely, although he anticipated being a resource for him as he transitioned into the new job. He did say Brett’s ability to build relationships makes him an ideal fit for the principal position.

“I’m a huge advocate of this being a people business,” McKenzie said. “You have to be able to relate and work with individuals you encounter. In the end, you want what’s best for the kids. He has that personality. He’ll continue to grow and make Whitehall High School a better place.”

“I’m looking forward to working with Dale as I transition into the role,” Westerlund said. “Big shoes to fill, but I think he’s made it easier by the culture that he’s created.”

High school graduations are postponed due to the stay-at-home order

Due to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, and the current stay-at-home order, local school districts are cancelling or postponing their high school graduation ceremonies.

Michigan ranks as the state with the third highest number of cases in the country. It is only topped by New York and New Jersey.

Each year Reeths-Puffer’s high school seniors, and their families, fill the Mercy Health Arena in downtown Muskegon for the school district’s graduation ceremony. Graduation was originally intended for June 2, but won’t be happening anytime in the foreseeable future.

“Based upon CDC and state guidelines, there doesn’t seem any way to keep our June 2 graduation ceremony at L.C. Walker Arena,” wrote Reeths-Puffer superintendent Steve Edwards. “Last week, we surveyed all seniors on their preferences. A huge majority favored putting it off until we can have an ‘in person’ ceremony vs. any type of virtual commencement.”

In an email sent to the White Lake Beacon, Edwards wrote that the district hasn’t determined when they could make up their graduation. Reeths-Puffer is waiting to receive further guidance from the state’s government.

“Future potential dates have not been solidified yet, as we are expecting some guidance from the state,” writes Edwards.

As for the other two local White Lake area school districts, Whitehall and Montague, they are doing something similar.

Whitehall High School’s graduation was originally scheduled for May 21, but the current stay-at-home order runs until May 28, meaning that there won’t be a ceremony at the regularly scheduled date.

“The HS (high school) administration is working with the senior class advisor, parents and others to develop a way to recognize these students on May 21. We are hopeful to have a commencement ceremony in some capacity, but only when we are able to conduct the event safely,” wrote Whitehall superintendent Jerry McDowell.

“If it looks like this is unlikely to occur, we will develop ways for our students to celebrate their accomplishments. This may be individual recognition, family recognition, small group, etc. We will wait to hear the rules.”

McDowell added in his email, “The students have worked long and hard to accomplish the right to graduate from Whitehall Schools. The commencement ceremony is a culminating activity that signifies the completion of high school. It is sad and disappointing that we are not able to conduct this ceremony with the appropriate pomp and circumstance. These young people are truly exceptional in so many different ways. We look forward to recognizing their accomplishment.”

Montague Area Public Schools (MAPS) is also working on creating an alternative graduation plan for its seniors, which was scheduled on May 29, a day after the governor’s stay-at-home order.

“MAPS plans to hold a graduation ceremony at the Townsend Athletic Complex on a date to be determined at a later time. The date will be determined as Michigan reaches stages five and six (dependent on gathering numbers) of the MI SAFE START PLAN,” wrote superintendent Jeffrey Johnson.

“We anticipate scheduling a weekend series of graduation dates and times (Friday evening, Saturday evening, and Sunday afternoon) to accommodate inclement weather for the outdoor event. The district will communicate more information as it becomes available.”

By Jared Leatzow/Beacon Reporter

Principal Dale McKenzie, the school mascot, and senior students Morgan VanderLeest, Kate Martin and Emily Martin pose for a photo outside of Whitehall High School. Students were allowed to come to the school today to pick up their diplomas.

Photo courtesy of REETHS-PUFFER CHEER

Reeths-Puffer coach Andy Brown (right) was a successful cheerleader and coach at Grand Valley State prior to his time at R-P.

The iconic Dog n Suds sign