Dowagiac Daily News’ top 10 stories of 2013: Round Oak closes, Chieftain survives, city unveils sports complex

Published 8:37 am Friday, December 27, 2013

7. Round Oak closes doors

May marked the end of a culinary era, as Dowagiac’s first dining destination served the city’s hungry patrons for the last time.

Doug McKay closed the doors of his Round Oak eatery, just a month shy of what would have been its 32nd birthday. McKay chose to close the Front Street restaurant due to health concerns.

Round Oak, which took its name from the longtime Dowagiac stove maker, was the city’s first restaurant of its kind when it opened. Before that, residents would have to travel at least eight miles to find similar fare. The success of the Round Oak paved the way for other downtown restaurants such as Zeke’s and the Wood Fire.

Naturally, the location’s regular customers were saddened by the closing, with many sharing their memories of the longtime Dowagiac fixture.

“We were there every week we were in town unless there was something going at the Elks,” said Polly Judd, who frequented the restaurant with her husband, Don. “We just really enjoyed their music. There were several ‘regular’ couples, one from Berrien Springs, one or two from St. Joe, some from Niles. Stan and Sharon Gregory from Diamond Lake used to always be there every weekend.”

A number of prominent figures, both inside and outside the community, enjoyed dining at the Round Oak. Mayor Pro Tem Leon Laylin and his wife, Shirley, celebrated every New Year’s Eve at the restaurant. The Dogwood Fine Arts Festival, which Shirley founded, held its annual membership meetings there.

6. Dowagiac mascot survives legal challenge

Dowagiac’s Chieftain survived a lawsuit from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights in June, retaining its position as the school district’s mascot.

The U.S. Department of Education dismissed the Michigan department’s complaint, which called for 35 of the state’s districts to eliminate their  mascots. The organization said that such imagery negatively impacted student learning, violating Article VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

However, the department of education dismissed the complaint due to the lack of specific student harm that resulted from the schools’ use of Native American mascots.

Among the other schools who were targeted by the complaint were the Hartford Indians, the Paw Paw Redskins and the White Pigeon Chiefs.

Dowagiac has used the Chieftain mascot since 1928. In 1990, the school district began using its current rendition of the Chieftain, which was created by Pokagon Band member Ron Mix, who based the logo off a historically accurate depiction of a Potawatomi chief.

5. City reveals plans for Russom Park sports complex

After several years of working in “stealth mode,” the City of Dowagiac announced in June its plans to expand Russom Park’s athletic fields into a full-fledged community sports complex.

The city has been developing the expansion with Silver Creek Township, opening new walking paths and parking lots for the park located at 28776 Yaw St. in Silver Creek.

“This is the culmination of a dream that a number of people have had for many years,” said Dowagiac Mayor Don Lyons. “Without our partnership with Silver Creek Township none of this would have been possible. Both parties can take pride in this cooperative effort that will benefit many kids and their families for years to come.”

Construction on the second phase of the project is projected to be completed in spring, providing walking/biking trails, soccer fields and playground equipment to local children and adults. In addition, the two cities are upgrading the park’s existing baseball diamonds, and will install two regulation-size softball fields during phase three construction.

The State of Michigan contributed $1 million in grant money for the project, including $200,000 in funding from the state’s Natural Resources Trust Fund. Both the city and the township were required to match a portion of the funds, with Dowagiac contributing $62,000 and Silver Creek contributing $48,000.