SOUTH HAVEN — Brrrr.
That was the common sentiment Friday afternoon as South Haven residents turned out at Stanley Johnston Park to celebrate the city’s 150th anniversary while refusing to let the chilly temps and biting wind dampen spirits.
The large turnout was a big surprise – and relief – for the sesquicentennial committee and its dozens of volunteers.
“We were thrilled with the turnout,” said Rosalie Plechaty, picnic organizer. She and other organizers estimated that more than 1,000 people attended the picnic to enjoy hot dogs, ice cream, courtesy of locally owned Sherman’s Dairy, plus popcorn, musical entertainment and children’s activities. All this despite temperatures that dipped into the mid-40s.
“There’s a lot of people here,” said Stephanie Timmer, a member of the South Haven Kiwanis Club, which was in charge of the first-aid tent.
Many of the people who attended the picnic, like Ron Seiler, a broker with Coldwell Banker Weber Seiler Real Estate, grew up in South Haven.
“I’m seeing a lot of people I haven’t seen in awhile,” he said.
Another South Haven resident, Barry Fidelman, whose family owned the well-known Fidelman’s Resort from 1911-1985 in South Haven, also was surprised at the turnout.
“It’s wonderful that our local residents have come out to honor South Haven,” he said.
Some South Haven residents, like Beverly Smith, came dressed in mid-19th century clothing. “I was here for the centennial celebration,” she said, when asked about her outfit.
Melanie Ruppert wasn’t at South Haven’s centennial celebration in 1969, but that didn’t stop her from wearing an old-fashioned dress.
A seamstress on the side, Ruppert originally made the long black dress for Civil War re-enactments. She estimated that seven yards of cloth went into making the skirt.
“It also has the hoop and petticoat underneath – for modesty,” she quipped.
D’Andrea Jordan Eason, who moved back to South Haven recently after being gone for 21 years, was glad to attend the picnic with her kids.
“It’s South Haven, it’s a picnic. We’re celebrating 150 years,” she said when asked why she decided to attend.
In the midst of the food, fun and music, city leaders paused for awhile to honor South Haven’s past and its hopes for the future.
“We should think about the mark we’re going to make,” Mayor Scott Smith said in his opening speech.
The program also included Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and Vietnam War veteran Jim McCloughan, who joined recent South Haven High School graduate and Western Michigan University student Bri Rigozzi in singing The Star Bangled Banner.
State Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, State Rep. Beth Griffin and Van Buren County Commissioner Gail Patterson also congratulated the city on its 150th anniversary milestone, as did Paul Keep, director of development for the Historical Society of Michigan, who presented the city with a Sesquicentennial Milestone Plaque that will be placed in Dyckman Park.
Sheryl Kaptur, retired Baseline Middle School band director, who has lived in South Haven since 1983, said she was glad the city decided to throw a community party to kick off the yearlong celebration.
“I’ve met several people here who just moved to South Haven,” she said. “What a neat thing for them to see how this city welcomes people.”