05-04-2017 Blossomtime Festival: A Life that Blossoms; Vanderlyn Community Center million dollar inf

Blossomtime Festival: A Life that Blossoms

By Annette Christie

The 2017 Blossomtime Festival officially kicked off Sunday, April 30 with the Blessing of the Blossoms event at the MSU Extension Office in Benton Harbor.

“B” FOR BLOSSOMS… Tri-City royalty participated in the Blessing of the Blossoms Sun-day afternoon to kick off the Blossomtime Festival. Pictured (from the left) are: Miss Coloma Cassidy Fickett, Miss Blossomtime Kaylee Chapin of Watervliet, Mr. Blossomtime Hunter Ackerman of Hartford, and Miss Hartford Mariel Hallgren. (TCR photo by Annette Chris-tie


A procession was held through the event center with all the local royalty brandishing blossoms from their respective communities. A history of the event was given providing an overview of how the event began. The Blossomtime Festival is the largest multi-community festival in the state.

As early as 1891, local area business interests took a proactive role in attracting visitors to Southwest Michigan with their promotion to the Chicago market. Hundreds of visitors made their way across Lake Michigan with the local steamship company.

In 1906, Rev. W.J. Cady of the First Congregational Church in Benton Harbor was the first to urge his parishioners to drive through the local orchards to take in all the beauty of the fruit blossoms. Cady termed them “symbols of life renewed” and his sermon is credited with the birth of Blossomtime Festival.

On Sunday, Pastor Corey Kugel with the Chapel provided a similar reading, reminding those present that it is easy to miss the beauty all around us this time of year with our busy schedules and running from one event to another, but that it was important to live a life that blossoms, much like the season’s agriculture before us. Kugel referred to Psalm 1, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law, day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.”

Kugel thanked the farmers for all of their hard work and for their skill which helps to create this season of beauty in Southwest Michigan.

Following the blessing of the blossoms, community royalty did an exchange of their blossoms. Mr. Blossomtime Hunter Ackerman of Hartford and Miss Blossomtime Kaylee Chapin of Watervliet were among those that exchanged blossoms with each other.

The annual baseball game with the House of David team was cancelled due to the weather. There is another one scheduled during the week of the Berrien County Youth Fair.

Community royalty begin a week full of festivities. They will be traveling all over Southwest Michigan for the Goodwill tour, where kings and queens will tour the communities. These tours will include stops at elementary & middle schools and assisted living facilities.

The Mayors Banquet will be held Tuesday at the Lake Michigan College Grand Upton Hall. This event includes all mayors, village presidents, city managers and officials of the respective communities. The gathering gives all the dignitaries the opportunity to present the keys to their cities to their respective royalty.

In addition, the presentation of the queens’ charm bracelets is held. The history of the charm bracelet exchange began over 40 years ago. The bracelet includes charms with each queen’s photo in it. The community chairpersons make this presentation.

The Youth Parade will be held on Thursday at Dickinson Stadium at St. Joseph High School. Youngsters from preschool through middle school participate in this event that starts at 5:00 p.m. It annually includes floats, bands, scout troops, 4-H groups, and the younger Blossomtime royalty.

Saturday morning brings the Run/Walk for the Buds event. In its 38th year, it has a 10K run and a 5K run/walk. It begins at 10:30 a.m. near the corners of Main and Ship streets in downtown St. Joseph and takes place along the Blossomtime Festival Parade route before the parade begins.

To register online, visit www.blossomtimefestival.org and select the Run for the Buds drop-down box. The entry fee is $25 for adults and $15 for youth 14 and under. Adult registration increases to $30 after May 3.

The highlight of the week will be Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. with the Blossomtime Grand Floral Parade. The 111th parade will feature 114 units.

Retired Blossomtime Festival worker Joyce Vance will be the Grand Marshal for the 2017 parade.

Tri-City communities brought home awards last year and hope for a repeat of their success. The community of Hartford was the big winner in 2016 by receiving the Sweepstakes Award for the second year in a row. The award is given for the most outstanding float concept and artistic merit of: theme, color, animation, beauty, and floral display.

The community of Watervliet won the Mayors Award. The award is given for the float exhibiting excellence in presenting the Festival Theme. This year’s theme is “If it begins with a B….It Must Be Blossomtime.”

Other awards up for grabs are the King’s Award for the most outstanding tow unit and the best concept of overall theme and creativity; the President’s Award for the float that is the second highest overall, for having the best concept of imagination and creativity in developing their presentation; the Queen’s Award for exceptional beauty and dramatic impact; the Twin Cities’ Award for best display and floral craftsmanship of live flowers and blossoms; the Board of Director’s Award for the float having the most outstanding costumed characters that add to the float presentation; the Chairman’s Award for the most creative and impressive use of animation and movement; and the Parade Committee’s Award for the best presentation and use of color and color harmony.

The premier event which is the crown jewel of the festival attracts approximately 250,000 spectators and travels 2.5 miles through the community of St. Joseph and into the community of Benton Harbor.

Vanderlyn Community Center million dollar infusion breathes new life into idled Red Arrow Elementary building

Library, Senior Services & Adult Ed slated as tenants

By Jon Bisnett

When Hartford voters narrowly approved the recent school construction bond many expressed deep concerns over the disposition of the Red Arrow Elementary building to be idled at the close of the school year this June. “Who might buy it? – How would the property be maintained? – Would it fall into disrepair? – Hope they don’t tear it down? At what cost?”… On and on the list of questions went.

But with vision for the good of the community and the philanthropic checkbook to back it up, the coming of the new Arthur and Bonna Vanderlyn Community Center now stands to preserve the integrity of an iconic Main Street building fueled with new purpose to the better serve of the community.

“Who would have ever thought we’d still be here after all these years,” mused Bonna during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of her local Harding’s store back in 2013, then went on to reveal the secret, “It was all about following Art’s dream.”

The Dream

A young, ambitious Art Vanderlyn graduated high school at the age of just 17. Back in those days it was tough to find work if you weren’t 18, but Art found a job with the Hartford Kroger Grocery. Starting at the bottom as just a kid, the hard working Vanderlyn found himself with a real knack for the grocery business, quickly became a rising star and in his early 20s moved up to be one of, if not the youngest Kroger store manager in the entire country.

Enjoying the moderate success of his hard work, the young Vanderlyn married the love of his life, a petite local farm gal named Bonna Modro. The pair went on to build a modest home in the City of Hartford, where Bonna still lives today.

Around that same time another grocer some 40 miles to the east was building the foundation of his business.

Mel Harding opened his first store in the small town of Parchment, built on a simple business practice. “Customers deserve the best possible service provided by friendly employees.” So there’s where that familiar phrase “Harding’s Friendly Markets” came from.

Harding along with partner Herb Corum laid the groundwork for the Southwest Michigan supermarket empire known today as the Harding’s West Corporation. The shrewd duo used their business savvy to recruit the top general managers from their primary competitor, national retailer Kroger. In 1962 the wily Harding offered youthful Vanderlyn the opportunity to build and run the Watervliet store. Then in 1963 Art built the Hartford store and the young Vanderlyns stayed on post to work together managing their hometown store.

The duo worked side by side for several years, building their business until the late 60s when Art was diagnosed with cancer (malignant melanoma,) and died in 1970 at the age of only 40. Devastated with the loss of her best friend and business partner, that simple gal from the country now found herself at a crossroads. “It would have been so easy to just walk way,” says Bonna, “But I just couldn’t let Art’s dream die with him. Then one day Mel Harding came to visit me about five years after Art was gone. We sat in Mel’s car while he gave me advice on the b