Thornapple Township hosted an Open House at the last board meeting of four of its outgoing members Monday from 6 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. prior to the regular meeting. Being recognized for their service to the community through service on the board are: Trustee Walt Eavey for 20 years, Clerk Susan Vlietstra for 16 years, and Trustees Bill Kenyon, eight years and Nick Wake, four years.
Some people don’t look for publicity or note, but quietly spend their time promoting a better life for those in their community. Walt Eavey, who moved to Middleville in 1948, is one of those people who are essential for a functioning village or city. //
Walt retires from the board with a long list of volunteering for the township and Middleville, including the Barry County Red Cross where he was named Barry County Disaster Services Volunteer of the Year, Veteran of the Year in 2015, Thornapple Township Emergency Services firefighter, when it was the Middleville Fire Department; founding member of the Middleville Lions, founding member of Thornapple Area Parks and Recreation, Barry County Parks & Recreation Board, a member of the United Methodist Men, and even constable for the village.
Walt also volunteered for village events and committees too numerous to mention, from a theater group to parades to emergency services committee and his commitments were kept for years, not weeks or months. Why did the Korean War U.S. Army veteran become so involved in so many community activities, and for so long?
“He’s quite a social person,” said wife Margaret, better known as “Mike.”
“He likes to keep busy and do things for other people. Whatever he does, he’ll do a good job. Someone asked him to join the Lions, so he did. Someone asked him to join the fire department, so he did. I don’t know about the trustee thing, I wasn’t too happy about that.”
Living on Russell Street in the village, Walt heard the fire siren every time it called firefighters. Then-fire chief Ernie Ball asked him to come to a meeting of the department, and in 1956, at 23, he joined the fire department. Walt worked for Geukes Meat Market on Main Street and fit the criteria; all of the firefighters were men who owned or worked at a downtown business and could leave their business in a second to respond to calls. Firefighting then was completely volunteer, it became a paid yearly stipend, and now is paid on call.
He retired from firefighting once for about four years, but then re-joined. He never officially retired after that, but the first of two hip replacements meant he would no longer climb ladders, so for about five years, he went on fire calls to take photos of the fires for the department archives.
Walt has seen a lot of changes at the township in the 20 years. When first on the board, the officers kept their records in their homes. The offices moved several times until the township came to its present location.
At one of his last meetings, Walt voted to move the township offices to the Thornapple Township Emergency Services building on High Street to save money and increase efficiency.
The biggest change for township business has been computers, which changed everything. “It does save some time and the township has its own website, but it is expensive and I don’t know if it made everything better,” he said.
The biggest challenge now for the township is funding the emergency services, he said. State laws are designed for large metropolitan services like Grand Rapids and Detroit and demand replacement of expensive equipment every so many years.
“They probably need it, they make thousands of calls and it wears out, but a small department like ours won’t have the activity of a Detroit,” he said. But, they still have to replace the same equipment on the same timetable, a budget drain for a small emergency service.
Also, he said some state requirements aren’t well thought out. The state mandated getting rid of wood ladders because they might catch fire and replace them with aluminum ladders. After five or six years, they had to get rid of aluminum ladders. If they touched power lines, electrocution resulted. Now they use fiberglass ladders, he said.
Back in the day, the community, smaller, not quite so mobile, not influenced by television or the internet, was much closer and nicer, he said. “Then, if you asked for help, you would get it,” he said. Now, people don’t volunteer as much, and most want to be paid for the help they do give.
Still, he sees a bright future for the township. “We’ve got some good people coming up on the board. And they are smart on computers, that will be helpful.” Middleville is doing a lot of good things too, making some nice improvements, he said.
Even Walt’s hobbies involve volunteering. He and Mike, married 62 years, have varied interests besides their children and grandchildren. They were volunteer lighthouse keepers at Michigan lighthouses. Walt climbed the twisting stairways, reciting the history of the lighthouse to visitors and Mike ran the gift shops.
Their favorite lighthouse is the Big Sable. “She’s my girl, I miss her,” Walt said. They were lighthouse keepers for eight years, and worked for the National Parks Service at the Casa Grande Ruins Monument in Coolidge, Arizona for several years. They were Ringo Swingo square dancers, and he took up clogging.
The couple have four children; Connie Eavey Hicks, Alan Eavey DVM, Timothy Eavey, and Sherri Eavey Hicks and seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Look for Walt to stay involved with Middleville and Barry County. “I like helping people; this is home. I just enjoy doing it.”
Photos: (upper left) Walt Eavey
(middle left) Walt Eavey explains how this actual lighthouse lamp works.
(lower left) The Eavey’s collection of miniature lighthouses is testimony to their interest.