A Tale of Two Cities (& a Village)

In August 2000, The Detroit Free Press praised the small Upper Peninsula of Michigan governments of two cities and one village for consolidating into one larger entity. On July 1, 2000, the cities of Stambaugh and Iron River and the village of Mineral Hills founded a new city called Iron River, Michigan.

Seeking a common good, wrote the Press, the three municipalities, “…put aside hometown loyalties and became one…”

Good for the government, perhaps. But good for the people and their history? “What of the city we all grew up in?” This is the question asked in the many letters now reaching my desk. What happened to our history? What happened to the great football rivalry between Stambaugh and Iron River that was so much a part of our lives not so long ago? What of our grade school, Stambaugh Couzens Grade School? Our Stambaugh High School? What about our wonderful gymnasium where not only the basketball games and pep bands played every Friday night, but also where the freshman, sophomore, junior and senior dances and proms were held?

While is it true that the schools were combined long before the governments were consolidated, those of us who had grown up in the Stambaugh School system were still able to hang onto our identities!

“Consolidation will save them,” wrote the Press, “but it has not come without costs or growing pains, including a loss of hometown identity. Residents are now eligible for home mail delivery, but that means many will give up the morning ritual of stopping by the post office and chatting with neighbors.”

Now, when I send out letters to my hometown, if I still have a box number instead of a street address, the letter comes back to me stamped, “Undeliverable.” What? Since when, does the community not know where the former postmistress or the retired Iron River Reporter editor live? Yes! It’s true! The letters I sent a week ago came back to me undeliverable. This is not Detroit, folks! This is the small community now known as Iron River, Michigan, aka Mineral Hills and Stambaugh, our pride of hometown closeness and caring.

Is it possible the current mail carriers and others of the community are so young they don’t remember those of us who have become full-fledged members of AARP? Surely they have relatives who have come from the place where teachers didn’t just teach, but also guided “their” kids toward higher callings.

But the pride of hometown closeness and caring is still wonderfully evident! As soon as she learned of the difficulty I was having in getting out my letters, a friend who lives in the community offered to help. She quickly got on the phone and found new postal delivery addresses for both of my old friends, the former postmistress and the retired editor of our local newspaper. Audrey, thank you for maintaining those good old values of kindness and concern!

Certainly there are great financial gains from the government consolidation, but what of our losses in social history? A recent letter I received pointed out, “Maybe your new book, A Tree Grows in Trout Creek, will dredge up more [memories]. I’d forgotten the name of the theater was the Perfect. It was a shock to return after many years for an all town reunion in 2003 to discover the name of the town, street where I lived, the church and school had all changed their names.” And this is just one of many letters from old friends who lament the passing of our history.

“But in the long run, Michigan’s first ever political consolidation will mean a leaner government, economies of scale, an expanded tax base and greater bonding authority—all sorely needed to improve services and fix roads, sewers and water,” wrote the Detroit Free Press. Yet, we find today that the small village of Caspian stayed strong in their desire to remain autonomous. Good for them! Still, the Caspian people suffer from a loss of history, too, since every single one of them who attended the Stambaugh High School has grandchildren who are asking or will ask, “Stambaugh, who?”

The good news is that there are many of us who still share the hometown spirit! I write about it in my books, The Wishing Years and the new publication, A Tree Grows in Trout Creek. I write about the closeness of people who shared the same homerooms in grade school and high school for all of their thirteen years in Stambaugh Schools. The life-long friendships that grew and are maintained by the Caspian, Gaastra and Stambaugh High school students who shared four wonderful years of their lives back in the day. No political association can take that away from us! We’ve got our memories to keep us warm!

To read more about the Stambaugh home town, go to ORDER BOOKS on this website to order your autographed copies of either The Wishing Years or A Tree Grows in Trout Creek or both at a special reduced price. Credit cards accepted for online orders. Or you may order by regular mail from: Wildwood Press, PO Box 980616, Ypsilanti, MI 48198.

Go Hilltoppers!!!

Comments, welcomed!

Comments

  1. Marian M Schinella (bundgus) says:

    Hi,

    My Mother was Betty Peterson (Schinella) and my Father Ralph Schinella. Mom was from Mineral Hills and graduated from Iron River High School ( class of 50). Dad, a Gaastra Resident, graduated from Stambaugh (Class of 48). We lived in Gaastra for 3 years and my brothers and I went to St. Agnes from 63 to 65 ! Later Dad’s job moved us to New York and then to Indiana. We spent every summer with Grandparents in Mineral Hills and Gaastra. Rode our bikes as teenagers from one Grandparent to the other. Long rides. I remember and have pictures of the Centennial in Mineral Hills. Pictures when we participated in a parade. I remember the excitement (fear) of “going down Stambaugh Hill.” My brother was a clown on a bike ! My 2 brothers and I were Indians an a T-Pee Float that we desinged and made. It was driven by our neighbor and his riding lawn mower ! My Grandparent owned the little hometown Grocery Store in Gaastra. Fun times ! I got to work there and whenever I got bored bringing in Carts and Stamping prices on cans, I “charged” candy for everybody! My Mom and Dad moved back to Iron River in 2003 and my Dad 79 years old remains active in Iron River…lives on Strawberry Hill!

    My Mother sadly passed suddenly this June 1, 2007. She loved her childhood… and teenage years. That is why she went back. She was a very strong-minded smart woman and lived a very fullfilled life. She said she did and got everything out of life she could have ever wanted. My Mom and her cousin Ruthie sat together throughout the years and told many stories about there childhood and high school years. It amazed me that the stories were always new and different. I was happy to come across this in her email. Thank you I will surely read the Books.

  2. Marian,
    Hello and thanks so much for writing! Your mom ordered my first book “The Wishing Years” and wrote to me that she had enjoyed it! I was so sorry to hear she had passed away. She was such a lovely person!

    I remember the Schinella Store in Gaastra, I think maybe Bob Lundquist worked there delivering groceries to people’s homes? I had to laugh about your memory of getting bored bringing in carts and then charging candy for all your friends! We had a great growing up time and place, didn’t we! And wasn’t the Centennial fun! Your float driven by your neighbor on a riding lawn mower is just precious!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Coralie

  3. I was born in the old Stambaugh hospital in 1966. I lived in Stambaugh and Stambaugh Township (which still exists) for my entire life.

    I too was bummed when the consolidation took effect. However, I don’t feel that I lost my identity as a resident of Stambaugh.

    Stambaugh (it will always be Stambaugh to me!) still is a close knit community. The same people live on my street and the town itself, albeit somewhat empty, still exists too. Washington Avenue is still there although the names of the adjoining streets have been changed (1st Street is now Amber Street, 2nd is now Blossom ect.)

    I was never a “Hilltopper” or a “Redskin” so I can see why many feel the loss of their identity. The schools were consolidated when I started kindergarten back in the early 70s. I identify “Wykon” with the entire west side of Iron County.

    Some of my neighbors are retired and have recently moved here. Some have never went to school here and have no ties whatsoever to the area. They love it here for the most part although I’ve heard complaints about the weather from them more than once.

    Some of them never heard of Stambaugh. I’m always happy to give them the history of the area and inform them that Stambaugh was indeed a town at one time. They appreciate this little history lesson and have incredible respect for our knowledge. I tell them about the museum in Caspian where they can find out more. I’ve gotten many “thank yous” and “such a great experience” from these folks.

    It was great growing up here. I have so many great memories of riding my bicycle around town, attending the various festivities during the Centennial celebration, going to Wykon football and basketball games (which I still do with my young sons) and generally growing up in a small town.

    I still get nostalgic, and yes, a little weepy whenever I think of times past. Iron River and Stambaugh were “shakin’ places” at one time. I remember riding my bike through town on a warm summer night and there would be people and things to do everywhere. Everybody that I wanted to see would be hanging around town either shopping at the various shops that stayed open late on Friday nights or just cruising around (or “lapping the gap” as we called it)

    It’s a great area. I know that I could be making a heck of a lot more money working somewhere else but I’ll probably never move.

    I still have hope for this area. The stores may be closed and the streets may be empty on the weekends but I know we’ll be discovered again.

    Kevin

  4. Kevin, My brothers Jim and Jerry were Wykons so also were not either Hilltoppers or Redskins yet Stambaugh will always be the hometown we all originated from…the hometown we love! Thanks for your really touching expression of love for the place we will always cherish!

  5. It was very interesting to read your comments and those of the other folks in your area, from one named community or another.
    I live in Tawas City, MI and East Tawas, MI share a common boundary.
    A vote to consolidate first happened 49 years ago in 1968. It was passed by on community by about 600 votes and defeated by 4 votes in the other.
    To think of what could have been done as one city if that consolidation vote had passed in both communities makes me sad.
    There will always be a “History of Tawas City and a History of East Tawas” even if it would have been consolidated. History is History. Memories, history and events of the past are real and can never be lost.
    I am hopeful the citizens of our two cities will consider the question of one government again. We are on community, why have two governments??

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