Oak Park City Guide 2018
2018 Oak Park City Guide and Business Directory

Story by Ingrid Sjostrand

One of the most anticipated additions to the City of Oak Park in 2018 will be the revitalization of the WWJ Transmitter building into a restaurant. Why the hype? The American comfort-food-style restaurant tentatively named 8MK will be the ninth venture for restaurant group Union Joints – joining The Clarkston Union, The Union Woodshop and Vinsetta Garage, among other eateries throughout Metro Detroit.

The art deco structure, located east of Coolidge Hwy. on 8 Mile Rd., has occupied the lot since 1936 when the Scripps family built the transmitter building as a full-service radio station for WWJ-AM (950). Designed by famed Detroit architect Albert Kahn, the building contains a lot of art and Detroit history, which Union Joints plans to preserve.

“Maintaining the original design and character of the building was extremely important to the City,” says Kimberly Marrone, Community and Economic Development Director for the City of Oak Park. “With past experience on projects with this developer, we knew we were leaving the building in good hands with Union Joints.”

The company is almost as famous for their repurposing of historic buildings as they are for their Union mac and cheese. Several of their existing restaurants are based out of unique locations, like turning an old automotive shop into Vinsetta Garage in Berkley and revitalizing a volunteer fire station into Fenton Fire Hall.

“Part of our purpose is repurposing. We’re drawn to buildings that have always served one purpose and are destined to serve another,” Union Joints co-owner Curt Catallo said at Oak Park’s State of the City address in February of 2016, when the project was announced. Ann Stevenson, wife of Catallo and co-owner/head designer for Union Joints, will work with Von Staden Architects on the design of 8MK.

“Our approach is to really just simply…let it be. We’re working hard to honor the building by not introducing a drastic change. It’s such a grandly handsome space with such a commanding presence—one which doesn’t require a tremendous amount of adjustment to its footprint,” Stevenson said. “The architect on this project, Tamas Von Staden, has a really wonderful way of working with the building and not against it.”

Construction will begin this summer on the 5,228 square-foot building that has been vacant since WWJ shut their doors in 1995, but planning has been in the works since 2014 when the City of Oak Park decided to attempt to purchase the building.

“We started working on this project in the Fall of 2014 when we tried to envision what could be done to the long vacant building. We began working with the property owner to see if they would sell the building to the City. We came to an agreement that they would,” Marrone says. “In the meantime, we reached out to Ron Campbell, Principal Planner and Preservation Architect for Oakland County’s Economic Development and Community Affairs Department, to see if he had any ideas or leads. As it turns out, he worked with Ann and Curt before on their other restaurant projects and set a meeting for them to meet with us on site.”

Plans for expansion on the five-acre lot include an addition of a 5,103 square-foot space for a kitchen. The restaurant will have approximately 140 seats, two outdoor spaces, and a large parking lot with a 160-car capacity.

“The restaurant is creating a destination restaurant in our community that will draw people far-and-wide to visit Oak Park,” Marrone says. “It gives us the opportunity to showcase what a great community we are and hopefully see some additional economic development activities because of it.”

The Union Joints team is just as excited as the City to highlight the great community of Oak Park, and has benefited from the involvement of the economic development team.

“The City of Oak Park has a dynamic vision for their future and we are so honored that they’ve entrusted us with its gem. Happily for us, they have a keen understanding of how bogged down and unnecessarily complicated a project like this can be, and they’ve duly paved the way to make everything smoother and more efficient,” Stevenson says. “A warmer, more accommodating group than Oak Park does not exist. It’s been a joy.”

Story by Sara E. Teller

FedEx Ground, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp., recently opened a 304 thousand square foot distribution center in Oak Park, as part of a larger, nationwide expansion plan. The facility took about 18 months to build. The primary purpose for expanding was to accommodate a growing need for FedEx Ground services, which has doubled in volume over the past ten years. The new site offered a boost to Oak Park’s commerce and career opportunities for its residents.

FedEx is a leader in cost-effective package ground shipping, offering service to businesses and residential customers throughout the U.S. and Canada. “All shipments move via trucks across the country to and from a network of 590 facilities,” explained David Westrick of the FedEx Ground Media Relations team. Westrick explained the strategic process that went into selecting the perfect location for the center and why the site of the former Detroit Artillery Armory was eventually chosen.

“As we always do for projects of this size, we conducted an exhaustive search for the right location. The site [of the former Detroit Artillery Armory] was chosen because of its ease of access to major highways, proximity to customers’ distribution centers and a strong local community workforce for recruiting employees,” Westrick said. “The new facility is part of a nationwide network expansion to boost daily package volume capacity and further enhance the speed and service capabilities of the FedEx Ground network. Since 2005, the company has opened 15 new hubs featuring advanced material-handling systems, and expanded or relocated more than 500 local facilities.”

Keyon Laws is the senior manager of the Oak Park FedEx Ground distribution center, which covers 54 of the former Artillery site’s 100 acres. Laws loves the warm and welcoming façade of Oak Park. He said, “The Oak Park community has been exceptionally welcoming to us. I have become involved with the Tri-Community Coalition, an organization that provides preventative substance abuse programs for at-risk teens. One of the reasons FedEx is one of the world’s most admired companies is that we are encouraged to give back to the communities where we work and live. I do it and I encourage all of our employees to do the same.”

The Oak Park location opened with 235 employees, and leadership continues to add positions as demand for FedEx service grows. “FedEx is proud to be recognized as one of the world’s most admired companies, and we take seriously our commitment to be a safe and responsible neighbor. Our operations will create jobs for local citizens, many of whom will benefit from our company’s promote-from-within philosophy, and additional benefits in terms of financial investment, volunteerism and other community support,” Westrick explained. “Consistently ranked among the world’s most admired and trusted employers, FedEx inspires its more than 400,000 team members to remain ‘absolutely, positively’ focused on safety, the highest ethical and professional standards and the needs of their customers and communities.”

He added, “We are frequently hiring, but just coming off our busiest time of the year we do not have many positions open at this time.” There are, however, a few open opportunities in various departments for interested candidates.

For more information, interested parties can visit the company’s site at
www.fedex.com. For career opportunities, job seekers should navigate to careers.fedex.com.



Story by Sara E. Teller
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

Marty Babyov, owner of The Suit Depot, became an entrepreneur in his teens after watching his older brother sell items on eBay. “I opened my eBay account when I was 12-years-old. I initially opened it to purchase, and I didn’t get serious about selling on eBay until I was 16,” he explained.

“Before that, I watched my brother list random items that the previous owners of our home had left behind. It amazed me that items which had no value when we were limited to a local market sold immediately once offered to a global market. I started off selling whatever was laying around: electronics, apparel, etc.”

Then, he made the fateful decision to start marketing mens wear. “At one point, my cousin heard I was selling on eBay and gave me some of his out-grown high-end dress shirts to sell. I was shocked when they sold for over$25 a piece. It got me thinking about apparel and mens wear in particular.” Marty was drawn, specifically, to the timelessness of the wear. “It retains its value, and it’s a niche market in which I could become an expert and cement a business reputation around that.”

He started off small, in his parents’ basement, but soon needed more space. “I quickly outgrew it, so in 2009, I moved to our first warehouse in Oak Park,” he explained. “In 2015, we decided to open a pilot retail store to test the local retail market. It was well received, so we expanded our mini-store and added on another 8,000 square feet making up the full 11,000 square-foot store we have now.”

Selecting Oak Park for the brick and mortar was a no-brainer. “I chose Oak Park for a few reasons. I live right across the street in Southfield, so it’s convenient. Real estate prices in Oak Park were amazing compared to some other areas. It might not be the biggest city, but it’s safe and right off the major freeways so people can easily get to us from surrounding cities. I figured if the store isn’t worth driving 15-20 minutes for, then I haven’t created a business. While locals support us, we also have customers coming from as far as Flint, Lansing, Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, and even Ohio and Toronto. It’s a destination store.”

He also appreciates the close-knit community Oak Park has to offer. “It’s amazing how easily you can contact the Mayor or City Manager, whether by calling them or messaging them on social media. The city services are some of the best in the area, and they really do a great job of keeping it small and friendly.”

The Suit Depot, Marty said, is both a discount and luxury retailer. “Our motto is ‘Style. Value. Service.’ When it comes to mens wear, customers are used to having to choose between discount prices or full-service,” he explained. “We pride ourselves on combining the two. We’re a discount store but stock a larger inventory and offer service and expertise usually only found at luxury retailers.”

When he’s not busy running his company, Marty is out and about in Oak Park. “I enjoy roller-blading and biking. As an Orthodox Jew I only eat kosher, so Oak Park is definitely the place to be. There are a few great kosher restaurants and a bakery on Greenfield Road so I can always run out for a quick bite in the middle of the day.” He also helps out local charities, saying, “I enjoy the opportunity The Suit Depot gives me to assist local charities in dressing the needy.”

As far as future store plans, Marty has a new venture in the works. “While we have no immediate plans for expansion of the retail store, we are launching a side business independent of The Suit Depot that will make custom suits,” he said. “The service will also be available in The Suit Depot’s Oak Park location.”

Story by Sara E. Teller
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

Mopec is a global company headquartered in Oak Park that provides equipment and products to a wide variety of specialized industries, including pathology, animal research, anatomy lab, mortuary, and necropsy. The company’s top-notch design and manufacturing engineering teams have the expertise and experience to customize laboratory solutions to fit just about any business needs. Mopec also prides itself in its innovative work stations and equipment, as well as employee commitment to customer satisfaction.

“Mopec was established in 1992 by Rick Bell and George Hallman. Mopec services over 80 countries, but we’re proud to call Oak Park our headquarters, home,” explained Director of Marketing Heidi Bodell, adding, “We provide cadaver refrigeration and other stainless-steel equipment to morgues, anatomy labs, pathology departments, medical examiner facilities, and animal research labs.”

Bodell started with Mopec in March of 2016 as a Digital Marketing Specialist, and was promoted within the same year to a position in which she was responsible for revitalizing the company’s marketing strategies. She has a lengthy professional marketing background, and is experienced in web marketing campaigns, digital analytics, content development and creative design. Bodell is happy to put her skills to work at a company that has been on the forefront of the industry for decades and is seen as a go-to provider of specialized equipment. “We’ve produced equipment for top medical facilities and universities across the country,” Bodell said.

Mopec is proudly positioned in the diverse, centralized, up-and-coming suburb of Oak Park. Bodell explained, “We are so happy to be a part of the growing Metro Detroit area. The city has so much to be appreciative of and an incredible amount of potential for the future. Mopec is delighted to contribute to this growth. Oak Park’s outstanding combination of business facilities and residential communities is something we’re quite fond of. It doesn’t hurt that we’re neighbors with the unique, diverse town of Ferndale either.”

The company has been able to offer consistent support services to local businesses for decades, and the team works hard to keep Oak Park in the spotlight by continually advertising its headquarter’s location. “Although Mopec isn’t a walk-in retailer or service facility, we often support local businesses for printing needs, material suppliers and other services,” Bodell said. “We also advertise our headquarters quite frequently to help put Oak Park on the map.”

Mopec has a wealth of talent employed at its Oak Park facility who are actively making a difference in the community. “We have a very talented group of customer service representatives and engineers located at our Oak Park offices. There are also approximately 50 sales representatives throughout the U.S. and several international dealers to ensure a face-to-face conversation is possible with every customer. Every Mopec individual is dedicated to providing superior consultation tailored to each facility’s specific needs. We’re known for our flexibility in customizing equipment to fit any space or requested feature.”

Recently, the company took advantage of opportunity to highlight their philanthropic side by making new equipment for the Detroit Zoo’s Aquarium. They also make equipment for the morgue and crime processing labs.

The company has also been able to consistently reach out to Oak Park and neighboring residents interested in employment, and leadership is always looking to take on more talent with the necessary skills and background to serve Oak Park. “Resumés of driven, hard-working individuals are always welcomed,” Heidi said. She added that “Mopec is continually striving to produce and offer industry leading products equipped with advanced technology and safety features.”

For more information on products and services, or to apply for a position readers can visit www.mopec.com or stop by during normal business hours.

Story by Sara E. Teller
Photos by Bernie Laframboise

The Oak Park E-Z Roll, a popular bike-riding event, began three years ago. But the concept came to founder Aaron Tobin well before the first ride. “Four or five years ago, I wanted to start a weekly bike ride. A group of my friends said they were interested. But when it came down to it, we never actually got out,” he said. “So I decided to start a Facebook group. The first time we rode, there were probably 25 people. Now we get 150-200 riders each time.”

The E-Z Rollers meet on a weekly basis, every Tuesday evening at 6:30 P.M., at the Oak Park Library, when the weather is nice. “We ride from the beginning of summer sometimes through Halloween, or whenever it gets too cold,” Tobin said. “We have a hard-core group that is out with us every week, and many others who drop in when they can.”

The E-Z Roll is family-oriented, and the group considers safety first and foremost. “The environment is entirely family-friendly,” Tobin explained. “That means no drinking, no smoking, no loud or offensive music. You can’t wear anything offensive, either. We go out for about an hour, and we just ask that riders leave that stuff behind. We have handheld radios, and we direct bikers along the path. We’re always focused on safety.”

The E-Z Roll was organized as an entirely free event to promote community togetherness. “It’s just a great way to get people off their couches and kids away from their games and devices. The ride promotes comradery, a sense of neighborhood and friendship,” Tobin said. The rides are open to cyclists of all ages. “We have riders who originally brought their kids in carriers on the back of their bikes, and now the kids are riding their own attached bikes. They’ve participated for years. We also have college professors, father-son and mother-daughter pairs, business owners and fast-food employees. Even City Manager Erik Tungate rode with us.”

There’s a different route for riders each week. “Paul Levine maps out our path. He even considers elevations to ensure all riders can come out. We have a different route each time: riding in Oak Park as well as in neighboring cities, including Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Ferndale, and Berkley,” Tobin explained.

“We promote the event on our Facebook page. We also have a text messaging network that alerts bikers who don’t have Facebook about upcoming rides,” Tobin said.

The E-Z Rollers are not affiliated with any political party, or third-party business or organization, and do not intend on monetizing in any way. Yet, Tobin said, “We do sell t-shirts for just a couple of bucks if riders are interested. And, ‘Ken the light man’ is always around to sell bike lights. We also work with local bike shops, like D&D Bicycles in Berkley, to offer riders discounts on purchases or repairs.”

As interest in the group grew, Tobin also began to print off business cards to direct people to the Facebook page. “People see this massive group of cyclists riding by and they come out on their front porches, waving and cheering us on. They want to know who we are and what it’s all about. So I pass out the cards.”

The E-Z Roll offers a few special events throughout the year, too, including after-ride dinners and a Fourth of July ride. “Chef Cari’s Street Eats offered a fish ‘n chips dinner after one of our rides last year. We’re hoping to do this again this year,” Tobin said. “It offered more of a social atmosphere for riders where we could have more in-depth conversations. The E-Z Roll has helped neighbors meet for the first time, even if they’ve lived next door to each other for years.”

The E-Z Roll team is looking for sponsors for a free helmet giveaway. Business are encouraged to email: oakparkE-Zoll@gmail.com.

By Ingrid Sjostrand
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

Love and community are the reasons that Ernie’s Market has been successful for the last 63 years, according to owner Ernie Hassan.

“It’s a community store, rather than an individual store. I don’t own this, the community does. I’m just doing my part and you’re doing your part by coming in,” Hassan says. “It’s not about money; it’s a love that we have for you. It’s the love that they have for me that makes me stay here.”

The sandwich shop, nestled between homes and businesses bordering Ferndale and Oak Park at 8500 Capital St., regularly sees lines of people waiting up to an hour for a famous Ernie’s sandwich and the charismatic energy of Hassan.

“Famous” isn’t an understatement, either. The list of accolades range from winning Channel 4 Click-On-Detroit’s Best Sandwich Shop for ten years in a row to being featured nationally on Travel Channel’s show, Food Paradise.

To ensure all ingredients are of the best quality, Hassan wakes at 5:30 A.M. to get the freshest meats, cheeses and vegetables, which are then sliced before opening. Sandwiches are customized into colossal sandwiches –one called the “monster” is comprised of seven different meats – and topped with Ernie’s signature “Love Spice.”

But, the sandwiches aren’t the only draw of Ernie’s Market. Many come as much for Hassan’s uplifting, caring personality as they do for the food. “Who loves ya’, Baby!” is affectionately uttered to every customer that comes through the door and is Hassan’s most famous phrase. It’s clear he genuinely cares about his customers and they care for him, too.

“It’s a very unique scenario. This is a safe haven. The mothers, when I was a kid, would come and sit on the bread rack and watch me when my father left. It’s not Ernie’s store, it’s everyone’s,” he says. “They were here as much as I was. It’s nice we’ve had a lot of friends and we still do.”

The sandwich shop started in 1955 with Hassan’s father, the namesake of the market. However, the business has been in the family since the 1920s when Hassan’s grandparents opened their grocery store and meat market. Currently, Hassan’s wife Lois and his daughter both help run the market.

Hassan says he couldn’t pick a better community than Oak Park either, he’s even the Goodwill Ambassador for the city.

“Basically, we are part of a community. I try to be every-thing within the community and, in return, the community helps us. The mayor, the police…everyone involved in the city is wonderful and helps us.”

By Mary Meldrum

The brain-child of Oak Park resident Doug Craig, the nonprofit organization Fathers Being Involved, was launched in Pepper Elementary in September of 2015. Craig’s previous involvement with a fatherhood organization in Detroit at the Children’s Center led him to recognize that there was a missing fatherhood component, when he enrolled his son in kindergarten in Oak Park. Doug Craig asked Principal Emanuel Haley if he knew of any structured fatherhood initiatives in Oak Park. Haley’s reaction conveyed that Craig’s timing
was very good.

“Mr. Craig, just last night I had five mothers who have children with discipline issues who approached me for help. I can’t do this by myself,” said Haley. “Yes, I need your support.” That was all Craig needed, and he fired up a plan to connect people with purpose. “I work in divine purpose, and every time I work with this drive it works out perfectly in the right moment,” shared Craig.

DOUG CRAIG EVOLVED FROM a marketing director in the music industry to connect fathers with their children. He does this by connecting them with the Oak Park schools and within the community. Fathers Being Involved (FBI for short) has attracted approximately 280 fathers since its inception. Their mission is to create stronger fathers, stronger families, and stronger communities.

Fathers Being Involved is partnered with schools to help create a safer and more positive overall school environment. They also look to expose students to positive images and actions of men. They do this by encouraging fathers to play a more active role in their child’s education. They also help fathers find ways to support the efforts of teachers.

Craig serves as the Executive Director and co-founder of the FBI organization, and acts as the outreach spokesperson. He also serves as co-chair of the Wayne County System of Care Community Outreach where they reach out to various cultures. Craig sees the fatherhood piece in need of support and reinforcement in every culture in Detroit.

Craig gives big praise to the City of Oak Park –and in particular, Mayor Marian McClellan – and Mr. Haley of Pepper Elementary for the spirit and the early insight to ignite a fatherhood organization that supports and promotes its members. Because of the success of the FBI program in Oak Park, Craig reports that they are initiating a pilot program with Detroit Public Schools, as well as a couple of charter schools.

Oak Park is the heart and center of this operation; every-thing for the FBI program is birthed out of the city. In conjunction with the FBI initiatives, Craig is looking into having Oak Park host a fatherhood festival this coming Summer.

ONE OF THE GREAT SUCCESSES for Fathers Being Involved program is an event called the “Morning Roll & Go.” Men are stationed outside Pepper Elementary school in the morning, opening doors for women and children. Church Street, next to the school, was a congested raceway in the morning and afternoon. The fathers help with the traffic flow on Church Street. Fathers take the lead role in demonstrating how to be gentlemen.

They model good behavior, organize, and keep things moving along. Their presence calms the chaos and puts extra adult eyes and ears amongst the children adding a layer of security in the school drop off-process.

Fathers in the Morning Roll & Go interact with the kids. They ask about and encourage kids to achieve grades and complete homework; often stepping in to be the “community father” for all the children. They genuinely invest in the children and show them how to be little ladies and gentlemen.

Fathers Being Involved also get involved with the discipline of the troublemakers and encourage all the children to go forth in their day with upbeat attitude and self-esteem. Craig himself had conversations with one parent about vulgar rap music playing in their car that set their children up for disrespectful behavior and failure. He was so successful in explaining how rap lyrics create a bad attitude in children that the father not only changed the music choice, he also joined the FBI.

THE BOTTOM LINE FOR Fathers Being Involved is creating a prominent place for fathers in their children’s lives where they are seen and valued. Craig has frequently observed that men will see something and talk about something, but few men will do anything about it. He says that once a man is respected in a space, he feels like he is making a difference and becomes a leader in that space.

“We have to condition these children to respect themselves, respect adults, and to respect their community so that five years down the road when they are in high school they will be disciplined, and prayerfully, more academically accomplished,” proposes Craig.

Fathers Being Involved also encourages fathers to be attentive to their health and be a role model for their children. FBI is working on a monthly feature where a father talks about his career to inspire the kids. They are also working on a program to have fathers come in and read to the children.

The Michigan Fatherhood Alliance has asked Doug Craig to be part of their restructuring. His initiatives have grown from one elementary school to the whole Oak Park Public School system. He is now being invited to carry his programs and events through to other schools in other cities.

Craig credits the City of Oak Park for the organic growth of the FBI organization. He cites the public response, the neighborhoods, and the inclusive spirit of the people for his successful fatherhood initiative.

By Sara Teller

Cheryl Weiss has lived in Oak Park her whole life. “And, I will continue to live here for the rest of my life,” she said. “When I bought my house, I didn’t even consider looking anywhere else. I love the people here. We are diverse in every possible way, yet we enjoy sharing the community together.”

Her love for writing has also been lifelong. “I’ve been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil,” she explained. Weiss wrote for her elementary school’s newsletter, middle-school newspaper, and took a high-school journalism class. “Then, I joined the newspaper staff, and became the features editor in my junior year; moving up to editor of the paper in my senior year,” she explained.

She knew she wanted to pursue writing post-graduation, but had a tough time deciding between that and another passion of hers — teaching. “When I graduated, I was torn between going into journalism and teaching and, ultimately, I chose to teach.”

Weiss loved it. “I was an elementary teacher for 22 years full-time, three years as a substitute teacher. I first taught at Pepper Elementary School in Oak Park, the same classroom , I attended as a child. It was exactly what I hoped for. Returning to my school as a teacher was the best. I then taught in Farmington for 13 years and I had some wonderful experiences there as well.”

Eventually, she learned a way to combine both teaching and writing. “One way I combined both passions during my teaching career was that I brought a school newspaper production club to schools in both districts where I taught — Oak Park, then Farmington — and had a blast with the kids.”

When she retired in 2014, Weiss finally had time to devote her energy to writing again. “Retirement was like a graduation for me; I ended one stage of my life, which was bittersweet, and moved forward to a new stage filled with opportunities I never had before.”

It was an Oak Park story that helped her get published. “My first time writing for publication was in January 2015, when Crystal Proxmire of the Oakland County Times asked me to cover a meeting regarding the possible closing of the Oak Park Jewish Community Center. I was very happy to say yes, and loved every minute of it. Seeing it published with my byline was incredible.”

One of Weiss’ favorite projects featured Ernie Hassan of Ernie’s Market. “I wanted to do more than other writers had done to find the stories he hasn’t shared before in the numerous other stories written about him, and I did that. I am proud of that story, and it’s my favorite so far,” she said.

Weiss has been involved in the Oak Park community in many ways. She started Oak Park Neighbors, a group page on Facebook, which has grown to over 2,600 members since its inception. She is also Vice President of the Oak Park Friends of the Library. “I also enjoy helping Denise DeSantis; I wrote a piece about how to save money on your water bill for the Winter edition of the Oak Park City Magazine,” she said.

Weiss enjoys interacting with other community members in any way she can, saying, “There is something special about Oak Parkers; there is a connection we share that lasts forever.”

By: David Ryals

Detroit’s own Gail Perry-Mason has come a long way, from foster care to caring for others. She is a respected authority in the financial industry, and best-selling author. Her years of experience, coupled with her “down-to-earth” but also “down-to-business” style, has made her a sought-after speaker and presenter.

Regularly addressing capacity crowds, she educates people on financial literacy conducting financial training sessions and workshops for companies such as Chrysler, IBM, MGM, Blue Cross and Wells Fargo.

Recently, she took top-performing Oak Park and Detroit area high school and middle school students on a trip to the Chicago Board Options Exchange. She said of the experience, “My intentions about taking the students on the first trading day of the year was so they could learn how the Exchange works. The trip was just part of the lesson, and they also attended a luncheon at 5/3 Bank and learned the importance of banking, credit and savings. This trip had such a great impact on our young investors. Some of our youth now want to become investors.”

While juggling her demanding financial career and public appearances, Gail found the time to write and publish her first book, Money Matters for Families, which served as a manual for the employees at DaimlerChrysler on managing finances. The book is geared toward families and focuses on the critical elements for building a strong financial foundation Gail’s second book, Girl, Make Your Money Grow, written with co-author Glinda Bridgforth, was a national best-seller. This guide, featured on Oprah’s Debt Diet helped build Gail a national following.

Despite her eons-long career of achievements, she told Ferndale Friends, “My proudest accomplishment is seeing our youth walk across the stage and receive something no one can take away from them: Degrees, business owners, skill trade certificates, etc.. My biggest accomplishment is when all of my youth are better than me…that is all I want out of life.” It’s such a blessing to see many of the youth from years ago that attended the money camp volunteer and mentor others.

Story by Sara E. Teller

The Oak Park Public Safety Department is a busy place to be. Its Director, Steve Cooper, and his team are cross-trained as police officers, fire fighters, and medical first responders. The Department was the first in the state to combine these services, and Cooper said the structure works really well.

Cooper was selected for the Police Officer Association of Michigan’s 2016 Award, which was issued that May. “I was nominated by my staff. We have so many great men and women. To be nominated by individuals you work with on a daily basis, to know they think highly enough of you to submit you for this, is extremely humbling.” he said. Director Cooper has a plaque on his wall, but jokes, “I really can’t get any mileage off of that anymore. You always have to stay focused and humble.”

Cooper has been with the Department for 28 years, and said public safety officers have been cross-trained for as long as he can remember. “It’s been that way since 1954. Everyone in the Department completes police academy training, training with the fire department, and additional medical first response training. We have individuals looking to join our team that come in already police-certifiable, too, and we just go from there,” he explained.

Once training is complete, public safety officers start their days in police uniform, carrying additional gear and tools with them so they can easily transition roles if needed. “They’ll ride around on patrol with a duffle bag full of fire gear, an extinguisher, and a medical box,” Cooper explained. “If needed, they’ll change right there in the street.”

He said the department always has stand-by officers at the station, as well. “Our stand-by officers are there to process prisoners and handle walk-in complaints. If there’s a fire emergency, we stop what we’re doing and put prisoners in lock-down so officers can jump in a fire truck and respond. We also partner with neighboring departments like Beverly Hills, Berkley, and Huntington Woods, and will call in off-duty staff if we need to.”

To determine whether officers are ready to hit the road, they undergo what’s called a “shadow phase.” Cooper explained, “In this phase, you ride around with a senior officer who is in civilian clothes and handle all the calls. You’re given feedback, and this determines if you’re ready.”

OAK PARK’S PUBLIC SAFETY DEPARTMENT has many community policing initiatives that really make it stand out. The Department recently started a canine unit and took on Canine Officer Mase. “We found Mase at Vohne Liche Kennels in Indiana. They house dogs that undergo special training in their six-week courses. They join bomb squads and police departments, and really are a valuable tool,” Cooper said. “He’s been doing extremely well, just a really great job, and he has grown leaps and bounds since day one.” Mase is named after Oak Park’s fallen officer Mason Samborski.

Every day, Mase is out in the field responding to calls with Officer Mike Hodakoski who, after an intense interview process, was selected to serve as Mase’s handler. “We sent out correspondence to our staff, then conducted an extensive interview process with everyone who showed interest, including home interviews and oral boards. We brought in master-handlers who had canines. It takes a lot of time and commitment to work with Mase. Training is conducted once a week, which needs to be logged and the handler needs to do different activities with him. This really becomes everything you do.”

He said it takes a special kind of person to understand Mase’s role with the Department. “The canine is a tool used for many different things, and socialization is part of it as well. We need to make sure he interacts with the public. Now that Officer Hodakoski has had a chance to bond with Mase, we’ll be able to bring him to schools and conduct demonstrations to students. It’s important for people to realize Mase is not just an at-tack dog. He follows directions and commands very well, and can go from chasing down a bad guy to being completely docile.”

THE DEPARTMENT ALSO LAUNCHED AN ICE CREAM TRUCK INITIATIVE last summer in an effort to build upon its relationship with the Oak Park community and to make the first interaction with police a pleasant one. “One of my detectives had approached me with the thought that this would be a great way to engage with the community. I like to say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so make it a positive one,” Cooper said. “The truck goes to events like end-of-the-year school celebrations and block parties. It’s not just for the children either. While it’s a great tool for the youth, it’s a great tool for adults, too. We take turns riding up and down the street, sharing free ice cream.”

Oak Park’s Department of Public Works donated the van that’s used, and the Public Safety Department solicited the help of local sponsors to decorate it and get it ready for the road. Prairie Farms donates ice cream every week. The truck runs from the last day of school through Labor Day weekend. “It’s a nice conversation piece,” Cooper said. “People were a bit shocked at first. Then, they started asking when the truck was coming to their neighborhood.”

The Department also has a Community Resource Officer, Devon Benson, who wears many hats. Benson interacts with all three public school systems Oak Park is responsible for, including Oak Park, Berkley and Ferndale, and is the City’s liaison for block clubs, making public appearances and demonstrations at community and city functions.

“Officer Benson helps neighborhoods set up block clubs. He gets them up and going,” Cooper explained. “He attends all meetings and events for the clubs, including summer block parties, and provides updates at these meetings. Mase attended one of these. They are a forum to solve problems and exchange ideas.”

As far as working with the schools, “Oak Park handles student programs for three districts and Benson hosts various programs, such as meet-and-greets and stranger-danger demonstrations,” Cooper said. “He also works with the private schools of Oak Park’s Jewish community, as well as local nursery schools and preschools.”
When not in meetings or at schools, Officer Benson manages Oak Park’s 15 crossing guards, mediates neighborhood complaints and issues, and handles vehicle fleet changeovers. He is a highly visible member of the Public Safety Department.

OAK PARK PERIODICALLY OFFERS AN INTERACTIVE OAK PARK PUBLIC SAFETY CITIZENS ACADEMY and Junior Citizens Academy to the community. These classes are designed for those who have an interest in learning about law enforcement, fire safety, evidence processing, and medical first response. They spend time with various members of the Public Safety team learning things like how to process fingerprints,
how to pick up subjects for a police line-up, how to dress like a firefighter, how police are trained to respond to dangerous situations, and what a firefighter does when responding to a scene to help contain the fire and get people out of harm’s way.

“Detective Robert Cook approached me with the idea,” Cooper said. “We never had a Citizen’s Academy before, and he thought it would be helpful to invite the community to see what goes on behind the curtain, so to speak. We use a firearms training simulator, which is interactive. Actors on screen are given demands. Some obey, some don’t, and we react accordingly.”

The Academy offers a great way for residents to gain a better understanding of what officers face in the field. “They see things on the news and wonder why an officer responded a certain way, but don’t realize we only have a split second to react. You can go into a gas station for a Slurpie, and in the blink of an eye, a robbery is in progress,” Cooper explained. “We lay out all of the equipment and ask residents to try it on. Just our police vests and gun belts are very heavy and can be exhausting to wear for hours on end. They can also operate fire trucks, squirt water from the trucks, and explore the jaws-of-life. Our evidence technicians and special response team direct particular segments, and participants are shown patrol and traffic operations, the detective’s bureau, criminal procedures, forensics, the 9-1-1 dispatch area. This year they’ll be shown a real homicide case and go through how it was responded to. It’s interactive in every way.”

Classes are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis with roughly 25 people per class. Details are posted on social media and on the City’s web site. They include instructions regarding how interested residents can enroll. For more information, contact Detective Robert Koch at (248) 691-7514.

“We did a pilot program with Oak Park High School students,” Cooper said of the Junior Citizen’s Academy. “We basically covered the same concepts, but tweaked them a bit to appeal to 16- to 18-year-olds. The programs have been a huge success. They really help us to build a good relationship with the community. It’s very rewarding.” The next round of the Oak Park Public Safety’s Citizens Academy will be held every Wednesday in May 2018 from 6:00 to 9:00 P.M. Those interested in enrolling should contact Detective Koch at (248) 691-7514.

For more information not he Public Safety Department, including information regarding any of the department’s initiatives and events, or how to register for upcoming classes, please visit www.oakparkmi.gov/departments/public_safety