Opinion

By Rebecca Hammond

IF YOU’RE SEARCHING OUT INFORMATION ON NATIVE PLANTS RIGHT NOW, it might be because you’re interested in pollinators like butterflies and bees, especially monarchs. Fifteen years or so ago, however, local experts began doing native plant presentations at places like Ferndale’s Kulick Center, and the main focus was the benefits to waterways because of the ability native plants have to hold excess storm water. Less storm water pouring down drains, less pollutants riding along, means cleaner Great Lakes. Nothing much was mentioned in those presentations about bees and butterflies except as an interesting side effect. Neither did they mention flooded basements, those still being a rarity.

If only those experts had waited a couple of years! Soon after this push to go native, basements in our local communities began to flood. And flood, then flood some more. Some homeowners now have flooded basements a couple of times a year. Heavier and more frequent rainfalls are the culprit, but the means by which water gets into our homes varies as much as our soil, plants, construction materials, and methods have varied.

Why do basements flood? Utilities Kingston, Ontario blames “…seepage or flow through the walls or foundation floor, from surface water sources, or by a sanitary or storm sewer backup.” This Old House says, “Even a small storm can trigger a deluge… a house with a 1,500 squarefoot roof sheds 1,000 gallons of water for every inch of falling rain. Once the water accumulates around your foundation, it works its way inside through cracks, joints, and porous material.” A number of sites mention gutters and downspouts sending water down walls instead of away from the house. Most mention nearby concrete and slope of landscape. Most mention soil composition, and many mention what’s planted near that basement.

Cleanwater.com says “Plants are the first line of defense when it comes to erosion control and stormwater management…The extensive and deep root systems of native plants slow down runoff.” Those roots hold water in the soil. Grass roots might be only two-to-four inches deep, but Ferndale’s city flower, Purple Coneflower, has roots that can penetrate to five feet, every inch of those roots able to hold water. Texas Native Plants states that those longer roots provide “flood mitigation services” and that they also filter out pollution.

IF YOU’RE NEW TO MICHIGAN OR GARDENING you might be wondering what native plants even are. They’re just plants that were here before people like us were. There’s quite a variety, and something for everyone: tall sun-lovers like Coneflower and Black-Eyed Susan (loved by birds like gold-finches as much as butterflies); shorter ones like Canada Anemone that not only grow in shade, but bloom in it; specific host plants like Milk-weed, the only plant monarchs will lay eggs on or their caterpillars will eat. There are even some adaptees that fit in quite well, like Queen Anne’s Lace (mine is crawling with swallowtail caterpillars) or Mullein, which may not have the prettiest flower stalk in the world but you won’t mind when you see downy woodpeckers land on it for the seeds. Their long roots hold water for them, as well as for us. These plants don’t need much extra from the grower.

Turf grass, on the other hand, has much shorter roots in comparison, but that’s not the only issue. Remember Michigan master gardener Jerry Baker? He promoted a formula for lawns that included things like beer and ammonia but also dish detergent, which allowed everything else to work for one reason: turf is water-repellent. Detergent breaks the surface tension and allows water to soak in.

Yes, water-repellent. Turf websites, especially golf course sites, call it that, and so promote the use of chemical surfactants to keep water on grass. Some sites actually call grass “hydrophobic.” Thatch is the main reason for this, and the more you fertilize lawn the more thatch it likely has. It occurs when plants build up more decaying matter than nature can break down. Illinois State Extension not only advises against over-fertilizing, they advise against overwatering!

I TRIED AN EXPERIMENT WITH A FEW GALLONS OF RAIN-BARREL WATER. I poured water at intervals onto turf, irises, creeping phlox, and lastly on a patch of natives that included goldenrod and black-eyed susans. All were a few inches from concrete, and slightly uphill from it. I expected water to run off quickly in all four places at first, and it did. But as I revisited each spot, one thing stood out: runoff never slowed from the turf. The irises and surrounding soil slowed it by the second pour. The natives? I had a hard time even getting water onto the sidewalk, as the less-covered soil that surrounds them is very absorbent.

The creeping phlox was the biggest surprise and disappointment because, although it’s not native, I like it and assumed it would allow rainwater easy passage. But it was as bad as grass, or worse. I waited about a half hour and repeated the whole process a few times and, although runoff from the turf maybe slowed a bit, it wasn’t much. There was no more runoff from the irises, and very little from the natives. The phlox remained a sieve.

So where does all this water go when it runs off? Into the streets, and down our storm drains. These drains have become controversial here in Ferndale. Some folks think we should clean them off, letting water flow rapidly, and some think slow is better; don’t clear them. Both camps hope that speed or lack thereof is what keeps that storm water out of basements. (It’s worth noting that blowing grass clippings and the like into the street is actually not legal.)

Since Ann Arbor is a leader in things environmental, I went to their website. It not only says, “Cleaning out the storm drain on your street is a simple way to help keep the Huron River clean and prevent flooding in your neighborhood,” they also have a downloadable map of storm drains with a checklist for found objects. Residents can explore their neighborhoods with kids or friends and search out storm drains and help “the neighborhood and the environment.” They can even adopt a specific storm drain.

The site also points out that, “Whenever there’s a heavy rainfall, or even just a little rain, a lot of pollution can end up being washed off the streets and into the Huron River. You can help prevent that simply by reducing the amount of rainwater that flows off your property from sidewalks, driveways, roofs, etc.” Options they suggest in addition to native plants: rain barrels and rain gardens, which can be large depressions filled with native plants, or a few lower places here and there. Residents can earn stormwater credits for these improvements. A person wanting to go bigger can install cisterns or dry wells, both designed to hold excess rainwater.

IF YOU WANT TO SEE SOME CLOSER EXAMPLES of rain gardens, check out the new ones along 9 Mile Road in Oak Park between Rosewood and Scotia. There are big depressions filled with things like swamp milkweed and Joe Pye weed, along the south side’s new bike path. Most of our yards are actually reverse rain gardens, by the way, sloping up away from sidewalks and streets, setting up more flooding.

Whether basements flood because water goes down storm drains too quickly or too slowly, keeping water out of our streets would help keep it out of our basements. Deep roots, less cement, and rain gardens would help. The City could consider once again allowing gravel driveways or adding more pervious pavement.

No matter how it gets there, water pouring off our lawns and streets and into our basements seems the ultimate exercise in futility and frustration. A local waterproofing company told me that no two basements are alike. Sealing walls, repairing cracks, adding sump pumps and stand pipes are all options. Keeping the water away to begin with might be a good starting point.

And consider this: if you or your neighbors use lawn chemicals, that storm water runoff will contain those chemicals. And so will your flooded basement.


“2014: The yard had no plants other than grass; major flooding in the basement. 2016: We move in, regrade the perimeter of the house, plants galore – basement does not flood.”
– Rachel Anne Engel, Ferndale

“No lawn for 20 years now. Basement never floods. If the backyard does it’s only on paver walk, plus it’s gone in 20 minutes. I never get standing water.”
– Dean Smith, Ferndale

“Forty years, no lawn other than 30 feet of devil’s strip. Only water was the ginormous flood six years ago when every house was flooded. Thirsty trees, shrubs, and plantings take up all the water that comes down, and our house is within 15 feet of a Red Run tributary.”
– Robert Lebow, Huntington Woods

“When I moved to Ferndale 20 years ago, the previous owner had used large concrete patio blocks around the perimeter of the house. There was a lawn in the front yard and back yard. Had water in basement on west side of house once. 18 years ago I took away all lawn in the front yard and most in the back yard, native plantings, some herbs and veggies, and I have never had water in my basement and I rarely mow the back patch of grass that remains for the family dog, which is away from the house anyway.”
– Catherine Jing Rehe, Ferndale

“90 percent garden plus 2 rain gardens. Only flooded once when sump pump died”
– Lauren Yellen, Ferndale

“No grass at all, 25’x25′ mostly edible garden, mulch! Has not flooded. I do seal the walls every few years. No sump pump, and snake the drains twice a year. My weeds/volunteers are morning glories, milkweed, mint, tomatoes and marigolds. Love my yard!!!”
– Merry Gundy, Ferndale

“We’ve never flooded and I give all the credit to our giant Eastern Cottonwood. This year I did get rid of most of my front yard grass and planted natives.”
– Elissa Agans

“Ours leaks and it did flood (seven inches) in 2014. We need a french drain and our problem will be solved. We have more grass than cement, lots of flower beds.”
– Jacquelyn Marie

“I live in Canton, a couple houses over from a creek, and we replaced most of our front yard with native woodland plants in 2019. We do not have flooding in our basement.”
– Jackie Fleishcher Best

“My basement only gets a water seepage when it’s a downpour or steady rain over several hours. Only one wall leaks via an opening near the chimney. Thankfully, the water goes straight to a drain. I have grass and plants and raised beds in my yard. The back area of my yard is where the downward slope is. My neighbor’s yard gets deep enough for ducks and birds to swim and play!”
– Pamela Bentley Callaway

“My basement has never flooded except for the sewer debacle in 2014. I have no grass – all perennial gardens and maybe a few native plants – but certainly not the majority”
– Barbara Harte, Huntington Woods

By Sherry A. Wells

“WE TAKE A LOT FOR GRANTED HERE IN FERNDALE.” Rev. Schoenhals observed. “There’s a cocoon of acceptance.”

Rev. Schoenhals has been ahead of his denomination in his public statements for LGBTQ persons, but the Church “is coming along and it will get there,” he believes. His stands made for a short stay at one church.

As a Methodist, he is not part of “a nice, comfortable religion.” There is anger, violence, material greed and selfishness to be overcome. The next generation is important to him.

In Ferndale, he was the first pastor of First United Methodist Church to have a large banner on church property declaring Black Lives Matter, made several years ago. Church members and members of the general public signed it. Last year it was placed on the fence. And stolen. A supportive person from the public (not a church member), paid to replace it.

He credits his wife, Jill Allison Warren, with the idea for the next banner: Love is Bigger, which came after the deadly racist confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. Church members and hundreds of the public signed that one, too. Lesson learned: It was installed very high up.

Every sentence about activism begins with “we.”

The day after Charlottesville, the church hosted a rally of support. “We had about 400 people in the church that day and another 100 out on the sidewalk.”

“We invite Green Energy, such as during the Green Cruise and bike rides. We have a solar array.”

Activism includes being a sanctuary church for immigration.

“One family was about to move in,” the Reverend said, “but got their papers the day before!”

THE CHURCH RENTS SPACE FOR SEVERAL ORGANIZATIONS’ MEETINGS, including the Indivisible Fighting 9. That group asked permission to place 1000 stuffed and other toys on stakes on the lawn, an art installation to represent the thousands of children separated from their parents. “We gave them our blessing.”

A recent sermon was titled “We Need Heroes.” Rev. Schoenhals described the relationship between the prophet Elijah and Elisha, as hero-to-trainee. The Reverend so pictured the scene that I felt as though I were walking behind the two, listening to every word. Elisha looked up to Elijah’s strong stands against the earthly powers, the political ones.

The Reverend has been accused of being too political but, he insists, and this lesson shows, he is simply being biblical.

It was thrice-weekly exposures to the Bible in his youth that led him into further studies and to the ministry. He enjoyed the in-depth Bible appreciation courses in the Liberal Arts program at an evangelical college in Indiana. A Biblical Literature major taught critical thinking and analysis. Greek and Church History and biblical languages and interpretation inspired him.

ASSIGNMENTS BY THE DENOMINATION have included seven years as a campus minister at the University of Michigan; an urban mission in Indianapolis with a small, diverse congregation housed in a gigantic, historic building; a brief stint on the West Coast; and eight years as pastor of a rural church in Armada, Michigan in the early years. Here at Ferndale First the congregation is also remarkably diverse, with about 40 percent Black members: African-American, several from Jamaica, with Ghana represented as well. He will be retiring in 2022, so Ferndale will be his last, although he will help celebrate this church’s 100th anniversary.

One advantage of the pandemic is that one may secretly attend a service via Zoom. With the link on the church FaceBook page, you’ll see Rev. Schoenhals sitting on the steps up to the chancel for Children’s Time. He looks like a grandpa. When he spoke about his grandson, his face lit up with great delight. I asked his wife if, when there are children with him on those steps, he is much more animated than on Zoom. My suspicions were confirmed with a “You got it right!”

 

www.ferndalefirstumc.org
www.facebook.com/FirstUnitedMethodistChurchFerndale

By Mary Meldrum

YOU CANNOT ATTEND SUNDAY MASS HERE. It is not that kind of church. They have no clergy and don’t hold regular mass. Michael Voris, owner of St. Michael’s Media in Church Militant in Ferndale explained that they are an “apostolate”: Their purpose is to do the work, and conform to the mission, of the Catholic church.

The Church Militant web site is thick with information and articles as well as videos that lay out their perspective on everything from the fall of Adam and Eve to altar girls. They offer livestream prayer, publish books, hold conferences and post videos – lots of videos. Probably 80 percent of their work as an apostolate is dedicated to the web site.

Yet their narrative bears little resemblance to the Catholicism and teachings many of us are familiar with.

The controversial organization was referred to as a “Catholic fringe group” by the Detroit Free Press in a harshly critical 2017 article. And David Garcia of Ferndale’s Affirmations had this to say about Church Militant: “Any time someone is condemning gay lesbian and transgender people to hell, it doesn’t feel very welcoming. He has called the LGBT people ‘sinners,’ he is enjoying rights that he would deny other people. That is not welcoming, that is hypocrisy.”

TITUS 1:16 – THEY PROFESS TO KNOW GOD…

In a revealing interview with Voris, it was immediately clear that he considers himself an expert on all things Catholic. “We are an organization dedicated to making sure people understand authentic Catholic teaching so they can go to heaven,” Voris clarified.

I asked him what he wants the city of Ferndale – residents, businesses and neighbors – to know about Church Militant and what he would like to say to his neighbors?

“I have been a resident of Ferndale since 2000. I would like them to know that our work is dedicated to every person’s supreme good, and that good is that when they die they spend eternity with God, not in hell. Anything we can do to advance that cause, we are happy to do.”

Voris doesn’t believe there ever should have been any kind of barrier between church and state. “The idea that there is somehow a wall, which has been misinterpreted by the courts, that none of the other parts of our world or culture can flood over into society is a wholly un-Catholic position. To draw an artificial line to separate church and state is not right.”

I asked Voris to explain the reference to persecution of Christians on the Church Militant website. He said, “For example, all of the wedding photographers, bakers, florists who may be Christian being sued because they refuse to service a gay wedding. It goes against their conscience. Another example is Obamacare (The Affordable Care Act) and the contraception mandate. If we had over 50 employees, we would have been forced to provide contraception in the healthcare plan. If you didn’t, you were fined,” Voris offered.

The undertone of Michael’s answer, as well as Church Militant’s teachings, is that there is a hard line as to who is “right” and “wrong” in terms of morality and behavior. There are those who will reach the Kingdom of Heaven and those who will not.

DAVID GARCIA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF AFFIRMATIONS in Ferndale replied, “People have a right to their opinion, but let’s take the religious exemptions: A doctor refuses to treat a baby because they have gay parents, or wedding photographers and bakers refuse for the same reason. When you sign a business license, all of our tax dollars are involved. We all pay for the services. I don’t care what you do in your church, but the moment you enter the public square with a business license, it is different. Much more than doctors, photographers and bakers refusing to treat any in the LGBT community because of their religious beliefs.

“We are talking about more than free speech. The President’s policies are attacking the LGBT community, and there is a rise in hate crimes. You can’t yell fire in a theater and when you tell your congregation that my love is not equal to your love, that I don’t deserve the same basic human love that you have, that speech has ramifications. It enforces an idea that LGBT people are not good enough. Any time you do that to a group of people, violence ensues. Whether you ever said to hit or kick that person, you contributed to the production of the act.”

How does Voris feel about his work being characterized as hateful and potentially speech, and I don’t hate anyone who has a different view. The label of hate comes out quickly. I may be considered a hateful person because I hurt someone’s feelings, but that is different than physically harming anyone.”

Garcia: “Any time that you treat other people as second-class citizens not worthy of the same rights that you enjoy, you are hurting them. The LGBT Community has faced our share of religious persecution ranging from preachers holding signs of ‘God hates fags’ to others condemning us to hell, and he is no different. If Michael truly understood the beauty and the diversity of human sexuality, we would all be better off and he would too. I don’t allow a 2000-year-old book to define human sexuality for me.”

“We have just as many LGBT churches on our side. Plenty of Christian pro-LGBT and people out there. It’s easier to come out now, but it is not easy. We have a lot of work to do. Voris is nothing new. We have dealt with a long line of homophobic bigots. I feel sorry for him.”

MATTHEW 25: 31-46 – “TRULY, I SAY TO YOU, AS YOU DID IT TO ONE OF THE LEAST OF THESE MY BROTHERS, YOU DID IT TO ME.”

Fr. Paul Chateau of St. James Catholic Church in Ferndale has been the pastor of Our Lady of Fatima in Oak Park for 46 years, and when St. James Catholic Church in Ferndale merged with his congregation, he became the pastor for both churches under the new name of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

At 79 years of age, Fr. Chateau doesn’t mince words when replying to questions about Church Militant.
“I don’t subscribe to most of that,” Fr. Chateau says. “They are agitators. They think the Pope is too progressive. From what I read, they are fanatics. This isn’t the ‘50s. There’s a whole new world now.”

“The Church is evolving in positive ways.” He continues, “The new focus on bringing together the community of God’s people is less vertical and more encompassing.”

He has lived in Oak Park for 46 years, “The people who were married to the past have faded from our operation. Parishioners now have a more open spirit, from my perspective. Come to church sometime,” he urges me. “There is a lot of value. And if ever we needed it in my lifetime, I encourage you to visit it again.”

HOLIDAY TIME! THAT TIME OF YEAR when we are all supposed to be happy! Set everything aside and forget your troubles. A time to experience all those warm fuzzy feelings that we only feel at this time of year. But why not all year? Why do we wait for this time of year to forget differences, express love, and be generous? Think how much better we would feel if we tried to have these feelings all year.

I am not talking about happiness. Happiness is more of a long-time feeling that is incredibly elusive, and the more one chases it, the more elusive it becomes. I am talking about those little snippets of joy that slip up on us occasionally and, if we are aware, are like a gift. Mentally, or emotionally they are like a happy little nudge from the universe which is saying, “just a little something with your name on it.”

We don’t think these moments happen often, but, the truth is that they are happening all the time and we are not aware of it. In other words, the universe is frequently nudging us with gifts, and we are ignoring them. How sad that we don’t get to have these feelings when they are right there waiting for us to notice. We don’t even have to reach. We only need to open our minds and notice.

Everyone has read articles where self-help gurus are telling us to write everyday things that made us happy the day before. We have all tried it for about a week, and run out of different stuff to write, or get bored because we are not journal-keepers. And the whole idea gets trashed.

And yet the universe just keeps sending gifts.

I am a journal-keeper. Maybe once a week or every few days. I tried the “moments of joy” list and dropped it due to running out of big new things which gave me a moment of joy.

Then one week I was troubled, and looking for anything to distract my mind while I walked my dog, Heidi. I became mesmerized by the patterns the shadows of the leafless trees made on the sidewalk. For lack of anything else, I listed this the next day. A few days later, I noticed the way Virginia’s eyes lit up just before she made a really good wisecrack. I wrote that too.

By that time, I was watching for these happy snippets from the universe. And, I think the universe was happy, because it sent me even more stuff to ponder on: The sound of Greg Pawlica laughing, Dan Martin calling with another stupid pun joke, getting hugs from people. After a while, I noticed that everything was fodder for my joy list.

I didn’t worry about repetition because some things are meant to be enjoyed over and over. I feel so peaceful at my painting table before daylight almost every morning. I love snuggling Heidi. Riding on the short bus with my seniors. There are so many things that bring me a little nudge of joy.

That was when I realized that making the list, even mentally, wasn’t necessarily the goal. Learning to open my mind and seeing the opportunities was the goal. By needing something to put on that damn list the next day, I was training myself to look and accept. I appreciate so much more around me now, and am constantly learning. Plus, I am so grateful to be given these gifts.

A word of caution. I know you will be excited and want to share, but, not everyone is tuned in, and will not appreciate what you are experiencing.

I learned this the hard way during the Chamber of Commerce Gala. A bunch of us were sitting off to the side laughing and talking. I sat back and looked at everyone, realizing how I loved each person there, and thoroughly enjoying their company at that moment.

So, I set my drink down and in loud clear tones verbalized this to all my companions. The immediate reaction was Dan Martin cutting my drinks off, followed by Joyce moving a little further away from me. So, a little discretion is advised.

Have fun, and remember to notice what makes you joyful.

Jeannie Davis 248 541 5888
Jeannie remains Number One on our own list of joys here at FF!

By Sara E. Teller

THE BERKLEY AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE HAS 150 MEMBERS IN BERKLEY, HUNTINGTON
WOODS, AND NORTH OAK PARK. Members include restaurants, retail stores, professional business services, real estate agents, financial, insurance, and legal services, education and health and wellness providers, non-profit organizations, auto care companies, home-based businesses, wedding service providers, salons, and more.

The Chamber and its members are dedicated to creating and sustaining a positive business climate by connecting with each other, local governments, and the community. Darlene Rothman, Executive Director, and RoseAnn Nicolai, Events & Operations Manager, have been with the Berkley Area Chamber since 2012.

“I’ve been the Executive Director for over seven years,” explained Rothman. “I was a Huntington Woods resident for over 27 years and was upset when the economy was affecting local businesses in Berkley. These businesses do a lot to support the community, and it was important for the community to support them during challenging times. When the job opportunity arose to work for the Berkley Area Chamber, I was excited to do what I could to help.”

Of her position, Nicolai said, “I have an event planning and association management company, and I have been a resident of Berkley since 1997. So, when an opportunity came up to work on events within the city where I live, I jumped at the opportunity. A year later the Chamber asked my company to take over the administrative tasks so Darlene could focus on recruiting new members and helping our current members.”

Understanding the importance of investing in local businesses, Nicolai added, “I believe having a thriving business community is an important component of making Berkley a great place to live. Local businesses are the ones who are more likely to donate to local causes and groups. They have an investment in the community. So, helping these businesses thrive is important.”

The Berkley Area Chamber is responsible for many fun, annual activities, some of which include:

THE BERKLEY ART BASH, the 2nd Saturday in June. Chaired by April McCrumb, owner of Catching Fireflies and Yellow Door Art, this fair attracts crowds of over RoseAnn Nicolai, Events 10,000 people who come to find hip handmade wares from over 150 artists and makers, listen to live music, eat great food, and participate in children’s activities.

THE BERKLEY STREET ART FEST, the second Saturday in July. Commissioned artists create murals on various spaces, and children and adults have the opportunity to create their own chalk art. Street performers and musicians are also there to entertain throughout the day.

THE BERKLEY PUB CRAWL, late August. This event highlights Berkley’s bars and restaurants.

THE STATE OF THE CITIES BREAKFAST, the 4th Friday in October. This event offers an opportunity for local government entities to report out to the community the accomplishments and issues from the past year as well as touch on what is forthcoming.

Rothman said, “As a team, we’ve increased the positive aspects of the community, so more [businesses] can grow and prosper. So many wonderful members go above and beyond to help create events, marketing concepts, and volunteer.”

The Chamber’s Board of Directors is grateful to all those who participate, companies and residents alike. Rothman said, “Most [members] are small business owners who do it all and still do what they can to help the greater good of the community. We have wonderful business owners, managers, and employees who create a warm and inviting atmosphere in Berkley and beyond.” She recognizes that residents also contribute to the Chamber’s mission, saying, “The residents are very loyal in supporting local businesses, which is what makes new businesses gravitate here. Strengthening downtown Berkley helps retain residents and attract new residents. Having the Berkley School District so strong is a major anchor to the entire mix. Public Safety makes sure the community is safe. It’s a win-win for all.”

The Berkley Area Chamber of Commerce offers Explore Berkley gift certificates to thirty local businesses, which can be purchased at berkleychamber.com and through the Berkley Education Foundation, berkleyedfoundation.org. Businesses and organizations can also join the Chamber and have access to all of its benefits by registering online. For more information, call 248.414.9157.

By David Ryals

MUHAMMAD AL-SHARKAWI WAS BORN IN EGYPT and received his education there and in Europe, earning both a Ph.D. and MA in Arabic. He later taught in Germany and the Middle East before finally coming to the United States in 2011. He has written six books on the history of Arabic and more than 20 academic articles in several languages. In 2017, he moved to Oak Park in order to teach at Wayne State University in Detroit.

But al-Sharkawi is much more than just an academic and intellectual. First and foremost he is a humanitar- ian. He is also a model citizen. The al-Sharkawi family, for example, is known for opening their home to strangers on Thanksgiving and other occasions. Every day and in every way, Muhammad strives to benefit our community. He is an inspiration in neighborliness.

What drives you to be an exemplary citizen?

My intention is not to achieve the status of an exemplary citizen. When I came to Oak Park, I met great people right from the first minute in my immediate surrounding area and also on the streets that I walk almost daily regardless of the weather. But I found them more as individuals than a community, admirable but individually.

Because my wife and I decided that Oak Park is our final destination after a long tour of the world, we wanted to live in a community. I believe, as a family man, that communities are safer even than a well- policed area in some cases. I started to cultivate roots for my family and to provide a network for my neighbors who are becoming friends really quickly. The goal is for my two boys, my wife’s daughter and the children of my neighbors to grow up in a well- rooted and close-knit but open and diverse community. So the main drive is the future and the joy this process of cultivation brings to me and to Manal, my wife.

What brought you to America and how did you make it your home?

I came to America seeking what money cannot buy: Education in a free and open society for my children. Before coming to the States, my family lived for four years in Egypt, where we had a house, a beach house, a car with a driver and a steady flow of cash.

In 2007, my wife and I started to look for school for my older boy who was kindergarten age. We found out that money can buy us good schooling but not a good education. Being accustomed to traveling, we decided to find a place to raise the family and offer the children a good education. We decided on America although it did not rank in the top ten countries in education. The relative openness of the society and the freedom of expression were attractive factors for me as an author and university professor.

Between 2008 and 2011, my family lived in Providence, Rhode Island where I taught at Brown University. We considered the first contract period an experiment. In these difficult years, my older son began school and started to cultivate his own mind. My wife and I helped him and his younger brother to be aware of the potential of our new life. Once we found out that the children were fine with the new move, we moved to Michigan where I found a permanent professorship.

Why do you invite your neighbors to your home for holidays?

Manal and I come from families that value strong social and familial ties. In our house, we have an open-door policy during the holidays and also on the weekend. In addition to regular and seasonal dinner parties for our immediate neighbors, we found out that many of our neighbors, who come from diverse faith cultures and social backgrounds, spend their holidays alone while others are with their families. We decided to be their family in Oak Park. Manal, my wife, is a great cook and we thought we could take advantage of this skill to attract the neighbors, who were very shy in the beginning.

In addition to book giveaways, the book club, social media presence, monthly get-togethers at the Cork and regular house visits with neighbors, the holiday dinners help form community in Oak Park. Sharing a meal allows people the chance to talk to one another without the awkward feelings that usually accompany talking to strangers.

What are your plans in the future and what are you most proud of?

I have three plans for my community. I am working with some friends and neighbors on a financial cooperative that should provide assistance to the city of Oak Park residents in the form of interest-free small loans. My second goal is to expand my meeting opportunities with the neighbors, instead of once a month to a regular biweekly gathering over coffee. Third, I hope to start volunteering in the city activities and work to improve the life of its citizenry. In short, I plan to leave my city when I die a good place for my wife and children to live in.

As far as Oak Park is concerned, I am so proud I am making a difference. You do not know how happy I feel whenever I exchange greetings with a neighbor.

By Cheryl Weiss

THE BEST GIFT MY MOM EVER GAVE ME was a childhood in Oak Park. I grew up seven houses from Shepherd Park, or “Oak Park Park,” as we called it.

It was perfect; the park was our playground, and summers were spent enjoying the freedom and fun of riding our bikes to the pool, playing a few rounds of mini golf, cooling off in the library with a new book, riding up and down the hill, watching the games at the baseball diamonds, wandering into the ice arena to watch the guys play hockey while having lunch at the snack bar, or just hanging out in the park with friends on the train.

Later, as a Teen Volunteer, I had caring mentors and gained valuable job skills that helped me as I entered the work world. I loved giving back and helping others so much that I continued to volunteer long after I aged out of the Teen Volunteer program. When I retired five years ago, one of the first things I wanted to do was start volunteering in my community again. I always felt like I had a place here in Oak Park; that I belonged here.

We all belong here. Oak Park’s strength is our diversity. We are a beautiful mix of cultures, races, religions, sexual orientations, backgrounds, and traditions. As children, we learned what a treasure this is as we learned from each other; sharing our food, dances, art, music, and pieces of our lives. As adults, as a community, our diversity and our lifelong connections define who we are. It’s #OP4LIFE, our hashtag. It’s an Oak Park thing: You can’t explain it; you just have to experience it.

OAK PARK HAS CHANGED IN THE LAST 50 YEARS and, as much as I loved growing up here, this is the best time to live in Oak Park. Summer Concerts in the Park are back on Thursday evenings, more popular than ever. Nine Mile is being transformed into a fun, walkable area with pocket parks and linear parks. The Library has events for every interest, from adult coloring to STEAM activities, and a fabulous children’s play area. Public Safety’s ice-cream truck is on the road, sharing sweets and smiles, deepening the positive relationships between Public Safety and the community in ways not often seen in other communities. Fourth of July 2019 was better than ever, with the Oak Park Youth Assistance Pancake Breakfast, the parade, and fun in the park. Not only are former Oak Parkers coming back for the 4th of July; many of those who moved west in the 1980s are now buying homes in Oak Park and raising their families here, the community they loved and never forgot.

It’s more than the development and events, though. Mayor Marian McClellan, City Council, and City Manager Erik Tungate are responsive to the concerns and suggestions of the community. Recently, residents wanted a stop sign at Balfour and Kipling. They complained, and a stop sign is now there. In June, a group of residents wanted Oak Park to raise the Pride flag. They contacted the City, attended a City Council meeting, a new policy was crafted, and the Pride flag was soon flying at City Hall.

MY BEST FRIEND SAYS OAK PARK is like The Wonder Years TV show. Maybe it is. Oak Park is home, it’s a place where each of us belong, where we are each welcome to contribute what we can and participate in the events we love. It’s lifelong connections, and it’s something special. Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz had it right: “There’s no place like home.”

 

By Sara E. Teller

Photos By Bill Gemmell

ALEX WASEL OPENED ALASKA FISH & CHICKEN in Oak Park in 2012. “I had a dream to open my own place after working in a fish market with a friend of mine,” he said. “I got to know how to manage everything then and I knew I wanted to have my own business.”

Right from the beginning, Wasel and his staff worked hard to keep their customers happy, and they now have many regulars who stop in “six or seven days” a week, according to the owner. This has to do in part with Wasel’s customer-oriented, close-knit team who truly understands the market. The food is cooked-to-order and served fresh daily, too, which makes Alaska a unique experience for those who appreciate high quality chicken and seafood.

“All of our seafood and other dishes are always fresh,” Wasel said. “And everyone loves working here – we’re like a family, and we take care of our customers. We’ve gotten the hang of everything here in Oak Park and have our operation under control. We are very busy.”

SOME FAN-FAVORITES INCLUDE Alaska’s jumbo shrimp, snow crab, and fried lobster tail. There are many types of fish available, too, either separately or in combos, including tilapia, cod,perch, catfish, whiting, pickerel, bass, and orange ruffy, among others. Chicken options include wings and tenders along with breasts, legs, things and even gizzards. Family combos are available, and Alaska offers a tempting dessert menu. There are ten cheesecake options to choose from, including specialty slices such as peach cobbler, sweet potato, and superman, as well as six traditional cakes by the slice, including chocolate, caramel, velvet, lemon, pineapple, and coconut. Overall, Alaska Fish & Chicken has something for everyone and is able to cater to a wide variety of dietary preferences.

“When people come in here and try our seafood, they don’t want to go anywhere else,” Wasel said. “They love how fresh it is and how we’re able to make it just the way they like.”

He added, “I had some friends come in here from out of town and when they left, they told others about it. Now, the people they told now come here all the time. I also have someone who comes in every morning to get chicken.” Wasel laughed fondly, “He says he needs my chicken! We’re always busy.”

WASEL LOVES OAK PARK IN GENERAL. He first started in Highland Park in 2008, but said he wasn’t in a good neighborhood and decided he would need to relocate. When searching for a new spot, he stumbled upon Oak Park and knew that’s where he wanted to be.

Four years later, that dream would become a reality. And even though Wasel still currently resides in Hamtramck, he hopes to relocate in the near future to be closer to the community he serves. He said, “I love this city. It’s safe and everyone’s friendly. The City of Oak Park is great. They’re good neighbors to have.”

Wasel is quick to show his appreciation to both his staff and customers, too, understanding they are responsible for Alaska’s success. “I really appreciate all of our customers in Oak Park. And, I really appreciate my staff,” he said. “They know what they’re doing and work hard every day to ensure we’re taking care of our customers.”

Alaska Fish and Chicken is located at 3701 W Nine Mile Rd. and is open Mondays through Saturdays 9:00 A.M. to 12:00 A.M. as well as Sundays 10:00A.M. to 10:00 P.M. Online delivery is available viaDoordash.com. For more information about the menu, call 248-556-0000.

By Jenn Goeddeke

STATE REPRESENTATIVE ROBER WITTENBERG has an outstanding passion for helping others and is an effective advocate and resource for approximately 95,000 people. In his words, “I like to be socially-conscious and fiscally-responsible at the same time.”

I recently met with Rep. Wittenberg at a local coffee shop to discuss his past and present political activities, along with his future plans. He is currently serving his third and final term as representative for Michigan’s 27th House District. This broad area includes Berkley, Oak Park, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge and Royal Oak Township.

Wittenberg certainly has a high regard for Oak Park. His grandparents moved here in 1967 and stayed until 2008. Since then, the home remained in Wittenberg’s family up until 2017 when it was sold. Wittenberg also attended Oak Park Middle School and is good friends with both the Mayor and City Manager. He mentioned with pride his “active and engaged” neighborhood block club, which is totally structured and holds monthly meetings, plus it hosts an annual Summer BBQ. He describes it as a “wonderful community.” And, even though it is the largest city in the District, it is more like a small town in terms of its residents. “I would love to keep serving this community!” he added with a smile.

WITTENBERG GREW UP IN MICHIGAN’S 27TH DISTRICT and was drawn to politics from an early age. While attending Berkley High School, then later at Indiana University, Wittenberg was continuously involved in various student councils and associations. He also volunteered his time for the campaigns of Mayor McClellan (Oak Park), Mayor Coulter (Ferndale) and also several city council races. By the time he got to the point of going into politics as his full- time career, many of his friends and family were saying, “What took you so long?”

 The issues of greatest focus in his political agenda include environmental issues (clean water and reducing chemical and other pollutants), equal wages for all, greater gun control and higher educational standards and funding. A further motivation behind his efforts is what he calls: ‘Universal Fairness.’ As he explained, “I see that people often get treated differently based on how they look or who they love, and so on. That’s just so wrong!”

He added, “People might have an issue, for example with their utility company, but then they get lost in the shuffle of trying to solve the problem. Typically, we can make one call and take care of it for them. I wish individuals could always get their concerns taken care of right away, but it often doesn’t happen like that. So my job is to advocate and point them in the best direction.”

REGARDING HIS THIRD TERM, WITTENBERG IS ENTHUSIASTIC. “I am loving it! I have good experience and I know how the system works. I have come to know my colleagues pretty well. With Gretchen Whitmer as the new governor, there is a big improvement overall. The Republican representatives come to us Democrats now, and we have to work closer together.”

By all accounts, Wittenberg has been a popular state representative. What has been the secret to his success (aside from his obvious desire to serve the people)?

“As a Democrat from a progressive area, I try to find the common ground ‘across the aisle,” meaning with the more right-leaning members. Maybe in part due to this, I had more bills passed into law than any other Democrat in my class.” Additionally, Wittenberg is a very ‘approachable’ elected official, with a large part of his time spent out in the community. For example, he particularly enjoys reading to students, and so far this term he has read to over 1800 students from four different school districts. “I want to continue on that path!” he added.

HAVING SERVED SIX YEARS, WITTENBERG IS TERM-LIMITED and will no longer be able to serve in his current position after the upcoming 2020 election. Therefore, he is making the most of his time now, while considering future opportunities to serve in Oakland County. Wittenberg mentioned that the terms of office for State Representatives are the most restrictive in the country. Wittenberg pointed out, “This is such a relationship-building business.  You have to get to know your fellow legislators! I consider [term limits] a failed experiment.”

I asked Wittenberg about his future plans. He replied that some changeover will be taking place soon, with L. Brooks Patterson not running for another term as Oakland County Executive. This will inevitably cause a shuffle. Wittenberg says he will not be running for county executive, but he is interested in the county treasurer position. (County positions are four- year terms with no term limits).

 Conversations regarding those possible positions have already started whereas campaigning will begin towards the end of this year. Wittenberg explained that Andy Meisner has been County Treasurer but will most likely be running for the county executive position. Wittenberg admires Meisner and wants to follow in his footsteps, “This would be a big jump in my constituency, from about 95,000 people to around 1.3 million. But I want whatever position that will allow me to stay involved.”

Robert Wittenberg can be reached by mail: PO Box 33014, Lansing, MI. 48909; by phone: 517.373.0478, or by email: robertwittenberg@house.mi.gov. Check out his website: www.wittenberg.housedems.com.

By Maggie Boleyn

To Charles Gladue, studying and learning from history is essential to avoid repeating past mistakes. He quotes Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Gladue uses his love of history to inform his service to Hazel Park residents. Among his many roles, he is President of the Hazel Park Historical Society, a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

“I was drawn to preserving our city’s history because, first and foremost, I am a history nut,” he said. Gladue adds he was excited to have the opportunity to help establish Hazel Park’s Historical Museum, along with his fellow Commissioners. Gladue, a resident of Hazel Park for 24 years, has logged hundreds of volunteer hours, serving on the Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Tax Review Board, and Historical Commission and Museum. He grew up in Oak Park and attended Ferndale High School.

Gladue is imbued with a strong volunteer spirit and carries that to his quest for City Council. “I am running for City Council because I believe we need a more balanced Council,” he said. “I believe serving is more than just attending the one or two meetings a month that are held. You have to get out and volunteer and interact.” In addition to his service to the City through boards and commissions, Gladue chairs the Hazel Park Lions Club Memorial Day weekend.

“This interaction with the community has allowed me to get a good sense of what our residents want to see in our city and more importantly, what they don’t want to see,” Gladue said.

WHEN ASKED WHAT PLANS HE ENVISIONS FOR HAZEL PARK, Gladue responded, “I would like to see Hazel Park transform back to a city with a vibrant, established downtown. We had it at one time, and if we would have not torn it all down from the ‘60s to the ‘90s in favor of strip malls, I firmly believe we would be sitting where Ferndale and Royal Oak are right now.”

One City improvement project in the works is the redesign of Scout Park. “I am excited about the upcoming Scout Park re-do, and would like to see that continue, right down to the smaller parks,” Gladue said. City Manager Edward Klobucher and the Hazel Park Recreation Department recently presented the design plan for the future Scout Park Playground. The plan, created by children (with help from Playgrounds by Leathers), was made possible by the SutarSutaruk-Meyer Foundation. The playground will be built “by and for” the community. Construction is scheduled to begin in June.

Gladue hopes that the city does not start playing favorites to specific individuals or businesses as has happened in the past. If so, the city would lose opportunities and not allow itself to diversify. A more balanced City Council would prevent this. The City Council and City administration need to be responsive to the concerns of its citizens, including more opportunities for the public to voice their input.

Gladue concludes, “I believe our residents need to be informed of the past, so we, as a city, do not repeat our past errors. And, believe me, we made a lot of those.”