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Vol. II, No. 1 Hagar · Bainbridge · Coloma · Watervliet Spring 2010

North Berrien in the Atomic 1950s

The onset of the Cold War and the Atomic be removed or altered into storage rooms by later
Age affected North Berrien similarly to the rest of the property owners.
U.S. While the majority of residents enjoyed postwar This area reflected the national trends in fall-
prosperity, some were exceptionally concerned with out shelters as well as postwar population growth.
the atomic threat. Civil Defense programs taught lo- As a result of the baby boom and new home construc-
cal school children to “duck and cover” and bomb tion, the population of North Berrien grew rapidly
shelters were built by those between 1950 and 1970 with
who deemed them necessary the combined size of Hagar,
- and could afford them. Bainbridge, Coloma, and Wa-
There are a number of tervliet growing from 10,995
homes in the North Berrien to 17,539 residents. New
area that contain reinforced homes were built in both the
concrete rooms in their base- cities and townships with en-
ments for use during a nu- tire subdivisions constructed
clear attack. If you were not on former orchards and farm
savvy enough to build your fields. Resorts and hotels on
own shelter, kits were avail- Paw Paw Lake virtually dis-
able for purchase or you appeared, with only Crystal
could hire a contractor. For a Palace and the Ellinee surviv-
number of years LaVerne ing in the 1960s before being
Rice displayed examples of redeveloped into lots for pri-
shelters that he could build in vate lake homes.
a booth at the Van Buren The growing popula-
County Fair in Hartford. Co- tion affected the school sys-
loma resident Fred Munchow 1958 Coloma High School Yearbook Ads tem. New schools were nec-
recounts building a bomb shelter for a Whirlpool en- essary in both Coloma and Watervliet to increase ca-
gineer in the basement of a St. Joseph home. The en- pacity. Coloma High School graduated 39 seniors in
trance to the shelter was designed with 90 degree 1952 and 145 seniors in 1970. Watervliet North and
turns because it was believed that radiation only trav- South Schools opened in 1952 and Coloma Elemen-
eled in straight lines. Numerous other shelters are tary in 1957. Meanwhile North Berrien’s rural
rumored to have been constructed in the area only to (Continued on page 3)

300 Coloma Ave./ P.O. Box 207, Coloma, Michigan 49038
Page 2

From the Director’s Desk

By Alexander Gates
Thank you to all of our donors who responded
to the 2009 fundraising letter with $1800 in contribu-
tions. Your financial support in addition to our mil-
lage allows us to keep admission free and public pro-
grams either free or very low cost. For example, read
300 Coloma Ave. Phone: (269) 468-3330
more on page 6 about our recent 2009 Holiday Open
House, an excellent and free event enjoyed by around P.O. Box 207 Fax: (269) 468-4083
500 visitors and dozens of volunteers. Coloma, MI 49038
Supporting the museum not only allows us to
preserve North Berrien History, but also helps us to
bring in top quality traveling exhibits. I am incredibly
excited for The Life Atomic: Growing Up in the Connect with NBHS Online!
Shadow of the A-Bomb which will be on display at
the museum from April 1 – May 15. The highlight is Become a fan on Facebook
a full scale fallout shelter built in the middle of the
gallery. Nationwide issues of civil defense and atomic Curator’s Blog:
popular culture in the Cold War will be illuminated
with the help of local artifacts and stories from South-
west Michigan. Read more on pages 4 and 5. Twitter:
Remember, vote YES on Tuesday, August 3,
2010 to continue supporting the museum in your mu-
nicipality. Our work adds tremendously to the quality North Berrien Historical Society
of life in North Berrien and provides unmatched learn- Board of Directors
ing and leisure opportunities for residents. Please as-
sist us in this effort to renew the millage by encourag- Scott Young President
ing your friends and neighbors to also get out and vote Bennet Leedy 1st Vice President
YES on August 3, 2010. Kandyce Hays 2nd Vice President
Cindy Young Secretary
Shirley Boone Treasurer
Education News Ray Mays Assistant Treasurer
By Tracy Gierada Marc Hettig Director
Karin Miller Director
Great topics have kept our visitors engaged
Pauline Morris Director
this Winter, like the North Berrien interurbans and the Sherry Polashak Director
Vegetarian Restaurant at Mary’s City of David. Many Tom Scheid Director
families enjoyed crafts and games at our annual Victo- Sally Williams Director
rian Valentines Party. Thanks to Penny Sempert for
loaning a number of beautiful quilts used in a Winter Staff
Break kids program in December. Alexander Gates Director / Curator
This Spring will be all about the Atomic 1950s Tracy Gierada Director of Education
at the museum— check out our wonderful selection of Gwen Elsner Office Manager
programs for all ages to complement The Life Atomic.
In addition to intriguing lectures, film screenings, and The mission of the North Berrien Historical
a sci-fi book discussion, much fun is promised by our Society is to preserve and distribute information
Opening Reception, Spring Break activities, Commu-
regarding the history of North Berrien County.
nity Sock Hop, and Coloring Contest. Make a date
with family and friends to enjoy these events together!
We wish to promote, encourage learning,
Stay tuned to the mail and internet for updates on and disseminate knowledge of the area’s
other exciting programs planned throughout 2010. cultural and architectural legacy.
Page 3
Mark your Calendars!
"Winemakers of North Berrien", presentation by Joe Herman, Karma Vista
Tuesday, March 16, Vineyards and Winery, and by Tony Peterson, Contessa Wine Cellars, Coloma.
7pm Herman and Peterson will each discuss their family roots and their current work as
pioneer winemakers in North Berrien. Free.

The Life Atomic: Growing Up in the Shadow of the A-Bomb

April 1 - May 15 Exhibition Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 10am - 5pm. Free.
Public Programs: See page 5 for a full schedule of events. Free.

Thursday, April 29,

Volunteer Appreciation Reception

"The Infamous Belle Gunness", presentation by Bruce Johnson, LaPorte Couty

Tuesday, May 18, Historical Society and Indiana's Educator of the Year 2009, LaPorte, IN. Johnson
7pm will present the century-old story of Belle Gunness, one of America's most prolific
known female serial murderers. Free.

North Berrien in the Atomic 1950s that her family made easy money selling sod from
(Continued from page 1)
their farm to the construction company that was
needed to complete the highway.
schools gradually consolidated into the school dis- The construction of these limited access roads
tricts we know today. affected local businesses as traffic moved from Red
The postwar generation needed cars and high- Arrow Highway (formerly US-12). Beginning in
ways to travel and transport goods. Five car dealer- 1958 as the Interstates were built, the first “Gas-Food-
ships in Coloma and Watervliet sold new cars to con- Lodging” signs appeared before exits.4 Now only
sumers eager to travel in style.1 Your choices in- communities with proximity to the new highways
cluded Soper (Ford), Geisler Motors (Dodge), Co- could easily cater to long-distance travelers. Busi-
loma Motor Sales (Pontiac/GMC), nesses that once thrived on local
Rogel (Mercury), and Bridges traffic now found themselves by-
(Chevrolet/Oldsmobile). passed by a more efficient transit
Compared to the slow pace system. In 1960 Michigan became
of highway construction projects the first state with border-to-border
today, I-94 was constructed at an toll-free interstate from New Buf-
astounding pace. In 1956 the fed- falo to Detroit, a total of 205
eral government approved build- miles. Fifty years later the road
ing highways across the United system in North Berrien remains
States. On July 17, 1959 Pierson basically unchanged. In this and
Contracting Company set a new numerous other ways, our lives are
record by placing over one mile of still shaped by the legacies of the
24-foot wide, nine-inch thick postwar Atomic Age.
Construction of I-196 in October 1961,
pavement on the expressway be- photographed by Marion Leedy of Coloma.
tween Watervliet and Coloma.2 (l-r) Bennet, Brenda, and Barry Leedy By Alexander Gates
The crew, using three pavers in
tandem, placed 6,050 feet of pavement between 6am Nelson Brothers (Willys/Oldsmobile) closed in 1951.
The Coloma Courier, July 30, 1959.
and 6pm. Only a few weeks later the firm broke its 3
The Coloma Courier, August 27, 1959.
own record, laying 6,242 lineal feet between Coloma 4
Accessed January 2010 from
and Benton Harbor. Mary Alyce Hettig reminisces
Page 4


April 1 - May 15, 2010
Exhibit Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 10am - 5pm

A fascinating new traveling exhibition will many ways the bomb affected American life. Exhibit
open Thursday, April 1 and remain on view through panels focus on the development of the bomb, early
May 15, 2010 at the North Berrien Historical Mu- atomic testing, civil defense preparations, fallout shel-
seum. The Life Atomic: Growing Up in the Shadow of ters, the influence of the bomb on movies and televi-
the A-Bomb explores the impact of the Atomic Bomb sion, toys and games, and home décor. Visitors can
and the Cold War on American domestic life in the explore the inside of a replica family fallout shelter,
1950s and 60s. A variety of free public programs will hear civil defense radio spots, and view films such as
complement the exhibit and provide engaging learn- the 1951 classic Duck and Cover featuring the ever-
ing opportunities for all ages. The prepared Bert the Turtle.
Life Atomic is intended to promote In addition to these wide-
intergenerational discussion about spread cultural influences, the
the threats faced by Americans in Atomic Age also brought two nu-
the early Atomic Age and the clear power plants to Southwest
threats that face our nation today. Michigan. Local artifacts and im-
Fifty years ago, at the ages will be featured in the exhibit,
height of the Cold War, Americans reminding visitors about some of
lived with anxiety over the possi- the biggest ways that life changed
bility of global thermonuclear war. Boys building a bomb shelter in in our region in the decades after
Minnesota, 1952.
Civil Defense films, pamphlets, World War Two.
posters, and propaganda warned citizens to be pre- The Life Atomic was developed by the Rogers
pared for atomic attack. However, the bomb inspired Historical Museum in Rogers, Arkansas, and was
more than fear— it also influenced virtually every made possible by a Museums for America grant from
aspect of American popular culture. Movies, books, the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.
home fashions, and even toys reflected a society that The North Berrien Historical Museum is proud to pre-
came to terms with life in the Atomic Age. sent this free, high-quality exhibition and program
The Life Atomic illustrates the bomb’s influ- series for the enrichment and enjoyment of the public.
ence in ways both serious and light-hearted. From the
Clock” to sci-fi One of the more entertaining
books and yet disturbing aspects of the
“atomic” toys, early Atomic Age was the
popularity of “atomic” toys,
visitors will
games, and comic books.
appreciate the These amusements reflected
the public fascination with
the A-Bomb at a time when
The properly equipped family fallout shelter recom- its dangers were not yet fully
mended by civil defense officials included a 14-day supply realized. For only 15 cents
of food and water, an auxiliary light source, a battery- and one cereal box top, any
operated radio, and first aid and sanitary supplies. child could own a Lone Ranger Atomic Bomb Ring.
Page 5

CALENDAR OF EVENTS Film Screenings corn

Pop ided!
All admission is free of charge. Saturdays at 1pm p ro v
Events take place at the North Berrien Historical
April 3 Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Museum unless otherwise noted.
April 10 The Atomic Cafe (1982)
We have many fun and interesting
volunteer opportunities— April 17 THEM! (1954)
Call 468-3330 for more info!
The Incredible
April 24
Opening Reception Shrinking Man (1957)
Thursday, April 1, 5:30-7:30pm May 1 On the Beach (1959)
Join us for refreshments, Cold
The Shelter episode of
War music, and 1950s celebrity May 8
The Twilight Zone (1961)
appearances! Remarks at 6:00.
James Bond in
May 15
Lecture: Thunderball (1965)
“Nuclear Power in Southwest Michigan”,
Bill Schalk Nuclear Family Fun!
Tuesday, April 20, 7pm
Mr. Shalk is director of communications at the Cook 1950s Spring Break
Nuclear Power Plant. He will discuss the history of Wednesday, April 7, 1-3pm
nuclear power in Southwest Michigan. All Ages Welcome
Go back to the 1950s for an afternoon of fun and
Keynote Lecture: games. See and do what kids liked to do back
“Atomic Anxiety: Post-World War Two then! Grab a hula hoop and cut loose to some classic
American Culture”, Dr. Erika Doss Rock ’n’ Roll music. Compete in a 'Space Race' and
Tuesday, May 4, 7pm learn about the Cold War from Dr. Seuss!
Dr. Doss is chair of the Department of American
Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She will Community Sock Hop
discuss American anxiety over nuclear weapons and Alwood Gymnasium,
the impact it had on 1950s culture. Coloma Middle School
Friday, April 16, 6-9pm
Book Discussion: Free. Sponsored by the Coloma -
The Martian Chronicles Watervliet Area Chamber of Commerce.
(1950) by Ray Bradbury Bring the whole family for an evening of fun,
dancing, music, games, and a costume contest!
Coloma Public Library
Thursday, May 13, 5:30-7pm
All are welcome to a discussion Coloring Contest
of this science fiction classic Grades K-5. Pick up a coloring sheet at the Coloma
from the Atomic Age. Copies or Watervliet Library, at the museum, or online at
available for loan from the Return to the museum
Coloma and Watervliet Libraries, or for purchase by April 30 to be eligible to win a prize.
new, used, and audio from
Page 6

New traditions make history at 2009 Holiday Open House

On December 5 and 6, nearly 500 people at- Another fantastic
tended our annual Holiday Open House. Families, feature of the weekend
friends, and volunteers gathered to enjoy the festive were musical perform-
decorations, music, refreshments, and free activities ances by The Children’s
throughout the museum. The 2009 Holiday Open Musical Workshop, the
House shined with the introduction of some new tra- 7th Grade and JH/HS
ditions that are destined to be repeated in future years. Choir Chimers, and Var-
For the first time this year, local volunteer sity Singers from Coloma Schools, Brenda Kneibes
groups came in to decorate trees. Many groups made and Sherry Meyer. Thanks to Bennet Leedy for do-
their own ornaments or used a personalized theme, nating a piano tuning in advance. In the Carter
and the results were truly delightful. Fifteen trees House, kids especially enjoyed the addition of
were sponsored by seventeen community groups. “Santa’s Workshop,” where they could make free
Also new was a holiday cards and ornaments to give away as gifts. Of
“People’s Choice” course, our tried-and-true holiday activities were
vote in which all visi- again a great success. Several dozen gingerbread
tors marked a ballot to houses were decorated by young and old alike. Santa
select their favorite and Mrs. Claus even came from the North Pole to
tree— this year’s win- meet the kids and enjoy the festivities! With these
ner was The Cottage activities and more, the museum’s Holiday Open
of the Four Seasons. House is becoming a popular community-wide event.

Hagar Township woman to be Board of Directors expands,

published in new Kennedy memoir works on long-term planning
When the President was assassinated in 1963, The North Berrien Historical Society Board
Mrs. Mildred Hesch was one of thousands to send a of Directors has recently welcomed two new mem-
note of sympathy to the Kennedys. She is a lifelong bers: Coloma Township resident Marc Hettig and
resident of Chicago and Lake Michigan Beach who Watervliet Township resident Tom Sheid. Hettig
lives in Hagar Township today at the age of 93. Her has been a member of NBHS for more than forty
letter will be featured in a new book that uses such years. Scheid is Treasurer for Watervliet Charter
sympathy correspondence to illustrate what Kennedy Township. President Scott Young said, “We are ex-
meant to the country. In Letters to Jackie: Condo- cited to have Marc Hettig and Tom Scheid sit on the
lences from a Grieving Nation, author Ellen Fitz- Board of Directors. Their diverse areas of expertise
patrick includes 250 of the most “intimate, heartfelt, will be a great benefit to the society.”
eye-opening responses” to the President’s death. As Since completing the Museum Assessment
the mother of a one, three, and five Program, the Board has renewed its focus on long-
year old, Mrs. Hesch directed her term planning for the organization. Special regular
letter to the Kennedy children John meetings are now being held to develop a formal
and Caroline, ages two and five. Strategic Plan to guide the NBHS in years to come.
She explained that the President’s On March 1, Board members and staff visited the
fatherhood was the quality that she Tri-Cities Historical Museum in Grand Haven,
had trusted most about his leader- gleaning valuable advice on planning, exhibits, edu-
ship. Letters to Jackie is now cational programs, fundraising, and management
available at the Museum Gift Shop. issues from the staff at that institution.
Page 7

Save the Date: June 26-27 North Berrien Historical Society

Membership Form
On June 26-27, 2010, the first ever Tri-City
Heritage Tour will be held in Hagar, Bainbridge, Co-
loma, Watervliet, and Hartford. The Tri-City Heri- Name
tage Tour will provide residents and visitors with a
rare opportunity to explore and enjoy the historic Address
spaces in our cities and townships— all free of
charge! The tour’s map and site information will be City, State, ZIP
published as a special four page insert in the Tri-City
Record the week before the event and will also be
available online. This event is designed to create
awareness and excitement about local heritage and to
inspire a continuing dialogue about historic preserva-  New Member  volunteer
I would like to
tion, planning, and revitalization issues in our region.  Returning Member for NBHS
The North Berrien Historical Society is organizing
Please check desired annual membership level.
this event with the support of the Van Buren County
Historical Soci-  Individual ($15)  Student ($8)
ety, an advisory  Family ($50)  Senior ($10)
team, and a
grant from the Additional tax-deductible contribution: $________
Berrien Total Amount Enclosed: $________
Community Send your completed form along with your check to:
Foundation. North Berrien Historical Society
P.O. Box 207, Coloma, MI 49038

New Members
James Lull Betty Lull Janet Blair Tom Scheid
Continuing Members
Robin & Chana Kniebes Family Cora Clark Margaret Schmieding
Elaine Carlson Russell Carlson DaWayne Biastock
Roger Miller Family Kandyce Hays Alexander Gates
Darlene Fields Ray Mays
Cyndy Winfield Ron Winfield
Dolores Totzke Donald Misek Audrey Elsner Darlene Getz
Iva Nichols Jaan Walther Suzanne Knutson Wesley Urch
Dolores Krenek Wes Arent Charlene Andrews Alma Arent
Leroy Wolff John Reid Debbie Friday Cora Clark
Janet Blair Nadine Deitrich Dale Kaucher Donna Dill
Cindy Sawyer Kathleen Walter Joyce VanHattum Maggie Richter
Roger Miller Barbara Nichols Ray Mays Fran Konya
Gary Margolis Carol Moore Ron Winfield George Wooley
Dean Slowik/ Slowik Refrigeration Edgewater Bank Linear Electric

Jean Christensen - In Memory of Delavan Sipes Thank you for your support!
Watervliet, MI
Permit No. 29
P.O. Box 207, Coloma, MI 49038

Newsletter - Spring 2010

FREE EXHIBIT AND PROGRAMS April 1 - May 15, 2010

Hagar · Bainbridge · Coloma · Watervliet

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