NORVELL — This little town about 30 miles southwest of Ann Arbor may soon lose a landmark, the village post office.
“The post office is a piece of the fabric of the community,” said Norvell Township Supervisor Adam Ulbin. “People who live in the village all use this post office.”
It would be the end of a long era. Norvell has had a post office for 174 years. Harvey Austin was appointed postmaster in 1838 in a building on what is now called Austin Road. The current post office, one mile further north, was opened in 1943.
Postmaster, Janet Stone, 69, has worked there for 30 years. She is one of two employees and the only full-time employee. Like many small-town post offices, it closes from noon until 1 p.m. during her lunch break.
Stone is proud to tell people about her hometown and post office. She keeps a three-ring binder at the desk with historic photos and notes about the town’s history.
Thousands of small-town and neighborhood post offices in big cities are slated to close this year in an effort to solve the financial problems of the U.S. Postal Service. Norvell is just one of 62 sites in Michigan that are on the chopping block.
Ulbin can’t understand how closing these minor sites will solve the Service’s problems. “It only amounts to a few tenths of one percent of the money they are looking to save,” Ulbin said.
Nevertheless, the Board of Governors of the Postal Service is planning for major downsizing. Besides the closures and job losses, they expect to end Saturday delivery, end overnight delivery and phase out door-to door delivery.
Stopping door-to door delivery will have untold effects on many communities. Letter carriers do more than deliver the mail; they are the eyes, ears and, arguably, the heart of the community.
Veteran mail-carriers all have stories about connecting poorly addressed mail to the intended recipients, assisting elderly patrons, stopping robberies and even saving lives.
Denise Ten Eyck, 52, of Saline is a good example. Once she noticed that a postal patron’s car was outside the house, but his mail had not been picked up. When the mail was still not picked up the next day, she alerted a neighbor who called the police. The customer had fallen and could not get up. Ten Eyck’s vigilance saved his life.
The future of the Postal Service is contentious. Some emphasize the value of the postal service: that it will deliver a letter anywhere for the same low price, that it is still the cheapest way to ship a package, that it serves an important social function. Others contend that it is a relic that should go the way of telegraphs and rotary-dial phones.
Letter-carriers are concerned about the Postal Service itself, as well as saving their jobs. They declared April 12 as “Save America’s Postal Service Day.” On that day they picketed senate offices across the country, including 10 sites in Michigan, to protest a bill to downsize the Postal Service.
“We’re here today to let Senator Levin know that S. 1789 is not a good bill for the Post Office,” said Jamie Gross, 56, from Mason.
Gross organized the protest in front of Senator Carl Levin’s Lansing office, across from the state capitol building.
Gross was joined by perhaps 25 surprisingly cheerful postal workers who carried signs and waved at passing cars their horns often honked in support of the cause. No one was “going postal,” but these protestors had a serious message.
“If we dismantle the system it will be too expensive to replace it,” Gross said.
The workers fear that the draconian cuts in facilities, personnel and services will leave the Service unable to compete with private competitors.
The Postal Service is a public institution, yet it gets its revenue entirely from postage. No tax money is involved.
Their profits have been significantly reduced because of increased use of email, texting and changes in American purchasing trends. But perhaps the biggest reason for the Postal Service’s rising debt has been a rule within a bipartisan bill passed by Congress in 2006 called the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act.
This rule required the Service to set aside money to pre-fund retirees’ health insurance for the next 50 years and gave it 10 years to do it. The act specified $5.5 billion in yearly payouts. No other public or private organization has had this onerous mandate.
On April 25, the Senate passed S.1789, the “21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012.” This bill eases the pre-payment mandate, but still authorizes the Postal Service management to begin downsizing while placing some limits on the pace of change. The bill must also be approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and then signed by the president to become law.
Senate Bill S. 1789, like most compromises, upsets people on both sides of the debate. The Republican-controlled House is not expected to make the bill any more acceptable to postal workers.
Whatever the legislative outcome, the postal service will end up leaner. Just since January 2011, 430 post offices have been quietly closed and 240 more given final determination notices according to the website savethepostoffice.com, administered by professor Steve Hutkins of New York University. About 3,700 more postal facilities are slated for possible closure. Expected job loss estimates range from 80,000 to 220,000.
A major piece of Americana seems to be slipping away. For some it may be just a sign of progress. Others, however, argue that we are losing more than we know.
“Bing, bing,” the alarm sounds, signaling feeding time for a group of baby robins. This signal is repeated every 30 minutes, from dawn to dusk, in the home of Carol Akerlof, executive director of the Bird Center of Washtenaw County.
It’s a busy time. This year the Bird Center had a high demand for bird-rescue services. Birds have nested early because of the unusual warmth. Strong winds knocked several nests out of trees and until the center opened in early May, many distressed birds brought in by concerned citizens lived with Akerlof.
Since 2005, the group has operated May through August at a vegetation-draped, city-owned building on Rose Street in Ann Arbor, close to the University of Michigan Intramural Building. Volunteers and interns working there care for hundreds of birds each year.
“These young people that work for us never sit down,” Akerlof said. “They basically start at one end, go to the other end and go back. It’s constant.”
Akerlof began rehabilitating injured birds in the 1970s. “I released my first bird in 1979,” she said. Five years later, she attended the first annual conference of the National Wildlife Rehabilitation Association (NWRA) and discovered she was expected to acquire a permit for animal rescue.
She became a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, specializing in songbirds, a challenging category. During her 20-year career as a WCC librarian, she would often smuggle birds into a back room so she could maintain their feeding schedule.
Akerlof is most proud of the interns who have helped her in her mission. Some have gone on to manage wildlife in places such as the Texas Fish and Wildlife Department and a wild bird center in the Florida Keys.
She is also proud of a recent innovation, a computer program called “Wild-ONe” (aka Wildlife Incident Log/Database and Online Network) administered by the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Through this system, the people in Virginia are able to track data recorded by wildlife rehabilitators throughout the country and spot trends.
The database is not only used to help animals. Groups like the Center for Disease Control use such data to monitor rabies, avian flu and other diseases borne by animal hosts.
Surprisingly, this project was initially funded by the U.S. Department of Defense under the name “Project Tripwire.” The DOD wanted early warning of any patterns of wildlife deaths that may hint of a release of chemical or biological weapons. This makes the Bird Center a counter-terrorism agency.
Akerlof’s knowledge and enthusiasm have even begun to influence those who work with her.
Will O’Neill, 28, of Ann Arbor, began working as an intern at the Bird Center in the summer of 2007 because it allowed him to fulfill a field experience requirement at U-M without needing to move. He came back the following summer to conduct a study on the impact of house cats on songbirds. That summer changed his life.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than this job,” said O’Neill, now Clinic Director at the Bird Center. “It’s just amazing to know you are making a difference even if it’s only one bird at a time.”
After completing his degree at U-M, O’Neill took some vet-school prerequisite classes at WCC, and then began a master’s degree program at EMU. He hopes to one day earn a DVM and a PhD so he can conduct wildlife research like he did that summer in Ann Arbor.
The Bird Center cares for 800-900 birds per year and an average of 65 different species. It’s not cheap. Building costs, insurance, specialized bird food, salaries for interns and veterinary bills amount to more than $90,000 per year.
The center recently received national recognition when Akerlof was chosen for the lifetime achievement award of 2012 by the NWRA. She is one of only about two-dozen recipients across the U.S.
“Bing, bing,” the alarm sounds again and Akerlof is back tending to the babies. There’s no time to rest; hungry young robins need to be fed.
For more information, visit birdcenterwashtenaw.org. To donate or to become a volunteer for the Bird Center of Washtenaw County, call volunteer coordinator Dorothy Stock at (734) 996-8316 or call the center at (734) 761-9640.
Chain emails forwarded by friends inform us of little-known secrets that may inspire, create fear or evoke outrage. Spiders living under public toilet seats can bite and kill you. Drinking Mountain Dew causes men’s testicles to shrink. Children’s TV host, Mr. Rogers was a soldier in Vietnam and is credited with dozens of kills. Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the 4-foot-7-inch sex adviser, served as a sniper in the Israeli army.
Only one of these amazing “facts” is true. Dr. Ruth was a sniper.
Then there is the political disinformation. No fellow students from schools that Obama allegedly attended in his youth can remember him. Obama’s State Department has given away seven Alaskan islands to the Russians. Welfare programs caused greater damage to Detroit than the bomb caused in Hiroshima.
All of these have a political agenda, and are false.
There may be hints of mendacity, but we can’t know for sure without careful research. Fortunately, fact-checking websites do much of this work for us.
Two sites went on line in the 1990s to help assess the truth of urban legends and Internet rumors: Snopes.com and TruthorFriction.com.
Barbara and David Mikkelson started Snopes when the Internet was young. They used color-coded circles to rate stories as “true,” “false,” “multiple truth values,” “undetermined” and “unclassifiable veracity.” They also provided commentary on why a rating is given.
TruthorFiction.com was started in 1999 by Rich Buhler, an author, broadcast journalist, and pioneer of Christian talk radio. Buhler and helpers at Branches Communications, Inc. provide nuanced assessments of highly forwarded emails as well as simple true and false ratings.
But for help deciphering the glut of questionable information put forth in political campaigns other websites are more appropriate.
One of these is PolitiFact.com, a business unit of the Tampa Bay Times. PolitiFact was created to fact check statements in the 2008 Presidential campaign, at the urging of Bill Adair, Washington bureau chief for the newspaper.
“Back then, fact-checking was not done by many people in the news media,” Adair said. “Most of the mainstream media, including my own paper, was focused more on writing about the horse race, and to some extent the issues, than checking the facts.”
There had been an earlier emphasis on fact-checking championed by David Broder of the Washington Post in the late 1980s, but that movement had lost its momentum, Adair said. Politifact.com and a few other sites were to become the go-to sites for fact-checking in the Internet age.
PolitiFact has three fulltime reporters and two editors that are employees of Tampa Bay Times. Beyond their national office, however, they have partnerships with news organizations in 10 states. With these remote reporters who have been trained in Politifact’s style of journalism, the organization has 35 full-time journalists.
Adair takes pride in this successful extension of fact-checking to the local and state level.
PolitiFact is known for its iconic “Truth-o-Meter,” with ratings of: “true,” “mostly true,” “half true,” “mostly false,” “false” and “pants-on-fire!”
In addition, the website provides the “Obameter” and “GOP Pledge-o-meter,” to evaluate how politicians follow through on their promises. It also evaluates flip-flopping of politicians on issues with “Flip-o-Meter” ratings of: “no flip,” “half flip” and “full flop.”
PolitiFact provides extensive commentary and references for every issue it evaluates, explaining how it chose its rating.
Of course there are fact checkers checking the fact checkers. PolitiFact receives criticism from both sides of the political spectrum accusing them of bias. This criticism reveals deeply passionate feelings reflective of our country’s partisan divide.
“We take the criticism seriously,” Adair said, “If we get something wrong, we correct it. If we decide we made a bad judgment we’ll change our rating.”
In spite of the flak, Adair believes the site has made a difference. He believes that members of congress pay attention to PolitiFact ratings and are motivated to be more accurate.
But the mission of PolitiFact is not to make politicians honest.
“The goal is to empower democracy,’ Adair said. “We are trying to inform people so they can make smarter decisions about their elected officials.”
PolitiFact is not alone in this business.
FactCheck.org was started by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania in 2003. This was actually the first website to specialize in analysis of political TV ads, debate points, speeches and assorted political content with the goal to reduce confusion and deception.
FactCheck.org is a group effort, having six employees. Though it doesn’t sport a graphic truth-rating scheme like PolitiFact, it does provide insightful analysis and references to source material.
Another fact-checking site that is part of a newspaper is Fact-Checker in the Washington Post (washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker). Fact-Checker was started by Glenn Kessler in 2008 and is a one-man operation.
Like PolitiFact and FactCheck, Kessler focuses on statements by politicians, pundits and political ads. He rates the truth of their pronouncements with a system similar to movie ratings. The highest mark is the coveted “Geppeto checkmark,” while degrees of falsehood are rated with one to four Pinocchios (nose extended). The ratings are coupled with expert news reporting.
The three major political fact-check sites usually agree when they evaluate the same issue, Adair says. Disagreements do occur, but they are usually minor. For example, Fact-Checker may award a statement four Pinocchios while PolitiFact only rates it “false,” not “Pants-on-fire!”
Much is said in political campaigns that reverberates through the echo chamber of the Internet. A trusted friend may send an incredible email that cries out to be forwarded. Fortunately, fact-checking websites are there to test the truth of the story before the send button is struck. These sites can save a lot of embarrassment—and empower democracy.
Prof advocates ‘localization’ as key to survival
Forty years ago, University of Michigan Professor Raymond De Young, then an engineering student in New Jersey, read “Limits to Growth”—and it changed his life.
The book warned of an impending collapse of modern civilization if human societies did not rethink their pursuit of unending growth in a world of finite resources. Though defenders of the status quo roundly criticized the book, it was for De Young an awakening.
His first move was to change his major from mechanical to environmental engineering. When he realized that the world was not responding to the warning as he had, he tried a new approach. He went back to school at the U-M and obtained a degree in environmental psychology and planning.
Sometime after receiving his doctorate, his career path lead him away from his environmental concerns for about 15 years. On the 30th anniversary of “Limits to Growth,” however, De Young had another wake-up call.
At that time, the LTG authors concluded that the world’s continued failure to respond now assured a descent. They said that the options now were either a slow and controlled descent or a catastrophic collapse.
Today, De Young is teaching classes such as “Behavior and Environment” and “The Psychology of Environmental Stewardship.” He has also co-authored a book published in late February titled: “The Localization Reader—Adapting to the Coming Downshift.” Through his teaching and writing, he is trying to guide the world to a more positive future.
De Young and co-author Thomas Princen assume that a crisis of diminishing resources is “not a case of if, but when.” The time of “peak oil,” when oil production ceases to rise and begins to decrease may have already arrived. Other resources are following a similar curve and the authors believe that technology’s ability to bail us out is limited as well.
A major key to a soft landing is localization.
Localization means that local communities become more self-sufficient. It means people live on less through sharing resources. It means contentment is not connected with wealth. It means human systems are made compatible with ecosystems. It means simplification, not failure.
Localization groups are rising up independently, without government support. For example, the local food movement including urban- and community-supported agriculture is thriving, as represented by the Home Grown Local Food Summit held at Washtenaw Community College on April 2.
A similar event is the biannual Ann Arbor ReSkilling Festival to prepare people for a low-energy future. The festivals and other events are held at Rudolf Steiner High School.
To illustrate the benefits of localization, De Young told a story about the Amish. A few years ago an ice storm in southern Ohio caused residents to lose power for more than a week. Only after several days did the Amish in the area realize the suffering of their “English”—non-Amish—neighbors and begin to help them.
“If you adopt localization, you might not even notice that the deficit is occurring,” De Young said.
De Young also noted that it is important for a localizing community to have a shared vision, to be for something not simply against something. In this regard, faith-based organizations have an advantage but alternative unifying purposes are possible.
Community colleges like WCC can be instrumental in preparing people for a future of limited resources. Through teaching basic skills like construction, welding and mechanics, valuable skills are preserved in the community.
Campus, community commemorate Earth Day
First observed 42 years ago, Earth Day is a day to celebrate our life-sustaining planet and rededicate ourselves to its preservation
Washtenaw Community College students will have two opportunities to commemorate Earth Day this year.
On Thursday, April 12, local ecological organizations and educators will be coming together on the second floor of the Student Center from 10 a.m. until noon. Participants can learn solutions for sustainable transportation, energy generation, recycling and natural area preservation.
On the official Earth Day: Sunday, April 22, family oriented festivities will be held at the Leslie Science and Nature Center at1831 Traver Road in Ann Arbor from noon until 4 p.m. The festival will include entertainment, food vendors, exhibitors, live animals, hands-on activities and an “all-species dance.”
WCC is gearing up for dramatic changes. These could include on-campus agriculture, bicycle-friendly initiatives, E-textbooks, paperless homework and sustainability projects integrated into every subject.
“Envision a WCC campus where sustainability is the norm,” was the challenge presented to faculty, staff and students at three brainstorming sessions in late March. The participants responded with suggestions ranging from mundane to audacious.
Along with more than 600 other colleges and universities across the US, WCC has signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (acupcc). This pledge requires WCC to reach “carbon neutrality”—no net release of heat-trapping carbon dioxide by the year 2050.
The college has been quietly making progress on this ambitious goal. Still as WCC electronics instructor and sustainability champion Dale Petty remarked, “We have a long way to go.”
The faculty/staff “climate action charrette” on March 23 opened with introductory remarks by President Rose Bellanca. This was followed by a presentation of the acupcc challenge by Petty, an overview of climate change science by geology instructor Suzanne Albach, another presentation by Petty on WCC’s greenhouse gas inventory and a progress report on green initiatives presented by Vice President for Facilities Damon Flowers.
“The (government) powers-that-be aren’t doing much about it,” Petty said. “It is easy to get discouraged.” Nevertheless, he encouraged everyone to find hope in the opportunity to serve in the pursuit of a worthy cause.
Albach’s talk on climate change highlighted the need to act before changes already in motion become irrevocable. She reviewed data on the rapid increase in heat-trapping gases, air temperature increases, ocean heating, ocean acidification and sea-level rise.
Flowers outlined specific steps that the college has taken or is beginning to take to become more sustainable. These included energy-efficiency measures, green purchasing, expanded recycling efforts, installation of pervious pavement and many other measures.
Consultants Katie Anthony and Anna Harmon of Sebasta Blomberg, a consulting firm based in St. Paul, Minn., coordinated the meeting. Their job was to encourage creative ideas and then collate and prioritize the group’s contributions. With additional input from students they will write up recommendations and present them back to WCC.
Sustainability means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their needs,” Anthony said.
Students in environmental science classes contributed their ideas at meetings late last month. As in the faculty/staff meeting, brainstorming was preceded by presentations on the problem and current progress.
Life science instructor Emily Thompson led the March 26 discussion. Along with Dale Petty, she presented similar information to be shared at the faculty/staff charrette.
Students were encouraged to think of a “triple bottom line,” profit, people and the environment.
After going through a process to narrow down their ideas, the students still had many flip charts full of suggestions to consider. Each student then placed stickers on their three favorite ideas of all those posted.
The top five ideas selected by these 19 students were:
providing photos or audio guides on recycle bins to make clear what can be recycled, requiring the culinary arts
department to use primarily local foods, creating incentives for carpooling and low emission forms of commuting,
recycling campus rainwater runoff and initiating various means to reduce the use of throw-away containers
As acupcc states, colleges are great places to focus efforts for achieving sustainability. Students learn to make sustainability considerations the norm and at the same time, provide a model for the rest of society.
And WCC is doing its part. A comment by Flowers applies to many in the WCC community, “I am committed.”
SECS members posing for a photo, from left: Vice President Henry Griffin, 20, of Ann Arbor, a transfer student intending to study environmental science at the University of Michigan; Director of Marketing and Communications Derek Wagner, 20, of Ann Arbor, a criminal justice major; President Greg Weber, 21, of Ann Arbor, entering the Program in the Environment at U-M; Thorne O’Connor, 21, of Ann Arbor, a psychology major. (Bob Conradi/The Washtenaw Voice)
Students for Environmental Conservation and Sustainability (secs) are united by a sense of urgency to preserve Earth’s ecosystems. They meet every Wednesday afternoon at WCC and plan to meet biweekly over the summer.
The club started just a month ago and is still in a building phase. Nevertheless they already have a slate of officers and a faculty adviser: geology instructor Suzanne Albach. In addition, they have already taken up several favorite causes.
One of these causes is Amara Conservation, a Kenya-based group whose mission is to protect African wildlife, especially elephants. But since secs believes in the mantra, “think globally, act locally,” they also support several causes closer to home.
The WCC Climate Action Committee and Sustainability Literacy Task Force, the Huron River Watershed Council and Ann-Arbor-based organization, Solar Power Information and Independence (spii) are some of their top concerns.
spii is a company set up by automotive engineering technical specialist Itzik Henig, father of WCC student, Ben Henig. The elder Henig designed a device to provide solar-generated electricity and purified water to low-income people throughout the world.
secs is small, but is working hard to grow its membership. It will have a table at WCC’s Earth Day event on April 12 and is planning its own event, “Cookout for a Cause,” later in April.
The cookout, to be held on campus in Community Park, will feature grilled sandwiches, musicians and lots of information about the environment and sustainability.
To get involved with SECS, contact
club President Greg Webster,
email@example.com or Vice President Henry Griffin, firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the sun rose, an eerie fog blanketed Dexter’s tornado-stricken neighborhood on the morning of March 16. Flocks of reporters and emergency restoration workers had already descended on the area, easily outnumbering the residents.
The day before, at about 5:30 p.m., residents had heard what they described as a “sound like a freight train” as they huddled in basements and interior closets. The EF3 tornado that roared through the once-peaceful subdivision damaged many homes and destroyed several.
Living rooms and bedrooms, pried open by the storm, lay exposed to view, their contents sometimes oddly undisturbed. Trees were upturned. Cars were spun around, crushed by trees or buried in the wreckage of garages.
Pieces of ravaged buildings had become missiles driven into neighboring houses or into the ground by ferocious winds. Pink fiberglass insulation decorated the trees like tinsel or lay plastered on flat surfaces.
Workers had already draped many torn roofs with blue tarp during the night and were busy boarding up windows with plywood. Remarkably, there were no deaths—possibly not even injuries. Residents were grateful for their lives.
“Water is life’s matter and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water,” wrote Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, the Hungarian biochemist and Nobel Prize laureate.
Yet sitting in the midst of 20 percent of the world’s fresh water reserves, the people of Michigan sometimes take water for granted. Of all the official events commemorating the United Nations-sponsored World Water Day (March 22) only one was held in Michigan this year, in Houghton. Even the Michigan chapter of the advocacy group Clean Water Action seems to be making energy policy a higher priority than water issues these days.
Water is more precious in other parts of the world. About a billion people lack access to clean water. Many contract diseases and die as a result. Women in third-world countries often spend much of their day hauling water from distant sources.
The shortages are caused by the accelerating demands of agriculture and/or industry, dwindling supply and poor sanitation. Such problems are exacerbated by global climate change, as dry areas get drier and as mountain glaciers, which now provide water for millions of people, shrink.
In Windhoek, Namibia, sewage water is purified and reused for drinking. Parts of the U.S., such as Orange County, Calif. and West Texas, are developing related technologies.
Although this “toilet-to-tap” technology is in many ways just speeding up the natural recycling that happens in the ecosystem, it has many people feeling squeamish. Nevertheless it will become increasingly necessary in places where water is running short.
The world is changing and people must adapt to those changes. For those who are moved to ease the suffering of their fellow man, recognition of these issues could also be a call to action. Many charitable groups are working to improve sanitation and provide appropriate affordable technology for well digging and water purification in poor countries.
World Water Day is an opportunity to highlight the difficulties faced by those lacking clean water. Those of us in Michigan should count our blessings as we continue to enjoy the abundance of fresh water in our state. We should also be reminded of the responsibility we have been given as stewards of so much of the world’s water supply.
For a list of water charities, visit
http://filtersfast.com/articles/Water-Charities-A-Comprehensive-List.php. They include such groups as http://water.org, http://watercharity.org,
http://cleanwaterforhaiti.org. Many other charities do water
projects as a part of more comprehensive aid programs.
Before the U.S. government ever considered acquiring land for Grand Canyon National Park, the Havasupai Indians had established a village in a unique side canyon.
While most of the inner canyon is characterized by desert-like conditions, Havasu canyon is a watery oasis. Mineral rich waters cascade down rapids and waterfalls, settling in rich aqua pools and depositing travertine stalactites on the cliff faces.
A flash flood in the summer of 2008 increased the water flow 100-fold, causing significant damage and changing the path of Havasu Creek. The Havasupai people worked hard to reconstruct visitor services and the canyon is once again a dream-like destination.
Although the village of Supai is only about 32 miles from Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim, the journey by road and trail is more than 200 miles.
The many waterfalls downstream from the village include Havasu Falls, the 190-foot Mooney Falls, and Beaver Falls. Hiking into the lower canyon requires numerous stream-crossings and a steep climb on wet rocks while clinging to a chain.
WCC’s newsroom has been a breeding ground for future leaders in politics and publishing
The Voice, like Washtenaw Community College itself, had its start in the turbulent ’60s. Students across the country were protesting the costly Vietnam War, civil rights protesters were fighting for racial equality and America’s youth were rebelling against their parents’ values. Popular leaders like Martin Luther King were assassinated. A man walked on the moon.
WCC opened its doors in the Fall of 1966 and The Voice was first published on Dec. 15. It had an improbable student leader named Gary Owen, and it launched him on a career in which he would become one of the most powerful figures in Michigan politics for many years.
Owen, 67, of Scio Township recently granted an interview with The Washtenaw Voice.
Gary Owen, then 27, was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in November, 1972. This photo was published in the Jan. 2, 1973 edition of the Voice.
In the early ’60s, Owen was a poor, illiterate high school dropout from Alabama. He served in the Army then came north to Ypsilanti looking for work. Owen recalls sleeping under a bridge for a time, but eventually he earned enough money through a construction job to pay for housing and even to accumulate some savings.
From his military experience, he recognized the value of education. He took a few classes at Willow Run High School and worked to educate himself.
“The more I learned the more I craved it,” Owen said. When he heard about the new community college opening at Willow Run, he signed up.
Although Owen still considered himself only marginally literate, Fred Wolven, an English instructor and the first student newspaper adviser, saw potential in him.
“You have the kind of leadership and charisma that can get things off the ground,” Wolven told Owen. Thus Owen, with just a few other students, began publishing The Voice. The name for the paper was selected from entries in a student contest and was based on the Village Voice, an alternative newspaper published in Greenwich Village.
The Voice took on big issues. Together with the teachers’ union and the Inter-Racial Club, The Voice called for a lasting tribute to Martin Luther King by renaming the Student Center (The Voice, April 10, 1968).
Owen wrote an editorial in May of that year decrying the absence of blacks in high-level leadership positions at the young school. A fellow student reporter wrote a counterpoint that hiring should be based only on skill sets. The school supported the paper’s editorial freedom.
“We wrote some editorials that generated controversy among the student body, but I don’t remember getting a call from the administration saying you can’t do this,” Owen said.
Owen graduated in the school’s first commencement in 1968 and was chosen to speak during the ceremony. He went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in economics at University of Michigan.
Did Owen’s experiences with The Voice affect his later career decisions? “Absolutely!” said Owen. He was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in November 1972 where he served for 16 years, including seven as Speaker of the House.
The path of journalistic freedom did not always run smoothly, however. In 1970, the Board of Trustees put restrictions on The Voice, saying that the paper did not properly differentiate between fact and advocacy and that it had a “dirty word syndrome.” This, they contended, was hurting the school’s reputation (Ann Arbor News, July 29, 1970).
One result was the establishment of a publications committee composed of five students, two faculty members, two administrators, and the faculty adviser to set publication policy for the paper. This structure persists today.
Dan Kubiske, shown here in a photo from the Voice in April 1971, was editor in the '71-'72 school year.
In the 1971–72 school year, WCC student Dan Kubiske was editor. Kubiske, 59, recently spoke to The Washtenaw Voice via Skype from his home in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Of course, the Vietnam War was still a big issue then. The draft lottery had been instituted and Kubiske had a low number, meaning he would be drafted as soon as his student deferment elapsed. The war ended first.
Earth Day, which had been instituted in 1970, made the environment an ever-present student concern. The Voice promoted responsible decisions in the design of the new Huron River campus where WCC now resides.
“What is the campus going to look like? What will it be in the future?” was on everyone’s minds, Kubiske said.
The Voice office occupied 1/3 of a trailer at that time. Of course, the staff had minimal resources and certainly none of the computer-based publication tools available today.
“It was all typewriter and typesetting,” Kubiske said. “The staff and I would type up the articles. I would take them over to the typesetter, and we would then take what the typesetter gave us; proof it; then, using X-Acto knives, we would lay it out, put it in the matrix we had, identify the pictures put the cropping marks on it. . .”
Clearly it was a long complex process.
The Voice staff also produced a semiweekly publication at that time, printed on a mimeograph machine, called The Little Voice. They experimented with a wall sheet design that would be posted on a bulletin board.
Kubiske recalled the staff poking fun at the Eastern Echo newspaper, regarding it as toady. They liked to say, “we are a voice, not an echo!”
In his final editorial in the spring of 1972, Kubiske expressed a concern that “the apparent priorities of the administration does not include continuation of a viable and decently financed newspaper for the students.” (The Voice, April 24, 1972). Nevertheless The Voice persisted.
Kubiske went on to be a political organizer, a broadcaster, an international journalist and a teacher of journalism.
The Voice continued to experiment with different formats and different choices of paper. Some issues saved from the 1970s are yellowed and brittle because of the low-grade paper used then.
In the spring of 1974 The Voice competed with other college newspapers in the state and won the right to boast that they were “Michigan’s No. 1 college biweekly.”
During the years 1978–1980, Karin Koek was a reporter and editor for The Voice. Koek, 52, now lives with her husband, organic farmer Doug Galbraith, in Petersburg. Koek’s
student newspaper experience launched a career in
“Everything I needed to know I learned at WCC working for The Voice,” Koek said. She was especially grateful to Pat More, an English instructor who was faculty adviser for The Voice at that time. “She was a great mentor for me,” Koek said.
Like Kubiske, she emphasized the laborious nature of producing a newspaper in those days. She spoke of hand carrying copy to and from the typesetter and driving the final text paste-ups and photos to the printer (in Plymouth).
The editor plainly did much more than editing. She was even responsible for soliciting businesses to place ads in the paper.
The paper still covered controversial issues, such as the legalization of marijuana, but there was less political turmoil at that time.
“In retrospect, we were a bit of rabble-rousers,” Koek said. “We were not the pawns of the administration.”
Still, covering an Ella Fitzgerald concert at Hill Auditorium was one of her most memorable assignments.
The Voice in the spring of 1980 was a very professional-looking, high quality publication. But then it disappeared for 14 years.
Koek had gone on to attend classes at Eastern Michigan University and had begun working part-time in publishing. She was unaware that the paper on which she had labored so hard had ceased to be.
There seems to be no simple explanation for what happened. Catherine Arcure, 71, of New York City, who was head of marketing and communications for WCC at the time, said it was a combination of factors, including difficulty finding advisers, student apathy and economic concerns.
In the interim, two newspapers were produced for students by college staff. Focus was published from December 1980 to March 1987. Time out for Students was published from November 1987 to April 1994. Some underground student publications were also in the mix.
Geoff Larcom, 54, of Ann Arbor was editor of Focus in the 1981-1982 school year. He was not a student. Producing Focus was his job, his first job.
Larcom enjoyed his year at WCC. He said he had an office just down the hall from the college president, Gunder Myran. He was given freedom to report on whatever he wanted.
“I had the run of the institution,” Larcom said. “I was young and aggressive, so I remember trying to put out a paper that was not just PR.”
His most memorable story was one called, “Bridging the education gap – how does WCC rate?” In it he discussed the sometimes-conflicting purposes of a community college to be a vocational school and to provide an academic education.
Except for the typesetter, Larcom was the entire staff for Focus. He moved on to a 25-year career at Ann Arbor News and currently is Director of Media Relations at EMU.
In 1994 The Voice was reborn, renamed The Student Voice, perhaps to emphasize student authorship. It struggled for a time to attract talented students as staff, but it persevered.
The arrival of President Larry Whitworth in 1998 provided a boost to the resurgent publication. Whitworth had been on staff with his own college newspaper, and appreciated the value of student journalism. His advocacy included increased financial support.
The Voice continues to attract some of the most enterprising (some say rabble-rousing) students on campus, many of whom have moved on to start their careers at publications like AnnArbor.com, The Ann Arbor Observer, the Port Huron Times-Herald, and at college publications like The Michigan Daily, CM (Central Michigan) Life, The (Michigan) State News and the Eastern Echo at EMU.
Today’s Washtenaw Voice is a legacy of all those early years of struggle. The Voice continues to be not only Michigan’s top college biweekly, but also one of the highest rated in the country. Today’s Voice owes much to those who went before.