2021 Year in Review

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A year after the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Greater Flint Area has been on the rebound. During that time, MCM found many interesting stories to share. Here is a look at some of last year’s most memorable.

January

St. Michael Catholic Church Closes its Doors

Genesee County’s oldest Catholic Church permanently closed in December 2020. It was the only Catholic parish in the city of Flint for 67 years. “It was such a significant church,” said Father Tom Firestone. The church had struggled financially for some time and the number of parishioners had dwindled. The building was turned over to Catholic Charities, who had hopes of making the necessary repairs. “We don’t want to lose it,” said Father Firestone. “It is still a Catholic church. My main concern is that the side chapel remains open. It’s been the light of the community. We are not going to leave this city.”

Living the Dream

This article profiles the long and exciting hockey career of former Grand Blanc resident, Jon Merrill. Chosen to be the flag-bearer for a Detroit Red Wings game at age 13, he played three years for the University of Michigan (helping them to the 2011 national championship game while earning all-conference honors), represented Team USA in international competition, and won back-to-back World Under-18 Championship gold medals before taking bronze at the World Junior Championships. His NHL career included four seasons with the New Jersey Devils before joining the newly-formed Vegas Golden Knights and playing in a Stanley Cup final. In October 2020, his ultimate childhood dream came true when he signed with the Red Wings.

Flint’s Future is Female: Building a Network of Support

This group was co-founded by Rachel Johnson and Heidi McAra with the goal of connecting women with resources and support to help them succeed with their business and professional aspirations. The mission is to promote connectivity and empowerment to female leaders, founders and entrepreneurs. “One of our goals is to encourage a new generation of females to get involved in their community and its organizations,” Johnson stated. “As Flint’s rebirth continues, women leaders and entrepreneurs have a chance to make a big impact on the city’s future.”


Photo by Silvia Jones

February

Flint’s Prominent African American Leaders – Past & Present

In recognition of Black History Month, MCM honored 21 of the many African American leaders and trailblazers (past and present) who have worked for the betterment of the city and its people. Those honored and profiled included notables from the fields of government, education and medicine; the clergy, arts and culture; the legal community and law enforcement, first responders and sports standouts.

Genesee County’s First Female Eagle Scout

In October 2020, Breanna Nicole Trecha of Fenton Township obtained the rank of Female Eagle Scout – the first female in Genesee County and one of ten in the State of Michigan – following in the footsteps of her father and three brothers who were also Eagle Scouts. “It is an honor, but it takes a lot of time and determination to accomplish it,” Trecha said. “It is achievable if you work hard for it.”

Motown Man

In November 2020, Flint Native Bob Campbell published his first novel, Motown Man, a story of an interracial romance set in a faded, Midwestern industrial town. Campbell said, “Much of the setting is in an automotive components plant. I was able to explore gender role, family relationships, interracial communication and factory life. Humanity of the Black man is a significant theme.” Born and raised in Vehicle City, Campbell attended Southwestern High School, worked for GM for seven years and was a writer for various newspapers, including the Flint Journal, Lexington Herald-Leader and Detroit Free Press. Campbell is currently the senior communications manager for the Flint & Genesee Group.


March

UM-Flint Murchie Science Building Expansion

Planning for the new 61,000-square-foot wing began in 2015, and opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in January. The project was aided by a $29.25 million capital outlay appropriation from the State of Michigan, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation awarded an $11 million grant to help fund construction, upgrade the existing building and support STEM studies campus-wide. The wing features robotics labs, design lab and fabrication workshops, independent and group research labs, reservable group-study rooms, student club hub and learning commons, to name a few.

A Lifetime of Service: Chief Christopher Miller

Bishop Airport Police Chief, Christopher Miller, announced his retirement and was ready to relax and enjoy life after spending the last 20 years working tirelessly as the airport’s Chief of Public Safety. “I worked professionally non-stop for almost 39 years,” he said. Miller received a call from Mayor Sheldon Neeley who told him he was one of five people who would receive the City of Flint Lifetime Achievement Award and a key to the city. “He told me that it was the highest award a citizen can be given and I am deeply honored to receive it,” Miller said.

A Family Tradition: State Champion New Lothrop Football

After a hard-fought game played at Ford Field to decide the 2021 Division 7 State Championship, the New Lothrop Hornets bested perennial championship contender, the Traverse City St. Francis Gladiators. “That last drive was the best of the year for us,” said Coach Clint Galvas. “It iced the game.” The win was celebrated with a dance party in the locker room with Galvas a willing participant. When the team’s bus rolled back into New Lothrop, the players received a hero’s welcome.


April

Home & Garden Special Section

April is National Garden Month and MCM’s annual Home & Garden Special Section offers tips for creating your dream garden, current decorating trends and more!

Building on Tradition: Flint United Basketball

Basketball and Flint go hand-in-hand and its reputation for the game is legendary. “Basketball is a sport synonymous with Flint and we want to continue the tradition,” said Kevin Mays, Team Market Owner of the Flint United Basketball franchise. Flint and sports have always been a big part of Mays’ life. He was a standout athlete at Carman-Ainsworth, an athlete at Central Michigan University, spent time as the director of sales for the Flint Firebirds and worked with the National Champion Flint City Bucks. He loves the city and has always wanted to contribute to its growth. “A professional team in Flint just made perfect sense,” Mays added.

Well of Hope: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

This Flint nonprofit was founded in February 2005 and incorporated in 2006. Since then, the organization has offered programs that help break down barriers to education for children and unify families. The group is run by the Morgan family: Chia Morgan is Program Coordinator and Treasurer; her father Will is the president and her mother Debra is also involved in the organization. Well of Hope’s largest undertaking is “Blessed To Be A Blessing,” a free Thanksgiving Dinner open to all Flint residents.

“I had a literal dream,” Chia Morgan shares. “In 2009, I dreamed about a Thanksgiving dinner with all of the fixings that we served to the community. I woke up and told a friend about it, that I was going to make my dream happen.” And, she did!


May

Country Artist, Miko Marks

At age five, Marks was a regular on stage at Flint’s Church of God in Christ, belting out beloved gospel songs. “I would close my eyes when singing in church because I would look out and see people crying,” she says. “I didn’t quite understand it at the time, but later realized they were only happy tears and that God was using my voice to reach them.” Marks’ passion for using her singing talent to entertain, touch hearts and soothe souls was born. She spent the next 25 years honing her gift. In March 2021, she released Our Country, her first album in 14 years.

Rebecca’s Reason

Founded in 2016 by Sarah Curtis, the mission of this nonprofit organization is to provide financial assistance to families who have lost a child or their child has been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness. The organization was named to honor the brief life of Curtis’ daughter, Rebecca Anne. Her baby was born with Edward’s Syndrome and died in her mother’s arms 12 hours after her birth. To deal with the grief, Curtis began searching for a way to give meaning to Rebecca’s life. “I decided I could raise money to help other bereaved parents pay their medical bills,” she said. “If I could offer that tiny light in their darkness, Rebecca’s life had reason.”

Davison Cardinals Are State Wrestling Champs

It was a year unlike any other! A 2021 win over Detroit Catholic Central in the state finals gave Davison their ninth MHSAA State Wrestling title and their first in 15 years. As an added bonus, Davison was able to end rival Detroit Catholic Central’s streak of four consecutive titles. “It was a little poetic justice,” says Coach Zac Hall. “We set that second-place trophy right in front of the training room door so the kids couldn’t miss it. It helped heat up the rivalry.” Davison finished with five state champions and a record-breaking 14 wrestlers selected as all-state athletes. “It was the most impressive accomplishment I’ve seen in my wrestling history,” says Hall.


June

2021 City’s Choice Awards

After votes poured in from everywhere – over 18,000 of them – Greater Flint chose their favorites in nearly 200 categories! The layout featured art created by Flint Public Art Project artists.

Breaking the Cycle of Generational Incarceration

Things have changed at the Genesee County Jail since I.G.N.I.T.E. (Inmate Growth Naturally and Intentionally Through Education) launched in September 2020, the vision of Genesee County Sheriff, Christopher R. Swanson. The education, re-entry and rehabilitation initiative was designed to eliminate generational incarceration through education by restoring value, hope and purpose to the inmate population. “We don’t call it a program,” says Capt. Jason Gould, Jail Administrator. “It is a cultural change, a way of thinking.”

Accustomed to Winning: Flint City Bucks Head Coach, Andy Wagstaff

After experiencing a plethora of success as a head coach at the college, club and high school levels and as assistant in the semi-pro and pro ranks, Andy Wagstaff became the Flint City Bucks head coach in 2020. Shortly after that, however, the COVID pandemic put defense of the Bucks’ championship on hold. They did play six exhibition matches last fall in an empty Atwood Stadium, winning all of them by a dominating 26-2 margin. The team has never experienced a losing season.

Flint Northern High School: Home of the State Champions

As soon as classes began in 1928, Flint Northern High School was a powerhouse in both academics and sports, winning its first two state championships just two years later in football (behind bruising fullback, James McCrary) and in tennis. Soon thereafter, the mascot was changed to the Vikings and the first of many basketball championships was won under legendary Coach, Jim Barclay. MCM Assistant Editor Peter Hinterman shares the history of the school and some of its academic and sports highlights.


July

Kayak Flint

A project of the Flint River Watershed Coalition (FRWC), this nonprofit group was created to protect, promote and improve the Flint River and its watershed. Since September 2018, the approximately 3.25-mile public paddle trip has launched behind Tenacity Brewing and ends at Mitson Riverview Landing. The project offers nature enthusiasts an opportunity to view the city from a different perspective while enjoying a peaceful trip down the Flint River, according to Sarah Scheitler who co-manages the project with Jaime Welch. “It is a beautiful resource that not enough people know about,” says Scheitler. 

More Marvelous Murals!

In 2019, Flint Public Art Project (FPAP) started phase one of their plan to paint 100 new murals in Greater Flint by the end of summer 2020. The project was successful beyond imagination, exceeding the goal and bringing Flint positive news coverage and notoriety. At this printing, more than 150 murals had been completed throughout the Flint area. FPAP also partnered with Kady Yellow and the What’s Up Downtown Project to offer mural tours, and with the Flint Repertory Theatre to present “Flint Mural Plays” written by some of the country’s best playwrights.

The GREAT Reset: Flint Fury Football

“We are going to surprise people with what we do this season and put the Fury back on the map,’’ said Charles Lawler, Owner/Head Coach. Lawler labeled the 2021 season “The Great Reset,” changing the team’s colors from navy, silver and white to red, black and white. And, the Fury’s promising start for the season made all of Lawler’s efforts feel worthwhile. The team, 4-4 in 2020, took a 2-1 record into their June 19 game against Tri-City Stampede. “The season has been great so far because we’ve improved with every game, which is a really good sign,” Lawler said.

Frame 42: The New Generation of Rock

Rock is not dead! When Frame 42 took the stage in June 2021 for their EP release party at Diesel Lounge in Detroit, the capacity crowd wasn’t ready for the assault. Boasting dual female lead vocalists, perfect guitar harmonies and foundational bass and drum play, the band possesses the sound, talent and energetic fervor of all the greatest bands of the 70s, but packages it into something uniquely their own.


August

Downtown is Happening!

The month of August brought many exciting festivals and thousands of visitors to Downtown Flint including the Crim Festival of Races, Back to the Bricks, live shows at the Capitol Theatre, cultural events and an abundance of eateries! Attendees of these world-class events had plenty of other things to enjoy Downtown – unique shops to browse, a happening new hotel, inspiring mural art and much more!

School’s Back! What’s New for Flint Students

For an overview of the 2021-22 academic year, MCM reached out to our local colleges: Kettering University is now positioning itself and its students to be key players in the fast-paced world of mobility for its next century. Mott Community College is ready to help students prepare for a changing world with a supportive learning environment and degree and certificate programs. And, Michigan State University Extension’s Family Enrichment Series (FES) was created with the goal of helping families live happier lives. 

Rylie Dewley Miss Michigan’s Outstanding Teen

She’s a standout! In June 2021, the Grand Blanc teen was selected Miss Michigan’s Outstanding Teen. The creator of Start Heart Smart (spreading awareness of heart disease) and a talented baton twirler, Rylie has dreamed of being crowned Miss America since she was a little girl. And she is well on her way to making that dream a reality. Competing since the age of ten, she has won pageants including Miss Sunset Coast Outstanding Teen, Miss Lake Erie Outstanding Teen and Miss Washtenaw County Outstanding Teen.

The Art and Philosophy of James Thigpen, Jr.

Using a multitude of photographs, Thigpen designs each piece of art exactly how he sees it inside himself. His unique style, evolved throughout the course of his life, portrays the African-American experience from a universal perspective. And each work holds a little bit of himself and his home city. “Every piece is a collage constructed from multiple images and each one reflects a little of home,” he says. “Flint shaped all I know. I’ve lived in other cities and you can’t run away from it – it’s in you, not on you.”


Tatsiana Tsyhanova / stock.adobe.com

September

We Remember: 20th Anniversary of 9/11

In this special section, “We Remember,” MCM shared the story of Eric Bennett, the only person from the Flint area to perish in the 9/11 attacks. Also featured were personal accounts of the experience working to rescue and recover victims at Ground Zero from former firefighters, Joe Ludwig and Steve Thomson. Advertisers sponsored highlights of area fire and law enforcement personnel to honor the brave first responders who answer the call every day. Community members shared their memories about a day we won’t – and cannot – forget.

7 Questions with … Kiara May

Soon after she was appointed Flint Downtown Authority Executive Director, MCM shared a quick Q&A about her background and her goals for the DDA.

Semaj Brown, Flint’s Poet Laureate

MCM talked with Flint’s first poet laureate, named in September 2019 by then-mayor Karen Weaver. Brown is a poet, educator, playwright, author, performer and thought leader who received the 2021 Academy of American Poets Poet Laureate Fellowship Award, which was given to 23 poet laureates across the country. The recipients received $50,000 to help them grow public poetry programs in their communities. “It is really an honor,” Brown says of the award. The monetary gift will be used to continue her civic focus, the Poetry Pod.

MCC Opens Lenore Croudy Family Life Center

Located in the newly renovated and revitalized former Woodside Church building directly adjacent to the Mott Community College campus, the LCFLC provides a variety of student services needed to improve success. After an $8 million renovation, the building features a large concert hall, multiple study/general areas, an expanded child care facility, a food pantry and Ellen’s Closet where students can get free career clothing for interviews. The LCFLC provides assistance with child care, housing and transportation and emergency financial assistance, among many other services.


October

“Half Dead Fred” A Flint Horror Story

Flint has its dark legends, tales of haunted buildings and scary stories; but never has the horror come to life on the big screen – until now! Filmed in Flint, the new movie “Half-Dead Fred” promises chills, mystery and a new image for the city as a place separate from unflattering media attention. “Flint is tired of being portrayed negatively and deserves to be regarded as a positive place,” said writer/director Bron Theron. “We are filming a horror movie, but we will show the murals, businesses and locations in a positive light.” Production wrapped at the end of September and Theron hoped for an early 2022 release.

FSO Artist Spotlight: Principal Harpist Amy Ley

MCM shined the spotlight on Amy Ley, Principal Harpist for the Flint Symphony Orchestra and Windsor Symphony Orchestra. The talented musician has held the principal harp position in the Lansing Symphony, Ann Arbor Symphony, and Saginaw Bay Orchestras. Ley has performed with the Grand Rapids Symphony, National Ballet Orchestra in Toronto, Kitchner-Waterloo Symphony, Orchestra London, Toledo Symphony, and Charleston Symphony. She also performs as a part of the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival in Washington and the Lancaster Music Festival, OH.

Leveling Up! The Rise of eSports

In 2014, eSports (competitive video gaming) went collegiate when Robert Morris University – Illinois organized the first varsity team. Today, colleges across the nation have fielded varsity teams, with Michigan being one of the states leading the way. This article highlighted Genesee County’s three very competitive programs: Kettering University, Mott Community College and UM-Flint.


November

7 Questions with … Kara Ross

The President/CEO of Food Bank of Eastern Michigan graciously answered “7 Questions” for this up-close and personal feature. When asked what she enjoyed most about her career, Ross said, “I enjoy the focus on community and mission. The FBEM partners with an incredible network of organizations, volunteers, our team and caring community members. It’s rewarding to see how people working together can make an incredible difference in the lives of so many.”

Vista Visions Art Gallery

Started in 1985 under the City of Flint’s Aging and Handicapped Office and in collaboration with the national AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) Program, the Vista Center has helped thousands of people over the years gain a sense of freedom, respect and help in their everyday lives. For many developmentally disabled, homeless or mentally ill adults, the Vista Center in Flint is a source of community and compassion. “We provide a place where they can come to get out of the house and escape loneliness and isolation,” explains Director Pat Beal,” and we will continue to add programs that bolster their quality of life whether through art, dance or other creative outlets.”

Flint City Handball

As Shane Prouix watched the 2008 Summer Olympics, the Grand Blanc man became enthralled with the dizzying, frantic pace of team handball. He was fascinated by the way it incorporated elements of several sports he had thrown himself into at various times in his life – like basketball, soccer, hockey and rugby. He wanted to find a way to play it. So, in fall 2020, Proulx and wife Mylisha founded Flint City Handball Club and barely a year later, it became an official USA Team Handball club. “We’ve found a passionate group of players who do everything they can to promote the club. It’s been pretty remarkable,” said Proulx.


December

2021 Cityzen of the Year: Karen Church, CEO of ELGA Credit Union

This is the third year My City has recognized a citizen who is an advocate for the Greater Flint community and dedicated to making it a better place through volunteerism and service. And 2021 was a very special year for our deserving honoree, as Church will retire in February after 45 years with ELGA. Church talked with MCM about her love for her community, her years with the credit union, her service in the City of Flint and plans for the future. “I’m a little bit sad,” she admits. “ELGA Credit Union has been my life for 45 years.” Community service has always been very important to her. “I love seeing what can be accomplished when people work together, giving of their hearts and their time,” Church said.

The Disability Network

Founded over three decades ago, TDN has been advocating for the disabled community in Greater Flint and around the country. The organization was started by Mike Zelley, father of TDN CEO Luke Zelley, after he attended a meeting of the Genesee County Handicapped Alliance in 1992. Of the 60 people in the room, only two (including himself) identified as disabled. He thought that the disabled community should have more robust representation in the county. Since that time, TDN helps an average of 10,000 people each year through local programming and another 100,000 throughout the nation via government policy changes for which they fought and advocated.

Desert Angels, Inc.

This volunteer faith ministry was founded by Louise Downs Blain, of Linden, and has been sending a “Miracle Box” to military service personnel for the last 20 years. Blain said she attended the funeral for a young Michigan soldier named PFC Joseph (Joe) A. Miracle, who gave his life for his country on July 5, 2007. “On my way home from the funeral, God put it on my heart to name our boxes ‘Miracle Boxes’ after Joe,” she said. Among the many snacks, treats and personal care items, each box contains a photo of Joe, a bit of information about his life and service, a note of encouraging words, a prayer cloth and a U.S. flag.

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