Southwest Michigan Second Wave's top stories of 2020

Each year before we forge ahead into the coming 12 months we take a quick look back at what our readers wanted to know about the most. And though you might think let's forget 2020 altogether there still are interesting stories you might have forgotten about or missed in our compilation of the best-read stories of 2020. 

Two COVID-related stories topped the list of features written in 2020. Stories of restaurateurs opening their new spaces under less than ideal circumstances drew in readers, too. But the overall top story of the year was written in August of 2019, a recounting by Theresa Coty ONeil 'of the community gardeners in the Vine Neighborhood. A couple of other best-read features from years gone by were two written by Mark Wedel. Readers continue to seek out his story about the Top Ten rides on Southwest Michigan trails from 2015 and why you should leave the Japanese Knotweed alone from 2016. 

Our reporters comment on the stories that made the list. 

Let us know if your favorite story made the list and what you would like to see more of in 2021. 

Stewards of community gardens tend plants and people in Kalamazoo’s Vine               

THERESA COTY O'NEIL | THURSDAY, AUGUST 29, 2019

As an experimental gardener, I was excited to explore what was growing in Vine, a neighborhood that has its fair share of unique community gardens. Both Sally Reynolds, caretaker of Fruit of the Vine, and Martha Gonzalez, a founder of the Oak Street Community Garden, are forces of nature themselves who have contributed more to their communities than the fresh food and flowers they have grown.

1. A few things they don’t tell you about recovering from COVID-19

Quarantining at home means your family somehow has to avoid you. A wave from the bedroom doorway, garbed in a PPE gown, mask and goggles, was the closest one of my sons would come.

AL JONES | MONDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2020

Men are supposed to take care of the people around them, not the other way around. But COVID-19 made a whiner out of me.  

2.'I thought it was the flu,' Kalamazoo survivor says as COVID-19 strikes blacks at high rates


AL JONES | FRIDAY, MAY 8, 2020

The talk at the barbershop was about COVID-19 and what it's like to have it. And while authorities said the virus is disproportionately affecting African-Americans, few Blacks were saying much. Until my barber said, "I know a guy." And that guy was happy to share his story.

3. ’Tiny' houses are set to be a big deal in Kalamazoo's Northside Neighborhood

In this bird's-eye-view rendering of the intersection of North Westnedge Avenue and North Street, the Tiny Houses of HOPE Project can be seen on the southeast corner of the intersection, towards the bottom right, of the image.
AL JONES | FRIDAY, AUGUST 28, 2020

Why would anyone want to live in a house that is less than 500 square feet? Because 410 square feet is a lot of room for someone just released from a 5-by-10-foot prison cell, a North Side Neighborhood advocate explained. And "tiny" houses are not too big a financial burden for someone adjusting to life after kicking a drug habit or becoming sober.

4. In challenging times, Pennfield family works together to keep dairy farm afloat

Heifers lounge around in the barn at the Crandall Farm. Photo by John Grap
JANE SIMONS | THURSDAY, JANUARY 16, 2020

I had listened to many national stories about the mental health issues impacting farmers who were being faced with selling their farms, many that had been in their families for generations, because they could no longer afford to keep them.  I was able to interview a local farmer who had taken over the business from his father and was managing to stay afloat despite plenty of uncertainty.

5. Popular North Side restaurant will expand by opening new Creole and soul food spot in Kalamazoo
Chef Chrissy McKinney loves Creole food. Photo by Al Jones
AL JONES | WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2020

People asked Chrissy McKinney why she would want to open a new restaurant next door to one she already owns? The simple answer is because that makes it easier to be in two places at the same time. McKinney jumped at the chance to have a second commercial kitchen, to expand her staff, and to create more Creole and soul food dishes -- while being close enough to be head chef at both restaurants.

The Japanese Knotweed: Don't try to kill this invader on your own

Japanese Knotweed growing in 2020. Photo by Mark Wedel
MARK WEDEL | THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2016

On a socially-distanced trip to Colon, Mich., Oct. 31, to hang out at magicians' graves for my wife's Halloween birthday (no, we're not the Addams Family, why do you ask?), I saw this giant patch of a weedy plant along a road. It seemed familiar. The plant had somehow invaded both sides of Blackstone Ave. Inspecting the bamboo-like stalks, I confirmed that it was indeed the old nemesis, Japanese Knotweed. We'll have to do a follow-up story.

6. City-owned rec center in Battle Creek becomes a shelter for those in need

SHARE Center kitchen manager Brett Chew making Salisbury steak for dinner on April 1.
JANE SIMONS | WEDNESDAY, APRIL 1, 2020

This story was one of many examples of how city and county officials and community leaders came together to address issues impacting the homeless population who were facing their own particular set of issues because of COVID-19.  Turning this recreation center into a shelter gave residents without options a safe and secure place to stay and access to resources they may not have known about.

7. Battle Creek entrepreneur turns her love of lip gloss into her own business

Tasia Richardson has started her own lip gloss business while she is a fulltime student at Western Michigan University.

JANE SIMONS | TUESDAY, JUNE 9, 2020

Our On the Ground Community Engagement Manager knew this young woman and connected me with her.  Her determination to open a business in the face of COVID was an example od what can be accomplished when there is a dream and the will to make it a reality.

8. Rare ecosystem will be protected by South Haven Area Recreation Authority

Walking up the Porter backdune.

THURSDAY, JANUARY 23, 2020

Second Wave has always been dedicated to reporting stories about those areas where people can get in touch with nature. We were excited to report this story about a rare ecosystem that is getting more protection to keep it safe for years to come thanks to the cooperation of a number of conservation groups. 
Ten years ago our sons had far fewer worries. But, like many black parents, we were already training them for a world where they would not always be welcomed and, at other times, seen as a threat.

9. Some boys hear more than others about our threatening world

AL JONES | THURSDAY, JUNE 18, 2020

Parents belong to a huge but never-convened club that involves an initiation, paying dues, countless hours of field training, and ongoing tests. They are connected by the common desire to protect their children and, in the U.S., by common experiences, except where it involves the police and racial bigotry.


10. Curtain is going up on new theater in Kalamazoo's Edison Neighborhood


AL JONES | THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2020

After years as a bold and often irreverent comedic performer, Steve Depuie, creative director of The Dormouse Theatre Troupe. has become a project developer. And he says he has been terrified every step of the way.

The top 10 rides on southwest Michigan trails

The KRVT route at Harrison Street and D Avenue.
MARK WEDEL | THURSDAY, JULY 9, 2015

There's no doubt why this story keeps getting hits this year. Last March as the world seemed to shut down, I got my bike out to hit the trails, expecting to feel like the only soul who dared to go out. And there they were, a crowd of people on bikes at the KRVT and Kal-Haven, having escaped that lockdown feeling by hopping on two wheels. Bikes were sold out, motor traffic had decreased, 2020 was the year of the bicycle.

Thomas Woodin, at left, and his brother James, in front of their food truck in Battle Creek.
11. Serious Dog finds permanent Battle Creek home for specialty hot dog biz that has been on wheels


JANE SIMONS | MONDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2020

I had seen the Serious Dog food truck parked in the driveway of a house I pass when I take my dog for a walk.  I contacted the owners and the story flowed from there.  I thought it was pretty amazing that they would open up a business like this during a pandemic, but they knew they’d make a success of it and they have.






12. Que the Creek: Battle Creek's newest festival is all about BBQ and fun in February

It was all about the barbecue at Que the Creek
JANE SIMONS | THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2020

This was the first festival in the city of Battle Creek that featured several local restaurants that specialize in BBQ.  The timing was perfect because it gave people a chance to get out and be together during a month when there is typically not a lot going on in the city for people to do.

13. Lynn Ward Gray in race to become the second African American female to be Mayor of Battle Creek

Lynn Ward Gray has been re-elected every election since 2009. The Ward 2 City Commissioner, poses for a photo taken by her husband. Gray is seeking to become the city's third African American mayor.
JANE SIMONS | WEDNESDAY, JUNE 24, 2020

For only the second time in the history of the city we had an African American female seeking to become Mayor.  This came at a time of political and social unrest on the local, state and national level.  Lynn’s candidacy and her reasons for running were reflective of what many people were hoping for in terms of a needed change in the city’s leadership.

14. Not all the beaches on Lake Michigan are eroding locals want tourists to know

A view of the lighthouse at Silver Beach in St. Joseph.
ROSEMARY PARKER | THURSDAY, MARCH 19, 2020

The 2019 summer season ended with record high water levels. As summer of 2020 approached, interest was high in this March 19 story about a new website that would allow tourists to track changing beach conditions along the Southwest Michigan Lake Michigan shoreline. Alas,  on March 23  Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued the first statewide stay-at-home order in an effort to contain COVID-19, the novel coronavirus popping up around the world. That order eventually extended through the first week in June, and even after the restrictions eased, tourism during  the summer of 2020 would be dictated by the Corona virus pandemic, not water levels.

15. A hotel room for those with COVID-19 symptoms or who test positive and have no place to stay

Calhoun County found space for those without homes during the pandemic
JANE SIMONS | WEDNESDAY, APRIL 15, 2020

Leadership with Calhoun County entered into a contract with a local hotel so that people who needed to quarantine, but had no place to do that, would have a place to stay.  In addition to residents of the county, rooms were available to people outside of the county.  This was another example of creative thinking to address a challenge in the face of COVID.

Read more articles by Kathy Jennings.

Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.
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