04-13-2017 Tri-City History

Arial photo of the Watervliet Paper Mill

 North Berrien Historical Museum is always interested in photos, stories or information sharing.  The museum can be contacted at 269-468-3330 or by email to info@northberrienhistory.org.

From the photo collection at the North Berrien Historical Museum

300 Coloma Avenue, Coloma

The Paw Paw River Journal

Hitler’s Pilot

 “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

I can’t remember where I got that quote, but it’s one of my memories.  One time I talked with another veteran who said he felt a kinship with me because of that. We were visiting a daughter in San Antonio, Texas, sitting in her living room on a sofa with a new friend.  Konrad was one of their neighbors in a nice suburban neighborhood… many Air Force families and people working on our space program lived there.

Our daughter had invited Konrad and his wife over to meet us.  During WWII he was a pilot in the German Air Force, The Luftwaffe.  They were thoroughly German… drove a Porsche and even had a little Schnauzer dog.  When the war ended, we took all of their scientists and Luftwaffe people we could find… brought them over to work on our space program.  Konrad had been working on high altitude oxygen systems.  Another one who came over was Werner Von Braun.  He was a brilliant rocket scientist.  I’m glad we got them instead of the Russians!

Konrad and I were talking quietly, and he said, “You know, there is a bond among those of us who fly… We were both fighting for our country, and we did what we thought was right.  That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.  I feel that I can tell you my story, if you’d like to hear it!”  Would I ever!  And then he went on to tell me the following tale:

It was the end of the war, and the Germans knew that all was lost.  Hitler was holed up in a Berlin bunker, and allied forces were closing in.  Konrad’s Commandant called him in and asked him to volunteer for a dangerous flight.  Most of their aircraft were destroyed, except for a few trainers.  Konrad was to take one of them, fly into Berlin and land in the huge sports arena next to where Hitler was hiding.  He could take out two people, and perhaps the Fuhrer could be rescued.

Konrad gassed up the little open-cockpit trainer… pitiful after the sleek new fighters he had been flying.  And he took off into the gathering dusk… into the heart of Berlin.  Flames everywhere as the allies closed in on the sprawling city.  He flew low, under the radar, and people looked up as he passed.  He knew the city like the back of his hand, and he watched anxiously as he passed street after street, mostly in ruins from the bombing and artillery.

Then he approached the huge stadium… Yes, he could land there!  But then he saw hordes of Russian troops converging on the open space.  He pulled up in frustration!  No landing now!  So he circled and looked down on the deck again.  He must escape those Russians… Back out of Berlin, twisting and turning over the ruined streets and silent buildings; almost dark now as he reached open country and no troops on the ground below.

As the war wound down, people in Germany dreaded the coming Russians.  Hitler had originally invaded their mother country and wreaked devastation on the land.  I saw a documentary a few years back on how Russia rebuilt after the war.  The commentator said as the camera panned across a city park… “See the old women out for a stroll, or just to sit in the sun.  But where are the old men?  Millions of them lost in the German invasion. A whole generation gone!” So it’s no wonder that the invading Russians would exact a terrible revenge, and the Germans knew it!

Konrad flew on, seeing a map of the whole country unrolling in his mind.  If he were to be captured, he wanted to land in the American zone.  That was the best, most humane place to go.  Next would be the English or French… but not the Russian zone.  No, never!

On and on he flew through the darkness until he ran out of gas and had to come down.  He crashed into some trees and was left unconscious.  Then he heard voices… American voices; and he smiled to himself.  He had come to the right area… They pulled him out of the wreckage and took him to an Army hospital, where he was treated for concussion and then sent to a detention camp.

The war ended in Europe and Konrad was released with many other prisoners who were determined not to be dangerous.  He was reunited with his wife, and they started to rebuild their lives from the wreckage of defeat.  Then American Intelligence finally caught up with him.  And they had an offer.  Due to his experience and the work he had done in Aviation Research, they offered both Konrad and his wife passage to the United States, eventual citizenship, and a chance to work for the Air Force in our space program!

At first they were reluctant to go, but when they saw other veterans and scientists (including Werner Von Braun,) leaving for America they decided to.  And we were lucky, because the Russians were looking for the same people, and a lot of them came to us!

So we sat there in our daughter’s living room on the sofa, while Konrad spun his tale.  What was he doing now?  He said he was working on high altitude oxygen systems, but could not go into details.  I know that Konrad was an enemy.  But he became a friend.  I did feel that kinship, although I never had to go through anything like what he experienced!  And because of him and the other German scientists, we were now in the space race.  And we can all rest a little easier in the knowledge that people like Konrad were here to help us weave golden threads into the tapestry of our lives in these storybook towns along the Paw Paw River in America!

Coloma Library News

Money Smart kids read

 The library is participating in Money Smart Week by having a children’s program, presented with Honor Credit Union in Coloma on Wednesday, April 26 at 4:30 p.m. This program is geared towards children under 7, but all children are welcome. Children will learn about money, saving, spending and what makes sense! There will be a story, craft, game, snack and each family will get to take home a copy of “A Dollar for Penny” by Julie Glass. Books are provided by the Michigan Credit Union League. There is no sign-up or fee required.

Baby and Me Program

 The library will be offering a “Baby and Me” program on Fridays at 10:30 a.m. through May 5. This program is for babies, young toddlers and their parents/caregivers. Join Miss Holly for a short story, interactive play and songs as well as an opportunity to introduce babies to the library. If you have any questions please call the library at 468-3431.

Read with Spirit

 The library will be offering a program for children to read to Spirit, a certified therapy dog, on Wednesdays from 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Children may sign-up for a 15-minute slot by stopping in at the front desk or calling the library at 468-3431. Reading to therapy dogs is a fun way for children to build reading confidence and fluency.

Book Club

 The Coloma Library Book Club is meeting on Thursday, April 27 at 5:30 p.m. The title to read before the discussion is “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead.  Generally, depending on demand there are titles available for check-out at the front desk. The book club regularly meets every other Thursday and is always looking for new members.

Story Hour

 Story Hour meets on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. Join Miss Amy for a story, craft and song time. Story Hour is a free weekly program for toddlers and preschool-aged children, it does not require sign-up.


100 years ago – 1917

 The Commercial Club has taken an interest in improving the grade of dairy cattle along with promoting thrift among the boys and girls. The “Coloma Commercial Club Boys’ and Girls’ Guernsey Calf Club” will soon be organized.

The Clover Leaf Club and the Self Culture Club were delightfully entertained by the Watervliet Friday Club. A splendid talk on “Women and Civics” was given followed by a delicious three-course dinner.

By order of the village president, William W. Hocker, all female dogs must be kept off the streets, as they are in heat.

60 years ago – 1957

 Ground breaking ceremonies took place at the new site of the Coloma Salem Lutheran Church. Rev. R.E. Schalier used the theme “With the Lord Begin Thy Task” for the special services. The new church will be English rural style.

Twelve girls compete for local crown. The new Miss Coloma will succeed last year’s winner, Violet Crawford. The girls are: Betty Frazier, Patricia Tavolacci, Janice Freier, Carol Walsh, Jean McQueen, Karen O’Leary, Lorraine Johnson, Jean Currie, Janie Rasmussen, Barbara Molter, Jane Scherer and Wanda Parmley.

30 years ago – 1987

 Heather Howard, kindergartener, won first prize in the Easter Coloring Contest sponsored by Harding’s Friendly Markets. She is enjoying her bicycle very much.

Public Works Supervisor Warren Damon reported that the water tower will be drained so that cleaning and maintenance can be done. The city wells will be operated manually during this time.

We remember those that have passed: Frank T. Gaipa, 72; Lester Wright Sr., 80; Helen Johnson, 71; Barbara Nilles, 86; and Henry Mathews, 70.

The Coloma Public Schools William L. Alwood Chapter of the National Honor Society will hold its 38th annual NHS banquet and induction. The Honorable Fred Upton, 4th District U.S. Congressman will speak.


100 years ago – 1917

 James Coyle and a companion named Wade, employed on the Wm. M. Traver farm north of town, were rendered violently ill last Friday from eating scoke-root which they mistook for vegetable oysters. Discovering the supposed vegetables in the ground they dug them and ate them raw. Soon after they were stricken with violent vomiting and Dr. D.H. Lawrence was summoned. The cause of their illness was discovered and accept for a few hours of agony they have suffered no ill effects.

Sheriff Gladstone Beattie was in town Friday and imparted to Chief of Police Thorn the orders just issued by the Secretary of State at Lansing to arrest every driver of an automobile bearing a 1916 license plate. Mayor Nate Simpson of Keeler was the first motorist discovered by the marshal with an obsolete license tag on his machine, but as the mayor’s car was suffering with an issue and was en route to the mechanical hospital he was permitted to proceed.

75 years ago – 1942

 April meeting of the Library Board will be held at the library April 10. The open forum meeting on Friday evening under the leadership of Mrs. Howlett, member of the Van Buren County board on nutrition, was most interesting and instructive. The Van Buren Victory Pledge was given: “I promise to use more greens in our diet; I’ll raise more vitamin food, or I’ll buy it; and encourage each of my neighbors to try it.” Suggestions for varying the diet without expense was an item Mrs. Howlett emphasized. Some of the slogans are worth adoption by everyone: “Eat it up, wear it out, make it do, do without – for Victory.” “I can’t, or my husband and children won’t, is not showing the American spirit.” “We can do what we must, to win the war.” “Your meals will prove your efficiency in your country’s service.”

50 years ago – 1967

 A total of 181 pints of blood were collected at the 12th annual visit by the Red Cross bloodmobile on Tuesday, April 4. The amount is believed to be a new record for Hartford. Receiving a special pin as a two gallon donor was Mrs. Donald Rush. Pins for gallon donors went to Arlene Ward, Della Robinson, Mylen Mundt, DeLisle Melville, Willard Burnette, Tod Efting, Basil Lindeman, Glenn Robinson, Frank Fillmore, Hershal Miller and Andrew Rose.

Area 4-H members who brought home blue ribbons from the annual spring 4-H show in Paw Paw last week include Judy DeLoach, Diane Harmon and Debra Fuller.


90 years ago – 1927

 Miss Marie Molter, student in the commercial department of the Watervliet High School and who is taking her first year’s work at typing, won first prize at the district contest held at Benton Harbor on Apr 23, 1927. Her speed was 48-plus words per minute. Miss Molter expects to go to Kalamazoo to enter the contest for the state championship.

Horses brought more money at auction sales in the spring of 1927. Cows and hogs are also in good demand. At the Doggett sale south of Watervliet a bay gelding weighing 1200 pounds sold for $170. Cows brought from $75 to $120 and the hogs sold well.

Bargains in City Property – on St. Joe Street – Apr 1927: 5-room house with bath, $2200; 6-room house, $3000; 7-room house on corner, $4500; also 8-room house, modern, best neighborhood, $4500.

60 years ago – 1957

 Raymond E. Griffin, Seaman Apprentice, U. S. Navy, son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Griffin, Watervliet, is attending a 6-month Hospital Corpsman School at the U. S. Naval Hospital, Great Lakes, IL. Raymond enlisted in the Navy October 1956.

The Saddle and Bridle Club of Watervliet have made plans for a competitive trail ride to be held April, 1957. Cross country ride will consist of twenty five miles under natural trail conditions.

Mr. and Mrs. Tom Gillard of Watervliet quietly celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on April 17, 1957.

30 years ago – 1987

 Watervliet VFW Post Commander, Glenn (Corky) Openneer accepted the organization’s charter being presented by 7th District Commander John McGill of Albion. The presentation took place April 15, 1987 at Watervliet City Hall.

Watervliet School Board President Darrell Day presented to South School employee Vicki Volk her plaque as “Employee of the Month.” Vicki uses her imagination and creativity to enrich the students’ classroom experiences. For instance, while assisting in one of the kindergarten classes she baked a “mouse pie” after the students had heard a poem about this delicacy. In another classroom, she guided the students in making “Indian Fry Bread.” Vicki is always willing to do or try anything to encourage children to be proud of themselves and to develop an interest in their daily lessons.


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