Believe it or not, some good things happened in the year 2020 in Greater Flint and My City Magazine captured the stories in our usual entertaining and informative format. Our readers enjoyed stories about exciting events and inspiring people, of hope and heroes in this year of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Here is a look back at some of those stories; MCM was unable to publish our May and June magazines due to the statewide shutdown.
Farewell, Sheriff Pickell
After 20 years of dedicated public service to the people of Genesee County, “The People’s Sheriff,” retired last year. He shared his thoughts with MCM about his long and very successful career and about this new phase of his life. “I loved what I did, “he shared. “Most of all, I will miss my daily relationships with the public and helping them work through their problems.” His future plans included traveling to Napa, CA to visit his daughter, Washington D.C. to visit his son, spending more time with his grandchildren … and sleeping in!
A Conversation with Bishop International Airport Director Nino Sapone
Peter Hinterman, MCM Assistant Editor, sat down with the BIA Director to learn about his background and plans for the future. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Sapone worked for the Pittsburgh International Airport for 26 years in operations and public safety. The director hit the ground running in his new position at BIA with plans to add non-stop flights, more destinations and, on the business side, looking into cargo. “Things are starting to fall into place,” he said. “People are really paying attention to Bishop. It’s an absolute jewel.” Last month, we highlighted the airport’s efforts to increase public safety with COVID protocols and new technology in place.
The History of Genesee County Cities Part One: Grand Blanc
This new series, researched and compiled by Peter Hinterman, profiles the birth and history of the towns and cities surrounding Flint. The first to be featured was Grand Blanc. In 1823, Jacob Stevens found his way to a place known to the locals as Grumlaw. French settlers began calling it Grand Blanc, meaning “Great White.” Jacob Stevens staked a claim on unoccupied land and became its first settler. Grand Blanc was the first of many Genesee County settlements that became integral parts of the area’s character and success. It has become an extremely prosperous and well-loved part of Genesee County.
Echoes: The Posthumous Album of Ashley Peacock
Friends of the beloved Flint musician were devastated after hearing the news that he had died by suicide. Peacock was an integral part of Flint’s music scene and his memorial held at Flint’s Factory Two was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of people. Todd Gilbert was asked by the family to take care of Peacock’s music and was amazed to discover a folder of unrecorded songs. “How can these songs not be heard?” he asked himself and with help from Flint musicians and others, Gilbert set about producing Peacock’s posthumous album, “Echoes.” The album’s nine songs are a roller coaster ride of feelings – hope, despair, loneliness and love.
Working to Unite Flint: Meet Mayor Sheldon Neeley
Elected Mayor of the City of Flint in November 2019, Neeley’s pledge to the citizens of Flint was to bring transparency, stabilization and fiscal responsibility to City Hall. Born and raised in Flint, he brings to the position a commitment to public service and years of experience. In 2014, he was elected to Michigan’s House of Representatives, serving the 34th District, and was re-elected in landslide victories in 2016 and 2018. While in the House, Neeley fought for Flint residents during the Flint Water Crisis. A top priority of Mayor Neeley’s administration is to create a community vision. “We are working hard to make corrective actions and put City Hall and the City of Flint on the right track.”
Celebrating Black History Month
In February, the nation honors the contributions of African Americans to U.S. history. There were many events happening in Flint to engage in and celebrate Black History Month, including: Hip Hop documentary at the Flint Public Library, art exhibits at various venues, films and movies, Black Classical Origins Annual Scholarship Gala at the Flint Institute of Arts, Hidden Colors Marathon at the New McCree Theatre, and a showing of “Freedom Riders” at The Whiting.
The Rep Theatre Production hits the Big Stage
The Flint Repertory Theatre’s production of the family-friendly puppetry musical, “Riddle of the Trilobites,” premiered off-Broadway at the New Victory Theatre – New York City’s premiere family theatre – from February 7-23. “To have a production from our first season as Flint Repertory Theatre move off-Broadway is a tremendous honor!” exclaimed Michael Lluberes, The Rep’s Producing Artistic Director. “The New Victory Theatre is known in the theatre community as presenting the gold standard of children’s theatre from around the world. It’s wonderful that Flint’s work will be seen in this beautiful, historic venue in the heart of Times Square. Even more wonderful is that this brilliant, original musical will be shared with a much broader audience. It’s a great story for the theatre and a great story for Flint.”
Ice Kings: Greater Flints Power Players
MCM contributing writer Mark Spezia highlights ten of the finest Hockey players Flint has ever produced. They have won Stanley Cups, Olympic Gold and NCAA Championships. Some rank among the NHL’s best American-born players. Those highlighted include: Shawn Cronin, Ryan McGinnis, Ken Morrow, Bobby Reynolds, Brian Rolston, Ron Rolston, Gary Steffes, Tony Szabo, Tim Thomas and Garrett Thompson.
Flint’s Future: Community Leaders Think Forward
MCM reached out to community leaders and asked them this question. “What do you see for the future of Flint?” Respondents included numerous business, organization and school leaders. “Every new decade will bring its opportunities and challenges. By 2030, I think the re-imagined Flint River waterfront will change how people view and experience the river and our city,” said Ridgway White, President/CEO of the Charles Mott Foundation. “It will be a very visible representation of the importance of protecting our natural resources, promoting quality of life for residents and looking for new ways to bring people to Flint.”
2020 Black History Month Honorees
The Genesee District Library’s annual Black History Month Brunch took place on February 1 at the Genesys Conference & Banquet Center in Grand Blanc. The community gathered together to recognize the contributions of local African Americans to community and world history. Proceeds benefit the GDL’s Summer Reading Challenge. Those honored included: The Ivy House (Partner in Progress Award)
Melinda Anderson (Award of Excellence), Recco Richardson (Award of Excellence) and Mayor Karen Weaver (Award of Excellence).
Shea Automotive Group: Meet Owner & Dealer, Stacey Fields
Stacey Fields is the owner of Shea Automotive Group, which was previously Patsy Lou Williams Automotive Group. The GM dealership includes Chevrolet (new and used), Buick/GMC, Mega Lot (used cars from both stores), Certified Pre-Owned Chevrolet, Service Department, Maintenance Department, Service for Medium Duty trucks and Body Shop. Fields boasts of her dynamic team, which has several women in key positions. “It takes a joint effort to keep a place of this size running smoothly on a daily basis,” Field says. “We are only as good as our team.” It is important to Fields that women feel confident when doing business with Shea Automotive Group.
My City Cares
Last spring, we published the first issue of My City Cares, a publication created to shine a light on local charitable organizations and businesses, and help MCM readers better understand them, who they are and what they do, according to Publisher and Editor in Chief, Vince Lorraine. Through informative profiles, this annual publication communicated their missions and the services they offer, which they do with the help of donations and community support.
Applewood at Second & Saginaw
The Mott Community College Culinary Arts Institute has brought a whole new dining experience to Downtown Flint. Applewood at Second & Saginaw is MCC’s upscale casual restaurant/teaching laboratory. When it re-opens to the public, patrons can experience fine dining – from American fare to International cuisine – and beautifully-crafted baked goods created by the students. The restaurant features a fresh, new monthly menu that gives students an opportunity to learn and expand their creativity and innovation in the kitchen.
The Dive Shop
Seasoned diver, Kevin Stiff, opened this business in 1986 and it quickly became Genesee County’s go-to shop for scuba gear and dive certification. The shop offers adventurous individuals the chance to visit and experience the depths, live and in Technicolor. The Dive Shop also offers the use of their pool for program grads who wish to practice or refresh their skills before a vacation, and all it typically costs is a tank of air. “We teach classes, we do travel, we rent gear,” says Manager, Kim Collingham. “We are the place for anything related to scuba or snorkeling. The Dive Shop can set you up with everything you need.”
Greater Flint’s Diamond Elites
MCM highlighted ten of the greatest baseball players Greater Flint has ever produced. They have won World Series rings, thrown no-hitters, pitched in the All-Star Game, won an Olympic gold medal and replaced Babe Ruth in a starting lineup: Jim Abbott, Scott Aldred, Steve Boros, Jeff Hamilton, Rick Leach, Alex Main, Joe Mays, Mike Menosky, Ron Pruitt and Merv Rettenmund.
Greater Flint Heroes
For many people, the quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic was a period of seclusion, boredom and anxiety. Those deemed “essential workers” had to face the responsibility of keeping the world moving. Postal workers, grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, delivery services, truckers, social services, food preparers and others braved an uncertain world. They put themselves at risk, shouldering the weight of our collective futures. MCM highlighted just some of the organizations and individuals who went above and beyond for the community during an anxious and unprecedented time.
My City Wellness: The Germ Zapper
In the midst of the summer quarantine, Hurley Medical Center “upped their game” with the purchase of three Xenex LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robots. My City Magazine spoke with Ann Newell, Infection Control Director, about the germ-zapping bots that use intense ultraviolet (UV) light to disinfect rooms and equipment. She explained that the purpose of the machine is to help facilities achieve reductions in infections, including COVID-19. With a blast of UVC radiation, the robots can deactivate the RNA and DNA of bacteria and viruses because they have never been exposed to it and have no defense. “With the LightStrike Robot, Hurley is setting a higher standard in environmental disinfection and is committed to saving lives and reducing suffering by destroying deadly microorganisms that cause infections,” said Newell. “Patient safety is more than words; it is our commitment.”
2020 My City’s Choice Awards
The 2020 City’s Choice Award winners were announced in June. Votes poured in from everywhere – over 13,000 of them in nearly 150 categories. MCM sent thanks to all the voters and congratulations to the winners!
Six Ways Flint Changed the World
The bricks of Saginaw Street, the iconic buildings, the land and people of Flint have been part of a deep and impactful history – one that has helped to shape not just the life of its citizens, but also the course of the nation and beyond. My City Magazine presented the six biggest ways Flint changed the world:
General Motors (1908), Community Schools (1935), The Sit-Down Strike (1936), Wartime Production (1942-45) and Fair Housing (1968).
End of Uncertainty?
It has been a year of uncertainty all around the country, but Genesee County was figuring it out. From colleges to entertainment venues, plans for the future were being made and MCM shared what some of these venues were doing to adapt to the struggles of the health crisis. The Genesee County community worked to smoothly transition to a state of relative normalcy.
A College Town Prepares for Change
We asked local institutions to share their thoughts about what college students could expect when they returned to school last fall. According to Dawn Hibbard, Mott Community College Communications Specialist, the Return to Campus plan was comprehensive and multi-layered. Most of the MCC workforce and students continued to work and learn remotely. The majority of courses at University of Michigan-Flint were to be taught remotely, with some in-person classes taking place on a limited basis. Many safety protocols were implemented.
Feeding the Hungry: Food Bank of Eastern Michigan
The FBEM works hard to make sure that no one is hungry. MCM met up with President/CEO, Kara Ross, to see how the COVID Response Team was meeting the needs of the communities they serve during the pandemic. “We doubled what we did last year in the same time frame,” she reported. Ross expects a heightened level of service for at least one to two more years during the COVID-19 recovery effort. She also talked about programs offered through the FBEM such as Summer Meals, Summer Youth Initiative and the Mobile Food Pantry.
Bryan McCree: Flint’s King of Comedy
The well known comedian started out at Doobies Irish Pub in Downtown Flint on open mic night. “I did five minutes off the top and it was exhilarating. That was it for me. I felt I had found my purpose,” McCree remembered. He was just 21 and 40 years later, he still lives on stage making audiences laugh with his odd, physical, Flint-style comedy. He has toured all over the U.S., gone head-to-head with some of the most successful comics of the day, done countless interviews and appearaned on sketch comedy shows such as “MADtv.” Flint’s King of Comedy talked with MCM about life in Flint, family and what it takes to make it on the big stage.
Greater Flint Legends
Greater Flint has more than its share of folklore that gives this area a local and unique flavor. MCM compiled ten such legends: Keith Moon wrecked the Holiday Inn, John Todd’s pet bear, the “Crack the Whip” sculpture, lost artifacts, Flint’s underground tunnels, the Sauk Tribe massacre, the healing spring of Saginaw Street, the famous Fenton card game, the bandits of Long Lake, and a visit from Santa Claus. Truth … or fiction?
YouthQuest Celebrates 10 years
This no-cost after-school enrichment program operated by the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce celebrated its tenth anniversary in July and it was a huge milestone, according to Nefertari Jones, Program Director. The program provides after-school activities that focus on: academic support, enrichment, physical fitness and healthy behaviors, nutrition, education, youth development and leadership, and family and community engagement in the Flint Community Schools and the International Academy of Flint.
Angie Hendershot – A Difference Maker
MCM chatted with Angie Hendershot, ABC 12 News Anchor for the last two decades. Her excellence in journalism has been recognized at the regional and national levels, and most recently, she received a 2020 Emmy® for Best News Anchor from the Michigan Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. MCM highlighted Hendershot’s accomplishments and thoughts about her hometown.
A Breath of Fresh Air — Outdoor Dining
There was plenty of time left to enjoy the warm breeze, a refreshing cocktail and a delicious meal al fresco at one of the many local restaurants offering patio dining. Many Greater Flint eateries offered patrons a seat outside … with a breath of fresh air, including: Brick Street of Grand Blanc, Cork on Saginaw, Flint Farmers’ Market Rooftop Terrace, Steady Eddy’s Cafe, Andiamo, Corner Bar & Grill, Fenton Fire Hall, Fenton Hotel Tavern & Grille, The Fire Place Bar & Grill and more!
Natural Brilliance – Fall Foliage Tour
Michigan’s fall beauty is legendary. MCM highlighted ten of the most scenic adventures for Michigan fall enthusiasts: Holly State Recreation Area, Metamora-Hadley Recreation Area, Sunrise Coast, Tahquamenon Falls, Porcupine Mountains, Cut River Bridge, Tunnel of Trees, Gold Coast, Blue Star Highway and the Lake Superior Circle Tour.
Supe’s Exotic Jungle
This hidden gem in Tyrone Township was co-founded by Brent and Shannon Barrick. The small, interactive zoo offers onsite tours, parties and an unforgettable experience for young and old. At Supe’s, you can get up-close and personal with 37 different exotic animal species while enjoying an educational experience. “We try to get people to connect with a variety of animals,” said Brent. “Our primary goal is education. We help get people to appreciate animals they might have been scared of and teach people respect for all animals.”
B2B 2020 Road Rally
Last year’s Back to the Bricks event attracted more than 400 classic cars for a cruise that ran nearly 150 miles through multiple small towns and cities. Drivers had fun showing off their vehicles and taking part in a visual scavenger hunt. All registration fees were donated to Whaley Children’s Center.
Protect and Serve: Meet Flint Police Chief Terence Green
Formerly Mt. Morris Township Chief of Police, Green was appointed chief of the Flint Police Department by Mayor Neeley in August. “It is an honor to have Chief Green join our City of Flint team,” said the mayor. “Chief Green brings knowledge, expertise, decades of experience and, above all else, a deep commitment to the City of Flint.”
Cooking for a Million
MCM highlighted the success of Flint native, Ahmad Alzahabi, a young man who cooks for over two million followers on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. His social media brand, The Golden Balance, became a household name for quick and flavorful recipes. The former Carman-Ainsworth athlete and UM-Flint grad is cooking full-time with a small staff of family and friends. He cooks dishes he loves with an added personal twist, be it chicken & waffles, sushi (his favorite), fresh hummus, steak, lasagna or shawarma. “People are making my recipes. It’s unbelievable!”
Fenton artist Kim Bonner uses her artistic talents for a very special purpose. She designed and published her first Courageous Coloring workbook in 2017. For each one sold, she donates one to a girl in foster care with the hopes of reminding her of her uniqueness, while also encouraging her to follow her dreams and never give up. To date, Bonner has donated more than 1,300 of her Courageous Coloring workbooks across the country. “I want people to feel peace and happiness and encouragement because I think there are so many things in the world today that tell us the opposite – that we’re not good enough, that we don’t measure up,” Bonner explains. “I just want to put something out there that tells people, ‘you’re awesome the way you are’.”
Gloves & Grapplers
They have competed in five Olympics winning three medals, while also capturing a slew of world and national championships. My City highlighted Greater Flint’s best wrestlers and boxers: Chris Byrd, Claressa Shields, Andre Dirrell, Dan Severn, Brent Metcalf, John Matthews, John Fisher, Jon Reader and Paul Donahoe.
A spooky and entertaining book, Haunted Flint, was written by local authors, Roxanne Rhoads and Joe Schipani. The book offers accounts of the sinister history of Flint and of haunted buildings, ghosts, eerie encounters and unexplained sightings – a perfect read for Halloween. MCM chatted with the authors about some of the ghostly experiences.
Heroes & Villains
Throughout its history, Greater Flint has experienced its share of colorful characters. Some worked tirelessly to better the lives of people both local and beyond. Some, however, took the opposite route – taking from their friends, bullying the weak, abusing their power and making the world a darker place. MCM highlighted some of Greater Flint’s Heroes & Villains – all the way from the Civil War, Sarah Edmonds and Peter Lennon, to present day “clean water leaders,” Leeanne Walters and Dr. Mona Hanna-Atisha. Villains included a corrupt politician, Mayor William McKeighan, heartless GM CEO, Roger Smith and “music murderer,” Jeffrey Gorton.
100 Years of Music & Community
The Golden Leaf Club celebrated its centennial anniversary last year. Located in Downtown Flint, the small but mighty venue continues to be the city’s premier jazz haunt for enthusiasts, fans and musicians. It is the oldest African-American owned venue in Genesee County, second only to Idlewild (est. 1912) and tied with Detroit’s famous Paradise Valley Clubs for Michigan’s earliest African-American jazz venue.
A Veteran’s Story
After being drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam war, local attorney, Tom Pabst, found a silver lining in a dark cloud. He served in the Army’s 4th Infantry Division and was wounded in Vietnam’s Central Highlands Zone. “I got hit,” he recalls. “I was shot through my left arm and hot shrapnel went up my leg.” After a long recovery, he was discharged in August 1969. As for his time in Vietnam, Pabst said, “The silver lining of that dark cloud is that I was able to get an education and become a lawyer, which has allowed me to help many people.”
Snuggle Sacks – Reaching out to the Homeless
It isn’t very often that one hears about a nonprofit organization founded and operated by kids. Snuggle Sacks was founded in August 2015 by Stacy Daul’s three children: Addisyn, Jaxson and Sheridan, after learning their own grandfather had experienced homelessness. Based in Fenton, this group’s goal is to increase awareness of homelessness in our communities and provide survival kits for those in need.
The Amazing Magic of Nathan Kranzo
Comedy Magician Nathan Kranzo of Flushing was a contestant on “America’s Got Talent.”
Though he didn’t win the contest, Kranzo is a success and household name in the world of magic. The comedy magician has performed his unique, humorous show on stages all over the world and appeared on the Syfy channel’s “Wizard Wars,” FOX’s “Houdini & Doyle” and worked as a magic consultant for Penn & Teller, truTV’s “The Carbonaro Effect” and others. The internet is populated with videos of him performing on the streets, in restaurants and at iconic venues such as the Magic Castle in L.A. he says. “I’ve traveled the world doing this and I get to spend my time teaching magic, performing and creating new tricks,” he says. “I consider myself extremely lucky to do what I do.”
Firebirds Ready for Season
There may be fewer fans rinkside, but the Flint Firebirds are ready to hit the ice and play some hockey! The 2021 OHL season will officially begin on February 4, 2021 and run through May 8. Each team will play 40 games with 8 teams (top 4 from each conference) qualifying for the playoffs. Playoffs will finish no later than June 14. “This year’s team could be even better and we are really excited,” said player Brennan Othmann. “Coach Wellwood and I had some great talks in the past few months and I love the new ideas he has for the season. I can’t wait to see how the returning players have developed and what the talented new faces can do.”
MCM’s 2020 Cityzen the Year
Genesee County Sheriff Christopher R. Swanson was selected as MCM’s Cityzen of the Year! His 2020 was filled with defining moments, milestones and virtual world travel. But Swanson was at his best when reaching out to help others during the COVID-19 shutdown, combating human trafficking and helping to change the lives of the inmates he oversees at the Genesee County Jail. A defining moment for him was on May 30, 2020 in Flint Township, when an angry crowd had gathered to protest police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN a few days earlier. Confronting the protesters, Swanson asked, “What do you need us to do?” They replied, “Walk with us.” Swanson and the officers at the scene removed their helmets and riot gear, then walked in solidarity with the protesters. “In that moment, hate became hope,” Swanson said. “It led to a positive outcome of hope and Flint became a beacon of light.”
Powers Catholic High School: Celebrates 50 years
The private Roman Catholic High School is currently located at the former site of the Michigan School for the Deaf building in Downtown Flint, transformed into a state-of-the-art high school campus in 2013. The school was previously located off Carpenter Road on the city’s north end. “It is gratifying to see each new generation of faculty, students, alumni and benefactors continue to add to the growth and tradition,” says Joe Forlenza, a longtime Powers principal and the heart of the Chargers for many years. “Congratulations and let’s do 50 more!”
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Flint Central Church of the Nazarene spent the year joyfully celebrating its 100th anniversary! The church was born in a tent Downtown, across from the Genesee County Courthouse. It has grown and changed locations over the years, operating at its current site off Bristol Road since the early 60s. A massive fire burned the church to the ground in the 90s and a new church was built at the same location. According to Chief Pastor Rob Prince, while celebrating the past is significant, the best days are ahead! “We are excited about our great past but we have an even better future,” says the pastor.
Hilton Garden Inn Flint
Located at the site of the former Genesee County Savings Bank in Downtown Flint, the beautiful facility opened in November 2020. The building, which offers 101 guest rooms, five meeting rooms, fitness center, patio bar (Simmer), restaurant (Sauce) and The Federal Coffee House, was completely renovated and is a wonderful representation of the city, its past and future. “It represents Flint’s future look and feel,” says Tim Herman, President of Uptown Reinvestment Corporation. “We are all very excited.”
Holiday fun in the Mitten!
Every year as the snow begins to fall, families throughout Michigan load up the sleigh and head to their favorite holiday destination for a bit of Christmas magic. MCM recommended a few holiday places and happenings to help end 2020 on a positive note and make the holidays happy. Some of the popular destinations included: Frankenmuth, lights on Main Street in Downtown Rochester, the Christmas Light Show at Fifth Third Ball Park, and Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village.