President Barack Obama spoke to a packed house at Concord High School in Elkhart in February, his first visit to the area as president of the United States.
President Barack Obama spoke to a packed house at Concord High School in Elkhart in February, his first visit to the area as president of the United States.

Archived Story

2009 in review

Published 10:41am Thursday, December 31, 2009

Niles Daily Star

Up, down, better, worse, full of change or not enough – whether loved or loathed, 2009 is at its end. And what a run it had.

When the year began, there was plenty of uncertainty to deal with and though the hope is 2010 may bring some clarity, from the political spectrum to Niles’ business community to its classrooms if the year taught anyone anything it was that for a while, it would be best to stay on ones toes.

Barack Obama and his band of change-makers headed for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the work ahead of lawmakers and political leaders all too familiar to Niles area residents, as unemployment spread like wild fire, through crippling businesses in virtually every industry and everyone watched their bank accounts with a keen eye.

Shortly after being sworn in, Obama came to Michiana, speaking at Concord High School in Elkhart, where unemployment was so high the city received national attention. His recovery and reinvestment act sitting with the Senate at the time, the new president declared, “we can no longer afford to wait and see and hope for the best.”

Meanwhile, Niles’ own Sharon Tyler would head off to Lansing in her first year as state representative. Tyler and the state’s lawmakers would find themselves fighting for a state budget later in the year, finally succumbing to an extension when agreements couldn’t be reached. By the end, however, she’d not miss a single vote her freshman year.

Mother Nature spared no one with bone chilling temperatures that all but froze Niles solid last winter, sending residents plenty of lake effect snow and a debilitating ice storm. She’d leave a calling card in the spring when heavy rains flooded many areas of southwest Michigan and northern Indiana, including Riverfront Park.

It was the year of new ideas.
Businesses large and small were encouraged to diversify as the automobile industry suffered through bankruptcy and layoffs that set off a domino effect, eventually leading to the closing of mom and pop shops throughout Michigan and across state lines.

Focus suddenly shifted to area entrepreneurs and small businesses doing whatever they could to survive a storm that seems to still have a hold on some.

Just how hard the area had been hit by unemployment was undeniably evident when news spread that the U.S. Census Bureau had positions to fill. The jobless spent hours waiting in line at the Franklin AME Church on Sycamore to take their tests and apply for any positions available.
“About every third person that we see is on unemployment,” Katrina Andrews, of Andrews Tax and Accounting, PC said as she and many others waited in line. “They’ve lost their 401Ks, their retirement savings and their health benefits. They’re scared to death.”

And there were other casualties.

The longstanding company Tyler Refrigeration announced operations would cease in Niles, bringing an end to a company synonymous with the city and putting an estimated 500 area residents out of work. The news was devastating to many, from employees to city and state officials.

Tyler Automotive saw its longstanding contract with automaker GM terminated and a new day would come with the Korean brand vehicle Kia.

Life in Niles
Under tight financial conditions the city continued to forge ahead and find ways of improving for residents new and old and yet to come. Some projects were put on hold, such as the Riverfront Park trail extension, but downtown continued to welcome experts to advise in how to create a stronger destination for the city.

Annual events including Riverfest, the Hunter Ice Festival and the Four Flags Apple Festival welcomed crowds of people young and old to celebrate some of the area’s most entertaining traditions. And there was a unique feel to each.

“Tonight, I ask you to do a good deed,” Mayor Mike McCauslin said during the lighting of the Niles Depot for the Christmas season. “Share your good fortune with someone less fortunate. Visit an elderly person in a nursing home. Buy a needy child a gift. Bake cookies for your neighbor. Send a care package to a soldier. Shovel someone else’s sidewalk. Give what you can. Search your closet and donate coats and blankets you can do without. Be the kind of person, the kind of family, the kind of friend and neighbor you truly want to be. Someone will be better off because of your actions. You will be too.”

And, as the lights go out on another year, those who won’t be ringing in 2010 with us are not forgotten, namely Mel Bookout, Ralph Casperson, Bill Myers and Robert Cowan, among many others.
Here’s to another day for auld lang syne.

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