U.S. Veterans of WWII earn France’s highest honor;
Willis Bouma of Watervliet awarded the Legion of Honor Medal
at ceremony in St. Joe
By Angela Widdis
Another achievement is about to be bestowed on the World War II Veteran, Willis A. Bouma. On Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, at the St. Joseph Band Shell, with the ceremony slated to begin at 2:00 p.m., Bouma along with one other World War II Veteran, C. Walter Kronbetter of St. Joseph, will be receiving France’s highest honor: The Legion of Honor Medal.
Created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, it’s the French equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor. It recognizes notable service to France. The most noteworthy foreign nationals, who have received this decoration include Generals, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Michael Mullen, and as an institution, the United States Military Academy at West Point.
The President of the French Republic has appointed that each and every World War II Veteran who has fought under enemy fire on French soil is eligible for this distinction if they can pass the strict screening application. An application process that includes their military file, the military separation record (honorable discharge), a chronological resume (about one typewritten page in length), a copy of a current identity document with a picture, and copies of citations for all the decorations already received in France or in the United States indicating meritorious action during wartime operations.
The Legion of Honor medal can be given by French ambassadors stationed in a foreign country. Such is the case with the award ceremony that will take place on Sept. 2 that will open with La Marseillaise, France’s National Anthem. On behalf of the President of the Republic, a representative from the Chicago French Consulate will be presenting the awards to the local veterans.
Willis A. Bouma joined the U.S. Army in October of 1943 when he went to Detroit to take his psychical which would soon lead him to Fort Sheridan. As a U.S. Army post, Fort Sheridan, which was established in 1887 was then named, Camp Highwood, in Lake County, Illinois. It was renamed in 1888 to bear the name of Philip H. Sheridan, the General of the Army, who died that same year. Prior to the war being declared, Fort Sheridan became a regional induction and training center in 1941. Along with Bouma, close to 500,000 troops were processed through the Fort. He then was sent overseas in October of 1944.
In April 1945, Willis received his first promotion in the U.S. Army moving from Private to Private First Class in the 106th Infantry Division. In the assigned unit of 106th Quartermaster Company as a truck driver, Bouma was charged with the delivery of supplies to the troops. He was in France for eight months before traveling onto Germany.
Willis served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946.
Willis Bouma is a man that knows how to overcome adversity. The first adversity was when he was struck by a car when he was only 8 years old.
Determined to complete high school, he went on to earn his diploma after returning from the war and became a graduate of Watervliet High School.
He married the love of his life, Shirley Burmeister, on April 19, 1947. That union produced three children, the late Richard Bouma, and daughters Sandra Clark and Lou Ann Whorton, both of Arkansas.
The love of his community didn’t falter while in the service. In the October 12, 1945, edition of The Watervliet Record, Bouma wanted to ensure faster delivery of his copy by writing to the paper to inform them of his change of address.
Willis has been a local celebrity of sorts in the Tri-City Area; from holding the title of Constable for the City of Watervliet to being appointed as the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator. He has been labeled as Hartford Public School’s “People Who Make a Difference,” by Mrs. Hughes’ 2nd grade class in 1997 and “Most Patriotic” entry of the 4th of July celebrations in Watervliet, just to name a few.
Bouma has been serving his fellow veterans too. As a member of the Local VFW Posts and American Legions in the area, he has served as a Chaplin, Service Officer, member of the Military Rites Team, and much more.
Along life’s way, Willis has been stopped by many strangers who wanted a handshake and to thank him for his service. He will always happily oblige. Everyone has another chance to meet this hometown hero at the award ceremony. Don’t forget to tell him “Happy Birthday” because earlier this month Bouma celebrated yet another milestone, his 95th birthday.
CDC says COVID-19 fatalities just 6%
By Jon Bisnett
In a surprise announcement earlier this week from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, their most recent data reveals that only 6% of deaths related to COVID-19 listed COVID-19 as the singular cause of death. The vast majority of those individuals that were listed as COVID-19 related deaths also suffered from serious underlying health conditions and\or advanced age, making them highly vulnerable to the pandemic.
The state of Michigan now has 102,017 confirmed cases and 6,473 deaths since the first cases were recorded just less than five months ago, meaning 6.3% of those officially confirmed to have contracted the virus have died.
Michigan, according to the CDC, ranks No. 19 in cases and No. 9 in deaths nationally among the 50 states. Michigan’s 67 deaths per 100,000 residents as a result of COVID-19 out paces the national rate of 55 deaths per 100,000 individuals as of Sunday, Aug. 30.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed her 172nd Executive Order, effectively a rehash of a prior order prohibiting employers from discharging, disciplining, or retaliating against employees who “make the responsible choice to stay home when they or their close contacts are sick.”
Under Executive Order 2020-172, employers must treat employees who stay home when they are sick as if they were taking medical leave. It adds that any and all Michigan residents who test positive for COVID-19 or who display one or more of the principal symptoms should stay home. The Executive Order clarifies that a worker should stay home if they have any one of the following not explained by a known medical or physical condition: A fever; an uncontrolled cough, and shortness of breath; or at least two of the following not explained by a known medical or physical condition: Loss of taste or smell, muscle aches (“myalgia”), sore throat, severe headache, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain.
Individuals must remain home until 24 hours have passed since the resolution of fever without medication or 10 days have passed since their symptoms first appeared or were tested positive.
Gyms & theaters
An earlier report that there were strong indications that Governor Whitmer is ready to re-open gyms across the state as early as next week appears to have been incorrect. Bryan Reif who is President of Michigan Fitness Clubs said he was “optimistic” the governor would allow gyms to reopen soon. Gyms in Ohio have been open since late May and have only caused eight cases of COVID-19.
Last week the Associated Press reported that Whitmer was allegedly reassessing if businesses such as movie theaters, gyms and indoor pools could reopen.
Alyssa Tushman, vice chair of the Michigan Fitness Club Association, says gyms are “desperately in need of help.”
Gyms across the state closed early on amid the shutdown on March 16, while northern Lower Michigan and the U.P. gyms were allowed to reopen on June 10.
On Aug. 20, the Michigan High School Athletic Association approved soccer and volleyball competition in only the northernmost zones of the state. Executive Director Mark Uyl said at that time that schools in all other regions (which includes all of Southwest Michigan), may continue outdoor practice pending further guidance from the Governor’s office allowing for the opening of indoor facilities and physical distancing while competing in those areas. Over 10 days later it is obvious that “further guidance” has not come, leaving all but cross-country student athletes hanging.
And there’s more
Just a few weeks ago we shared the cancellation of the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes Annual Holiday performance. This week the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rounds out the opposite end of the secular season by canceling its annual holiday concert at Temple Square. The 360 voices were also silenced back in May when the planned celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Restoration was canceled, along with a planned summer tour.
Those who enjoy browsing fall holiday craft fairs will be disappointed to hear all major Southwestern Michigan events have been canceled including Watervliet’s Hospital Auxiliary, Hartford Foundation Holiday Bazaar, Chapel Hill, Niles Apple Festival, St. Joe Lions, Decatur Athletic Boosters; leaving only Grace Christian and Coloma Athletic craft shows remaining optimistic that the governor will full open the state by their respective dates in November.
“Huge Step” in funding for Watervliet to begin
By Joshua Coffin
Watervliet City Commission met for their monthly meeting held as a teleconference on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. The meeting was led by city manager Tyler Dotson to discuss and act on city-wide matters for the city of Watervliet.
With up to seven and a half million dollars in future projects for Watervliet, the city will need funding to fulfill them. Two funding opportunities are present in both the Strategic Water Quality Initiative Fund (SWIF) and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF).
Tyler Dotson sought the approval of the Watervliet City Commission to submit applications for these funding mechanisms on the city’s behalf. At this point in time, there are historically low rates in these funding programs, so according to Dotson, “Right now is the time to aggressively pursue a large scale infrastructure project, or series of projects in this case, than has been put forth in recent history.”
The city commission voted to approve the proposal for engineering consulting firm Wightman to apply to these funding opportunities on behalf of the city and start the planning. The application will cost the city $27,500. “This is a big step for the city. We’re taking what we’ve collected over the last two years all around and we’re putting it together. We’re moving it forward. … This is a big step for us.” Commissioner Duane Cobb added, “This is not just a big step. It’s a huge step. We’re either going to hemorrhage what we’re doing or we’re going to bite the bullet and fix it for future generations.”
New city engineer
City Manager Dotson brought to the commission the possibility of hiring an engineer representative for professional assistance for future projects in the city. In the past, Alan Smaka, previously the regional director at Wightman in Kalamazoo has been deeply involved in the city’s planning and maintenance of infrastructure for years. Since then Smaka has moved on from Wightman and Dotson believes it to be a good idea to have him working for the city long term. “The idea behind this is to use Alan’s in depth experience of working with the United States Department of Agriculture and the State of Michigan of various financial funds as well as the understanding of the system make-up,” said Dotson, “With Alan’s knowledge of the infrastructure and being the city’s prime engineer for the last 20 years proves invaluable.”
The City of Watervliet could potentially see up to seven and a half million dollars worth of projects in the future and Smaka will provide his engineering expertise throughout those efforts. The city commission voted to approve Alan Smaka’s proposal of $14,000 as the city’s engineer representative for the next six months.
Retirement plan for city employees
Michigan Employee Retirement System representative Tara Tyler joined the city’s meeting from Lansing to give an in depth presentation regarding the development of a new retirement system for city workers and employees. The Michigan Employee Retirement System is an independent retirement company that runs solely in Michigan to supply programs to groups within the state of Michigan. The city could set up a retirement for its employees, but the employees are not locked into that option and would still be able to utilize other plans the company offers.
City manager Tyler Dotson has the goal for the commission to make a decision on the subject on October 6, 2020. Dotson said, “We want to make sure that not only are we providing something good for the employees of the city but also that we’re doing something that is not going to jeopardize the city’s operations for generations to come.” The commission has yet to vote on the topic as it was only a discussion point for this meeting.
Elm Street project
On Aug. 11, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced 23 communities with less than 10,000 people to be rewarded Michigan Department of Transportation Category B Funding. Watervliet was awarded a grant of $117,000. With this funding, the city of Watervliet will be able to tend to many needed updates on Elm Street. Thirty-four lead and copper connections will be remediated as well as new sidewalks, new street, and fixing the undersized 4-inch water main to the standard 8-inch mane.
The state of Michigan has yet to approve their budget, with that the city would be moving forward without a budget that has been agreed upon by the legislation in the governor’s office. That being said, it is widely believed that the funds will be available when the state’s budget gets approved. Ultimately, there is a slight risk in moving forward with the Elm Street project.
The city manager said, “Worst case scenario, we do have the fund balances available, which is how we’ll be paying for the project and it is a good project regardless of the grant.” The board voted to approve the proposal to move forward with the engineering for the Elm Street project to see a summer 2021 project completion.
City Manager Report
A large list of things equates great progress for the city of Watervliet.
Watervliet’s new website will go live on Sept. 4, 2020. In addition, the city will also soon have new internet that will save $2,000 out of the general fund. The city was audited this year and it has gone better and smoother than years before. Six new light poles have been installed in the Twin Hills neighborhood. Phase Two of the Roof Trade Sump Pump is out to bid for the identification of sump pumps and storm drains for rules set forth by EGLE. The water tower will have an internal inspection on Sept. 7 to ensure it is in line with EGLE expectations and requirements. The structure at 356 North Main Street will be getting a makeover to spruce up the facade of the outside of the building. Finally, the South Watervliet Drain Project is set to begin around Sept. 14.
City manager Tyler Dotson said, “This past month, we have really realized a lot of successes for the city. I credit city staff. I credit the city commission as a whole. We’re really seeing the fruits of our efforts really starting to pay off.”
The Watervliet City Commission unanimously approved the invoices and expenditures from the month of August with accounts payable at $65,030.74 and payroll $46,236.22 for a total of $111,266.96.