Street Talk: A man and his island


The World Affairs Council’s 68th anniversary luncheon featured a Grand Valley State University alum, who also happens to be president of the Republic of Palau, a 340-island chain near Micronesia, between Guam and the Philippines.

President Tommy Remenguesau Jr. recalled arriving in Grand Rapids to begin college during winter semester, wearing his T-shirt, jeans and flip-flops. He told the crowd he immediately wanted to return home but stuck it out and now continues a long association with the city and state of Michigan.

Remenguesau’s address was based largely on the nation’s international accomplishments in sustainability efforts, which earned the president a seat at the 2015 Paris Accords and the 2016 Peter Benchley Ocean Award. As a country recognized as a sovereign state in free association with the United States (and using U.S. currency), Remenguesau said he often is asked what his country contributes to the U.S. He solemnly told the crowd, “our sons and daughters.” He noted the island nation holds the highest induction rate to the U.S. military of all states and territories.

Touching on world issues, his words were of grave caution about China and its claims of territories in the Pacific, and he is “certainly” concerned about North Korean nuclear missile testing: “We are next to Guam. Yes, we are curious about those missiles,” he quipped to an audience question before outlining the ramifications and potential casualties.

The World Affairs Council membership also offered tribute to retiring, long-time Executive Director Dixie Anderson, initially as a guise to allow Secret Service, state and local police to escort the president to his next appointment.

Anderson has led the group 22 years. Within her first five years of tenure, the council was named the best small council in the nation by the national associations of WACs; in 2016, Anderson received the prestigious Foreign Policy Association Medal for the Great Decisions Series. She also built the organization to include more than 50 corporate sponsors and 10 university education partners. As noted by board president Craig Meurlin, with that sponsorship, she was able to attract sitting U.S. President George W. Bush for a major foreign policy address on the Middle East, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, and “in front of a record-breaking crowd at the Van Andel Arena, Archbishop Desmond Tutu – along with many, many other prestigious global experts,” Meurlin noted.

Two scoops

Ice cream on a farm?

It’s an idea Alvin Blok, co-owner of the family’s Blok Orchard in Ada Township, said he hopes will prove profitable. The orchard already includes a farmers market and a U-pick farm outside.

Blok said the family intends to build a small kitchen inside the farmers market where they can create a bakery. He said he would like to put an old doughnut maker to use and make doughnuts and ice cream, and added his intention is for growth.

“I would like more families to bring their kids to Blok Orchard so we can grow our business,” Blok said.

A bakery and ice cream stand would help mitigate the seasonal nature of farming. Blok said although they have the farmers market and the farm, the operation is mostly just breaking even.

“In the summer, July and August, it is not so profitable, Blok said. “We have to wait until the Honeycrisp (apples) come in.”

With nearly 500 people per year walking through the farmers market and the farm to pick their fruits and vegetables, Blok said the operation makes around $100,000 per year, depending on the weather. With wholesalers looking for low prices, however, the margins are very slim.

The 40-acre farm features 20 acres for apple trees, 3 acres for peach trees and a half-acre each for blueberries and cherries, according to Blok. The farmers market also offers raspberries, tomatoes, eggplants, watermelons, peppers, plums, pumpkins and more.

When the Honeycrisp apples come in during September and October, they are sold for $100 per bushel. A delayed harvest, however, can knock that down to $20 or $30 per bushel. Blok said adding a bakery should alleviate some of that risk.

Rock on

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and Foundation will be bringing a glimpse of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to the Ford Presidential Museum this month with an exhibit that explores how rock music can change attitudes about patriotism, peace, equality and freedom. “Louder Than Words: Rock, Power and Politics” opens to the public during a Ford After Five evening event, Nov. 7, and runs through Feb. 11.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Newseum in Washington, D.C., partnered to create the exhibit. The Ford Museum marks its first stop outside of the two iconic partnering museums.

Video, multimedia, photographs, periodicals and artifacts, such as Bono’s 2002 Super Bowl jacket will be displayed.

“‘Louder Than Words’ highlights how artists have used their craft as a platform to express their views and shape public opinion,” said Greg Harris, president and CEO of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

From ex-Beatle George Harrison’s visit to the White House, to stories of Steve Ford playing Led Zeppelin music from the White House roof, rock music had a definite history during the Ford presidency.

Vote note

Kent County voters might notice a change in voting equipment when they head to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 7.

The county recently purchased new tabulation machines from Dominion Voting Systems Inc. as part of a statewide upgrade to election systems. Funding ($30 million) came from the federal government’s Help America Vote Act and from the state budget ($10 million).

Although voters still will cast ballots on paper, the machines through which they feed their ballots after voting have been changed out, allowing for optical scanning of selections that can detect errors and spit the ballot back out for a re-do if the voter opts for it.

Once the polls have closed, the new equipment will tabulate and transmit election results to the county’s reporting software through a cellular modem, allowing almost instant results. Previously, election workers put the results on flash drives and drove them to their local clerk’s office to be counted manually.

The new machinery includes separate large-font touch-screen ballots for those with low vision or a voice-activated ballot for the visually impaired.

Lisa Posthumus Lyons, Kent County clerk/register of deeds, said voters can be sure the results will be secure and the outcome accurate.

“I believe Kent County's new election system is high-quality equipment that offers the assurance of security and a positive experience for the voter,” Lyons said. “At a time when there are so many questions about the security of the voting process, this Dominion system offers reliability and customer service. Its partnership with ElectionSource, an election services provider located right here in Kent County, also has a proven track record for first-class service.”

Lyons gathered input from local municipal clerks before ordering the equipment. They expressed wanting features such as durable machines, election programming software capabilities, real-time results and high-speed absentee ballot-counting capabilities.

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