October 17 03:24 AM

2009: A Tough Year

Fires, economy make headlines

Bruce Swihart, Sue Romine, Marilyn Swihart, Tom Romine and Deby Smith survey grandstands.

December 30, 2009
TRI-CITY AREA — In 2009, residents were forced to weather a variety of storms. Whether it was wading through flooded basements or witnessing the recession claim another business, we faced our share of challenges over the last 12 months. Despite the hardships, locals have demonstrated resilience, banded together and are working toward making 2010 a brighter year.

Here are the 'Top Ten' stories, and then some, that graced our pages in 2009:

One—Soggy Summer

Several storms passed through the Tri-City area, characterized by strong, destructive winds and downpours of rain. In late April, a thunderstorm brought down tree limbs and wires and, as a result, thousands were without power. On June 17, rain fell fast, flooding roads and fields.

By far, an early August storm topped the year's weather-related news. A local state of emergency was declared in Lapeer County after inches of rain in the double digits fell in one weekend. As a result, a sinkhole formed under M-53 at Hollow Corners Rd. in Almont Twp. Traffic was re-routed from M-53 for two days while crews made temporary repairs. Plans call for more extensive repairs to begin in late spring. Homeowners, especially in the Almont area, experienced major flooding and several incidents of basement cave-ins were reported. To make matters worse, most residents said they weren't eligible to purchase flood insurance.

Two—Businesses close

In a blow to the local economy, several businesses were forced to close their doors for financial reasons.

In January, word broke that Almont manufacturer Wellington would be shuttered come March. More than 100 people lost their jobs at the metal stamping and assembly facility. Wellington had just moved to the former Ligon Brothers Manufacturing plant in 2005.

Attica Township's Crazy Mountain Industries fell victim to the economy in February. Crazy Mountain opened in 1995 and imported and distributed a variety of holiday and giftware items.

Sixty employees lost their jobs in March when Imlay City's Mantex Corporation closed. The composite armor systems and automotive sunshades manufacturer was in operation for ten years.

In related news, Imlay City's First Baptist Church members voted to disband their congregation for financial purposes. They met for the last time in mid-December.

Three—Grettenberger grandstands fire

Imlay City's 1930s era R.A. Grettenberger Field grandstands were tragically destroyed by fire in early September. The blaze leveled the newly restored wooden structure only weeks before it was due to be dedicated and receive a Michigan Historical Marker. The cause of the fire was undetermined.

The Imlay City Alumni Association undertook the restoration campaign, raising more than $33,000 to save the structure, which had been deemed structurally unsafe and headed for demolition. The school district didn't have the money to make repairs to the grandstands, which was built in 1936 by a Works Progress Administration crew.

Within a number of months, builder Rick Duthler was able to construct a replica of the grandstands. The alumni association and school district still has plans to host a dedication ceremony and unveil a historical marker plaque.

The field is named in honor of former schools' Superintendent R.A. Grettenberger.

Four—Buccilli's fire

Almont firefighters snuffed out an August blaze in the second story above Buccilli's Pies and Cakes location downtown. They were able to prevent the fire from spreading to adjacent buildings, however, water damage forced the bakery to close.

Temperatures in the 90s and high humidity proved to be a challenge to firefighters. The source of the blaze was unknown.

Unfortunately, Buccilli's has yet to reopen but work is currently being done on the building.

Five—Collins Roller

Rink fire

Close to $50,000 worth of damage befell Imlay City's Collins Roller Rink as the result of an April 2 fire. Smoke and heat damage to the structure was significant.

The rink was opened in 1946 and had been in continuous use by the Collins family until the blaze. Owner Don Collins said he had plans to rebuild but the city has begun to take dangerous building proceedings.

Six—Almont burglary

Police are still on the hunt for a pair of bold thieves who entered the W. St. Clair Street home of Dr. Robert Lane on Dec. 21, tied up a lone female occupant and took a large amount of cash and jewelry. The 79 year-old woman was not harmed in the incident.

She described the assailants as one white male and one black male, both in their 20s.

Police believe the thieves were watching the home prior to the burglary. It's possible the incident is linked to the theft of a garage door opener taken from Dr. Lane's vehicle earlier this month.

Seven—Lapeer County 911 proposal fails

In November, residents voted down a $16.1 million ballot proposal to implement a new digital E-911 communications system.

The proposal only failed by about 300 votes. The county will need to wait one year before putting the measure on the ballot again. The county was asking for 0.75 mills over a ten year period, raising more than $2 million in the first year of the levy.

The county's current analog system is old and replacement parts are becoming obsolete.

Radio coverage issues have also plagued parts of the county. Plans for the digital system called for the construction of additional towers. Municipalities will need to create their own contingency plans in the event of the county system's breakdown.

Eight—Terry Maxwell saves residents

Veteran Imlay City firefighter Terry Maxwell was credited with likely saving the lives to two Blacks Corners Rd. residents who were unaware the home was on fire. Maxwell, en route to a downed wire call in June, spotted smoke coming from the home and pounded on the windows and doors, waking Kevin Lalone and a friend, who escaped the blaze. Nearly half of home was severely damaged in the incident.

In October, Maxwell was named the Lapeer County Fire Association's 'Firefighter of the Year' for his quick thinking.

Nine—Paul Wilcox dies

Almont Township's longtime fire chief, Paul Wilcox, passed away in January at the age of 66. Wilcox was at the helm of the department for 23 years and was on Almont's force for 44 years. He was also a county fire academy instructor, building inspector and was active in and held leadership positions in several regional and state associations related to firefighting.

To accommodate the large crowd that turned out to honor Wilcox, funeral services were held at the Almont Middle School.

Ten—Lottie's feeding cats story goes 'viral'

Readers near and far were touched by news of Eugene and Nancy Lottie's care of stray cats which were the victims of foreclosures. The Emmett Twp. couple was hoping to find homes for the cats. Animal lovers from across the country latched onto the story which went 'viral' in the online community and donations and offers to help purchase food and pay for testing came pouring in.

Other stories of


A March blaze took the life of a 30 year-old Imlay City man, Jeremy Judd. Neighbors Chris and Sally Cutler pulled Judd's roommate from the fire and were honored by the Imlay City commission and Lapeer County Fire Association for their bravery.

In October, members of the Lapeer County Agricultural Society voted to approve a land swap with Tri-County Bank. The bank will trade 60 acres of land at Borland Rd. and Almont Ave. for a three acre parcel of the Eastern Michigan Fairgrounds at M-53 and Borland Rd.

SWAT teams and heavily armed police arrested Goodland Twp. resident Larry Wilcox at his home in May on charges that he allegedly filed false liens against the personal property of various people, including Goodland Twp. and Lapeer County officials and a federal judge. A trial in federal court is slated for March 2010.

A team of law enforcement agencies from Lapeer, St.Clair and surrounding counties crippled a major ATV/utility tractor theft ring in September. Search warrants were carried out at two Berlin Twp. locations, among others, and stolen property, keys to the equipment, cash and drugs were discovered.

An H1N1 flu shot clinic was held at Capac Elementary School in November. Close to 700 students and adults received the immunization given out by St. Clair County Health Department nurses.

Although the illness is widespread, no schools in the Tri-City area have had to close because of significant student absences.

A new post office was constructed and opened this summer in Attica.

The 1,985 square foot building sites at Lake Pleasant and Imlay City (M-21) roads.

A crowd, estimated at 600, turned out for a tax day rally in Lapeer hosted by the Lapeer County TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party.

Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she now resides north of Capac where she enjoys working on the farm, gardening and reading.
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