The 12th annual Miss Spirit of the State and Miss Spirit of the State’s Outstanding Teen competition



The 12th annual Miss Spirit of the State and Miss Spirit of the State’s Outstanding Teen competition took place downtown last night at Forty-One Sheldon. The intimate theatre, formerly the UICA movie theatre and now shared by ArtPrize and Compass College of Cinematic Arts, had not one empty seat in the house as 26 young women from all over the state of Michigan took the stage to compete for the respective titles.

Set to music from recent films like The Great Gatsby and Pitch Perfect, contestants hit the stage to compete in the phases of on-stage question, physical fitness, evening wear, and of course, talent. Talent presentations ranged from instrumental performances, singing, and dancing, to a martial arts routine. At the end of the night, the contestant in each age division with the highest talent score was presented with an award, and the honors went to Teen contestant Alisha Gatchel for her performance of her self-composed piano/vocal presentation to “Stronger Than This”, and Miss contestant Melissa Greve for her tap dance to “Swing Set”, a mix of up-tempo standards from the 1940’s.





White was the color of the night – with 5 out of the 6 teens, ranging between 12-17 years of age, making it their choice for evening wear, and all of the contestants being introduced wearing a white cocktail dress, which was also worn for the on-stage question competition for the Misses. The older contestants between ages 17-24 were put on the spot to give their opinions on a variety of current issues, like gun control, DOMA, racial profiling, and the city of Detroit’s recent file for bankruptcy.

Hosted by former Spirit titleholder Melissa Cousino, the show featured four additional Miss Spirit of the State and Miss Spirit of the State’s Outstanding Teen titleholders throughout the years, who throughout the evening took the stage to introduce contestants and perform. They included Sarah Suydam – Miss Spirit 2012, Brooklynn Lambert – Spirit’s Teen 2011, Kyleigh Smith – Spirit’s Teen 2013, and Lauren Brown – Miss Spirit 2013. All of them were a part of the closing production number which was based on the “Bella Finale” of the movie Pitch Perfect.

At the end of the night, it was Alisha Gatchel who took home the title of Miss Spirit of the State’s Outstanding Teen 2014; the 16 year-old student at Greenville High School aspires to be a music composer and performer, and her area of community service focus is Pediatric Cancer Support. Kelly Gooch of Jackson was crowned Miss Spirit of the State 2014, and is the first teenager to receive the honors, making her the youngest Miss Spirit to join the sisterhood. Gooch, 19, is a dancer who performed to “The 20th Century Fox Mambo” from Smash from her talent presentation. Her platform/area of community service is Breast Cancer Awareness.

Throughout the next year, both young women will call Grand Rapids their second home as they prepare for the state level competition, and represent the Miss Spirit of the State Scholarship Program. Some local sponsors and supporters of the program include Brindle and Blonde salon, The People Picture Company, Hanna Wagner Design, Vue Design, and Modern Day Floral, though the support of the program extends all the way to the east cost of the United States, as Miss Spirit of the State’s wardrobe is sponsored by The Perfect Dress of New Jersey.

A part of a 90+ year tradition, the Miss Spirit of the State Scholarship Program is a local affiliate of the Miss America Organization – the largest source of scholarships for women in the world, offering $45 million annually on a local, state, and national level. Gooch and Gatchel will compete at Miss Michigan and Miss Michigan’s Outstanding Teen in June 2014 at the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts in Muskegon.







A complete list of awards:


1st Runner-Up – Natalie Seese

2nd Runner-Up – Rebekah Hemingway

Talent Award – Alisha Gatchel

Evening Wear Award – Alisha Gatchel

Miss Congeniality – Hannah Ringler

People’s Choice Award – Rebekah Hemingway


1st Runner-Up – Mallory Rivard

2nd Runner-Up – Shelby Gardiner

3rd Runner-Up – Jaeleen Davis

4th Runner-Up – Charlotte Squires

Talent Award – Melissa Greve

Evening Wear Award – Emily Kieliszewski

Quality of Life Award – Emily Kieilszewski

Miss Congeniality – Jodi Beckman

People’s Choice Award – Katelyn Sandor


The Adventures of Don Kern



Don Kern is absolute proof that life is marathon and not a sprint.

He suffered from asthma as a child and never approached jock status as a high school athlete. He achieved his varsity letter, in fact, as a member of the debate team. He admittedly didn’t conjure up images of someone who might set a world record running marathons on all seven continents in the span of less than a month.

Yet, this self-described “ordinary guy” accomplished the unfathomable.

He ran full 26.2-mile marathons in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, South America and Antarctica from Nov. 6 through Dec. 1 of 2001 in a span of 25 days, 18 hours and 10 minutes – from the start of the first race until he crossed the finish line in his final race – to shatter the record.

He recounts those experiences in a newly released book, “and the adventure continues ….,” which is available through local bookstores and running stores, but set for an official release on Sept. 10 at Schuler Books, 2660 28th St. SE, in Grand Rapids. It sells for $19.95 and may be ordered through Kern’s website at

“The real theme of the book is that an ordinary guy can do amazing things” the 57-year-old Kern said. “I’m not a hot-shot athlete. Until I found out what a fast-twitch muscle was, I was too old to have any of them.

“I was just never an athlete of any kind, but I always wanted to try and stay in shape, so I decided to start running marathons,” he added. “The whole idea is to let people realize you don’t have to be Superman in order to do some really amazing stuff. I really wanted to be able to share that story with people.

“I finally had the right story to share with them.”



The adventures began when started training for his first marathon at age 29.

“I started running marathons in 1995, and while I was training for my first marathon, I saw there were lots of adventures to be had,” said Kern, owner and operator of the Grand Rapids Marathon. “If you can train to run a marathon, you can pretty much go anywhere in the world and find a place to run.

“And in 1995, it was the first time they had ever run a marathon in Antarctica. The next opportunity to run a marathon there was 1997. Even before I finished reading the article about it, I put the magazine down and I called Marathon Tours and signed up for the next one. I was going to be a marathon runner,” he added with a laugh. “I had never been to Antarctica before. I saw that and it just sounded like fun.

“I just figured I’d go do it. I guess I was committed to being a marathon runner ever before I had run my first one.”

He ran that first marathon in Chicago on Oct. 15, 1995.

He was hooked right from the start, pursuing a passion for the sport that turned into both his occupation and his lifestyle. To date, he has run 241 marathons and traveled almost the circumference of the earth on foot.

It took three attempts, however, for him to achieve the seven-continents record.

“I tried it three times before I finally made it. That’s one of the backstories of the book,” Kern said. “I give accounts of the first two attempts (both in 2007) and wanting to do such a thing. The whole journey was just a nice series of events that turned into a really good thing when I got to the end of it.”

His first attempt fell short.

He thought he’d shattered the record in his second attempt a decade later, but another marathoner simultaneously achieved the same feat in four fewer days. He finished races on all seven continents in 35 days, but poor weather in Antarctica’s interior held up the event for eight days, costing him the record.

The third attempt ended up being the charm.




He started off running in South Africa on Nov. 6 and picked off the rest of the continents one-by-one: Nov. 13 in Switzerland; Nov. 20 in Brazil; Nov. 23 in Japan; Nov. 26 in New Zealand; Nov. 27 in Florida; and, finally, Dec. 1 in Antarctica. He crossed the international dateline on a flight from New Zealand to the U.S.

“It made for a very long Saturday. It was like having two Saturdays,” he said.

The travel didn’t bother him.

“It was intense, but it wasn’t bad,” Kern recalled. “The best way to get over jet lag is to get up the next morning and run a marathon. I didn’t have any other schedule than I just had to show up at the airports on time and I had to show up at the races on time. The jet lag really wasn’t a problem because I could sleep when I wanted to and I was not on anybody’s schedule but my own. If I felt like sleeping in the middle of the day, I’d sleep in the middle of the day because I knew I wasn’t going to do anything else anyway.

“It wasn’t a big deal. You just learn to do it.”

The life experiences he gained from spanning the globe in pursuit of the world record are unquestionably what he cherishes most. He takes readers of his book on that extraordinary journey with him.

“I started meeting good people, having good times and adventurous trips,” he said, “and the next thing you know, running marathons had become a hobby that actually turned into a lifestyle and now it’s become my occupation. I love that running a marathon makes people do something bigger than they ever thought they could do.

“To put together a plan to run 26.2 miles and work through that plan and get to the end of it … and the end of the finish line with that participant’s medal hanging from your neck … you can do almost anything.”

Kern, an ordinary guy who accomplished the extraordinary, is living proof of that.

Cool Adventures Website:
Grand Rapids Marathon:
Grand Rapids Marathon on Facebook:

How Passion + Volunteerism Shaped the Career of Senita Lenear


Lenear stepped down as President of the Board of Education for the Grand Rapids Public Schools on June 30, 2013. She is pursuing a seat as a Grand Rapids City Commissioner in the city’s 3rd Ward.

“That’s what passion does for you. It changes your trajectory,” said Lenear. “Now all of a sudden, you’re interested in other things and you’re going to do whatever it takes at all costs to make sure that you make the difference in that way.”

Making a difference by engaging in educational and mentoring programs in her community is at the very heart of Lenear’s passion. Her professional career began at a large insurance company, where she worked for 14 years.

“I started working for Blue Care Network, a subsidiary of Blue Cross/Blue Shield,” said Lenear. “And I worked there for a number of years. And just kind of worked my way up the company. Early on, I was a UAW representative. I was a steward. I bargained for Local 2145, which is an experience that has been with me even yet today. And then I decided to switch to management and worked in Human Resources and other business management positions.”





“One of the positions I held at Blue Cross Blue Shield was Community Affairs Representative. What I always used to say is ‘Blue Cross and Blue Shield is affording me the opportunity to do what I have passion to do, which is to be in the community — at their expense!'”

Lenear laughed.

“Now, I don’t know what they would say about that. But that really is what it did. I was involved in the community. And because I worked for a company that had some of the mission-driven areas that I had passion for — education, seniors, health and well-being — those are things I have passion for. And so to be able to then be involved at that level actually was very helpful.”

While working at Blue Cross, Lenear became deeply involved in volunteering in her community.

“I knew that anyone could make a difference if they participated in seeking change,” said Lenear. “So a lot of time, you know, many of us, everybody is talking to friends and family about what’s wrong with the world and what’s wrong in the community. But, I suddenly wanted to shift my focus from talking about what was wrong to trying to find solutions.”

Lenear found that engaging with young people and community members inspired her. She became involved in mentoring programs as well as initiatives that provided awareness about health disparities in the community.

“I became a board member of the Student Advancement Foundation, which is an organization that has the sole purpose of raising funds and providing funding for the Grand Rapids Public Schools,” said Lenear. “I became a volunteer with Baxter Community Center, which is located right here in the 3rd Ward of the City of Grand Rapids. Abundant Life Center – I became the president of that board. I started looking at my volunteerism in a different way.”

“My involvement with Infant Mortality, in researching and getting involved with that, was early 2000’s. I know now that the rates have decreased significantly. The gap between the African American babies who had rates of 3rd world countries has been closed significantly as well.”




“One of the things I found very interesting about the infant mortality rate was that it wasn’t attributed to moms and poverty necessarily. I remember it being middle class moms with insurance. So I remember thinking, ‘OK. So what is going on?’”

“Sometimes people connect so many negative things with poverty, but this wasn’t one of those things. It was clearly an education piece.”

Nelson Mandela has a quote that says ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’”

“It’s one of my favorite quotes. And the reason is because education isn’t just about K or pre-K through 12. Education is on so many different facets and so many different worlds. This was a good example of education for moms who could or could not have been in poverty. That could or could not have been in a minority or ethnic group. Or could not have been socially or economically impoverished.”

“I really think it’s the change that you want to see. It’s easy to talk on the sidelines about who can do what and why things need to change. But the piece about being a part of the change? That’s what inspires me. I think that anyone who wants to see change should get involved in the community in some way, shape, or form. And they can find ways of doing that.”

“There are so many things out there. So many people to inspire and mentor. Why not volunteer your time?”



“Find organizations that can speak to something that you have passion for. That’s your next step. Once you find that organization, you contact them. And most non-profits welcome volunteers. They want people to come in and help out.”

“Sometimes volunteering may mean — Baxter Community Center, for example — they have an annual clean up day. You’re painting and pulling up shrubs and planting things. That may be something you may do. Or you may pop in and speak at an event that you have a passion for. Or you may decide to become a mentor. Big Brothers/Big Sister programs. Or Scouts.”

“The schools — if you’re a graduate of and live in the community where you attended school or even your children’s schools, you may participate in that manner.”

“There’s a lot of work out there to be done. And I believe that if all hands are on deck, we can make the change that we want to see.”

“As a woman, or even an African-American woman, there are so many hurdles that you are faced with, that you can gain something that no one can take away from you is extremely powerful. And not powerful in the sense of authority, but powerful in the sense of ‘I own this and no one can take this away from me.'”


Sharing Good Times with Good Friends at Ju Sushi & Lounge – Shelley Irwin and Dave Jaconette





GRAND RAPIDS – In the latest installment of our “Breaking Bread” monthly series spotlighting some of the region’s finest restaurants, Stellafly sits down with WGVU radio and television host and producer Shelley Irwin and WJRW-AM NewsTalk 1340 program director and host Dave Jaconette for an unforgettable dining experience at the incomparable Ju Sushi & Lounge near Cascade.

Irwin, 52, is a popular fixture on the local scene. She is celebrating 10 years on the air as the host of the WGVU Morning Show from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and shares her time with numerous civic groups and charitable causes. No one is more active and committed to being part of the fabric of West Michigan as she is.

Jaconette, 50, has been the calming and reassuring influence at WJRW since the news-talk station debuted in the Grand Rapids market in August of 2009. He serves as on-air host of “Sound Off West Michigan” from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. as well as the “Noon News.” He is a seasoned news veteran, having spent 28 years in the radio business in pursuit of breaking stories spanning the entire market.


Our meal turns out to be a group revelation.

Everyone at the table is a relative neophyte when it comes to sushi, but we all surrender to hesitation and are stunned by the artistic flair and stunning flavors that come from these freshest of ingredients.

The eight-course meal plus dessert is a feast for both our eyes and taste buds.

It starts off with a fresh salad and continues with what seems to be an endless series of spectacular-looking and -tasting plates prepared by head sushi chef Henry Lim, sushi chef Josh Froman, cook Angela Tran and assistant general manager Grant Steiner, who’s pretty skilled in the kitchen as well.

The food propels our rapid-fire conversation on social media’s place amid the fast-changing news landscape.



The edamame, greens and melt-in-your-mouth ginger vinaigrette get us off to a fine start.

A few minutes later, our attentive server, Elvin Quinones, brings three plates filled with appetizers: 1. Sunshine rolls (spicy salmon, cucumber, salmon slices on top, sweet sunshine sauce and thinly shaved lemon slices); 2. Jumbo Spider rolls (crabstick, softshell crab meat, cucumber, Masago orange fish eggs and sweet wasabi sauce); 3. Red Dragon (shrimp tempura, cucumber, crabstick, tuna slices on top, spicy mayo and Sriracha).

Stellafly: How important is social media in the newsgathering process?

Shelley: I open my eyes when I wake up and I reach for the iPhone. There’s a quick check of how we’re doing out there. I’m not a breaking news player, I’m a 9-11 program, a little more soft, a little more planned – versus something that’s traumatic that needs to be covered

Dave: Like Shelley, I wake up and go for the iPhone and find out what’s happening, but we’re breaking news. We had a big traffic accident this afternoon and we try to get the word out as quickly as we can on Facebook, Twitter and on our website. Luckily, we’ve got someone who’s really versed in social media who’s all over it and, us older guys, we can do it, too, but we have someone who’s really dedicated we assign that. But we’re all over breaking news.

Shelley: At this point in our lives, we are expected to be versed in what is happening in social-media venues. It depends on how you handle it. If you’re a good multi-tasker and you’re focussed and you use it, it’s in your favor.

Dave: The reality is people are consuming their news differently now than when Shelley and I started.

Stellafly: What’s the best part of social media when it comes to reporting the news?

Shelley: For me, it’s the ability to instantly communicate and the ability for me to share what’s happening from 9-11 with pictures, here’s who’s coming up and here’s what’s happening in the community. It’s an immediate connection with listeners.

Dave: I’m also surprised with how personal and intimate you can be in 140 characters or less – not just with breaking news, but conveying emotion and telling a story. It might be just passing along something that’s been sitting with you for a while, then you can get it out and people react. Or they don’t.

Shelley: It can be a good thing. It’s a rush because we’re both live in-studio and constantly monitoring an AP newswire and social media. If you get news of a prominent death or a traffic situation , we have to make sure our sources are appropriate, but we have the right to take that on.

Dave: There shouldn’t be any shortcuts, but there’s also no excuses for not breaking news because we have access to all this information now. It’s so different from when we had an AP wire or UPI machine that literally would click-clack the news out as news broke.





In the middle of our meal comes a surprising crab pizza.

It instantly becomes a group favorite and is topped with fresh crab and lots of other goodies. Jaconette, who is allergic to shrimp, welcomes this course after having to avoid some of the earlier offerings.

Stellafly: What’s the worst part about social media for you guys?

Dave: The rush is quicker and you do have to be more careful. One of the downsides, there’s no downtime in this business. News can break at any time, and it does, so we’re obligated to pass that along.

Shelley: And we’ve been without checking it for the last 20 minutes, so if there’s anything happening, we’re going to have to check shortly to make sure.

Stellafly: Is there too much of a rush to be first instead of the rush to be right in the social-media era?

Shelley: That is what one might have to sacrifice. Immediacy could get you in trouble.

Dave: We see this. We’re lucky to have this old-school news director, James Gemmell, whose philosophy is, ‘It’s good to get it first, but it’s better to be right.’ You don’t want to get it wrong first. There’s no point to that.

Stellafly: How about immediate reactions from the public on Twitter and other social-media platforms. Is is too much sometimes? For example, was the swift Twitter backlash to the Paula Deen controversy fair or not?

Shelley: When you are a public figure, anything’s a go. Even in our business, one poor judgment could put us in the headlines as well. Twitter is being fed to so many different types of people, from fans to non-fans. She’s a very unique entity.

Dave: In Paula Deen‘s case, I heard some comments from the BET Awards on Sunday night and there were a lot of African-American celebrities giving their take on Paula Deen. Nine out of 10 said, ‘You know, what she said wasn’t right, but the backlash was too much.’ I don’t know if there’s a proper context for the attitude she was displaying through her language. There’s a historical context, a geographic context, so I thought that maybe that was too much. I don’t know what the right thing is, but at some point she’ll do a major interview and we’ll rehabilitate her like we do everyone else in America.

Shelley: It was perhaps a trigger of what society still deals with – and she was caught.

Dave: Every situation is different, but in the Paula Deen case she rushed very quickly to apologize, which, for a lot of people, when you make a mistake, just say you’re sorry, tell people you’re sorry. But she did it in such an awkward way and it was edited funny, and I think she got caught it a unique circumstance. Things move very quickly and you do have to be careful. Not everybody thinks before they speak.

Shelley: We do have to think before we speak, and I don’t think there’s a seven-second delay in my world. Yup, you have to think before you speak.





The sixth and seventh courses feature a Chef’s Special and Playboy rolls.

The special features snapper and salmon wrapped around spicy crab and salmon, sweet potato crunch, sweet eel sauce and Sriracha. The Playboy roll features spicy tuna, asparagus, cream cheese, shrimp slices on top, shrimp tempura inside and sweet-n-spicy sauce. Both are tremendous hits with the whole group.

Stellafly: How competitive is the news gathering business and how has it changed?

Shelley: I think competition is good. You always want to strive to do your best, but you also ultimately need to find and attract your audience. There may be styles that one may not prefer compared to another. Am I spying on the other side? No. I’m confident that I do what I do, and that’s who’s going to listen to me. If I have to leave early, I jump in the car and the first thing I do is turn on the radio and listen to Dave. I think it works in my favor to know there are choices out there. How has it changed? It’s using social media to get guest ideas and see who Dave might have on. I hope it works in both of our favors.

Dave: Shelley is a community ambassador, so, I mean, she’s out in the community a lot. We’re friends and it’s more we’re brother and sister in sound instead of competitors. The market is extremely competitive. In addition to WGVU, there’s WOOD radio, which has been around for 85 years, although they now do a live local hour from 9-10. It’s an interesting market because there’s several news-talk stations and then there’s more relaxed talk on the NPR stations.

You’ve got classic rock pitted against classic rock, country against country, top 40 against top 40, sports against sports. It’s a unique market for its size and it’s very different from Kalamazoo, where I was at the same station for 14-plus years. It’s a different animal (at WJRW). We’re a young upstart and we’re trying to do some things differently, so when we’re live we try to take advantage of that instead of just syndicated programming.

Shelley: Although NPR is syndicated-based and not as ratings driven, I think there’s still a fight for the advertising dollar. That’s the bottom line.

Dave: It is fun being competitive. It’s a different atmosphere and it keeps you sharper. You gotta come to play.

Shelley: And signal matters. You do the best with what you have, although that’s no excuse because we all stream. So, there’s that audience. If you can’t pick me up from your office, then put me on your computer. If you have a signal limitation, that is against you, but you work around that by putting your show on the Internet.



Hey, Godzilla, eat your heart out.

Not even the biggest, baddest, coolest monster is capable of tackling the Tokyo Tower alone. The staggering combination of spicy salmon, spicy tuna, spicy crab salad on top and avocado slices stacked atop a base of white rice, a bed of lettuce and calamari and four distinct sauces looks almost too good to touch.

The unabashed Jaconette wields his chopsticks and demolishes it so that we can portion this gorgeous monster. Note to future diners at Ju Sushi and Lounge: Do yourself and favor and order this, but bring a friend.

Stellafly: Does the Grand Rapids media market play bigger than its actual size?

Dave: I do think so sometimes, especially when we have some of these signature events. It has big-city amenities and a bit of a small-town feel.

Shelley: I’ll just agree. Look at how much Grand Rapids has grown in just the last five years. We do so much to make sure we’re on top of those stories – the ArtPrizes, the LaughFests and the floodings. I think we’ve got a lot to be proud of with our local coverage, and we have to step up to the plate and do our best.



It’s a surprise any of us have room for sweets at the end of the meal.

Yet, the carrot cake, flour-less chocolate cake and homemade Tiramisu ice cream, are impossible to resist.



Stellafly: Impressions of the meal?

Shelley: If a full stomach is an impression of a meal well-served and well-ingested, then I give it an A. I don’t have a lot of sushi, so this is a new taste to me. I’m a carbo and rice person and I occasionally sneak in a bite of carrot cake. From the extremes, this made my day.

Dave: How comfortable were you with the chopsticks?

Shelley: I was not comfortable with the chopsticks and they did not work for me.

Dave: I am crazy about edamame and I enjoyed those and the ginger salad. The crab pizza was terrific. I think out of the other courses my favorite was the Tokyo Tower. It was unusual and you get to destroy it. It was all part of the process.

I did not try the Playboy roll, which was Shelley’s favorite, because it had shrimp in it. I did not want to tempt fate too much because it would’ve taken a team of you to restart my heart. I did enjoy some of the Red Dragon, which had a teeny bit of shrimp in it and the Sunshine roll was great. And the desserts were great.


Location: 1144 E. Paris. Ave. SE, Suite 9, Grand Rapids 49546

Hours: 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. until midnight Friday and Saturday; noon until 9 p.m. Sunday. Happy hour from 3-6 p.m.

Fare: Impressive selection of the freshest sushi in Grand Rapids artistically and expertly prepared.

Ambience: Hip, modern, warm and inviting. Ju (meaning pearl) features a large main dining room and full bar, plus a private room seating 30-35 people with a 60-inch flat-screen television and a glassed-in wall on the second floor overlooking the main eating area. It has been open for almost two years and is planning to be part of Restaurant Week in Grand Rapids this year.

Phone: (616) 575-5858




Twitter: @JuSushiLounge1


For Sale: 7,700-lb. Finback Whale Skeleton. Only $65.


BY Steven de Polo
PHOTOS BY: Raeanna Anglen

The Grand Rapids Public Museum is having a sale. Everything is $65. Even the 76-foot finback whale skeleton, bought in 1905 for $450 and known as the “Monster of the Deep,” that looms over the museum’s eight-story Galleria.

Buy a $65 family membership and you too can “own” everything in the Public Museum, one of the oldest natural history institutions in the Midwest. Just like the items in its world-class collection, the much-beloved museum continues to grow and evolve. Bigger, better, stronger. The dark, drab museum that you remember from your school days is long gone.

According to Dale Robertson, the museum’s president and CEO, “I like to think that we have rebooted the museum, keeping what works and adding new staff, an exciting vision, and a five-year strategic plan to be a community anchor and regional treasure.” Now the museum has an ambitious plan fill the facility with families by boosting memberships by 300 percent. How will they pull that off?

Become a Proud Owner of a Grizzly Bear

The Grand Rapids Public Museum has launched an ambitious new membership campaign to reintroduce the riverside landmark to families across West Michigan. Instead of a promoting an endless list of boring “benefits” and convoluted prices the Public Museum decided to try a new strategy.

“Our target market are women 18 – 50 with children,” notes Kate Moore, director of marketing and public relations, the brains behind the new membership marketing campaign. “The museum needed to cut through the clutter to reach this younger, more plugged in demographic. Humor helps us do that.”

A series of clever advertisements, seemingly designed by humor magazine the Onion, hammer away at the point. When families join, they “own” the museum. For only $65, a family can “buy” Robert E. Lee’s Civil War Sword Sash. Or, they can become the proud “owners” of an Ancient Egyptian Sarcophagus. Don’t tell Lord Carnarvon!

Follow up banner ads show happy buyers going about their day with their new purchases. Like, washing their new Driggs Skylark Bi-Plane or taking that fuzzy new Grizzly Bear to work. His two-inch fangs make a great staple remover!




A Great Family Value

Once the Public Museum gets your attention with its advertising campaign, it has to deliver the goods. And it does. Family memberships are a great value for hard-working parents and grandparents. Check it out. Members get free general admission to the Van Andel Museum Center, Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium, and the James C. Veen Observatory in Lowell.

The Van Andel Museum Center was built in 1994 on the site of the old Voigt Crescent Flour Mill on the west bank of the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids. You can still see the mill’s foundation along the river’s edge. The museum center has 80,000 square feet of permanent exhibits space and a 9,500-square-foot gallery for travelling exhibitions.

The permanent collection is designed to encourage families to explore and teach each other. You don’t have to be a scientist or teacher to enjoy the museum. Each exhibition is designed to tell a story with just enough signage to help the adults guide and encourage their children to learn about the world around them.





From Anishinabek to Fireworks

The permanent exhibitions includes the 1928 Spillman Carousel, complete with delightful horses and a menagerie of fanciful creatures, galloping to the beat of a fully functional band organ. “Anishinabek: The People of This Place” tells the story of the direct descendants of the original Ottawa, Potawatomi and Chippewa people of West Michigan.

“Collecting A-Z” encourages families to tour the halls of the museum while searching for hidden treasures from every letter of the alphabet. “Habitats” highlights the dynamic natural environments of Michigan, including life-like exhibits of animals and plants in their natural settings.

“Newcomers: The People of This Place” is the Public Museum’s newest major exhibition with more than 600 artifacts and images celebrating the diversity of West Michigan. “Streets of Old Grand Rapids” is a popular stroll through a full-scale detailed re-creation of Grand Rapids in the 1890s. Grab a parasol and be transported back in time. “The Furniture City” is the museum’s largest and most-studied exhibit, featuring a complete history of the furniture manufacturing industry in West Michigan.

After a day of learning and exploring, members receive a 10% discount in the Curiosity Shop and Cafe. They also enjoy free carousel rides, two free parking vouchers, and discounts on summer camps for the kids and Mighty Wurlitzer organ performances for grannie. There is also advanced ticketing for Front Row for the Fireworks and Night at Your Museum.

And because the Public Museum is part of the Association of Science-Technology Centers, members get free access to science museums around the country. This is worth the cost of membership when taking family vacations.


First Peek Peeps

Most importantly, that $65 fee gives members the right to attend exclusive member preview parties. These previews ensure that members have the chance to get up close with the museum’s stellar travelling exhibitions such as “Bodies Revealed,” “Facing Mars,” and “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.” Member previews alone can top 600 in attendance.

This fall, the Public Museum will welcome two exciting new special exhibitions. “We are thrilled to bring these great experiences to Grand Rapids and to share our programming through the Spring of 2014. We are confident that they will delight our audiences and spur meaningful partnerships and community collaborations over the next year,” said Mr. Robertson.

In September, the museum together with its strategic and creative partner Genesis Inc. will develop “Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon,” a new photography exhibition featuring the work of Paola Gianturco. The exhibition will feature images and stories of grandmothers worldwide who are acting courageously and effectively to create a better future for grandchildren everywhere.

The show includes stories of grandmothers in Canada, Swaziland, and South Africa who collaborate to care for AIDS orphans; grandmothers in India who become solar engineers and bring light to their villages while those in Peru, Thailand, and Laos sustain weaving traditions; and many more. Genesis Inc.’s Georgia Everse noted, “We are honored to help shine a light on their stories and celebrate these incredible women.”

“Grandmother Power” will open in early September 2013 and run through December 2013. The museum has preliminary plans to travel the exhibition both nationally and internationally. You can learn more about Paola’s work at

The museum hasn’t featured dinosaur exhibitions in a while, to the dismay of this reporter’s genius nephew. That will be rectified when the Public Museum opens “Dinosaurs Unearthed” in October 2013. This comprehensive exhibition will explore the recent discovery of feathered dinosaurs and their connection to modern day birds.

Through a dynamic display of 16 feathered animatronic dinosaurs and feathered fossils, as well as 10 interactive exhibits, guests will be asked to challenge their understanding of how some of their favorite dinosaurs lived and looked during prehistoric times. “Dinosaurs Unearthed” will be on display through April 2014.

In the meantime, the wildly popular “Titanic” exhibition, which opened to the public in February will be extended an additional eight weeks through September 8, 2013. My Heart Will Go On, and so will Titanic!

Looking Ahead

The Public Museum just announced that it has received an $800,000 gift from the Wege Foundation to upgrade to the museum’s Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium. Plans call for a $1.2 million overhaul of the planetarium’s technology, seating, design, and display. This includes updating the Digistar equipment, making it possible for high-definition programs on the Planetarium’s half-dome. Work is set to begin in the Fall of 2013 and be completed in early winter 2014.

And according to Mr. Robertson, “We are well into our planning for our Summer and Fall Exhibition Schedule for 2014, and look forward to announcing those plans soon.”

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Artifacts, Ideas and Stories

The Grand Rapids Public Museum is a museum for everyone. After an extensive re-imagining of the museum experience, the Public Museum is throwing its doors open to its members. “Members are the lifeblood of the Public Museum. We could not exist without them,” said Ms. Moore.

Through clever graphics and smart copywriting, the Grand Rapids Public Museum is planting its flag in the highly competitive learning and entertainment environment in West Michigan. It is serious about winning new friends and educating the next generation of community leaders.

To Learn more about the Grand Rapids Public Museum, visit their website:
LIKE them on Facebook:






Vegan Grand Rapids’ Taste of the Mediterranean’ pairing dinner at Speak EZ Lounge



On Sunday, June 30th Vegan Grand Rapids teamed up with the Speak EZ Lounge for the ‘The Taste of the Mediterranean’ pairing dinner.

Each of the five courses, created by Chef Scotty Petersen, represented an area of the Mediterranean: a Lavender Fruit Shooter inspired by Central France, a Roasted Beet Cumin Salad brought us to Morocco, the Tuscan Tofu was inspired by Italian cuisine, and Spiced Ceci Bean Baba Ganoush had us in Spain. All of this was perfectly rounded out by a Cucumber-Melon water aside an Almond Tuile topped with candied cherry compote and candied oranges to take us to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Each course was perfectly paired with beer or wine.







Vegan Grand Rapids is the best place to find vegan food options in and around Grand Rapids, as well as resources on moving to a plant-based diet and making other lifestyle choices to support the vegan lifestyle. For more information visit

For Film Director Caleb Slain, Home is Where the Story Is



A 23 year old film director with an impressive body of award winning work, Caleb Slain left his home town of Grand Rapids in March 2013. Now living in Los Angeles. Slain is working on his first feature while navigating the stormy seas of the commercial industry.

“I have representation in Europe, so it’s not like I’m trying to find representation,” said Slain. “That’s secondary to my work on the feature. That’s my focus right now.”

Slain knew for certain that he was going to be working in film while a senior at Rockford High School.

“At that time it was very clear to me that I was going to be a director,” Slain said.  “And it’s strange because there wasn’t a question. It wasn’t like ‘someday I’ll want to direct’. It was like, ‘oh, I know I’m going to be. So what can I do right now to get ready for that?’”

“I was just going to leave high school and go straight to film school,” Slain said. “I didn’t really see a need to graduate. I thought it was kind of a waste of time. But then I found out about Rockford and they had an advanced film program class with Final Cut, etc., etc.”

A resident of downtown Grand Rapids, Slain exercised his school of choice option to attend Rockford High School in his senior year.


“Going to Rockford, that was like you know, a 20 minute drive,” he said. “And I would just spend half of my day just, ‘I don’t want a diploma. I don’t need a diploma.’ I knew that film schools didn’t really care about any kind of credentials or anything. No one in film really does. That allowed me to spend all my senior year doing all elective classes because I didn’t have to meet a quota.  So I did three hours of film a day through independent studies. And internships…and theater and choir. I picked things that I thought would be valuable in life.”

After high school, Slain went to Compass Film Academy in Grand Rapids for only one semester. He stayed in Grand Rapids, often working with many of the students he met at Compass and Gorilla Pictures.

“At Gorilla, we have a 30 person collective in one space. And the company Gorilla has fostered a community and they make high end equipment available to these people. So it allowed me the chance to take this stuff that I typically wouldn’t have been able to acquire and actually play around with it and make spots. And in doing so practice and also show people what I could do. So even that first two years, I wasn’t being paid to direct anything.”

“A year after I dropped out, I would have been 18 when I left the school,” he said. “And then a year after I went into production on a larger short film called The Lost and Found Shop when I was 19. And to do that film I was originally working at the YMCA while I was at film school and then after.”

The moment the film went into production, Slain quit the YMCA to go full speed. He worked in film while living in Grand Rapids. The Lost and Found Shop went on to win at NFFTY (National Film Festival for Talented Youth), a large film festival in Seattle.

In Slain’s second year at the festival, he entered another project, Designed Around You. That film also won the festival. The recognition Slain received from these and other projects led to an offer to direct a Microsoft Surface commercial.

“It’s tricky because nothing is as simple as it sounds, you know? It’s like there’s a lot of little, little things that all add up. Even after I did Lost and found Shop, living on next to no money,” said Slain. “I did a small video that I got $400 for to direct and interview and edit it together. But for the most part, I was feeding myself on editing gigs. And directing came later.”

Slain continued to work in film – writing, editing, and directing — while based in Grand Rapids.

“I didn’t really feel the need to travel or sort of just get out,” he said. “I stayed very busy with the team there and busy doing my own stuff. And then this last year, 2012, I spent probably half the year away. A lot of working on projects, a lot of travelling for film festivals all over the country. And India and Japan and China. Denmark. Sweden. Like, a lot of places. I think that was really good because I was just able to kind of get some space.”




Slain is now based out of Los Angeles.

“It’s a requirement to be a full human being that you kind of have to be entirely away from where you grew up. And it had been confusing because I was working with such amazing people there in Grand Rapids that I wanted to stay and keep working with them. But at a certain point, you just can’t. I had just lived there my whole life and I just couldn’t do it anymore. And it was hard. It wasn’t that I didn’t like anything about it. It was just that time.

Clearly, Slain’s real home is in the world of film.

“I grew up in a very small home with 8 siblings. I have 4 brothers and 4 sisters. There’s never any time growing up where the house wasn’t noisy in some capacity.”

“So I feel like in that environment you kind of learn to press out all of the chaos to focus exactly on what you’re doing. I think that’s why on a set I feel very calm. I feel at home, you know? Being surrounded by that much activity and adrenaline is comforting. Being on set is like being at home.”

You can view Slain’s work online at


Jazz in the Garden: Happy Hour and Rawluck



Last weekend, Stellafly joined WOTV 4 Women’s Healthy Eats crew member and D&W Fresh Market’s Living Well Lifestyle Expert, Margaux Drake, for her annual party, Jazz in the Garden: Happy Hour and Rawluck. She hosted the event with her husband, Steve Drake, at their home in East Grand Rapids.


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The evening was a celebration of the official start of summer. Happy hour attendees included her friends from WOTV 4 Women, Spartan Stores, Gazelle Sports and Wyncroft Wines. Live piano music by Lonnie Ostrander greeted guests upon arrival and then they strolled the Drake’s gardens while tasting Wyncroft Wines, a local Michigan winery. An infused water bar with a trio of different types of infused water was provided by D&W Fresh Market- Knapp’s Crossing. Since Margaux is an avid vegan who loves to share her passion for healthy food with others, a large spread of Mexican inspired plant-based hors d’oeuvres filled the Drake’s dining room table.

Happy Hour guests were invited to stay for the Rawluck, raw food potluck, which started at 7pm and continued well into the night. Rawluck guests simply bring a raw, plant-based dish to share (food is considered “raw” if it is not heated above 118 degrees). Three large tables on the patio were filled with eclectic dishes like lemon cheesecake and dehydrated toast points with cherry salsa. Guests also brought fresh herbs and seeds from their garden to share. Many of Margaux’s Detox and Living Well Lifestyle students were in attendance and enjoyed the evening together.






If you are interested in attending the monthly Rawlucks, they are regularly hosted at D&W Fresh Market Knapp’s Crossing on the third Sunday of the month in the evening, click here.

If you are interested in Margaux’s Living Well Lifestyle classes or Clean Start classes, that she teaches at D&W Fresh Market, click here.

Margaux’s next 28 day detox class will be a Back-to-School Detox in September hosted at Gazelle Sports.

If you’d simply like to join in the Living Well Lifestyle conversation, join Margaux on Facebook.

The Rides: Twilight & Midnight



Last weekend Stellafly joined the Grand Rapids Public Museum for a special signature event The Rides. The event featured twilight and midnight bike rides through the city of Grand Rapids benefitting the Museum’s Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium.

The June 21 event featured a non-competitive family cycling event covering 7 miles at twilight, followed by a non-competitive cycling ride (approximately 14 miles) at midnight. Rides started and finished at the Grand Rapids Public Museum with various activities and an after party.






The Twilight Ride was put together for families with children 12 and under. It was an educational, fitness ride in and around downtown Grand Rapids, stopping at various historical landmarks such as the Ford burial site, fish ladder, Riverside Park, Sixth Street Bridge.

The Midnight Ride, although still non-competitive, catered to individuals and families with children over age 12, leading them through the streets, trails, and downtown bridges, before ending back at the Museum.

Both events offered pre/post activities beginning at 6 p.m. There were Planetarium shows, music, picnic-style food and beverages, Solstice Sky Gazing, a photo booth, games and contests. The Museum exhibits were also open so attendees can enjoy the venue to it fullest.

Donated by Berends/Hendricks/Stuit Insurance Agency and Grand Rapids Bicycle Company

Be sure to check out all of the fantastic perks that go along with a membership to the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Get more information by visiting their website:

Be sure to LIKE the Grand Rapids Public Museum on Facebook: