Vote, projects make headlines in 2016

Haley Gustafson | Daily Press The BBC Mont Blanc is shown docked at North Shore Marine Terminal and Logistics in Escanaba. It is the first international ship to dock in Escanaba in over 80 years and largest vessel to ever dock here. The BBC Mont Blanc made the three-week voyage to Escanaba from Italy with a cargo of three natural gas generators destined for Marquette.

ESCANABA — 2016 was full of changes for the local area. Old issues, like the sale of Escanaba’s power plant, were finally put to rest. New ideas caused controversy on the Gladstone City Commission. Future projects forged ahead like voter approval for a new Delta County jail facility and Escanaba’s marketplace.

Here’s a look at 2016 and some of the stories that shaped our lives over the past year.


5 – Zachariah David Trudell, an 8 pound 10 ounce baby boy, was the first baby born at OSF St. Francis Hospital in Escanaba during 2016. The baby was born to proud parents Courtney and Jordan Trudell Jan. 5

7 – The Delta Animal Shelter marked one year in its new facility.

Ilsa Matthes | Daily Press Residents sign up to receive their ballots this morning at the Escanaba Civic Center, which serves as the city's 3rd Precinct. By 7:30 a.m., a steady stream of voters were already making their way into the gymnasium to cast their vote.

15 – The Escanaba Planning Commission approved site plans for the House of Ludington in Escanaba to be redeveloped into affordable senior housing. Excel Realty Group proposed to purchase and renovate the historic hotel into 34 one- and two-bedroom senior apartments. By the end of the year, Excel Realty Group would no longer be involved in the project.

26 – A Manistique man died as a result of a snowmobile crash near Thunder Lake Road. Richard Warren St-John was snowmobiling with friends when is snowmobile went off the trail  and collided with a tree

27 – Verso Corporation’s bankruptcy filing was expected to have “no impact” on the company’s daily operations at its eight paper mills, including plants in Escanaba and Quinnesec, according to a company spokesperson. Verso voluntarily filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 to eliminate $2.4 billion in company-wide debt.


2 – Escanaba marked the first anniversary of a city-wide power outage that left the city without power for nearly two days.

Ilsa Matthes | Daily Press Kenneth Daniel Brunke, right, stands with former attorney Michael Winnick. Brunke, who was cleared of the murders of three people in late 2015, was back in court in 2016 for hearings related to his alleged role as a cocaine dealer.

2 – After several years of uncertainty about what would happen with Escanaba’s power plant, the vacant facility was officially sold during a brief closing ceremony that sealed the deal at city hall. It took three months to complete the transaction to sell the facility and surrounding 19.6 acres for $500,000 to local businessman Jon Liss, owner of Dun Yet Enterprises, LLC.

8 – The Gladstone City Commission voted Monday to open a new line of communication with the public by holding monthly public forums.

15 – Several local residents have signed up to be volunteer “angels” to assist drug addicts on the road to

recovery through the Escanaba Public Safety Angel Program, said organizers. The purpose of the ­program is to allow drug addicts who want to recover from their addictions a chance to enroll in a treatment program. Those seeking help are assisted by volunteer “angels” who provide support and transportation to a designated treatment center.

18 – A jury convicted an Escanaba man on four counts of criminal sexual conduct following a two-day trial in Delta County Circuit Court. After deliberating for three and a half hours, jurors declared David Wayne King, 56, guilty of sexually assaulting a female child during incidents dating from 2008 to 2012 in Escanaba and Gladstone.

Ilsa Matthes | Daily Press Students in Connie Wells' kindergarten class watch as she uses the SMART Board in her new classroom to write ÒHappy Birthday Dr. Seuss!Ó The board allows Wells and her students to write and draw using only their fingertips.

18 – Under pressure from the city commission, the Gladstone Downtown Development Authority slashed its budget and agreed to look at supporting street projects during a special meeting. Despite meeting many of the commission’s wishes, board members drew the line at selling their building on Delta Avenue.

19 – Kenneth Daniel Brunke, 46, of Manistique, was sentenced to a minimum of 40 months in prison for his role in the slayings of three people whose bodies were discovered in a burned SUV in April 2015. Initially, Brunke was one of three defendants charged in the murders of sisters Heather Aldrich, 25, and Carrie Nelson, 31, both of the Newberry area, and Jody Hutchinson, 42, of Gould City. The bodies of the victims were discovered on April 17 inside Hutchinson’s 2000 Oldsmobile Bravada, which had been lit on fire, on County Road 436 in Doyle Township.

26 – A Wallace man was killed in a logging accident. John Alfred Goffin, 68 of Wallace, was hauling a load of logs on his Iron Mule skidder down a snow and ice covered hill. The skidder slid and overturned on its side. Goffin was pinned between the cab roll bar and the ground. He died at the scene.


7 – Bark River-Harris School’s youngest students are settling into a new wing of their own. The four-classroom wing boasts advanced technology and allows for teachers to work together in new ways.

Jordan Beck | Daily Press Manistique's paper mill, which is expected to re-open as UP Paper, LLC in mid-June, is pictured above. Co-owner Stanley Zellar said he believes this will have a positive financial impact on the community.

14 – The mild Upper Peninsula winter of 2015-16 is expected to boost deer survival rates, according to Dusty Arsnoe, a wildlife biologist at the Department of Natural Resource’s Escanaba office.

17 – Students are not the only ones gearing up for the FIRST Robotics district competition in Escanaba. The event is expected to draw in students, families, and coaches from across the Upper and northern Lower Peninsula and will bring a boost to Delta County’s economy.

22 – Kenneth Daniel Brunke, who late last year was cleared of the murders of three people, was back in court during a preliminary hearing on his alleged role as a cocaine dealer. After a preliminary examination, District Court Judge Mark E. Luoma ruled there was enough evidence to send the drug case against Brunke to circuit court.

25 – Investigation continues into a house fire which claimed the life of  87-year-old Gladstone resident Ivan Ryan. Firefighters were dispatched to a structure fire on the 500 block of Loueda Avenue. Upon arrival, officers found the home filled with smoke with some flames visible and were informed an elderly disabled person was still inside the house.

28 – The southern entrance to Gladstone will look significantly different later this year when Michigan Department of Transportation workers begin reconstructing and re-engineering the off-ramp from US-2 & 41 and nearby intersections.

29 – The Gladstone City Commission passed a budget Monday night, but the decision was not unanimous and commissioners anticipate major changes to the document in the future.


4 — Bay College announced that the community college would start and athletics program in 2017. Intermural athletics have not been offered at Bay College since the early 70s.

11 — Gladstone’s city attorney, Terry Burkhart, informed the city commission that a closed session held on March 28 to discuss the formation of a supervisors’ union was in violation of the Open Meetings Act. The closed session was advised by Burkhart, but too few commissioners were present at that meeting to enter closed session. On Burkhart’s advisement, the commission approved a resolution acknowledging that the violation occurred.

12 — Gladstone City Commissioner Steve Viau, who received multiple facade grants while he was a member of the city’s Downtown Development Authority, was found to be in violation of the terms of a grant $22,500 he received in 2014. Viau allegedly did much of the work himself despite the grant requiring a contractor and not all aspects of the project were completed as described. On May 10 it was announced Viau had agreed to pay back $3,000 of the grant.

12 — Gregory S. Ihander, who was charged with one count of open murder for allegedly killing is former girlfriend, Jolene Eichhorn, of Carney, was assigned a new attorney for his upcoming trail in Menominee County Circuit Court. Attorney Randy Philipps was assigned to take over representing Ihander, who was originally represented by Attorney Joseph Klumb.

14 — It was reported that the City of Escanaba was losing 750,000 gallons of treated water daily, due to undiscovered cracks in the city’s water distribution system caused by the deep freeze in March of 2014.

16 — A Wisconsin man was hit in the head with the back of a hatchet and airlifted to Marquette General Hospital. Two suspects were later charged in the case: 19-year-old Kansas resident Timothy Lee Heitz, who was initially charged with assault with intent to murder, and 19-year-old Shilo Marissa-Mae Powers of Escanaba, who was initially charged with being an accessory to a felony after the fact. Heitz was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison on lesser charges in May, and Powers was sentenced in November to 41 days she had served in jail for the lesser charge of lying to a police officer investigating the incident.

21 — Brandon Lee Randall, a Menominee man arrested in March for allegedly making threats of terrorism on social media, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of making a false report of a bomb. Randall had been reposting ISIS propaganda and referencing a WWIII nuclear bomb on his Facebook account. He also stated that the streets in Menominee “are going to run with blood,” according to Det. Sgt. Jeff Brunelle.

27 — The Gladstone and Escanaba FIRST Robotics teams went to the World Championships in St. Louis Mo.

28 — Lt. Rob LaMarche was promoted to serve as the director of Escanaba Public Safety. The promotion became effective on June 3 when former Public Safety Director Ken Vanderlinden retired.

30 — Three area high schools were named among the best in Michigan and the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s annual top high school ranking. Escanaba Area Public High School was designated a silver medal recipient and ranked 85th out of 850 high schools in the state, Bark River-Harris and North Central Area junior/senior high schools were named bronze medal recipients. Bronze medal schools are listed alphabetically and are not ranked.


3 – Delta County voters narrowly denied a proposal for a $19.9 million millage that would have funded the creation of a new county jail facility. The millage was defeated by just 23 votes. (A millage to fund a new jail was later past by voters in the Nov. 8 general election).

7 – A downstate doctor suspected last year of writing prescriptions to drug abusers in Escanaba pleaded guilty in federal court to filing false information on insurance claims amounting to $172,992. Dr. Paul DeWeese, 60, of Holt, faces fines and possible prison time  for knowingly and willfully making false statements to receive payment for health care benefits from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

9 – An Iron Mountain man was arrested for disorderly conduct after he flashed the audience during Bay College’s commencement program at the YMCA gymnasium in Escanaba.

12 – A charitable organization being created by former Delta County resident Merrijo Besse-Koen and her husband, Dave Koen, will pay off the Delta Animal Shelter’s mortgage in its entirety over the next few years.

14 –  Despite the Obama administration directing schools across the country to permit students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity Friday, Sen. Tom Casperson still intends to introduce legislation that would prevent students from using bathrooms and locker rooms that are inconsistent with the sex they were assigned at birth.

23 – After three days of fishing, it all boiled down to a tie-breaker to determine an overall winner in the Cabella’s National Team Walleye Championships on the Bays de Noc. When all was said and done, it was Adam Adler of Oconto Falls, Wis., and Ryan Dempsey of Oneida, Wis., who were crowned champions.

26 – Upper Peninsula veterans received a warm welcome home at the Delta County Airport Wednesday night after returning from the latest Upper Peninsula Honor Flight — a one-day trip to Washington, DC.


8 – Manistique’s paper mill is expected to have a significant positive impact on the community when it reopens as UP Paper, LLC  this month, according to local officials. It is a sentiment echoed by Manistique business owners, mill employees and residents.

10 – A man who is serving life in prison after pleading guilty to the murders of two people last year appeared in court via teleconference  to withdraw his plea, but changed his mind at the last second.

Last November, Garry JC Cordell, 48, formerly of Manistique and now lodged in the Macomb Correctional Facility, pleaded guilty to the murders of Carrie Nelson, 31, of the Newberry area, and Jody Hutchinson, 42, of Gould City.

14 – The Gladstone City Commission voted to avoid any rate increases and immediately slash more than $181,000 from the city budget. The cut comes after commissioners voted against renewing 1.8236 mills that were levied last year.

20 – Damage done to the Pioneer Trail Park disc golf course has been a point of contention between park officials and representatives of local disc golf clubs during the past few months. According to Delta Conservation District Executive Director Rory Mattson, much of this damage was done by disc golf enthusiast groups trying to make the course more like a professional disc golf course. The Pioneer Trail Park course was initially designed to serve as an activity for campers.


1 — A ceremony was held recognizing the John and Melissa Bess Foundation’s role in Gladstone’s acquisition of a new 2,000-gallon, fire truck. The truck was purchased using $50,000 of a $1 million grant given to the city by the John and Melissa Besse Foundation in the fall of 2015.

2 — Dial Companies, which specializes in retailers who lease space at malls and is headquartered in Omaha, Neb., signed a purchase agreement on the Delta Plaza Mall property.

4 — The Gladstone Fourth of July fireworks display was cut short after most of the fireworks were ignited by a test shot. In Escanaba, the fireworks show was sped up to windy conditions during the show.

4 — Eugene Walter George Rantanen, 28, of L’Anse, and Brandon Charles Hamm, 27, of Bark River, were caught in the act allegedly stealing a 40-foot cabin cruiser, valued at $350,000, from the Escanaba Marina shortly after the Escanaba fireworks display. The two men attempted to steal the boat while it was still tied to the dock, and when pursued by police, Rantanen attempted to evade capture by jumping into the harbor and swimming away. Rantanen was retrieved using a dinghy.

11 — Gladstone City Commission meeting, the commissioners voted to enter into an agreement with Water and Wastewater Superintendent Eric Buckman that would officially make Buckman the interim city manager.

15 — Verso Corporation announced the company and its subsidiaries had emerged from bankruptcy.


2 — Delta County voters voted during the primary election to approve a .3 mill (30 cents per $1,000 of taxable value) millage to support recycling at the Delta Solid Waste Management Authority. Four townships also voted to support the Delta Area Transit Authority (DATA) and expand DATA’s on demand services to those townships. At a Delta County Commission meeting held before the primary election’s polls closed, commissioners voted to re-introduce a millage in November for the construction of a new jail.

3 — Teachers and other school staff from across the area who wanted the state to return a 3 percent retirement health care contribution to them participated in a protest in Escanaba outside the Delta County Courthouse.

4 — Ground was broken on the new Escanaba Marketplace in the 1500 block of Ludington Street.

4 — A 53-year-old man was airlifted to the hospital in Marquette Wednesday after trying to rescue his two sons who were struggling while swimming in high waves on Lake Michigan in Manistique. The Detroit-area man died on Aug 17 from injuries he sustained in the incident.

12 — A tornado that touched down about 4:30 p.m. in the area of County Roads 388 and 579, east of the Dickinson County line and west of Hermansville, caused “sporadic damage” over a half-mile-long, quarter-mile-wide area. No injuries or damage to structures were reported.

15 — The Upper Peninsula State Fair kicked off with Preview night.

16 — Two masked men entered the Escanaba Quality Inn and Suites, demanded money from the front desk clerk, and ran out of the building. A weapon was implied, but not seen by the clerk.

18 — Thomas DeCarlo was named the 2016 U.P. Veteran of the Year during a special ceremony at the Upper Peninsula State Fair.

21 — About 18 hogs at the Upper Peninsula State Fair were maliciously let out of their pens during around 2 a.m., causing injury to some of the animals.


3 — Three men from Illinois were fishing in a boat in near the Terrace Bay in when a large wave struck the boat causing one of the subjects to be thrown into the water. One of the other people in the boat, Thomas M. Petruszak, 57, of Manteno, Ill., jumped in, attempting to rescue the man that had fallen overboard. A passing boater, James Plouff, rescued the man that had fallen overboard, but was unable to locate Petruszak. On the sixth day of search and rescue operations, Petruszak’s body was recovered on Sept. 8.

12 — The Gladstone City Commission settled a legal dispute with former city manager Darla Falcon. The total amount that Falcon received $53,664 under the settlement. The city commission and many of the city’s staff were also required to sign a non-disparagement agreement, preventing them from making negative comments about Falcon or her work for the city.

12 — The U.S. Forest Service announced it would be closing its Manistique office. The decision was made primarily due to the impact of budget cuts and increasing costs associated with fighting fires.

14 — An international ship, the BBC Mont Blanc, docked in Escanaba. This was the first time an international vessel had docked in the city in 80 years and was the largest vessel to ever dock in the city.

26 — Gladstone City Commissioner Mike O’Connor unexpectedly resigned his seat on the commission. O’Connor cited multiple grievances against the city and the commission, but indicated that it was the primarily because he refused to sign a non-disparagement agreement prohibiting him from speaking negatively about former City Manager Darla Falcon. The rest of the commission had approved the agreement as part of a settlement with Falcon at a meeting when O’Connor was absent.

28 — Dial Companies of Omaha, Neb, officially announced that they now owned the Delta Plaza Mall.

28 — The Gladstone City Commission approved the sale of property on the city’s north shore to OSF, Inc. for the construction of a new medical facility. The new facility would replace OSF St. Francis Hospital and Medical Groups two existing facilities in the city and would expand services to patients.


17 — The Delta Animal Shelter held its first “Empty the Shelters” event in conjunction with the BISSELL Pet Foundation, which paid the fees for all of the adoptions that took place that day. Delta Animal Shelter Manager Susan Gartland said a total of 62 animals were adopted. Visitors adopted all of the shelter’s adoptable dogs, all of the shelter’s adoptable small animals (including chinchillas, rabbits, and guinea pigs), and all but 10 of the shelter’s adoptable cats.

18 — Escanaba City Manager Jim O’Toole announced that Aldi plans to construct a $1.5 million store on the northeast corner of 3rd Avenue North and 26th Street, across from the new Meijer Superstore currently being built northwest of the same intersection.

24 — The Gladstone City Commission appointed Brad Mantela to serve the remainder of former commissioner Mike O’Connor’s term.

26 — A ground breaking ceremony was held for OSF St. Francis Hospital and Medical Group’s new clinic in Gladstone. Officials from the hospital, medical staff, contractors, and many others were attendance for the ceremony.

28 — Mark Hager retired from his position as the Delta County District Court magistrate after serving at the courthouse for nearly 12 years. Jeana LaCarte, who was previously serving as assistant to the county prosecutor, took over as the new magistrate.


1 — Tourism organizations predicted that the Upper Peninsula would see a significant boost in tourism in the new year after the U.P. was listed as one of the world’s greatest value destinations by travel guide publisher Lonely Planet.

8 —  A staggering 64 percent of Delta County’s registered voters turned out to vote in the General Election, with the majority supporting Donald Trump.

8 — Voters approved a millage proposal for the creation of a new jail in the Delta County Service Center, located at 2920 College Ave. in Escanaba. The $17.9 million millage proposal was a slightly modified version of a $19.9 million millage proposal that Delta County citizens defeated by just 23 votes on May 3.

9 — Escanaba City Manager Jim O’Toole officially announced he will be retiring next year, after serving 29 years with the city.

9 — Richard Allan McKenzie Jr., 56, was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for shooting his 75-year-old father, Richard McKenzie Sr., at the victim’s home in St. Ignace Township on Oct. 24, 2014.

10 — Escanaba Area Public Schools Superintendent Michele Lemire announced that she was resigning her position in a letter to the school board. She informed the board she had accepted another position in Menominee as director of the Menominee County Intermediate School District.

11 — The Upper Peninsula Honor Flight announced that Vietnam veterans will be able to participate in the program beginning in May. The honor flight takes veterans from around the U.P. to Washington, D.C. to see the monuments erected in their honor.

11 — The Captain and the Kid, a bronze sculpture by local artist Andy Sacksteder, was unveiled at Gladstone’s Van Cleve Park. Sacksteder and his wife donated the third casting of the sculpture to the city as a permanent addition to the park.

15 — Engineered Machined Products, Inc. (EMP) announced it was adding onto its research and development facility in Escanaba, located at 2701 N. 30th St. in the Red Pines Industrial Park, with a $1.7 million expansion project that is expected to generate 25 new jobs at the local company. The Escanaba City Council approved an industrial facilities tax exemption on a 41,200-square foot building at the board’s Nov. 17 meeting.

21 — The Escanaba School Board selected Escanaba Upper Elementary Principal Steve Martin as interim superintendent.


1 — A nativity scene that’s been displayed in Menominee as part of a longtime Christmas tradition was taken down following years of complaints from the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. The nativity was later moved to the Abundant Life Church & Mission property.

7 — The Central United Methodist Church in Escanaba celebrated its 75th year of broadcasting worship services live on the radio. A special service was held on Sunday, Dec. 11.

20 — Escanaba Area Schools accepted a $150,000 donation from Patricia Abrahamson for upgrades at Lemerand Park and agreed to rename the facility “Abrahmson Field.”

22 — John Economopoulos was sworn in as the newly-elected Delta County Circuit judge with his family by his side. Economopoulos will replace Judge Stephen Davis, who will retire on Jan. 1.

26 — Three Escanaba restaurants lost power when a truck struck and broke a nearby utility pole Monday afternoon, according to police and electric officials. Preliminary investigation revealed the truck driven by Dennis John Reese, 23, of Escanaba, was traveling west, possibly at a high speed, on 1st Avenue North near North 22nd Street where it hit a legally-parked vehicle, careened to the south and struck the utility pole, according to Escanaba Public Safety.

27 — Gladstone Square, the Gladstone Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and indoor farmers market building on Delta Avenue, may soon be an independently-owned pharmacy following action taken by the DDA and the city commission at a special meeting Tuesday. The two boards jointly decided to move forward on selling the property.

28 — Fifteen county officials took part in an oath of office ceremony at the Delta County Courthouse. The ceremony was presided over by Delta County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Davis.