Dan Williams

Academy ‘the best kept secret in Michigan’

September 15, 2011 // 0 Comments

Rockford youth turns life around by BETH ALTENA Spencer Williams was a 17-year-old high school dropout who knew his life was headed nowhere. His dad, Dan, described Spencer as a “pissed off kid, a mad kid” who just didn’t quite fit in. He wasn’t dumb, but he just didn’t click in the traditional high school setting or even the alternative education program. His parents didn’t know what to do to get through to him or to help him. Then Spencer heard about a quasi-military program that takes on kids just like him. Dan calls the Michigan Youth Challenge Academy the “unheard-of secret—the most amazing program.” Twenty-two weeks after Spencer stepped onto the campus of the Battle Creek academy, he walked away with his GED, 15 college credits, and 81,000 collective hours of community service. More importantly, he walked away knowing he had succeeded in the most difficult struggle of his life and with a new pride in himself, self-respect he never felt before, and a vision of his future. “I knew I had to change myself to change my future,” Spencer said. “I knew I wasn’t going to graduate. I knew I had to do something to get my life on track.” Spencer was dropped off at the campus with a duffle with just socks and underwear. Cadets at the academy can’t bring cell phones, video games, cigarettes—no creature comforts from home to the National Guard military barracks at Fort Custer. Students get one chance to stick it out at the academy and can’t return if they quit. From day one, Spencer was in a whole different world. “They are in your face 24/7,” he said of the National Guard staff who run the state supported school. “They break you down mentally and make you do everything out of your comfort zone,” Spencer said. A typical day begins at 5:30 a.m., removing the rack (cot) sheets and standing in line in silence, waiting for orders. Calisthenics follow for the next hour, then cadets are allowed to brush their teeth before morning chow. Each day includes presenting colors: the raising of the Michigan and United States flags at attention before marching to classes. The first couple of weeks were the worst, by design, and quite a […]

Rockford business changes hands

June 9, 2011 // 0 Comments

‘I’m buying a piece of Rockford’ by BETH ALTENA When you see the Rockford football team on the big flatbed truck during this Saturday’s Start of Summer parade, the truck towing it won’t be River Valley Auto. Todd Pell has purchased the towing portion of the River Valley Auto business and has changed the company name to Rockford Towing. He couldn’t be more pleased about owning his own business in Rockford and, after nearly two decades in the tow business, to being his own boss. The business was purchased from John Shattuck and Dan Williams, who between them own River Valley Auto and Car Star of Rockford. Williams said that for tow customers, there will be no change in service and the business will still be located in the “bull pen” on River Valley’s property. “He wanted a tow business and we wanted to get out of that and concentrate on body shops and mechanical garage,” said Williams, a second-generation owner of Car Star. Williams said River Valley and Car Star will service and repair any make vehicle, but specialize in European makes. They have been very busy and Williams said the transaction comes at a good time. “It was a handful to juggle all those balls.” The business is one of the “old timers” in Rockford, reaching back to its founding in 1985 by Roy Nielson when Roy opened a gas station/car wash with towing. Son Ryan Nielson, who is still with the business, going to work with Pell as lead tow driver. Along with Ryan go the titles to six wreckers, two flatbeds and one service car. Ryan remembers when his dad owned just one tow truck, when he was a tot. “A lot of people still call it Roy’s,” said Ryan. Roy sold the business in February 2001 to Gordie LaFontaine, who operated it for the next seven years. The public has seen the bright red trucks with black lettering pull our athletic heroes on flatbeds through the annual Start of Summer Parade. Pell is excited that this year the trucks pulling the high school football team will be his and parade watchers will see his new logo as Rockford Towing. “Over time as we acquire new trucks we will change the […]