Year in Review
ESCANABA — 2021 was a year when the Delta County area saw many events and activities return that had been canceled the previous year due to the pandemic. Perhaps that is the one thing that really defined the year. Gatherings, the U.P. State Fair, Logging Congress and countless other events came back and were well attended.
At least one thing did not change. The area still battled high numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths and continues to do so. As the end of 2021 approaches, Delta County has had 5,837 COVID-19 cases and 135 deaths since the pandemic began, according to data compiled by the state of Michigan. Here is a list of some of the notable events that shaped the area in 2021:
3 – Iva Rose Vanness is the first baby born in Delta County in 2021. She was born at St. Francis Hospital on Sunday, Jan. 3 at 12:44 a.m. to Megan and David Vanness of Gladstone.
5 – Police are still investigating a fatal shooting that took place on New Year’s Day in Baldwin Township.
6 – Delta County had a total of 60 COVID-19 deaths and 18 probable deaths. (The total COVID-19 deaths for Delta County in the last week of December 2021 was 135.)
9 – Public Health, Delta & Menominee Counties (PHDM) has been bombarded with phone calls requesting appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations.
12 – Rebecca Sue Johnson of Maple Ridge Township voluntarily forfeited the animals she was accused of abusing and neglecting in an alleged puppy mill.
19 – Developers are still being sought for the North Shore Development Project along the Lake Michigan shoreline on Little Bay de Noc. The Gladstone Downtown Development Authority (DDA), Gladstone City Commission and Gladstone Planning Commission are very supportive of the project.
20 – The Escanaba School Board has decided to return all grades to face-to-face learning on January 25.
23 – The body of Edward Carl Lester, 64, of Garden was recovered from the waters of Lake Michigan in what Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers said was an accidental drowning.
25 – The Delta County Chamber of Commerce will celebrate 100 years of dedication to its members and the community in July of 2021.
27 – The Gladstone City Commission voted to forego moving forward with electric vehicle charging stations at this time. Commissioners agreed this was the best course of action until there is more evidence the demand for stations would justify the expense.
29 – Despite being banned by the city — at least for now — Escanaba’s first legal marijuana store opened. Lume Cannabis Co. announced it will begin offering cannabis products for adult-use customers in Escanaba and surrounding areas.
3 – Plans for a large-scale solar generation facility in Escanaba Township are on hold following a decisions by the township’s board to impose a moratorium on large solar generation facilities.
5 – Health departments across Michigan are feeling the strain of keeping up with the public’s desire for COVID-19 vaccinations, but even in the Delta and Menominee counties supply isn’t meeting demand.
12 – An expansion project at the Island Resort and Casino is on schedule despite the pandemic.
25 – Menominee County Sheriff Michael Holmes has appointed Sgt. Thomas Draze as undersheriff of the Menominee County Sheriffs Office.
26 – Holy Name High School will officially be opening this fall — with a new official name. The high school’s official name will be Holy Name High School–A Chesterton Academy.
6 – No changes have been made to Escanaba’s animal ordinance despite concerns raised by an Escanaba woman that limits on the number of dogs that can be kept in a home could prevent foster homes from taking in animals from the Delta Animal Shelter.
9 – Bay College will honor the Class of 2021 with a hybrid commencement ceremony. All graduates will have the opportunity to participate in an in-person commencement experience walking across the Besse Theater stage in cap and gown. All participating graduates and a limited number of guests, speakers, and key elements of the ceremony will be recorded during scheduled commencement events and included in a large scale virtual event.
15 – Great Lake water levels in 2021 are tracking below last year’s levels, though Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, St. Clair and Erie remain well above long-term average levels, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials who track and forecast Great Lakes water levels.
19 – Curbside dining, a feature of the pandemic world, will be extended indefinitely in the city of Escanaba, giving business owners and their patrons more options as the coronavirus continues to linger.
20 – Progress on the relocation of the Northern Lights YMCA to the former M-TEC facility on the Bay College campus is proceeding rapidly according to YMCA Executive Director Gary Nash.
27 – While vaccine doses are hard to come by in many places, Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital recently had a stroke of good fortune when it became one of only three hospitals in the state to receive extra doses as part of a pilot project through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
5 – The Delta County Chamber of Commerce is partnering with various organizations to provide the community with 14 events in 2021.
7 – After a year off due to the pandemic, the Kiwanis Home and Garden Show will be making its return to the U.P. State Fairgrounds this weekend, but there will be some changes to the event for 2021.
9 – A new assisted living and memory care facility is one step closer to being built in Escanaba after the city council approved plan for the project. The Parkview Assisted Living facility will include a 26,145 square foot home for the aged, consisting of both assisted living and memory care units, as well as a garage and 17 cottage duplexes. The cottages will total 34 units, for seniors who are able to live independently. The main building and two of the duplexes are expected to be constructed in 2021 with the remainder of the cottages to be constructed in the future.
14 – A fire didn’t hamper production at Manistique’s UP Paper. Although the fire started in a paper machine, the plant was fully operational less than a day later.
20 – Telephone users in four Michigan area codes — including 906 in the Upper Peninsula — will soon be required to include an area code in every phone call. It is known as 10-digit dialing and is part of the rollout of a new way to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, according to state officials.
23 – A fire destroyed the main building of the Upper Peninsula Golf and Lake Resort, formerly known as the No Nah Ma Resort, in Nahma, but the business that has been a staple of the community will continue to operate.
4 – A former Memominee County Sheriff’s Department deputy is facing an additional sexual assault charge. Brian William Helfert, 57, of Menominee, was arraigned before Judge Robert J. Jamo in the 95-A District Court, Menominee, on April 30 following his recent arrest on an 11-count felony complaint. Menominee County Prosecuting Attorney Jeffrey T. Rogg charged Helfert with Child Sexually Abusive Activity, four counts of Criminal Sexual Conduct–First Degree, three counts of Criminal Sexual Conduct–Third Degree, Assault with Intent to Commit Penetration, Gross Indecency Between Males and filed a Sexually Delinquent Person Notice.
10 – After a year’s pause, Delta Force is back in session. Students met both on zoom and in person at the Delta County Commerce Center on April 22 for their first class since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
12 – Six applicants vying for a single open Gladstone City Commission seat — including a few familiar faces — will have their chance to introduce themselves later this month.
The open seat on the commission was created by the resignation of Commissioner Darin Hunter, who left the city due to a change in employment that would have created a potential conflict of interest. Six people applied for the position by 4 p.m. on May 4, including Brian Godfrey, Diane Godfrey, Jason Leonard, Michael O’Connor, Robert Pontius, and Steven Viau.
19 – Following an announcement by the CDC that fully-vaccinated people can return to activities they did before the pandemic without the need for a mask, many are begining to question if the pandemic is nearing its end and herd immunity is right around the corner — but answering that question isn’t straight forward.
As of Friday, 48.01% of Delta County’s population, age 12 and older, has received at least a first dose of one of the vaccines that protects against the virus responsible for COVID-19, according to the Michigan Vacc to Normal Tracker, which aggregates vaccination records both health departments and pharmacies submitted through the Michigan Care Improvement Registry. The tracker shows 42.67% completed their vaccination in its entirety, either by getting a second does or by receiving the Johnson and Johnson single dose vaccine.
26 – After hearing from each of the six candidates vying for appointment to the single seat open on the Gladstone City Commission, the commission selected and swore in Robert Pontius.
29 – Escanaba High School senior Madeline Gadner has been selected as the Daily Press 2021 Student of the Year.
3 – After being canceled last year due to the pandemic, The Krusin; Klassics Fun Run returns to Escanaba this weekend.
4 – The Escanaba City Council heard a report on the city’s investments and a warning about looming inflation during Thursday’s city council meeting. “If there’s one thing that I worry about on the investment front, it’s inflation,” Bob Valentine, vice president of institutional investment services for First Bank and former Escanaba city treasurer, told the council. Primarily, Valentine blamed the policies created by the Federal Reserve during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
5 – A well-known Delta County landmark got a new name when the Escanaba River Bridge was officially dedicated and renamed as the Senator Tom Casperson Memorial Bridge.
12 – The pilot of a fighter plane that crashed in a remoye part of northern Delta County in December 2020 was disoriented and distracted before the plane crashed, according to a report by safety inspectors. Capt. Durwood “Hawk” Jones, 37, of Albuquerque, N.M., a fighter pilot with the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 176th Fighter Squadron, was piloting a F-16C Fighting Falcon on a training mission when it crashed in the Hiawatha National Forest the evening of Dec. 8, 2020.
23 – A recall petition targeting Gladstone City Commissioner Brad Mantela can officially begin circulating following a hearing held by the Delta County Election Commission.
30 – Bark River Township is commemorating its sesquicentennial this 4th of July weekend and is extending an invitation to everyone to join in the community’s 150 years.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebration will take place this year with an extended celebration in 2022.
7 – ESCANABA — Separate lightning strikes are believed to be the cause of three fires in Escanaba, which kept firefighters from area fire departments busy for hours.
8 – The Aronson Island bridge that was damaged July 1 when a motorist struck it with her vehicle is structurally sound, according to an engineering report received by the city.
According to Escanaba City Manager Partrick Jordan, the bridge, which is actually a double-culvert, was inspected by U.P. Engineers & Architects. A report outlining the damage was received by email Tuesday, and stated the culverts themselves were structurally sound despite heavy damage to the masonry facade.
15 – Verso Corporation confirmed Wednesday it has received an unsolicited takeover bid from Atlas Holdings LLC.
21 – heri Severinsen, who has served as the president of The Delta County Cancer Alliance for nearly 28 years. announced her retirement in June. Long term board members described Severinsen as tireless. Throughout the community when somebody talked about the cancer alliance the comment always led to, “well let’s call Cheri, she will know,” board members said.
22 – Hundreds of Harley Davidson motorcycles are expected in Escanaba this week when the Great Lakes HOG Rally comes to town.
6 – An Illinois man sought for attempted homicide took his own life during a police chase in Schoolcraft County, according to Michigan State Police. Karl Lymas, 53, of the O’Fallon, Illinois area died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a police chase.
7 – Firefighters from four counties were called to Menominee County to battle a massive blaze at Superior Cedar Products in Carney. The fire started early Thursday afternoon when, according to a press release issued by the Menominee County Sheriff’s Department Friday, an equipment fire spread to unprocessed wood. Upon arriving, deputies attempted to located all employees, but one was unaccounted for. After an intense search, the employee was located on the burning equipment. Due to the intense heat from the fire, law enforcement and rescue teams were unable to assist the employee, who was killed in the blaze.
9 – C. William “Bill” Hagar has been selected as the 2021 U.P. Veteran of the Year. The National Mine man was picked by the U.P. Veteran of the Year Committee and nominated by the Marquette County Veterans Alliance. He will be honored during the U.P. State Fair later this month.
14 – The U.P. State Fair kicks off Monday, bringing the tradition back after the annual event was canceled due to the pandemic in 2020.
19 – The grand and reserve champion steers were selected Tuesday during the Beef Cattle Junior Show at the Upper Peninsula State Fair in Escanaba. The grand champion is owned by McKennon Hill of Hastings, Mich. and Holli Stapleton, of Garden, Mich., raised the reserve champion.
20 – Governor Gretchen Whitmer made an appearance Thursday at a special luncheon held in her honor at the Upper Peninsula State Fair.
24 – The Bay de Noc Community College Board of Trustees has appointed Nick Chenier to fill the vacancy created by Ken Groh.
27 – The Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center will open a new Community-based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Gladstone and begin seeing patients September 7. The clinic will be located at 2001 Minneapolis Ave.
31 – Fairgoers flocked to the Upper Peninsula State Fair in record numbers a year after COVID-19 concerns cancelled the event, according to fair authority officials. Record attendance was reached on four of the seven days of the fair for a total of 97,057 fair-going guests, a 3 percent increase over 2019.
2 – A Bark River man has entered a no contest plea to second degree murder in the slaying of his adoptive father in 2019. Gary Phillips-Donovan, 35, was originally charged with homicide open murder and two counts of home invasion in November 2019, for the beating death of his father, 74-year-old Michael Donovan.
4 – A Manistique woman who had a large number of cats living in her home has been charged with animal cruelty. On September 1, Kathleen Ann Hurkmans, 67, of 112 South Maple Street, Manistique, was arrested on a felony animal cruelty warrant issued by Schoolcraft County Prosecutor Timothy Noble.
9 – After a year off for the pandemic, the Great Lakes Logging & Heavy Equipment Expo will be back in full-swing as the Great Lakes Timber Processionals Association brings the show back to Escanaba .
15 – Northern Lights YMCA, with centers in both Dickinson and Delta counties, has named current Dickinson Center Director Jonathan Ringel as the association’s new Executive director.
16 – Long-time Upper Peninsula weatherman Karl Bohnak has been terminated from his position with TV6 because he refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
30 – The body of a missing McMilan man was recovered Monday from Kennedy Lake.
Troopers from the Michigan State Police Manistique Outpost were called to Kennedy Lake in Germfask Township Monday afternoon on a report of a missing man from the McMilan area. Initial reports indicated 71-year-old Philip Brow went fishing Sunday, Sept. 26 and hadn’t returned home.
2 – A state of emergency has been declared in Schoolcraft County. The declaration is in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases in the county. Over the past two weeks, there has been an 87.5 percent increase in positive COVID-19 cases (90 cases versus 48 cases in the prior two-week period).
6 – The Delta Solid Waste Management Authority (DSWMA) has received a grant from Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to improving recycling, and allow Delta County residents to recycle more materials. The grant is for $600,000, and DSWMA is required to spend matching funds of $164,016. for a total of $764,016.
13 – Dickinson County Healthcare (DCH), and Marshfield Clinic Health System have signed a Letter of Intent for DCH hospital and clinics to join Marshfield Clinic. The deal would bring Marshfield Clinic’s health system to the Upper Peninsula and provides DCH with deep resources for the continued expansion of locally-based services, providers and locations, according to hospital officials.
16 – After a year off due to the pandemic, the Delta County Chamber of Commerce rung in the new decade and 100 years of the Chamber’s existence with a ’20s-themed return of the organization’s annual dinner.
18 – Dan Benishek, a surgeon who served three terms in Congress representing northern Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula, has died at age 69.
22 – An investigation into funds that went missing during a failed attempt to redevelop the site of the former Delta County Jail and a call for the resignation of two council members darkened the tone of the Escanaba City Council meeting.
3 – Escanaba voters selected Mark Ammel, Todd Flath, and Ron Beauchamp to serve in the three open council seats — ousting both Marc Tall and Ralph Blasier, who were the only two incumbent candidates seeking reelection to the council.
3 – Gladstone residents had a whopping nine candidates to chose from for the three open seats on the commission. In the end, voters selected incumbent Joe Thompson, who received 398 votes (21%); incumbent Greg Styczynski, who received 285 votes (15%); and incumbent Robert E. Pontius, who received 258 votes (14%) to represent them for the next four years.
4 – After two and a half years of planning and construction, Baybank’s new Escanaba branch on North Lincoln Road officially opened for business on Monday, Nov. 1.
9 – The newly-elected members of the Escanaba City Council took their oath of office Monday during a special reorganizational meeting of the council.
Before any of the new members were sworn in, Mark Ammel, who was voted onto the council Nov. 2 along with Todd Flath and Ron Beauchamp, officially resigned his position as a member of the city’s downtown development authority.
12 – Bell’s Brewery founder Larry Bell announced he has reached an agreement with Lion, an Australian based brewer, for the sale of Bell’s. Lion acquired Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing in 2019. The move will see the Michigan-based craft brewer come together with New Belgium. Bell’s owns and operates the Upper Hand Brewery in Escanaba.
19 – Escanaba and surrounding communities that use the Escanaba Public Library will soon have a new way to access the library’s services following the city receiving a grant for a new bookmobile.
27 – Police continue to investigate a multi-vehicle crash that claimed the lives of two people and injured seven others in Escanaba Thanksgiving Day. Escanaba Public Safety officers were called to the 1600 block of North Lincoln Road at 5:49 p.m. Thursday after a report of a multiple vehicle accident there. According to reports, people were injured and some were trapped in vehicles. Police discovered the crash resulted in two people being killed. Seven other occupants in the three-vehicle crash were injured and transported to medical facilities by Rampart EMS and Guardian Flight.
3 – Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital is reaching out to community members to take immediate actions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission. Schoolcraft County is experiencing its largest wave of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic and, as a result, Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital has reached capacity.
8 – Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS) announced the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA) has acted upon the governor’s call to return surplus funds to Michigan policyholders and will immediately begin the process of refunding $400 per vehicle to Michigan drivers. Drivers are expected to receive checks in the second quarter of 2022.
9 – A Bark River man has been sentenced to 22 and a half to 40 years in prison for the fatal beating of his father.
Gary Phillips-Donovan, 37, was sentenced for second degree murder by Circuit Court Judge Christopher Ninomiya. Phillips-Donovan will receive credit for 749 days served in the Menominee County Jail since his arrest.
18 – A “challenge” on the social media platform TikTok asking students to bring weapons to school prompted many local schools to close for the day Friday. Locally, Escanaba, Gladstone, Bark River-Harris, Carney-Nadeau, Hannahville, Mid Peninsula, North Central and Rapid River schools decided to close Friday.
21 – Verso Corporation will be sold and the pending sale will change production at the Escanaba mill. Verso Corporation announced that it has entered into a definitive merger agreement under which BillerudKorsnas AB will acquire all of the outstanding shares of Verso for a purchase price of $27 per share in cash, or approximately $825 million. Verso’s Board of Directors, acting upon the recommendation of a special committee of Verso’s Board, has unanimously approved and resolved to recommend approval of the merger by Verso’s shareholders. The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2022.