Meet Darwin McClary, Albion’s new city manager

There was a Meet and Greet for Albion Michigan’s new city manager Darwin McClary at the Ismon House, second floor,  on Tuesday, October 15, 2019.


About 40 Albion citizens including the Mayor and City Council came and enjoyed a home cooked meal prepared by City Council Person Lenn Reid.

Darwin shared personal stories about the warm welcome he felt when visiting Albion.

Darwin mentioned that all parts of the Albion community are important, including Albion College, the downtown, and the neighborhoods.  He mentioned the assets of the community and natural resources.

We also learned that long-time volunteer Bill Zeller, who had done so much for the Ismon House, died exactly one year earlier, to that day, on the second floor of the Ismon House.  His photo is shown in remembrance and gratitude near the entryway to the main room.

Mr. Bonner – The Story of a Mentoring Journey

The remarkable journey of Albion’s Harry Bonner told in new collaborative biography



Contributing Writer
September 19, 2019


In the works for six years, a new biography of Harry Bonner Sr. on which we’ve teamed up is hot off the press and will be available in Albion starting this Friday.

Both Harry Bonner and I will be on hand to autograph books during Albion’s 2019 Festival of the Forks. On Friday, September 20 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., we’ll celebrate the launch of the book “Mr. Bonner: The Story of a Mentoring Journey” at Stirling Books and Brew, located at 119 N. Superior Street in downtown Albion. The Festival’s Car Show will also be happening in the same area from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., so both events can be enjoyed. Then, from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. on September 21, the Saturday of Festival, Bonner and Mueller will have a booth set up in the lobby of the Courtyard Marriott, located on Superior Street in the heart of downtown.

It was in 2013 that Harry Bonner asked me if I would like to write his biography, and I didn’t hesitate to answer an enthusiastic “yes!”

The pair of us had met in 1997 when I was a fledging journalist, writing for the Albion Recorder, and under Bonner’s tutelage, I developed a passion for covering the work of non-profit organizations like his and also became deeply immersed in learning about the history and culture of Albion’s African-American community. The newspaper had long put out an annual bridal issue in the spring, and that year I was supported in my efforts to make the issue more inclusive: for the first time, care was taken to ensure we also featured photos of Black brides, and I researched and wrote stories on the tradition of “jumping the broom” and where grooms and groomsmen could find kente cloth cummerbunds.

Bonner was also the first person I consulted when I was offered the position of executive director of the then Albion Civic Foundation. Could I make as much or more of a difference in the community of Albion – particularly to the African-American community – in such a position? After all, it would mean giving up my 25 year career as a commercial interior designer. In a moment of déjà vu Bonner also didn’t hesitate to answer an enthusiastic “yes!” and my professional life, which had been spent flying around the country creating new food court-style dining halls for colleges and universities, sometimes having to leave my young son, Hayes, with his dad for days on end, became focused on the children my son was growing up with and working to make life in Albion better for all of these Albion kids and their families.

What followed was a key time of growth for the foundation during which the organization’s board agreed to change the name to the Albion Community Foundation, and with Bonner’s guidance, its first African-American endowment fund (The Bogan-Holland African American Endowment Fund) was established and a massive grant program to help Albion youth was launched.

By 2013, though, I had retired from the foundation, and was back writing part-time for the Recorder, which was now published once a week, rather than six times weekly. For the next several years, I worked the authoring of Bonner’s biography in around my journalism efforts.

By then, I’d known Harry Bonner for many years, and had grown to admire the work he was doing for the at-risk African-American youth in the community. Since working for the foundation, I had a new appreciation for the incredibly savvy ways he developed partnerships and sought funding to further the effects of his organization. But diving into the writing of this biography gave me a window into this man’s heart and his life journey over the years before I’d come to know him.

Learning about his “godchildren,” the kids he’d gotten closest to over his 40 years as a mentor, and hearing their firsthand stories about the difference he’d made was astounding. The generous candor of a number of those godchildren who are featured in this biography – Terry Langston (Albion High School ’88), Paula Langston Ware (AHS ’88), Sedgwick Harris (AHS ’88), Donetta “FeFe” Moye (AHS ’91), Andrea Armstrong (AHS ’91) and Elijah Armstrong Jr. (AHS ’94), Twynette McCormick (AHS ’94), Aisha Ridley-Melton (AHS ’97), SeQuita Craig (AHS ’98), Shymetha Wilson (AHS ’99), Lekia Blake (AHS ’02) , and Michael Culliver (AHS ’04) and Hongmin “Nancy” Feng Zhang (AHS ’11) – were an important way to present the life-changing effects he had on so many young people’s lives over the four decades covered in this book.

After considering and then discarding numerous title ideas for the book, those many interviews with this bunch of godchildren also helped me finally decide on the perfect title for this biography: without exception, every single godchild, no matter their age, still addresses Bonner as “Mr. Bonner,” and always refer to him that way in any conversation as well. So, Mr. Bonner it was.

When Dr. Mauri Ditzler, president of Albion College, chose to award an Honorary Doctorate to Harry Bonner in 2015, I learned from watching and listening to Harry that this event was a capstone event in his professional life. His acceptance speech on the campus quadrangle that day made clear that his entire professional life he’d felt inadequate because he hadn’t gone further in his education than an associate degree – but that every time he thought about it “there was another child who needed my help.”

So, in the book, framed by that afternoon on the Albion College campus, chapters describe the Bonner family’s arrival in Albion, Harry’s school years, his meeting and marrying his beloved wife Jerlene, and his very first mentoring job as a hall monitor at Albion High School in 1975. That was, literally, the beginning of the rest of their lives, and without the support and sacrifices of Jeri and their sons, Elgin and Harry Jr., Harry Sr. insists, he could never have accomplished the work he did. The biography goes on to describe the lessons Bonner learned from his own mentors over the years, the non-profit organizations that Bonner formed to continue his quest to help kids, and key partners such as the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Michigan State University’s Calhoun County 4-H program. There is fascinating information about the ways in which Bonner’s youth mentoring work had to evolve and adapt to follow not only funding streams, but also the powerful economic and cultural ebbs and flows in Albion itself through the rest of the century and on into the 2000s.

The receipt of his Honorary Doctorate may have given us the perfect place to end this book – but it is by far the end of Harry Bonner’s mentoring journey.



“It’s my hope that this book can be used as a how-to or a textbook for anyone who wants to be a mentor,” Harry says today as yet another way to “pass the torch.” Towards that end, near the back of the book are a set of discussion questions that can be used by a book club or group of students who engage in a reading of this mentoring journey.

Today, in his seventies, Bonner continues to work with youth in Albion. He’s cut back a little, and with Jeri at his side travels as often as he can to visit their sons, grandchildren, and great grandkids in Illinois and North Carolina.

When I engaged in some self-examination about why my own bond with Harry Bonner had deepened so incredibly during my journey through his journey, I realized that Harry had moved beyond just being a mentor to me, and had become a father figure to me – and that I had become one of his godchildren. Having lost my own father to a cerebral hemorrhage when I was only three, I know that my entire life I have sought out and thrived from mentoring by slightly older men.

So, thank you, Mr. Bonner.




Albion Through My Eyes – Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful

To Hug or Not to Hug

 The acceptance letter to be a visiting artist at Albion College and the documents that ensued after my positive response to the invitation, did not include any reference as to how to approach greeting people in town. If anything, I was the one who, prior to leaving home in the South Bronx, underwent a self-training to prevent myself from hugging anyone I would come across in Michigan. It was a way of programming myself not to go beyond shaking hands, thus keeping a safe distance with those I would meet.

Having been born in the Dominican Republic, where it is customary to salute not just close family members, but also classmates, friends and colleagues, and in my case, yes, some of my mother’s neighbors, my dentists, respected professors and devoted mentors, with a friendly embrace, I thought it necessary to remind my arms to stay put in Albion. To make this work at a bodily level I mentally brought up the image of the classmate at an East Coast graduate school whose body froze like a tree trunk when, upon returning from our summer recess, I went to hug effusively. This was the same person who had helped me consistently with computer programs and whose assistance I still recall with great gratitude. Still unscathed, my hugging upbringing actually managed to be nurtured in New York City, where I learned to make a distinction of when and who to hug or when to put my hand out for a more distanced greeting.

Prior to moving to Albion, where I had proposed to travel from the Boogie Down Bronx to listen to people, hear their stories, learn first hand about their day to day, assemble an archive of objects representative of who they might be or what they do, and experience life in the community at large as an embodied undertaking, I clearly set my own rule: hand-shake only. However, this would change as I found my way to an Eggs and Issues breakfast, where Linda Kolmodin, one of the two women behind the restoration of the fading 5 cent Coca-Cola mural, mentioned that people in the area are huggers and that this in turn translates into connectedness, socially speaking. I listened attentively and figured I too would give it a try and eventually have gathered the courage to ask some of those I encounter in Albion whether to hug or not. In other instances I have had to intuit the answer. In these moments being fully present with the other person is a must.

In reflecting on Linda Kolmodin’s brief comments on hugging, weaved into her three minute pitch about the importance of revitalizing the downtown with two murals and a sculpture, I thought about the importance of touch at a time infused with fears of contact. The skin is in fact the biggest organ of the body. Understood as a barrier and protection against extraneous threats, and that which wraps around other organs, as well as tissues, cells and so on in our bodies, it is nonetheless inseparable from one’s sense of touch. More importantly, it serves as a connector with which one perceives the outer world, acting also as a learning tool responsible for experimentation and survival, and as a bank of memories; much like another brain. It is the skin that seems to set the boundaries between one and others, but that similarly has the capacity to bring us close together as parents, partners, friends and community. The skin is as much the site of pain as it is locus of healing, and so a hug might be the first step in the right direction.

Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful is the visiting artist at the Albion College. He seeks to meet people in town. To contact him call The Recorder newspaper.

Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful is a performance artist and teacher who has worked across the USA and internationally at venues such as Madrid Abierto/ARCO, The IX Havana Biennial, PERFORMA 05 and 07, IDENSITAT, Prague Quadrennial, and NYU Cantor Film Center. He has received grants and residencies from Art Matters, Lambent Foundation, MacDowell Colony, National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, Printed Matter Inc., PS1/MoMA, and Yaddo, and holds an MFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, and an MA from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Nicolás teaches art at the visionary City & Country School in Manhattan and presents architectural workshops that help SEQ ART KIDS students create their own utopian architecture.

When Albion got a Southern Flavor

Coca Cola Mural Albion Michigan

Coca-Cola Mural in downtown Albion Michigan

In 1922, there were some changes to the community of Albion Michigan. It was just after World War I, and the immigrants who were hired to work in the factories, were not able to cross the ocean due to the changes brought by the war. Since the factories were going full steam, a new plan was made across the northern states to recruit people from the south, both black and white workers. The flavor of many northern communities, especially Albion with its foundries supplying war efforts, because distinctly more southern. At this same time, a southern company, Coca-Cola was looking for ways to increase its sales to the north, where these southerners had moved.

Coca-Cola would one day become the world’s best-selling beverage and the most recognized and beloved brand in the world. Marketing genius Asa Candler commissioned sign painters to fan out across the country to extol the virtues of the fledgling drink. “Delicious and Refreshing.’

As many as 16,000 wall murals were painted by the Company and its many local bottlers. Many of these faded into obscurity. The sign in Albion was repainted at least once, but most recently in 1983, when it was so faded that it was about to be painted over. In 2019, this sign in Albion, 36’ x 40’, possibly the largest Coke mural in the world, is about to be restored to its early glory.

The restoration project, that includes other public art for Albion, needs help in order to gain matching funds from the State of Michigan.  Please visit this link and make a contribution before November 3, 2019, when the matching fund offer expires.

Restore Our Coke Sign from Black Lab Five on Vimeo.

See the video that explains how much the Coca-Cola mural means to the City of Albion, Michigan.

Note: Why we think this might be the world’s largest Coca-Cola mural is that this article says the largest one is 17 feet high, and Albion’s mural is 36 feet high.

There are probably wider murals. But none like this one, and we do need to help to restore the wall and the mural in a conservative manner. We have hired an expert and will be sharing more information from him soon.

Live Music at the Festival of the Forks, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019

The Festival of the Forks 2019 began Friday afternoon with a cruise-in, then the Forks 5K run.

Here on a bandstand provided by Diemert Construction on W. Ash Street, the Dangling Partiples band from Lansing Michigan sings an original song about Michigan Beer, with references to the Malleable Brewery that arranged for this music.

See a photo tour of previous Festival of the Forks by clicking here.

Roasted Sweet Corn

See more information about the Festival of the Forks at

Coca-Cola Mural Announcement

Big News is coming soon about the Coca-Cola Mural restoration project.  This mural was created at least 100 years ago, and is a focal point of downtown Albion.

Come to the fundraising launch event  on Thursday, September 19, 2019 from 4 – 6 pm.  at the Ludington Center, 101 N. Superior Street, Albion, across from the Coke mural.   Coke products will be served.

See more fun Albion events  on the shareable calendar here:

RESTORE OUR COKE SIGN: Bring Art and History Downtown

Coca-cola Mural Restoration, Albion Michigan

A piece of Albion’s history is fading away. Our 1922 historic Coca-Cola sign, in the heart of downtown, needs to be restored to its former glory. With the help of our community members, we are going to make sure this part of our shared heritage is going to get a much-needed facelift.

Three projects are part of a volunteer-based fundraising campaign to restore the iconic Coca-Cola sign in downtown Albion.

In addition to this historic restoration, there are two commissioned art pieces planned as part of this downtown beautification.

If our campaign is successful, we will also create a statue commemorating the founding of Tee-Ball in our community as well as a mural honoring Albion’s foundry heritage.


Since the late 1950’s and early 1960’s a new way for young children to begin their love of baseball was developed with the invention of Tee Ball.

To honor Jerry Sacharski, one of the founders of this “Pee Wee” baseball, a metal statue of an Albion six-year-old player standing at the batting tee, will be commissioned for a new beautification lot on South Superior Street.


For years, Albion was a foundry town and employed hundreds from the area to work in the industry. To honor this history, a 3-D mural on the back of the Albion Malleable Brewing Co will be painted by a local artist, Kimber Thompson. The mural will be based on watercolors done in 1951 from inside the old Malleable Iron Co.

Stay tuned to hear how you can help to brighten up Albion’s downtown!



A performance from years past at this central location of Albion.

Hear a performance at the end of Fete de la Musique 2017.

Restore the Coca-Cola Mural

Local Horse Rescue Needs More Regular Volunteers as Winter Encroaches!

By Sylvia Benavidez
Contributing Writer


Imagine having 50 to 60 hungry mouths to feed that on average weigh anywhere from 800 to over 2,000 pounds and all wanting to eat at once. Robin Walters and her husband Randy, who own and operate the non-profit Hoof & Heart, face this challenge on a daily basis. Their horse rescue is located on 2932 Eaton Rapid Road, Albion, Michigan just North of I 94. Hoof & Heart is an equine rescue and their intake can consist of all types of horses, mules, donkeys, and miniature horses. Their mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome unwanted and slaughter-bound horses.

Usually, the owners have open houses on Sundays beginning at 1 PM for the public to discover what offering sanctuary means to horses. For the months of September and October; however, Walters explains that they are having project days to prepare for winter. Every week volunteers will focus on different needs on the grounds. Tasks include: mending fences, cutting lumbers, painting, watering the animals, feeding, grooming, raking, etc. One very important project will be to build four emergency stalls in the new shed so that if there is a problem with a horse who needs care, an older horse won’t be displaced. Volunteers who are carpenters or know how to build or who can donate lumber are especially encouraged to help winterize the stalls.

The need is urgent not only because the snow and ice are coming, but also because of the number of animals under their care.  Says, Walters, “Now I am basically full. I am an attorney by trade. My whole salary goes to this. We live on my husband’s salary, which also goes to this in a certain part. The ownership and upkeep of the property is a donation by the couple. According to Walters just paying for feed, veterinarian services, and farrier costs can easily go over $110, 000 a year, so their operation depends on volunteers for assistance in caring for the animals. She also credits the support of the organization’s volunteers for making the lives of the horses comfortable and healthy.

Although Hoof & Heart’s volunteer list roughly consists of 60 people, there are about ten volunteers that come in regularly to help care for the equine family. Walters and her husband appreciate the current help, and still, they need at least five more committed volunteers. Walters explains what her operation can handle by saying, “I know what my limit is. I cannot go over 60 and responsibly care for them, and I really like to be under 50 to make it a little easier to care for them.” When the rescue is full, Walters explains that herd management is of consistent concern because horses that don’t get along well can hurt each other. The standard, Walters shares, is that if you have 50 to 60 horses you need to have anywhere from 40 to 60 regular volunteers. At present, they don’t have that amount, and they recently acquired more special needs horses. Walters now has six blind horses on-site that need someone to talk to them, so they know where the food is and can feel that they are safe while eating.

Volunteering on project days offers the public an opportunity to see if they want to become a regular volunteer. Hoof & Heart offers all their training for free and is appreciative of anyone with expertise in horses. But if all a person can do is volunteer occasionally that offer certainly won’t be turned away. Local, regular support is vital for the health of the organization and the equines. Coming out for events at the rescue gives everyone a chance to meet other horse lovers and helps everybody volunteering to become better at managing horses. In addition to the project days on Saturdays, other events coming up in October include volunteer appreciation day and trunk or treat the Sunday before Halloween.

Current volunteers include students from Albion College and Spring Arbor University. Some people have come from as far away as Iowa to work the weekend. Two local, regular volunteers at Hoof & Heart have different reasons for giving of their time.  Kandra Bramble from the Springport area shares, “I love the horses. I think they get the bad end of the deal; especially, these racehorses that make these owners so much money and in the end it’s all about dumping them. We’ve made enough money, but we’re not going to give you the life you deserve.” Dale Bruckner who lives within the Albion city limits and Clarence Township volunteers regularly. After five years of working with the horses, Bruckner has gained a feel of their personalities, needs, and physical limitations. And, he understands physical limitations in a personal way. Bruckner is disabled with multiple sclerosis and volunteering at Hoof & Heart is his way of giving back. The disease limits his movements, but he has good and bad days. As his disease progresses, he rarely gets visitors. Said Bruckner, “I love the mares. I will go out in the woods and sit with them.” Bruckner reports that they encircle him and nudge him lovingly during his visit.

According to an ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) 2016 article on their website by President and CEO Matt Bershadkur, the year 2015 saw 125,000 American horses shipped to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered for human consumption. And that is a top reason which drives Walters to maintain the three year old non-profit. Being raised on a cattle farm, she knows what takes place when slaughtering an animal and in her opinion, they are not cruelty-free. Then, later in her life, the unthinkable happened. “My sister trained professionally, and she passed away after a short battle with cancer, and many of her horses went to auction. After she was gone, I tried to find some of those and really became aware of the high proportion of more than 75 percent and up being exported for slaughter. So we work really hard to keep the horses out of the auction house and the slaughter pipeline.”
Walters finds value and joy in older horses and hopes to share that with others at Hoof & Heart. And she certainly has accomplished that with one of her long-time volunteers: Dale Bruckner. As shared earlier, he has his challenges, but Bruckner says, “I can feel so bad and come out here, and walk away feeling like I never had a problem in the world.”
To volunteer this weekend, please arrive at noon or text 517-304-0837 with your questions. Texting is the best way to reach Robin Walters about volunteering anytime as she has a full-time job as a lawyer during the day and can not answer the phone.
All pictures by Sylvia Benavidez
Photos and story copyright, The Recorder

Lopez Taco House Historical Profile

Lopez Taco House  began when Maria Lopez began to appreciate that her talents for cooking might lead to a business opportunity.

Maria Antonio Ortez was born in Brownsvile Texas.  She came to Albion and worked at the old A&W across from Brooks Foundry as a car hop when Manny Lopez stopped by for a coney dog. They married in 1956.

Maria and Manuel were members of the local Latin America Club, which used to hold dances on Saturday Nights.  Maria ran the kitchen there serving up tacos and other Mexican staples.  They began serving customers in July 1975 at the old “Brick Alley” location.

Maria worked at McGrw-Edison, Yankees, and the Royal Cafe before she opened Lopez Taco House with her husband on Christmas Eve in 1975.

Initially it was Maria that did all the cooking for the first five years, because Manuel had a good job working for Goodyear in Jackson.  Eventually he took over Maria’s culinary duties.

The building at 205 N. Superior Street formerly housed Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant, but the owners did not want it any more, so the Lopezes moved in.

Maria passed away in 2011, and Manuel worked in the business after that, working with his son, Daniel.  Manuel died in 2018.  His obituary can be seen here: