Beth Altena

Rockford firefighter graduates from Police Academy

September 13, 2012 // 0 Comments

by BETH ALTENA “It was a challenge, especially being older. If I was in my twenties like everyone else in the class, it would have been easier,” Bob Berkstresser, 51, made the statement about a grueling 16-week, 594-hour police training academy. Berkstresser just completed the class, allowing him to join the ranks of Rockford’s relatively new Department of Public Safety as a fully trained firefighter and police officer. City Manager Michael Young described the achievement by saying, “This is one of the significant milestones we have accomplished as we move to the ultimate phase-in of the consolidation at the end of the year.” Young was talking about the consolidation of police and fire first responder with Department of Public Works employees also cross-trained as first responders. At a rollover accident in Rockford on August 22, there were 15 first responders on the scene helping to extricate a driver pinned in a rollover vehicle. The training of City of Rockford employees to take advantage of existing staff in a variety of emergency situations is the goal Young, Police Chief Dave Jones and Fire Chief Mike Reus had in mind when they planned the merger. “The majority of our calls take place between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. so it only makes sense that the Department of Public Works people trained to respond to fire, police and medical,” said Berkstresser. Berkstresser said it will be a challenge for the multi-trained staff to keep up on all ongoing training that is required, since fire, medical and police all have different ongoing training requirements. For example, this week Berkstresser has to attend a two-day conference required to maintain his certification as a fire inspector. Berkstressor said the police academy, offered by Grand Valley State University over a 16-week period, wasn’t easy. A firefighter for Rockford since 1992, Berkstresser found himself learning a whole new set of skills. Prior to joining Rockford as firefighter he was an employee of the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. Berkstresser included among his recent training, law, defense tactics, firearms training, physical fitness and training, court procedures, report writing, field sobriety testing, Operating While Under the Influence testing, emergency vehicle operations, high risk felony stops, domestic violence training, role playing scenarios for a […]

Donations a simple step in breaking bonds of addiction

September 13, 2012 // 0 Comments

by BETH ALTENA A Salvation Army donation truck will be parked at Ric’s Food Center, 6767 Belding Road from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on September 22. For the third year in a row the public is invited to pull up and donate clothing, furniture electronics, appliances and household goods, receiving help unloading and a receipt for a deduction on this year’s taxes. According to Salvation Army Public Relations Director Diane Taber, people may not realize what exactly they are helping to achieve with the simple step of cleaning out no longer needed, gently used items and giving them to the Salvation Army. In addition to stocking the eight West Michigan Salvation Army stores, where customers can pick up good-as-new items for pennies on the dollar of what they originally cost, donations are literally saving lives and rebuilding souls. Taber said she herself represents what has always been the organization’s main focus: helping individuals break away from the grips of addiction and allowing them to turn their lives around. The Salvation Army focuses on their local Adult Rehabilitation Center where people who are caught up in alcoholism or drug addiction can turn to for help. “I am like a lot of people who had a good upbringing, a good family, a good education,” she described. “I didn’t have any alcoholism in my family, but I got it.” Tabor said the Salvation Army began in the late 1800s in the slums of London where William Booth was determined to bring the word of God to those who were not allowed in the doors of churches. “Those were the drunks and the prostitutes mostly,” Taber described. She said another basis of the organization was Booth’s belief that “you can’t preach to a man with a toothache,” so caring for people’s physical well-being had to be part of bringing them to faith. Even the common phrase to be “on the wagon” came from the earliest years of the Salvation Army. Taber said the organization went through the slums with horse-drawn wagons and those in need of food, clothes, caring and a spiritual second chance literally got on the wagon. The Grand Rapids Adult Rehabilitation Center is a place where people can go and either stay six months to […]

Latitudes and Steelheads Tavern combines best of both worlds in ‘gastric pub’

September 13, 2012 // 0 Comments

by BETH ALTENA  Latitudes and Steelheads Tavern is a split-personality establishment which combines two separate eating and drinking establishments into one really amazing “gastro pub.” The term gastro pub is describing a pub or tavern where customers can drink, but also serves great food. Located in a century-old quaint historic hotel in Howard City, the restaurant/bar is only a short drive from Rockford and worth the trip. Owners Max P. Frank Zamarripa and Abby Zamarripa, saw an opportunity for a really rockin’ restaurant and bar in a very cool historic city and opened the doors of Latitudes and Steelheads Tavern on December 18, 2003. Frank has traveled extensively, eating and dining at many different restaurants, and had a vision that he believed would be a good fit in his community. Time has proved him right. “We have the best customers,” explained Abby. “They have been with us since we opened and are very loyal. We enjoy our business because we feel a sense of accomplishment and giving back to the community.” Latitudes and Steelheads has two separate doors entering into two areas: a casual fine dining restaurant at Latitudes and a rockin’ Chicago-style tavern through the Steelheads door. Both places serve customers by treating them well with friendly service, good pricing and plenty of quality offerings. Secrets of success in dining and drinking establishments are fresh, wholesome food, good cold drinks and all at a reasonable price. The restaurant purchases food locally produced when possible, including Ingraberg Farms of Rockford for fresh, seasonal produce, hand-cut beef from Berghorst Farms, cheese from farms in Lakeview, fruit from local orchards, and Zoye Soy Bean oil for frying from a supplier in Zeeland. They choose the soy bean oil because it has zero trans fat—just one of many decisions to be health conscious for diners. “We try to have all our specials be seasonal with what is fresh and try hard to support and buy from Michigan farmers,” noted Frank. He said the restaurant also raises money for community fundraisers, recycles as much as possible and is in the process of becoming a certified “green” restaurant. There is live music on weekends and karaoke on Thursday nights. Among the offerings for which Latitudes and Steelheads has become well known, […]

Rockford woman a repeat offender in random acts of kindness

September 6, 2012 // 0 Comments

by BETH ALTENA At age 64, Vern Criner is “the baby here” at Richter Place Apartments, a fair housing complex for residents age 62 and older. Julie Carr, 74, is his senior by 10 years. When she heard that the relative newcomer to the complex wished he had a bedspread, she sprang into action. With arthritis gloves to keep her hands warm and ward off cramping, Carr spent two months and used 22 skeins of yarn to create a bedcover fit for royalty. In the effort she spent in making and giving this huge cover—it measures nine feet two inches by six feet ten inches—Carr didn’t do anything she hasn’t done a thousand times before. Carr began crocheting about 47 years ago when she picked up a pin lace project of her sister, Mary. Carr was intrigued by the piece and tried her hand at it, lacing a row or two. “When I heard my sister coming I put it right down,” Carr described. She said her sister looked at her work and asked her what she thought she had been doing. “I said, ‘Nothing, I didn’t touch it,’ but she knew and pulled all my work out,” Carr said. Now her sister has since passed away, but after that introduction Carr took up the hobby herself and has been crocheting nearly five decades. “She gives to everyone,” said Carr’s best friend, referring not just to crocheted works but also of friendship and time. Seventy-six-year-old Shirley Heiman has been at Richter Place going on seven years. She said many of the residents at Richter Place have mementos of Carr’s generosity—towels, blankets, afghans, sweaters, pot holders, bottle holders, throws and covers. Residents give her the yarn or she buys her own. Heiman and Carr both say they enjoy their new friendship with Criner. Like other residents at the facility, he brings a surprising mix of talents. Criner’s floral designs grace the dining area at Richter Place. Some of his paintings have been purchased by a local hospital which displays them in reception areas. “He is just the sweetest man and we enjoy his company,” Heiman said. It isn’t only to people she knows that Carr extends her gifts of crochet. Carr heard from her church, Lake […]

Rockford father-daughter bond forged in fear

August 30, 2012 // 0 Comments

Family values explored in ‘The Meaning of Normal’ by BETH ALTENA Anyone who knows Phil Mann can concede he does a convincing creepy. Surprisingly, so does his daughter, lovely 16-year-old Tiffany, a straight-A student who will be a junior this year at Rockford High School. The two were recently featured in a news segment titled “The Meaning of Normal” that proves family values can take a ghoulish twist and still make the memories of a lifetime. The news segment won WZZM TV 13 one of seven Emmy Awards the station was awarded this year by the National Press Photographers Association in the category of television. Nationally it took third overall and first in its category. Mann works second shift at Steelcase, making family time tough to arrange around Tiffany’s schedule of school and homework. Their solution? Spend time together as the zombie groom and zombie bride at The Haunt. “This is their together time, scaring people,” explains mom and wife Debbie. The Mann family has a long tradition of enjoying and creating haunted houses and considers a “haunt hunt” a nostalgic family outing. Two years ago Phil and Tiffany signed up as staff at the Grand Rapids spook house and found a perfect fit for their creepy creativity. “I am so lucky to have my dad,” Tiffany said of the pair’s ghoulish hobby. She has Facebooked to her friends that her dad is cool. Any parent to a teenage girl will appreciate the gesture as atypical. Perhaps the juxtaposition of straight-A school work, a real appreciation for dressing up as the dead to scare strangers and a daughter-dad relationship that is admirable helped give the segment its appeal. It was produced by Andrew B. Sudgen for WZZM-13, who Phil said “practically lived with us” during the filming. Mann is interviewed at his Steelcase job and at home, and Tiffany was filmed singing with the Rockford High School choir. And then there is the filming from The Haunt, where Tiffany moves with slack-jawed, broken necked jerkiness, dragging her damaged wedding gowned self toward screaming visitors. Dad, dressed as undead groom, likewise performs in deathly makeup, with vacant eyes and a lopsided, looming gait. Pure father-daughter fun. “We get paid with scares and dropping people to the […]

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