By Maggie Boleyn

PSSSST…FERNDALE ISN’T JUST A HIP HAVEN FOR YOUNG PEOPLE. Ferndale’s more senior citizens are a very active, and very involved part of the city as well.

Jeannie Davis, president of the Ferndale Senior Group, says the group provides a “new outlet for socialization.” She adds that board members strive to “work very hard to make the senior experience more enjoyable.”

Davis, who also writes the seniors column for Ferndale Friends, said her goal is “to make the group more visible.” She adds that Ferndale Seniors are an active group within the community, participating in events like selling T-shirts for the Woodward Dream Cruise, leading pub crawls, manning a rib tent and helping with other local happenings. “We are visible and viable,” she said. “We aren’t just playing bingo, and sitting and knitting.”

Indeed, the Ferndale Senior Group is also embracing technology to help seniors connect with each other and with the community at large. “I love texting the Mayor,” Davis said. The Ferndale Seniors Group also has a Facebook presence, where Davis wrote: “Ferndale Senior Group is a social group comprised of people who are 55-years and over. Being a Ferndale resident is not a requisite.”

The Ferndale Senior Group meets twice a month on the second and fourth Wednesdays at 11:00 A.M., at the Kulick Center on Livernois. “These meetings aren’t just gabfests,” Davis promises. “It’s always a learning experience.” Recent guest speakers included a visitor from the Ferndale Historical Museum and the group also hosts a candidate forum, where attendees can meet, greet and ask questions of candidates running for office.

Elected officials also visit the Ferndale’s Senior Group although, as Davis hastens to clarify, “We are not a political group.” The visits are merely to provide information to attendees. Politicians and candidates do well to court senior voters. According to, at any time, more than half of registered voters over the age of 60 can be relied upon to cast a ballot in elections. In presidential voting years, 70 per cent of registered seniors will cast a vote, in person or by absentee ballot.

Davis notes that a mayoral town hall is also another feature of the Senior Group. She said that plans are in the works for Mayor Dave Coulter to hold a town hall meeting at the Kulick Center on October 11. “Anyone can come,” Davis added.

The Ferndale Senior Group also offers short day trips to nearby places such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Zoo, Cranbrook, and the River Walk on the Detroit River in Downtown Detroit. “We’re constantly looking for different things,” Davis says. “We want to give them something more to talk about than daytime TV and aches and pains,” she adds. The group offers a wide variety of inexpensive things for people to do.

The Senior Group allows anyone to attend meetings; however, persons who become members receive discounted rates for events and activities, Davis says.

Money Magazine pointed out that “The best places to age well have lots of jobs, good public transportation and active communities.” Davis, who retired from running her own business as a real estate appraiser, considers Ferndale as a “senior-friendly” city. “Ferndale is a very walk-able community,” she said. “Also, we love the ‘businesses on Nine’, especially Western Market.” Davis says. She adds that Ferndale’s Metro Detroit location means there are plenty of opportunities for visiting cultural venues and volunteering.

Davis, who has lived in Ferndale since 1960s, concludes that Ferndale seems “genuinely fond of seniors.

By David Wesley & stephanie loveless

SEVEN YEARS AFTER MICHELLE MIROWSKI LAID THE FOUNDATION for the Underwood V radio collective, and more than 20 years after free-speech activists all across the country began clamoring for access to the public airwaves…Ferndale is about to switch on the dial for our very own community radio station: 100.7 FCR FM.

The project is still in development, but as the ink dries on these pages volunteers are testing the equipment for the station. The station is expected to go live with a test signal and recorded information in the weeks ahead with a full programming schedule by Fall.

Ferndale Community Radio (FCR) is physically located inside of the Rust Belt Market at the northwest corner 9 Mile and Woodward. Owners Chris and Tiffany Best have generously offered rent-free space for the FCR broadcast studio, as well as a place on the Rust Belt roof for the essential tower and antenna.

FCR is a 100-watt LPFM (short for Low Power Frequency Modulation) station, with a projected broadcast range of perhaps two miles in any direction. We’re about to find out exactly how far FCR will reach, as soon as all the bugs get worked out. LPFM stations are required to make sure their signal does not interfere with existing, mega-watt commercial stations. Because of the congestion on the radio dial, FCR is likely to be the only LPFM station licensed in the Metro-Detroit area in the foreseeable future!

LPFM licenses are only available to community-oriented, educational, non-profit organizations. In this case, the non-profit behind FCR is Underwood V, a collective founded by Mirowski and friends. Board members include Mirowski, president; Dave Phillips, secretary/social media; Dave Kim, treasurer/promotions; Jeremy Olstyn, programming/training; and Keith Fraley, radio engineer. They are looking to fill DJ and other station positions. Interested volunteers should contact

THE MISSION OF THE STATION is to provide a kind of “hyper-local programming” that is impossible to find anywhere else on the dial. Their mission statement speaks of “community engagement, promotion of community events, specialty broadcast, and more. Potential programming for the station includes: On-air book clubs, interviews with local news-makers, coverage of government and board meetings, sports coverage,” etc.

The road to Ferndale’s first and only community radio station began over 20 years ago, when LPFM stations didn’t even exist. Ferndale Friends publisher Stephanie Loveless helped lead a national movement of democracy activists who ultimately convinced Congress and the Federal Communications Commission in 2000 to create the LPFM service, so that ordinary Americans could actually use the airwaves we already own. However, the powerful broadcast industry was able to limit the new rules so that it was impossible for even one LPFM station to go on the air in all of Metro Detroit.

However, eleven years later, President Obama signed legislation which loosened those rules enough so that it finally became possible for Metro Detroit to have one LPFM station – and it had to be in Ferndale!

So, FCR is practically a miracle. Our miracle. But it only exists because Michelle and her friends stepped up and applied for a construction permit when the FCC opened up a licensing window three years ago.

That was the easy part.

Next, they had to find a physical location for the studio, antenna and tower. And there were innumerable issues involving the City of Ferndale which had to be overcome: Not too many people walk into City Hall hoping to launch a non-profit community radio station, after all. This was brand-new territory for everyone involved. They had to find an engineer and a properly-qualified team for the construction of the tower and antenna. Negotiations with the landlord, etc.

This project would also require a significant amount of money – in fact, a little over $15,000 just to get started. So, on top of everything else, our worthy Underwood V volunteers were now charged with hustling up the cash, via social media, fundraisers, and underwriting agreements with local businesses. These fundraising efforts continue, and if you are interested in contributing, go to And local businesses are encouraged to underwrite the station financially in return for generous on-air mentions.

MANY TIMES OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS, it looked as if the money would not be found, and the whole project would have to be scrapped. But FCR supporters refused to accept defeat, and in recent weeks the decision was made to start purchasing the necessary gear: FCR is GO!

With the help of The Rust Belt and tons of local donations and support, Michelle and her team are ready to make the fresh and impactful change in radio that will nourish local talent and influence Ferndale life through the years to come.

FCR will have an impact on the Rust Belt too. Shoppers will be able to hear the station inside while they shop and will be able to meet the FCR team. It will create a more unique shopping experience.

Ferndale Community Radio will give the Ferndale residents another tool to communicate with each other. FCR has given the city something extremely unique to look forward to as it’s extremely rare that a city has their own community station!

Once they are up-and-running, they plan to partner with lots of organizations in Ferndale. For example, the schools. This will also be a great forum for local musicians from all genres to have their music heard. This will be an avenue for the creative projects that make Ferndale so noteworthy. The station will be here soon – to enrich our already vibrant and talented community.

Initial Sponsors & Underwriters
Ferndale Friends
The Rust Belt Market
Jim Shaffer & Associates
Western Market
Stange Sports
Found Sound
Crane Optical
HiLo Guy
313 Brand Co.

Story by Sara E. Teller
Photos by Bernie LaFramboise

If you’ve ever had fresh eggs for breakfast,” Holly Belian says, “you’ll understand the first reason we wanted to raise hens.” Holly and her wife Julia have lived in Ferndale since the summer of 2009, and have been raising hens for the past four years.

Chickens in Ferndale? You bet.
Ferndale is one of several cities in Michigan that allow hens to be raised on your property. The list includes Berkley, Hazel Park and Royal Oak, among others. Ferndale has about two dozen personal chicken coops within the city. Holly and Julia both raised hens before, and when the opportunity became available to raise hens in Ferndale they wanted to give it a shot. They had both raised them in rural settings, in Southern Illinois and Texas, and trying it in an urban setting was intriguing.

The Details
City Ordinance No 1118 Sec 5-8 allows for residents in single-family homes to keep up to three hens in the backyard. Rental properties must supply the city with a letter of approval from the landlord. You need to submit a dimensioned site plan and pay a $35 permit fee at the time you submit your paperwork. The dimensioned site plan must include property lines, structures, set-backs, driveway and elevation of coop with materials. Plans must be to scale. Slaughtering of any chickens at the property is prohibited.

Benefits Of An Urban Farm
Besides delicious eggs, they’re part of Holly and Julia’s retirement plan.“We bought our house primarily for the extra deep backyard, and put in a big vegetable garden,” Holly said. “We also planted lots of fruit trees and bushes. Add in fresh eggs from the chickens, and we can almost become independent from store-bought foods.”

“The city presents a unique set of challenges and benefits to a homeowner,” said Laura Mikulski, who runs the web site, “We have hawks and raccoons in Ferndale, which are chicken killers and strong steps have to be taken to prevent them from killing your birds. They add a layer of improvement to our sandy soil in Ferndale by way of their manure, which helps urban gardeners like myself.”
Ferndale resident Jill Marentette said hens fertilize gardens very well, and some residents might move their coops and the garden to get the maximum benefit.

Secret Garden
On a visit to Holly and Julia’s backyard, one finds more than just hens. Packed deep behind a lush growth of blackberries, peach trees and tomato plants is the coop. There, we meet Dottie (a speckled Sussex), Figaro (Austrolorp) and Lacey (double-laced Barnevelder). Their hens survive just fine in the winter, although they don’t like stepping on the snow. They also have a tiny house for shelter, warmth and, of course, laying eggs. Hens typically lay an egg about once every 25 hours. So, on a given day, Holly and Julia get anywhere from zero to three eggs. While the $35 yearly permit fee may not make eating your own eggs much more feasible than buying them at a store, nothing beats homemade. “Their eggs are amazing,” Holly said. “Truly delicious, and we know exactly what goes into them.” Even the good, organic eggs you pick up at the farmer’s market can’t stand up to getting them from your own backyard.

Pesky Or Bothersome? Hardly.
These hens don’t mind strangers, although Dottie did give me a couple pecks on the leg when I entered her turf. But who wouldn’t be protective when a strange man comes into your coop? The hens made barely a peep.Laura even touted how great it can be to get to know a hen’s personality. “They can be kind to each other, or cruel, just like people,” she said. “They have a depth to their personality that I never expected. All of this has made me even more conscious of my purchasing habits, as the environment of factory farming seems more and more impossibly cruel after you see how much joy the birds take in living and being able to do chickeny things.”

Easy Upkeep
“There is almost no maintenance,” Holly said. “Feed has to be bought, but three hens don’t eat much. And instead of scraps going into the compost heap, we give them to the chickens to supplement. Fresh water every few days in their thermos. We also provide some grit to help them process the eggs, and diatomaceous earth to roll in during the summer to keep them bug free.” Holly and Julia clean or resurface their yard two times a year, and regularly check the yard to make sure it’s secure from critters. Julia said they do see some digging from time to time, but their hens have never been in danger.

Learn More
Do you know anybody who raises hens? Interested in pursuing it yourself? Check out for easy-to-find and easy-to-read information on what Ferndale residents needs to know. You’ll also find help tips and education blog posts. “We support each other and communicate in times of need,” Laura said. “This is true of Ferndale and beyond. Neighboring cities use Facebook and social media to reach out to fellow chicken keepers for advice and help when medical needs arise.”

EACH YEAR, ONE SPECIAL INDIVIDUAL who personifies the purpose of the Sierra Club’s Green Cruise is awarded the title of “Green Cruiser of the Year.” On July 25th, the Southeast Michigan Group chapter announced Thomas E. Page as the 2017 winner of this honor for his activism and connection to the biking community. The SEMG chooses this person based on the actions they’ve taken in the previous year to promote the cause of bicycling.

Page, a Detroit resident, is the 13th recipient of the title and previous winners include Andrew Staub in 2016 and Jason Hall, co-founder of Slow Roll and Detroit Bike City, in 2015.

Page is a native Detroiter, and attended the University of Detroit. He served as a Detroit police officer for three years, and is currently retired. He has been active in fundraising for bike repair stations and bicycles for students at the University of Detroit Mercy.

The Green Cruiser of the Year award will be presented to Page on September 9th at the Green Cruise.

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Story by Ingrid Sjostrand
Photos by Bernie LaFramboise

ANGELA MARIE LIPPARD IS AN ADVOCATE in every sense of the word. Through her job at the Area Agency on Aging B-1, she helps aid older LGBTQ adults in receiving assistance and promotes learning and acceptance. Lippard also volunteers with Christ the Good Shepherd church as a deacon, where she works to represent the church as a supportive, safe place.

Lippard spoke to me about what she has learned through advocacy, how others can get involved and, of course, her love for Ferndale

IS: What sparked your involvement and advocacy with the LGBTQ community?
AML: I am married to a man, so most people presume I’m straight, but I am a part of the community; I’m an out bisexual. Those in the LGBT community have always been in my circle of friends and part of my family of choice.

IS: Can you tell me more about your job at Area Agency on Aging 1-B and projects that involve LGBTQ outreach?
AML: I have been employed at the Agency for over ten years. The information we offer ranges from housing to funding for long term care to Medicare basics. Last fiscal year, our call center received just under 90,000 calls. Our agency is a non-profit.

I am so very thankful to work for an agency that has long been LGBT affirming. We have staff dedicated to training healthcare and other human service professionals on best practices when providing services to LGBT older adults.

Because I could attend several trainings for serving LGBT older adults and the knowledge I’ve gained from serving the LGBTQ community, I have been utilized to train staff at our agency. This was an honor, because it gave me the opportunity to be out to agency staff, and spend more time talking about the trans population and give staff resources.

IS: Tell me more about the Christ the Good Shepherd Church and your volunteer work as Deacon?
AML: I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Detroit Mercy,
and while I’ve been employed in human services my call to ministry never went away. As a deacon I officiate weddings, which has included some of my dearest friends in the LGBT community. I offer funeral and memorial services. I also preach at Mass, and provide support to our church members.
Our church is new and our community is still growing. However, we have very gifted clergy in our priests and other fellow deacons. We have a community that is very giving, too. Most of my work as a deacon is outside the church. I make sure our church is represented at Ferndale Pride and Transgender Pride in the Park. I also try to attend every event for the transgender community to show support. I will volunteer when possible, but I am careful just to attend because that is a space for me to listen and people in the trans community to be heard.

IS: Why do you think this advocacy is important and what advice do you have for others wanting to get involved?
AML: Outside of caring and acting out of genuine concern for others, we better ourselves by advocating for the marginalized. There are several areas to advocate…Show up, learn and listen. I encourage people to go to events like the Transgender Day of Remembrance (November) and Transgender Day of Visibility (March). Read stories from diverse perspectives within the LGBT community—remember the ‘T’—remember people of color and people with diverse economic backgrounds. If you listen and learn, the community will tell you what they need from you and how and where to advocate.

IS: What made you choose Ferndale?
AML: I have always had a connection to the city. My mom has worked in Ferndale for 38 years. I went to school at the University of Detroit Mercy, so Ferndale was a regular hang-out when I was in college.
In 2005, I moved to a small apartment in Ferndale. My husband, Paul Collom (I kept my last name), moved in not too long after. Paul and I bought a house in Ferndale in 2009. More specifically, my husband and I come from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and we wanted to live in a community that was not only open to, but celebrated, diversity.

IS: What is your favorite thing about Ferndale?
AML: I love that Ferndale has the feeling and energy of a large city, but small enough where I can get to know people in the community—where elected officials know my name and are willing to hear my concerns.

I hope people make a commitment to keep our city diverse and welcoming.

By Mary Meldrum

MANY FERNDALE RESIDENTS KNOW DR. FRANK MISKENA as the veterinarian/owner of the West Woodward Animal Hospital on Nine Mile Road. Many are unaware of his amazing history and experience as soldier and diplomat.

Born in Baghdad in 1949 to a Royal Iraqi Air Force officer, Dr. Miskena graduated from Baghdad University at age 22 with a doctorate in veterinary medicine and surgery. He served as an officer in the Iraqi army, including a two-year tour in the country’s northern section as a company commander, veterinarian and translator. After that, he returned to the university as an instructor of veterinary parasitology.

Fleeing Iraq after Saddam Hussein rose to power, Dr. Miskena immigrated to the United States in 1977 and soon earned a master’s degree in pathology from Michigan State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. He became an American citizen in 1983. The next year, he joined the U.S. Army as a captain and served on active duty for 12 years.

In 1996, he moved to the Detroit area and bought a small animal hospital. That same year, he transferred to the Army Reserves and served his adopted country as a civil affairs officer for more than a decade. He was the senior cultural advisor on numerous deployments to several nations with many different units, including Kosovo and Iraq. In this position he acted as an ambassador, and provided a friendly outreach to troops of all nations.

In 2003, he became the cultural advisor to the U.S. commanding general in Iraq and served as the political/military foreign advisor for the Multinational Force-Iraq (MNF-I) Command. Dr. Miskena achieved the rank of colonel and is a recipient of the Army Commendation Medal, the Bronze Star for meritorious service, as well as many other awards both from the United States and Iraq. Until his retirement on March 9, 2009, he had the distinction of being the highest ranking Iraqi-American in the U.S. Army.

Besides his veterinary degree, Dr. Miskena likes to point out with a wink that he has earned numerous degrees from the Universities of Experience and Lifelong Learning. Recently, Dr. Miskena wrote a book to share his knowledge and experience in forging friendships among disparate cultures. In the copy-editing process of publication at the time this article was written, it is expected to be available in the next few months. Warrior Diplomat, by Dr. Frank Miskena is a compilation of his mostly military stories throughout his life, and the great lessons he learned from them.

Although in the course of his travels and international military work he has become a friend and ally of people from many countries, the majority of the experiences he describes are between the people of the United States and the nations of the Middle East. Many of the topics, examples and recommendations are common to all people trying to understand or integrate into another culture. Readers can learn from someone who is completely comfortable in both cultures how U.S. soldiers and Iraqis in particular interact, as well as some of the different ways they see themselves and each other. The book is full of human interest stories from Dr. Miskena’s own experience. Many of the stories are the same used when teaching cultural awareness training to members of the militaries of the United States, Iraq, and other countries.

He has been proud to serve his adopted country as a specialist in Political and Cultural Affairs here in America, in Kosovo, and during two deployments in Iraq. These adventures enabled him to bridge cultures and to promote the understanding and appreciation so sorely needed to bring about peace and security in these regions.

“Our Iraqi brothers are learning how to deal with each other, but there is still much infighting,” explains Miskena. “Some are coming to their senses and are realizing they have to prove to the populace that they are the party to vote for because of constructive policies, not clan affiliations.”

Our Greatest Challenge
Dr. Miskena realizes that remain many questions as to how to bring about full safety and stability in Iraq. He understands that the United States is a super-power with the capability of winning conflicts by force, but he believes that the greatest challenge we face is winning the peace; what we have to get better at is waging peace.

“My hope is that both military and civilians will come to a greater awareness of the benefit and the absolute need for mutual cultural appreciation in every aspect of global society in the 21st Century.”
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are not over, and there are still many roadblocks to the path of peace, but Miskena believes we are taking the first steps. He believes that his birth country is on the long road to democracy.

Frank’s Philosophy
Power lies with the people, not in oil or agriculture. Miskena believes that we need to help the Iraqi people build their identity again. Iraq civilization has a rich culture and history of art and education. A big believer in literacy and higher education, the state of the Iraqi education system – which was extremely good when he was growing up in Iraq – is presently very disappointing to Miskena, who sees it as the only way Iraq will ever gain stability and distinguish itself again.

“I am sitting between two nations all the time. And here is the beauty of how I think. Twice, I went up to see God and came back. Two heart attacks almost killed me. When you think you’re almost carrying your life in your palm, you see power doesn’t mean a thing.”

He has seen the horrors of war. In reference to Abu Ghraib, where Iraqi prisoners were housed: “It has a smell I can’t forget. It smells like death.”

A gentle man who envisions a peaceful future, he sees that we could help a farmer in Afghanistan to plant wheat and not poppies.

“I am a diplomat and a warrior. Also, I am a healer because I am a doctor. I care about the human part of the globe, but also I am a veterinarian. I care about the human/animal bond. Animals show ultimate love, that is, not to seek anything in return. I want to give more than I take.”

Photo and story by Kevin Alan Lamb

NO MATTER YOUR TRADE OR PASSION, all roads leading in the direction towards progress are paved with fear, frustration, and doubt. The secret you see – finding something inside of you that no one can take away – something that is yours, God-given, but man-made, and hold onto it. Be driven by faith in your abilities and efforts, and find a way to remind yourself of the vision no matter the breakdowns and pit stops along the way.

Creative careers will never stop testing you; that is why they are the most beautiful and satisfying. The life of an actor isn’t an easy one, but it sure is remarkable for those who navigate the journey. Folks like Bello Pizzimenti.

Pizzimenti was born in Ferndale, and attended the Detroit Waldorf School where he performed his first plays. He later attended Cranbrook upper school, where he lived in residence throughout his high school years. While performing in the annual winter musical, he was discovered by a Canadian director who invited him to join an international production of Les Miserables in Windsor, Ontario. This proved to be the launching pad for his life and long road towards assuming the role of other identities on stage. After attending Western Michigan University, where he received his BFA in musical theatre, Pizzimenti chased his dreams to live in Harlem and pursue a career in the biggest city in the world.

Q: What are some of the more significant memories you hold on to from your time with “Les Mis,” in Windsor?
A: I remember the moment my high school choir teacher told me right after a performance that a director from Canada had been at our show, and that he was specifically interested in me for his production. That was very exciting. I remember the day of my audition for the show, which if I remember correctly was also my first day of rehearsal. We were essentially inside a storage space in a warehouse in Windsor. I thought I was just singing for the music director and the director, because they were the only ones in the room with me. What I didn’t know was that the two young men playing Enjolras and Javert were in the next room listening to me as well. I finished singing, and they came out with huge grins on their faces to greet me and welcome me to the cast. Shortly afterward the rest of the cast arrived, and we started rehearsing.

Most importantly, I remember the friendships. Some of the best times of my life were had that Summer, and in the following years during my regular trips to Windsor. I had a sense of belonging and a sense of self-confidence that I had not had before. It was the summer that made me feel that a professional life in theatre was for me.

Q: What was one of the best and worst moments from your time in Harlem pursuing acting after undergrad?
A: Some of the best: Being cast in a workshop performance of Tectonic Theater Project’s adaptation of Carmen. I got to work with Moises Kaufman and the rest of the team, as well as a powerhouse cast of performers. We presented at the Guggunheim, and when one of the other performers had to go to the hospital the day of the performance, I stepped in on short notice to cover his solos. Moises was impressed by me and I was subsequently called back several times for a full production of the show, though I was ultimately not cast.

And, performing in my only NYC-based full-length professional play, BACK by Mickey Bolmer. As a cast we were encouraged to explore and to have fun, and I found myself feeling very free, loving, and open as a result. It was a professional experience in which I could truly say that I enjoyed the process.

Some of the worst: Botching several of my opportunities with Tectonic, and subsequently being called in for them less and less often. Feeling that I did not live up to the potential that Moses saw in me. Accidentally not learning the entire musical cut required for an audition, leading to a very embarrassing situation for everyone in the room. Dealing with contracts and/or offers that conflict with each other. I’ve probably gotten stomach ulcers panicking about these situations over the years.

Q: What drives your passion for acting?
A: These days, I don’t know. I used to be in it for fun. Then I was in it for success, recognition and money. Now I’m in it because it’s the only skill I have that people are nice enough to pay me for.

Q: Tell us about Chasing the Star…
A: It’s an independent film by Collective Development Inc., a Michigan-based film company I first worked for during my senior year in undergrad. We shot it in the desert of Yuma, AZ, which was awesome because it was my first time getting to go to a very specific environment for a shoot. It made it feel much more authentic for me as an actor, and I think it makes the film much more authentic feeling as well. Plotwise, it’s the story of the Three Magi essentially. There isn’t a ton of source material on their backstory (to my knowledge), so a lot of the circumstances come from the imagination of the writer, which is all to the good as it makes the three men much more human. They are all flawed, and have to reconcile their past over the course of the story. I play the youngest Magi of the three, Gasper.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: Who knows? Best-case scenario is I stay honest with myself and listen to my gut, intuition, whatever you want to call it. Maybe I’ll end up in a rock quarry. Maybe I’ll just read books and hide from the world. Maybe I’ll keep acting. Maybe I’ll find something else. Hopefully, I’ll be there when and if people need me.

By Mary Meldrum

JACK ARONSON, WELL-KNOWN FOUNDER OF GARDEN FRESH GOURMET in Ferndale, remembers people who would come into his shop to apply for a job, and had to bring their sister or their mother or a friend because they could not read, write or comprehend the application. They needed help with the very fundamentals of securing a job. That stuck with him.

Now, after both growing and selling their business, Jack and Annette Aronson have formed a foundation of their own and they are throwing a large amount of their money, almost all of their time, and a colossal amount of energy toward local literacy programs. Their level of giving back to Ferndale and the surrounding area is stunning.

Jack is chairman of the board for the non-profit Beyond Basics, which is a 501(c)(3) student-centered, literacy non-profit, serving students in Detroit public schools since 2002. Jack and Annette are also the driving force behind the younger program, The Ferndale Literacy Project, in Ferndale High School.
With as much as 60 per cent of Ferndale High School’s student population migrating from surrounding communities, Ferndale has been overwhelmed with students who arrive reading several grade levels below where they are supposed to be. The Ferndale Literacy Project is designed to address that.

“Reading is the springboard for everything,” contends Jack. He is passionate about helping kids to get on the right track early. Speaking to the skill levels in our country, he adds, “Reading in the United States is a catastrophe right now.”

He is right. In a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, it was estimated in 2013 that approximately 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read, and 21 per cent of adults read below a fifth grade level. And worse, 19 per cent of high school graduates cannot read. It has not improved since

Locally, the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund reports that 47 per cent of people in Detroit are illiterate. In nearby suburbs, up to one-third are functionally illiterate. That 47 per cent represents approximately 200,000 souls who have significant trouble with reading, speaking, writing and computational skills – everything a person needs to function in this world as a productive adult.

Within the tri-county region, there are a number of municipalities with illiteracy rates rivaling Detroit: Southfield at 24 per cent, Warren at 17 per cent and Pontiac at 34 per cent.

Nationwide, as much as 85 per cent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, and over 70 per cent of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level. That means a full two-thirds or more of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail, in continuous conflict with the law, and/or on welfare. They can’t get jobs; they can’t get mortgages or cars and are mostly doomed to remain under-educated and flounder in poverty.

It is thought that low literary costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health care costs, but a recent study by Pfizer put the cost much higher. Factors that contribute to illiteracy include poverty, parental involvement (or lack thereof), domestic violence and other overarching life crises that are out of the control of the student.

This is not about stupidity. This is about circumstances, and often those circumstances include a multi-generational problem – a legacy of illiteracy. Parents who cannot read themselves cannot teach their children to read, or help them with homework, or demonstrate to them what a life of literacy would look like. Many are children who grow up without a single book in their house; nobody has ever read to them; nobody has ever read them a bedtime story.

But most of these students want help. They ache for success, and they realize that they can never achieve it without the basic skill of reading.

In the report from the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund, they place a particular focus on the lack of resources available to those hoping to better educate themselves, and that fewer than 10 per cent of those in need of help are actually receiving it.

If you can connect the dots, all this highlights in a dramatic way that this is not a problem . . . this is The Problem. This is the national crisis at the crux of everything that is going wrong in our country. Those who cannot read are screwed — and so are we if we don’t step up and help them.

Recovery of literacy in our youth is paramount to a better community and a better life for everyone. Jack Aronson understands the enormous burden illiteracy places on society, and the costly repercussions of standing by and not pitching in to change outcomes for the children in our community.

Ferndale Literacy Project
Stephanie Scobie is the reading specialist who has been hired to run the Ferndale Literacy Project which is embedded inside Ferndale High School and funded through the Ferndale school system. As they approach the end of their maiden year with 50 students enrolled in the program, she expresses that there has been some great progress and success so far.

“One student tested at the third-grade reading level at the beginning of the year, and in March of this year he is now reading at the eighth-grade level,” she smiles. That same tenth-grade student will be tested again before school lets out for the summer, and there is reason to believe he will be reading at the ninth-grade level by June. Stephanie goes on to describe how his progress in reading has changed this young man’s outlook, his self-confidence, and his actual physical presentation.
“He actually walks taller now and doesn’t hunch over anymore.”

People who can read generally take it for granted, but for those who cannot read or who struggle, illiteracy amounts to being ashamed of your mind. That shame is exquisitely painful for children in school when they are asked to read in front of the class, or when they bring home failing grades semester after semester, while their classmates can brag about getting As and Bs.

Children who are ashamed of their inability to read tend to avoid reading because it makes them feel terrible and embarrassed. There is a real fear in these children that they are not smart. Fear, shame, embarrassment, frustration and confusion all inhibit the ability for students to learn under normal circumstances. Add to this the other burdens of poverty, possible poor health and maybe not knowing where their next meal is coming from, and it is little wonder these kids can’t concentrate on a pop quiz or finish homework. Many are just navigating life by the seat of their pants every day with little security and nobody coming to their rescue.

The Ferndale Literacy program researched and invested in Vanderbuilt University’s computerized reading program, Read 180, which allows students to choose a topic they are interested in and it individualizes the stories to the child’s reading level.

Ferndale High School has dedicated a large room for its literacy project. Jack and Annette Aronson put up the money, and hired a team that has come in and painted and organized and stocked the space. They made it a clean, updated the room with new chairs and desks, shelves, books, white boards and markers. Part of the room is designed as a coffee and lounging space with several new armchairs. Once a month Jack and Annette bring in lunch for the kids, and several times a month snacks are available in the coffee and lounge area. Today the lunch consists of pizza, chicken, subs, cookies, chips and water bottles.

Children can relax and listen to their Read 180 program. This room is their haven and represents an amazing opportunity for these students to transform their lives and their future. The ability to read will not only impact their families, but also the trajectory of their lives, and they seem to know it.

Boots on the Ground . . . Your Boots
This program is young and, although they are experiencing good progress after only one year, it needs a lot of support. Jack and Annette Aronson’s foundation has contributed $100,000 to the Ferndale School System to launch and support this program, and to date, it has only 50 children enrolled. This Fall they hope to enroll 100 high school students into the literacy project. To handle that increase, more funding must be secured. Jack and Annette are asking for your help. Please contact Carol Jackson at to find out how you can get involved and make a difference. Goals can be reached if many contribute at least a little. The money donated to the Ferndale Literacy Project is passed through entirely. There are no administration costs involved, so every dollar has a direct impact. They are in the process of putting together a system where donors can make a smaller monthly contribution of $5 or $10 or $25 with an automatic withdrawal. In the meantime, please also consider making a larger donation, or ask about how you can volunteer your time to become a book buddy, a tutor or a mentor.

Another way you can help is to go to the Ferndale Literacy Project Facebook Page and like and share the heck out of the posts that come across your newsfeed. Help to spread awareness of the program. If you have some free time and any skills that might be of use to this organization, please contact Carol Jackson at the email address above.

This program is not only advancing the reading skills of students today, but helping the students to experience the joy of reading. With our help, they can break the cycle of multi-generational illiteracy and will ‘pay forward’ what they have learned to their children and community in the years to come.

These students are the pathway to successful futures in business, education, politics and community. Please help fund this project so it will continue for years to come. Any and all donations, no matter the size, are graciously accepted.

Story By Jenn Geddeke

Highly dissatisfied with imported and mass-produced goods, Valentine decided to go ‘back to basics’ and use the Midwest as his manufacturing base. Currently, Valentine Vodka is beating much of its worldwide competition; for example, the brand was awarded the coveted title of “World’s Best Vodka” in 2016, by the World Vodka Awards in London. The Valentine brand gins and bourbons have also won multiple awards. According to Valentine, this momentum won’t stop until the Grey Goose brand is no longer on the shelf!

Valentine grew up on farmland, with the classic Michigan example of John Deere making the best tractors. He realized that somehow as a culture, we developed the notion of local not being the best, and he has a strong desire to change that perception. In Valentine’s view, large corporations are mainly concerned about profit, where the consumer gets the short end of the stick but has to settle regardless. His original philosophy was to step back, and to take no short cuts; as he explained, “Profit, of course, is still important…but, it’s a balancing act.”

At the point where Valentine was forming his business plan, there were only a handful of micro-distilleries in the country (at time of writing, there are over 2,000 in the US.) It was a brand-new type of business, in terms of both local and state economics; inspectors and landlords were not even sure how to classify or handle a micro-distillery. Public perception at the time was also limited, including that of liquor store and bar owners. Therefore, a large part of Valentine’s task in developing his brand was in educating others
on micro-distilling.

How did Valentine choose Ferndale as a location? He recalls, “It was a happy accident! Detroit was actually my first choice, but at the time in 2007 there was too much red tape involved. The owners of B. Nektar Meadery –Brad & Kerri Dahlhofer — suggested Ferndale as a potential alternate locale.” Valentine called the city, and spoke to the planner, Marsha Sheer, who gave him an enthusiastic response. He added, “The City worked with us, and looked for ways to help. Ferndale has the type of culture where new ideas are embraced.” And so the Valentine Distilling Company Cocktail Lounge/original distillery was born. In addition, there is a new production facility at 965 Wanda (the largest in the country), boasting over 15,000 square feet of distillery space.

Naturally, all this growth is helping the local economy – Valentine is buying a lot of grain – plus, secondary and tertiary-level businesses are also benefiting. While developing his brand, Valentine did not consider that the local impact would be as profound; essentially, he set out to compete with the larger companies. Now, as a world-renowned distillery, his main focus is drawn back to MI, where he claims a lot of work still has to be done. Valentine’s growth strategy is to keep expanding in the Midwest. His vision is, “…a sustainable pace, not explosive growth, so that quality issues do not occur.”

Just released this year is a special bourbon whiskey line, named after Detroit Mayor Hazen S. Pingree (in office from 1890-1897, and considered to be one of the greatest mayors in U.S. history for breaking up monopolies and standing for regular workers). Two of these bourbons (the Blue and Black labels) have already won a prestigious ‘Double Gold’ award in the San Francisco World Spirits Championship. Regarding these new awards, Valentine says, “We only enter international spirits competitions to show the world what Detroit has to offer. To be awarded these highest honors meaåns so much to us.” Surely no other distiller deserves these accolades more than Valentine, considering his dedication to the craft. Meanwhile, his brands keep on expanding; watch for a new addition to the Mayor Pingree family to be added in June: the ‘Orange Label’ rye whiskey. Certainly, this is one of the many Valentine brand drinks to look forward to this Summer!

For further information, please visit:

Valentine Distilling Co. is located at:
965 Wanda Street, Ferndale, Michigan.

The Valentine Distilling Co. Cocktail Lounge is at:
161 Vester St., Ferndale, MI,
Hours: Tues.-Thurs. 4:30 P.M. – 11 P.M.; Fri. & Sat. 4:30 P.M. – 1 A.M.; Sun. 12:00 P.M. – 6 P.M.
Closed Mondays.


Go Green & Make Others Happy

By David Stone|
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO MAY NOT BE FAMILIAR with FreeCycle, according to Wikipedia: “The FreeCycle Network is a worldwide network of ‘gifting’ groups that divert reusable goods away from landfills. FreeCycle is a nonprofit organization registered in Arizona and as a charity in the United Kingdom. According to, it “is made up of 5,297 groups with 9,088,783 members around the world, and next door to you. Membership is free, and everything posted must be free, legal, and appropriate for all ages.”

The FreeCycle Network server and operating expenses are funded by corporate underwriters, on-site advertising, grants, and individual donations. Groups are run by volunteer moderators and members take part in the worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources, and eases the burden on our landfills.

Local resident, attorney, and activist candidate Sherry Wells discovered FreeCycle about two years ago. Since that time, she has been one of the people involved in, our own special voice/participant in this global movement. As an example, Sherry wanted and received someone’s extra insulin pens for her diabetic cat. She then offered a store’s old greeting-card rack, which was taken by the manager of a nonprofit organization.

It is important to note that FreeCycle “is not about only giving to the poor, getting as much free stuff as we can, getting things to earn money on the side, getting rid of junk that would be better off in a landfill, posting a ‘wish-list’ for expensive items, a community bulletin board for finding rentals, dentists, mechanics, or advertising our businesses or special events.”

Instead, Wells points out that FreeCycle “is about keeping worthwhile items out of the landfill, giving away something that has no use in our life to someone who could extend its usefulness, giving gifts to people while clearing our clutter, creating, building, and sustaining an environmentally aware community.”

The general FreeCycle guidelines run as follows:
·    Post in your local (home) group only.
·    Do not cross post.
·    Never post to groups outside of your immediate area.
·    If you respond to an offered item, please pick it up when you say you will.
·    No trading
·    No money requests
·    No alcohol
·    No adult materials
·    No coupon or ticket requests
·    No firearms
·    No requests for big-ticket items

So, if you are interested in leading a green lifestyle, think about including in your life. And you can learn more about the whole, global FreeCycle movement at where they are “changing the world one gift at a time.”