Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Milwood series. If you have a story about the neighborhood please let us know here.
Chad Hoke wants to keep the Milwood Neighborhood moving forward.
So as interim president of the Milwood Neighborhood Watch Association, he wants to see more activities for young people, ongoing efforts to keep the neighborhood safe, and more volunteer support for programs that benefit neighborhood residents and improve their quality of life.
“My plan is to get things moving forward with the organization,” says Hoke, 46, who is working to restart activities in the neighborhood following the illness and death of John Hilliard, who had served as association president since 2019.
Hilliard died in November of 2021 after a short illness. He was age 80.
Born in Delton and raised in Portage, Hoke works in the landscaping industry. Until a few weeks ago, he had not volunteered to do work for the Neighborhood Watch Association, a nonprofit organization whose president and directors are all volunteers. But after he learned that the organization was looking for someone to fill the leadership role, he says he reached out to its board through a friend who was already helping the Association.
“I just expressed my interest in the Neighborhood Watch Association moving forward and it kind of fell into place,” he says.
Chad Hoke was born in Delton and grew up in Portage but says he relocated to Kalamazoo’s Milwood Neighborhood in 1998 because he liked the true neighborhood feel of it.
He describes himself as more of a boots-on-the-ground kind of guy as opposed to someone who likes desk or office work. “I like to get through the neighborhood and do things. I like to work rather than push on a computer. I’m not a keyboard guy.”
He says he relocated from Portage to Milwood 24 years ago because he liked the way it felt.
“I always admired the neighborhood when I was growing up,” Hoke says. “Whenever I’d go driving through Kalamazoo, I always thought, ‘This is just a cool neighborhood.’”
He says he liked the idea of having neighbors close by. Speaking of where he lived in Portage, he says, “We didn’t have any neighbors. There were four houses on our block. So it was almost like a country setting.”
He bought a house on Miles Avenue in 1998 and has lived there with his wife Amanda since they were married in 2005. She is an assistant director at an early childhood care center. They now have three teenage children, a son, age 13, and two daughters, ages 15 and 16.
He says he will have to feel out the wishes of neighborhood residents and get to know more of them. “But I want to be involved in this neighborhood as long as I’m in it and I don’t plan on going anywhere at all.”
Since its start in 1994 as an organization to bring together area residents and help them prevent crime, the Milwood Neighborhood Watch Association has become THE neighborhood organization for Kalamazoo’s largest neighborhood (in terms of physical size). The community encompasses about 4.8 square miles with the majority of its 3,632 households located largely in the north and west portions of the neighborhood. It's also home to a wide range of commercial and industrial businesses, from hotels and restaurants to factories and retail stores. The southernmost portion of the holster-shaped neighborhood includes the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport.
“You have to have a safe neighborhood,” Hoke says. “You have to work with your other organizations and your police force to make not only Milwood safe, but Edison Neighborhood, the Vine Neighborhood, and all of the neighborhoods safe. I feel like everything needs attention – from the safety aspect of it.”
Through his and his wife’s involvement with young people (she wants to develop youth programs), he says, he is interested in doing things to support youth. “Do something for the youth in the community; even the outlying community -- not only Milwood but Edison and Westnedge Hill and Vine. Do something for the whole community.”
He says that could involve working with churches or other organizations.
The association’s board is trying to develop some new ways to get things done, he says. Its Facebook Page and web pages are again being updated. They will soon be disseminating more information to people, something that has been done very sparingly since Hillard became ill in November.
Hoke says he is not worried about trying to duplicate what Hilliard did. After Hilliard became president of the Association in 2019, he was praised for hosting monthly meetings with featured speakers, for promoting more activities for community members, and for doing almost daily patrols of the neighborhood in his car to check for vagrants, trash, blight, overgrown lawns, and trouble situations. He was in regular contact with the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety to express residents’ concerns with crime.
“I can’t do what John did,” Hoke says. “I have to do what I can do. And I have to get people around me that I trust and that everybody trusts, to help.”
He says he is considering the idea of building a network of area residents, in which each person would patrol a section of the neighborhood and share their concerns.
He says the Association had a meeting in early January to get started. It is expected to have another meeting of board members only in early February. That is intended to help them get reorganized before hosting monthly meetings to plan events or discuss issues with other neighborhood residents.
Overall, Hoke says “I’m looking for more people in Milwood to help with the whole community, with neighborhood garage sales, National Night Out, our youth group organization, different things. There’s so much you can do in these neighborhoods. But it takes an army to do it.”