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11-21-2019 Driving instructor charged with criminal sexual conduct; Watervliet Township approves ano

Driving instructor charged with criminal sexual conduct

Police Reports

By Annette Christie

Peter Charles Fleck, 56, a former driver’s education instructor for a local business, has been charged with five counts of criminal sexual conduct, 3rd degree. Police records show that Fleck began to instruct a 16-year-old female student in October of 2018. Incidents occurred from October to December of 2018 and in various locations throughout Berrien County.

Police records indicate that Fleck had sexual relations with the 16-year-old victim while he was in the position of authority over her. Due to the position of authority that Peter Fleck had at the time of the incidents, he was charged with 3rd degree Criminal Sexual Conduct by force or coercion.

Fleck was employed with Mr. G’s Driving School whose home base is in Three Oaks. They provide driving classes and instruction in the school districts of River Valley, Lakeshore, Bridgman, and Coloma according to their website.

Coloma School Superintendent Dave Ehlers stated that he was aware of the allegations and arrest of Mr. Fleck, who is not an employee of the district. Coloma Community Schools does contract with Mr. G’s driving school to provide driver education for their students. Mr. G’s rents space in their building but his instructors are his employees and not employees of the school district.

“When I learned of this incident last week, I contacted Mr. G’s Driving School to tell them Mr. Fleck could not be on our property or be involved with our students. Mr. G’s Driving School informed me that Mr. Fleck was no longer employed there,” Ehlers said.

The charges against Peter Fleck are merely accusations and he is innocent until guilt is proven otherwise.

Watervliet Township Police patrols seeking input

Police that cover Watervliet Charter Township would like to remind residents to complete the residence check forms on the township’s website.

Berrien County Sheriff Deputy Guy Puffer who patrols in Watervliet Township said that the residence monitoring service is available for people who are away from home for an extended time. There are a significant number of residents that are seasonal in the township.

The property check request form when adequately completed provides law enforcement the information needed to make sure that residences are checked during the timeframe that the homeowners are gone. In addition to the deputies assigned to the township, reserve officers for the Sheriff’s Office also do residential checks. Puffer recalls years ago when multiple houses were broken into and due to the form, they were able to easily get ahold of the homeowners.

Puffer said homeowners need not worry about confidentiality as only members of law enforcement have the information that is kept in a secure location. Once the homeowner returns to their property, the information sheets are shredded.

During August and September, the officers patrolling in Watervliet Township made six felony arrests, however, most of those were in connection with a traffic stop where the subject had a felony warrant out for their arrest. One of the incidents involved information from a felony probation officer, where the subject violated probation. Puffer worked with other law enforcement agencies to locate and apprehend the wanted subject.

Lock your cars message from Coloma Township Police Chief

Coloma Township Police Chief Wes Smigielski would like to remind residents to keep their cars locked and to remove valuables. A recent incident where a resident left their firearm in their unlocked car that was ultimately stolen, has led the Chief to provide this reminder again.

Smigielski stated at a recent Coloma Township meeting, “Please don’t leave firearms in your car. Your CPL can be taken from you for stupidity, not to mention it puts my officers in harm’s way when a loaded firearm is stolen.”

In the month of October alone, the department investigated 19 larcenies, one incident of stolen property, and three cases of breaking and entering.

The department had 246 total complaints investigated in the month of October, up slightly from last year. The traffic stops, at 57, are up from last month as well. The department made 21 arrests of which five were for felonies. The department wrote 15 citations and gave 42 warnings.

Van Buren County Corrections Officer graduates

The Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office Corrections officer Dawn Kelly recently completed a local corrections officer training academy held at the KVCC Law Enforcement Training Center.

The four-week academy offers a comprehensive, interactive instruction program in various disciplines for local correction officers. Training topics include custody and security, defensive tactics, first aid (including CPR and AED procedures), suicide awareness, fire safety and interpersonal communications. The academy, certified by the Michigan Sheriff’s Coordinating and Training Council, is an important element of providing the necessary skills for maintaining a safe, secure environment for correction officers, inmates and county residents.

“Congratulations to our graduate Dawn Kelly who is dedicated to learning important skills and furthering her education in order to safely and effectively manage our inmate population”, said County Sheriff Daniel. E. Abbott. “The training helps our corrections officer develop and practice the tools necessary to be successful in a high stress environment.”

Watervliet Township approves another marijuana establishment

By Annette Christie

The Watervliet Township Board approved another medical marijuana establishment at their Monday, November 18, 2019 meeting.

The request came for a special land use permit for a provisioning center to be located at 3626 M-140. The Planning Commission held a public hearing on the subject at their November 5 meeting. The minutes reflect that Michael Abdul told those in attendance that if approved, he would build a nice new building and would be employing between 15 to 20 people. The property location is a vacant lot between the I-94 overpass and the DeMars building.

Zoning Administrator Bob Lohr reported to the Planning Commission that the application and site plan submitted were correct, accurate and in compliance with all township ordinances. After discussion, the Planning Commission voted to move the special land use application to the full township for their approval and provided a recommendation to do so. Unanimously, the Township Board approved the special land use permit for the medical marijuana provisioning center to be located at 3626 M-140.

The township also had to consider another application for what would be the third provisioning center in the township. The developer Joe Arnt is planning to put one at 8277 Arnt Blvd.

Leftover from the October Planning Commission, Arnt was back before that body to receive a legal opinion over whether the utility easement behind the property could be considered in tabulating the 100’ requirement from residential properties. The minutes reflect that Township Attorney Jessica Fette told Arnt that the easement could not be included in the calculation. With that, Arnt had a potential sale pending on a 6.7 foot strip of land from a residential property owner to the north of the development. With the addition of that property Arnt met the 100’ of setback, however, that property would have to be combined with the strip mall property and the zoning would need to be changed per the ordinance.

The Planning Commission went ahead and provided a recommendation that the special land use permit requested by Arnt, would be issued pending his additional land purchase and the rezoning required for that land. The township board repeated that same approval with the same contingencies. Arnt will have 90 days to finalize the sale and obtain the rezoning from R1B Residential to Commercial.

At last month’s Watervliet Township Board meeting, they approved the special land use permit for property located at 3801 M-140 to become a medical marijuana provisioning center.

Clay resigns; Giannetti appointed

Clerk Patt Bambrick read into communications a letter dated October 21 that was authored by Trustee Matt Clay. In it Clay stated that he must resign as a trustee of the Watervliet Township Board, effective immediately. Clay cited a stronger force on his family and spending more time with his children during their crucial years as the reason for stepping down. With that, the board appointed Glen Giannetti to fill the balance of Clay’s term through 2020.

Giannetti had visited the Paw Paw Lake area for over 20 years before permanently re-locating here in 2011. He resides at 8402 Lake Avenue. He had been in education for 28 years and had served as the Superintendent in the Chicago Heights area. He has been involved on several boards including the Planning Commission and Paw Paw Lake Association. He ran for the trustee office in 2016 but was just a few votes shy of being elected.

Leaf pick-up

Township officials announced that township-wide leaf pickup started on November 4 and will continue throughout the month. If it is necessary for them to go into December to get them all picked up, they will do that.

Their next meeting is Monday, December 16, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. Township Hall will be closed on November 28 and 29 for the Thanksgiving holiday.

HISTORICAL TREASURES… Pictured are Roseanne Bittner and Museum Executive Director/Curator Jack Greves. Bittner is holding a photo of her parents who collected and preserved the autographed photo album that Greves is holding.


Autographed photo album of performers at Crystal Palace donated to North Berrien Historical Society Museum

The family of Frank Reris, who was a lifetime resident of the Riverside/ Coloma area, recently presented the North Berrien Historical Society with a picture album of legendary singers and orchestra leaders who appeared at Coloma’s famed Crystal Palace during the 1950s and ‘60s. Most of the 8×10 photographs are autographed to Frank and were collected during the height of the dancehall’s glory days.

Frank, who died in 1991, worked at Whirlpool most of his life, but had a second job as a bouncer at Crystal Palace until the dancehall was sold in 1962. His now-deceased wife, Ardella Reris-Traxler, kept the photo album updated for her husband; it contains treasured pictures and autographs of well-known performers, including Guy Lombardo, Tiny Hill, Eddy Howard, and Lawrence Welk, plus singers such as Milly Coury and Russ Carlyle. Nearly all renowned orchestra leaders of the era performed at Crystal Palace, including Tommy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong. After their parents’ deaths, Frank’s daughters – Linda Henke, Pat Brower, and Rosanne Bittner – searched extensively for the picture album, fearing their mother might have accidentally thrown it out when moving several times after her husband’s death. They recently found the album when a nephew, David Tarantino of Holland, learned from his brother, Frank, that the collection of photographs had somehow ended up in Frank’s possession and was packed in a box he had never opened. David and Frank Tarantino are the sons of Frank Reris’s deceased daughter, Sharon Rothrock. Linda, Pat, and Rosanne were extremely happy to find this album, as it is filled with memories of the big band era, when Crystal Palace was nothing short of famous as a glittering dancehall where people came from all over the country to hear some of America’s top orchestras perform. Some nights, the dancehall was so busy that men were hired to direct traffic and control crowds that overflowed into the parking lot, where they could still hear the music and dance outside. Pat and Linda now live in the Holland/ Grand Haven area, while Rosanne resides in Coloma. They all remember the beauty and romance of the big band era, when glamour and dancing were high on peoples’ lists of entertainment. At that time, Coloma touted many hotels, motels, and lake cabins, with ice cream stands, lakeside taverns, and swimming holes where kids would gather on evenings and weekends. Rosanne especially remembers one summer night when she was babysitting nearby at a house on the lake. She sat outside watching the moonlight sparkle on Paw Paw Lake while heart-swelling, romantic music poured out of the windows of Crystal Palace, which she is sure back then was not air conditioned. She remembers the spinning, glittering crystal ball at the center of the dance floor and can still hear the laughter from people having fun dancing the night away. She and her sisters recall hearing stories from their father about his job as a bouncer, like the night he tossed four troublemakers out on their ears. However, the sisters find it difficult to envision such a thing, because their dad was otherwise such a kind and gentle man. But keeping peace and order inside a crowded dancehall was Frank’s job, so he did it. Crystal Palace was sold in 1962. The following year, the building burned down while undergoing renovations. The loss of the dancehall was mourned by Coloma citizens and even people in other parts of the country. Frank’s daughters regret that once their generation is gone from this earth, most people in Coloma will not even know about Crystal Palace, a popular attraction that brought thousands to Paw Paw Lake from all over the country. The Reris photo album of famous performers has been added to the collections at the North Berrien Historical Museum in Coloma, which features in its main gallery a display dedicated to Crystal Palace and other former local dancehalls.

Hometown Holiday Happenings

Tree of Love Lighting Ceremony & Linen Sale at Lakeland Hospital, Watervliet

Lakeland Hospital, Watervliet Auxiliary will host the Annual Tree of Love Lighting Ceremony Thursday, Nov. 21 at 12:00 p.m. in the Hospital Lobby. Entertainment and refreshments will be provided. Angels and ornaments are available for purchase at the Hospital Information desk and the hospital Park Bench Gift Shop.

Watervliet Auxiliary is also hosting their annual Linen Sale on Thursday from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on the first floor of the Hospital just off the lobby.

Quality sheets, blankets, throws, quilts and much more will be available at a reasonable cost. All profits will be used for auxiliary projects at Lakeland Hospital, Watervliet.

Pancake Breakfast & Bake Sale at 12 Corners Church Saturday

Twelve Corners Community Church extends an invitation to the public for their all you can eat pancake breakfast on Saturday, Nov. 23 beginning at 9 a.m. On the same day, take advantage of their bake sale to purchase Thanksgiving desserts.

The breakfast menu includes all you can eat pancakes, sausage, bacon, breakfast wraps, biscuits with sausage gravy, fruit and jellies served with coffee, orange juice, milk and water. The cost is by donation.

Proceeds for the day will go towards 12 Corner’s building fund. The church is located at 3902 Hicks Avenue in Benton Harbor.

Watervliet & Coloma participate in American Express Shop Small Campaign Nov. 30

Watervliet and Coloma business communities are participating this year in the national American Express campaign Shop Small on Saturday, Nov. 30. Both communities will be in holiday decoration for this Shop Small Saturday celebration. Many businesses are taking full advantage of this celebration and promoting their businesses on this day offering great specials. Some businesses are even offering refreshments, drawings, live music and much more.

The Watervliet Downtown Development Authority has also planned a Holiday Bazaar for Small Town Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cortez Flooring Inc. has graciously offered a portion of their building at 348 N. Main Street, Watervliet to hold the bazaar.

Organizers of the Holiday Bazaar hope to have at least 20 vendors & crafters selling their items at a discount for that day.

Please plan on shopping local this holiday season and spending your Small Town Saturday in Downtown Watervliet and Coloma!

Decatur Holiday Arts & Crafts Show Nov. 30

The 39th annual Holiday Arts & Crafts Show will be held Saturday, Nov. 30 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Decatur Jr. Sr. High School, 110 Cedar St.

One hundred fifty crafters will be selling a wide variety of arts and crafts. Lunch will be available. The show is sponsored by the Decatur Athletic Boosters.

Admission is non-perishable food items to benefit Decatur Human Services.

Watervliet Business Window Decorating Contest

In celebration of Watervliet’s Hometown Christmas the organizers are offering a contest to business owners to create a magical Christmas store front using lights, trees and decorations to welcome Santa into town on December 8. Judging will be on Friday, Dec. 6 between 5 and 6 p.m. to accommodate lighted displays.

Business owners need to let Bethany know by November 29 if they will be entering, call 269-757-2903. Prizes will be awarded for the top three displays.

It’s a Hometown Christmas in Watervliet Dec. 7-8

Please join us Saturday, Dec. 7 and Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019 to celebrate the holiday magic in Watervliet! There are some great events planned.

Snowman Building Contest

The weekend fun starts at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, weather permitting, with a Snowman Building Contest until 3 p.m. at the city parking lot on Main Street by Jot Liquor.

Best Decorated Cookie Contest

On Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. Watervliet is the place for a fun afternoon of decorating cookies, enjoying hot cocoa and Christmas music. This event is being held at Arclight Brewery on Main Street. There will be cookies, frosting and sprinkles provided.

Contest will be divided by age groups and there will be a prize for each individual age group!

Arclight Brewing Company 5th Annual Chili Cook Off on Saturday

Arclight Brewery is offering their 5th annual Chili Cook Off Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019 in celebration of Watervliet’s Hometown Christmas.

Prizes will be awarded to the top three contestants and it’s free to enter. Pick up a registration form in the taproom now. Not a cook? Attend and enjoy a free bowl of chili; open to the public at 6:30 p.m.

For entertainment Arclight is offering a free show with live music by Big Ben and the Burly Boys starting at 8 p.m. Arclight Brewing Company is located at 544 N. Main St. in Watervliet.

Live Mannequins on Main Street

Some businesses will have a live mannequin display in their windows facing Main Street Watervliet on Saturday evening from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Stroll down the sidewalks to enjoy these displays and the festive decorations and lights dressing up our Hometown Christmas.

Snow Prince & Princess Contest

Voting boxes will be at Watervliet Wesco, Cool Tan, B&B Grocery, and Arclight Brewery leading up to the crowning ceremony for the Snow Prince & Snow Princess. A 4 p.m. crowning ceremony takes place this year on Sunday, Dec. 8 at Arclight Brewery for contestants in 6th through 8th grades.

Toys for Tots

From Thanksgiving until the second week of December there will be a drop box at Arclight Brewery for community members to make donations of new unwrapped toys to the Toys for Tots program.

Hometown Christmas Parade begins Sunday’s celebrating including a stop for formal tree lighting

There will be a parade downtown starting at 5:30 p.m. from Watervliet City Hall and ending at Arclight Brewery. Mr. Mattson and his Watervliet Elementary Choir will lead the parade. Winner of the best entry will receive a $100 award. The parade will make a stop at the city parking lot by Jot Liquor for a formal tree lighting ceremony with Santa. From there Santa will lead the parade to the brewery.

Returning to the holiday celebration this year is a pet contest for non-aggressive dogs dressed as reindeer. A grand prize of $25 for the most creative will be awarded at Arclight following the parade. Dogs and their humans should be at the Watervliet Fire Station no later than 5:15 p.m. on Sunday.

Live reindeer (the real thing) will be at the brewery from 5-7:30 p.m.

A photographer will be at Arclight from 6-8 p.m. to take pictures with Santa for purchase. During the Pictures with Santa from 6-8 will be hot chocolate and cookies for free.

For teens and adults, an Ugly Sweater Contest will begin 7:00 p.m. on Sunday with judging to follow. Prizes will be awarded in both teen and adult categories.

The Class of 2022 will conduct a fund-raiser on Sunday from 4-8 p.m. selling Wesco Popcorn Buckets for $12. In addition on Sunday from 6-8 p.m. during Watervliet’s Hometown Christmas Celebration Robert Michael Salon will be at Arclight with Holiday Hair and Glitter Tattoos for free.

Blossomland Learning Center to host holiday bazaar Dec. 6

Berrien Regional Education Service Agency’s (RESA) Blossomland Learning Center Holiday Bazaar in on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Holiday Bazaar will feature an assortment of items including various crafts, ceramic art, baked goods, ornaments and more! There will also be several raffle items as well as light lunch options. The public is invited.

Proceeds from the bazaar will benefit Blossomland Learning Center students by providing them with classroom materials, opportunities for social gatherings and community outings.

Blossomland Learning Center is located at 711 St. Joseph Avenue in Berrien Springs.

Christmas Carol Hymn Sing Dec. 7

Time to get in the Christmas spirit again! Mark Saturday, Dec. 7 on your calendar! That day, at 6:00 p.m. Watervliet’s Plymouth Congregational Church will host a Christmas carol hymn sing.

In past years they’ve enjoyed great community participation with as many as 99 in attendance, with 17 churches represented. Now it’s time to pick it up again with a Christmas hymn sing at Plymouth. And, of course, they will serve cookies and ice cream afterward as everyone will be in the 2019 Christmas spirit.

Watervliet’s Best Lighted House Contest Dec. 8-21

Watervliet’s Best Lighted House contest is sponsored by the City of Watervliet in coordination with the Hometown Christmas Celebration. It runs December 8-21, 2019. Residents in both the city and township of Watervliet may enter to win!

To enter, participants must make ONE post with photo and/or video of their Christmas display on the Watervliet’s Best Lighted House Facebook event page. Then send the street address via Facebook Messenger to Katie Ann Muth so authenticity can be verified. Please do NOT post the address with the photo.

Entries can be made anytime between Dec. 8 and Dec. 21. No posts before Dec. 8 will be accepted.

Once the entry has been posted, share the event and post with all your Facebook friends. Be sure to “invite” friends and ask them to vote for your house on the event page. The posts with the most “likes” will be eligible to win.

At noon on Dec. 21, “Likes” will be counted on the event page ONLY. Prizes for this contest are 1st place: $100 cash; 2nd place: $50 gift card; and 3rd place: $25 cash.

To see more information about the prizes and to view the other contestants’ entries, be sure to RSVP on the event page as “going”.

Christmas Eve Service at

Plymouth Congregational

The public is invited to participate in a Candlelight Christmas Eve service on December 24, at 6:00 p.m., at Plymouth Congregational Church in Watervliet. There will be singing of Advent songs and a short devotional about the true meaning of the Christmas celebration. Everyone is welcome to come. The service usually ends with the singing of the traditional “Silent Night”, a cappella by candlelight.

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