Her granddaughter, if still living, would be 15
by BETH ALTENA
Kim VerHage is a woman with practice at patience, or at least waiting out the unknown. On the day her granddaughter would turn 15 years of age, VerHage was called back to work after leaving around 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 15, to find vandals had broken eight windows in her bookstore. “It was the day Shannon would have turned 15, if she was allowed to live,” she lamented. She believes 15 is likely around the age of those responsible for the damage. “These kids got the chance to live, and this is what they are doing.”
VerHage said periodically, over the 26 years she has owned the shop, a group of youngsters will spend their summers causing trouble for her and fellow business owners downtown before they eventually get a driver’s license and take their energy elsewhere. She wishes they would do a little more soul searching and a little less building bashing.
“Look what you are doing with your life. You are doing nothing,” VerHage said when asked what she’d like to say to the culprits who have broken doors and windows, thrown around books and otherwise damaged her property over the decades.
VerHage is the grandmother of Shannon Timmerman, who has never been seen or found since her mother was brutally murdered in a Newaygo County lake on federal land. The convicted killer is Marvin Gabrion, who has been on death row for years and is likely to remain there, according to VerHage, for decades more filing endless appeals. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s case seeking the younger Timmerman remains open and, according to VerHage, still active. She said she has been contacted as recently as last month by the agency, asking for pictures of the child’s father, who is her son, for creating age-progression images of what Timmerman might look like today. Shannon was less than a year old when she disappeared. VerHage said she thinks of her granddaughter often as she goes about her daily life—running the shop, caring for abandoned dogs and looking after kittens dumped near her business.
VerHage’s shop is two structures, a building and a retired train car brought to Rockford in 1974 as a train museum. The 85-year-old car has been featured on postcards and photographs of Rockford as one of the city’s unique properties. Kids have broken into it over the years, and caused trouble out on the deck that serves as a way to get to South Squires Street off the White Pine Trail. VerHage said one night last summer somebody broke 68 spindles of the rail the night of a town festival.
VerHage said the constant vigilance and cost of repair after vandalism are a discouragement. She said other merchants suffer in silence because they fear vandals will retaliate with worse if they complain to the police. VerHage said it has been suggested to her that she bar youngsters from her store.
“Barring kids from a bookstore? How do I know which ones are here because they love books? I want kids to love books,” she said.
A book lover herself, VerHage said she considers her career choice “not so much a business as an illness,” although she has a following of regulars and often has over 50 people a day in her shop. With its tucked-away location at 27 South Squires Street, Reading Books is easy to overlook, but in fact the store is the largest used book store in the Grand Rapids area with over 100,000 books to look through and another 30,000 VerHage can’t fit in the store.
Here nearly three decades, VerHage is one of those who have a long memory of the town, and recites the history of her own building as formerly housing The Gatehouse, a gift shop, and Aunt Della’s Fudge, bought out by Floyd Havemeier and incorporated into his business, Herman’s Boy. Back in the day, she and Alice Allen of The Rockford Squire were featured in a Grand Rapids Press article as the Cat Ladies of South Squires Street because they captured ferals and had them spayed and neutered. A long-standing problem of feral cats was eventually resolved, and only this spring have three shown up as kittens. VerHage has been unable to catch the wary animals and is concerned as they now look pregnant.
VerHage said the economy has slowed her business, although it still operates at a rate that has her resigned she will never catch up with cataloging, marking and moving all the books that come in. She said electronic media hasn’t made any difference at all because so many people want a real book in their hands.
“You can’t get a signed edition of a download,” VerHage noted. “You don’t have tech problems. Even if you get a book wet you can still read it. With electronic editions, a lot can happen. Even if your battery goes, what do you have? A hunk of plastic.”
Shopper Jamie Hilliker of Rockford agrees, and said she stops in about once a month to drop off books in trade and find new gems for herself and her grandkids. “I like coming here because I get books cheaper,” she laughed when asked what she liked about the store. “I enjoy having a book in my hands,” she said and pointed out that she often reads older books, which you can’t readily find in any other store.
VerHage said she hopes the people responsible for making a bad day worse for her will reconsider in the future. “They should be more appreciative of what they have got. It really brought it home to me when I realized it was Shannon’s birthday that it happened. They have the chance to do something with their lives. They should take advantage of it.”
And as she continues to hold hope that Shannon is alive somewhere and may even see her own story on an unsolved crime show, VerHage is determined to not let the unanswered questions control her life. “It’s been 14 years. You never, ever stop thinking about it. I’ve learned not to get my hopes up. I have to stay even.”