Dowagiac Daily News’ top 10 stories of 2013: Dowagiac sees growth, tragic loss in 2013

Published 8:36 am Monday, December 30, 2013

4. Southwestern Michigan College continues to grow

Leadership at Southwestern Michigan College continued their efforts to bring the four-year university lifestyle to their community college this year, seeing tremendous growth to their student population in the process.

This fall, the college opened up their third student housing facility, White Hall, at their Dowagiac campus. Like its sister dormitories, McKenzie and Jerdon Halls, the building contains 130 bedrooms, along with kitchen areas that are shared by two to four students.

The college also opened a new one-stop Student Service Center this year, which occupies the former grounds of the school’s old bookstore. At the new location, students can handle their registration, advising and financial aid needs, all under a single roof.

The Dowagiac campus didn’t receive all of the school’s attention this year. SMC’s Niles Campus underwent an extensive renovation in the summer, gaining a new Student Service Center, science labs and a large collaborative learning lab. In addition, many of its existing facilities were given a fresh coat of paint, giving them a more modern look.

In addition to the infrastructural improvements, the administration updated the two-year school’s academic programs, expanding their curriculum to include subjects like criminal justice.

All of these improvements came during a year where the school’s enrollment numbers continued to rise. This year, SMC saw the largest growth of Michigan’s 28 community colleges, its 6.7 percent increase more than twice as large as the second place school, Gogebic Community College in Ironwood.

3. New businesses open around the community

2013 was also a year of growth for the Dowagiac community, as a number of new organizations and businesses burst onto the local scene over the last 12 months.

In May, the Dowagiac Area History Museum opened its new downtown home, located inside the former Behnke Paint and Floor Covering store on Railroad Street.  The opening marked the culmination of a yearlong effort to relocate the local historical artifacts from their former home on SMC’s Dowagiac campus.

“[The museum] is going to be the record keeper for Dowagiac’s great future,” said Dowagiac Mayor Don Lyons, during the museum’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “The museum will outlive all of us.”

The city, which now owns the museum, worked with the college to find a new home for the museum’s extensive collection, which contains exhibits depicting the city’s 165-year history. The city eventually purchased the old paint store from the Behnke family, and spent nine months transforming into a new historical hotspot for visitors and residents alike.

A few months later, in August, Developer Ken Allen, of Sister Lakes, announced plans to construct a one-screen movie theater downtown, filling one the city’s longstanding business gaps. The new business will occupy the former Front Street storefront of Mr. K’s Warehouse, which previously housed a baseball museum and a clothing store.

Construction kicked off for the project in November, though Allen had been working with city and the Downtown Development Authority for several years to get the project off the ground. The developer, who has led the reconstruction of three other theaters, had previously eyed the former Woolworth’s and KFC buildings before moving on a deal to acquire Mr. K’s.

Finally, on Oct. 2, Lyons Industries broke ground on a new 32,000 square-foot expansion to its plant, which is located on M-62. The addition will house additional warehouse space, a driver’s lounge, a larger shipping office and 10 shipping docks.

The project is expected to be completed by the end of February.

2. Community rocked by tragic deaths

2013 was a year of great sorrow for the city as well, as a number of the community’s younger population lost their lives under tragic circumstances.

On June 3, the city was shocked to its core after 13-year-old Darren James Price took his own life in the woods outside of Dowagiac Middle School, after being spotted by police. The authorities were responding to a call from the school’s custodian, who reported that Price was carrying a handgun outside the building before students had arrived for the day.

Price, who was a former student of the middle school, was being homeschooled at the time of his death, along with his brother and sister.

“Our hearts go out to the family and his siblings,” said Superintendent Mark Daniel, following the incident.

Shortly after the call had been placed, the district entered a state of emergency, keeping all its students in transit on the buses and locking down the district’s six school buildings. Students returned home for the day after police determined the scene was clear.

In September, 22-year-old Dustin Kuseske died after his vehicle crashed into a utility pole on Topash Road in Dowagiac, less than a mile from his home. Kuseske, who was returning from dropping a friend off at her home, had either fallen asleep at the wheel or hit a deer before crashing into the pole, his mother said.

Following his funeral on Sept. 27, several of Kuseske’s friends decided to pay tribute to their fallen companion by getting tattoos in his honor.

“Dustin always wore DC Shoe Company clothing, like always,” said Scott Trout, one of Dustin’s best friends. “So we decided to get ‘DK’ tattoos, for Dustin Kuseske.”

In November, 16-year-old Rebecca Walker also died in a car accident, after the vehicle she was traveling in lost control due to the snowy road conditions and crashed into an oncoming vehicle.

Her death was mourned by not only her family, but also by her classmates at Dowagiac Union High School, as well as by members of the church where devoted much of her time at, the Apostolic Lighthouse.