This is the third of several stories that lead up to the May 9, 2018 Albion Community Foundation Gala celebrating 50 years since the foundation started in Albion.
By LINDA KOLMODIN
March 29, 2018
Albion’s current downtown renaissance is not the first effort by forward thinking civic leaders to boost the community center. In 1974 the Albion Community Foundation supported the Albion Town Center Project designed to revitalize the marketplace area behind downtown businesses.
Stoffer Plaza, dedicated at the 1982 Festival of the Forks, was the end result of this plan to better utilize the area along the Kalamazoo River behind the downtown buildings. Named in memory of William R. Stoffer, (1919-1980) an ACF trustee and a businessman active in civic affairs, the marketplace project included reestablishment of the area farmer’s market. The structures proposed and built were reminiscent of the farmer’s sheds in the early 20th century that once were near the riverfront site.
Stoffer, whose son, William K. Stoffer, also served as an ACF trustee and chair, was owner of Albion Machine & Tool Company. The elder Stoffer had served as a trustee until his death in 1980. The marketplace project was proposed by the City of Albion Planning and Community Development department and required an initial $85,000 investment. The city contributed $50,000 with $35,000 balance to be raised. The Foundation board voted that the first $25,000 be raised by private individuals and the second $10,000 be matched by the ACF.
The design for Stoffer Plaza was centered around a natural artesian well that remained flowing even after the old millrace was filled in during summer 1954. Stoffer Plaza is on the exact site where the Albion Company erected its first water-powered business in 1835-a sawmill built by Paul Tenney Peabody (Albion’s first settler) and Wareham Warner. Today Stoffer Plaza remains a marketplace for Albion and a central place for food at the annual Festival of the Forks.
Another brick and mortar project was considered by the Foundation in the early 1980s when it started exploring restoration of the old Michigan Central Railroad depot. The depot, built in 1882 and closed in 1971 when the Penn Central Railroad ceased passenger service to Albion was a prominent landmark near the downtown.
The Albion Community Foundation agreed to be the avenue for donations to restore this historic depot. Plans included restoration of the exterior to its original look and renovation of the interior to allow for historic authenticity, but with modern amenities for offices, restrooms and a train and bus station waiting room.
This project was a cooperative effort between the Foundation, Friends of the Depot, Albion College, the Albion Chamber of Commerce and other local groups. A total of $30,000 was raised in local contributions from the Foundation, service groups, and private contributors during the initial fund-raising campaign. In-kind donations of labor, construction management, publicity, interior and exterior historically accurate decorating, and construction materials made the restoration project feasible. The late Mary Cram, a former ACF trustee, and the late Ken Kolmodin, also a trustee and Albion College facilities director, and other local civic leaders were instrumental in the restoration effort.
The depot reopened on September 20, 1986, as part of the Festival of the Forks celebration. The ACF later funded several projects to complete renovation of the depot. It was the former home of the Greater Albion Chamber of Commerce and now houses a local insurance agency. The Amtrak train and Greyhound waiting room are also in the depot which serves as the Albion transportation center.
In 1987 the ACF furthered it commitment to downtown by purchasing a building at 203 S. Superior St. and later renovating it as the permanent foundation office. On that site had been the second-floor office of longtime dentist, Dr. L.J. Heidenreich and Hunter’s Party Store on the first floor. Early in 1987 a joint Albion College/community proposal was submitted to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for a community volunteer center. The foundation endorsed this venture with an initial $1,200 grant for establishment of this joint volunteer center. The ACF board authorized spending $45,000 for the purchase and renovation of the downtown building to house the volunteer center. The first floor was renovated and the second floor left for a later ACF office.
The Kellogg grant was for $470,000 three-year program called the Albion Civic Life Project (ACLP) was designed to promote community and college volunteerism and civic involvement. The Albion Volunteer Service Center was one of the first ACLP initiatives. The Volunteer Service Center opened its doors Dec. 3, 1988 and became a place for volunteers and community agencies to come together. ACF offices were temporarily set up in the rear of the building.
By 1991 the foundation needed a more permanent location. The City of Albion Department of Community Planning and Development received a $61,360 grant from the state-funded Neighborhood Builders Alliance and the foundation gave $4,000 in matching funds, along with more funding later for further building improvements at the South Superior Street location.
With the building completely restored the ACF named the building in memory of the foundation’s founder Thomas T. Lloyd. A bronze plaque on the building commemorates this former ACF headquarters. The building now houses the Bohm II Theatre. This 2017 theatre expansion was also partially funded by the foundation.
As the ACF moved into the 21st Century more major projects including building the Victory of Kids playground in Victory Park, restoration of the historic Bohm Theatre, creation of the Holland Park playground, the Albion Food Hub and the new ACF office on N. Eaton St. were all major projects supported by the foundation.
As the foundation celebrates its first 50 years the public is invited to a gala May 7. The semi-formal event begins at 5:30 pm at the Mary Sheldon Ismon House with an hors d’oeuvres reception followed by a 6 pm buffet dinner. The event moves to the Bohm Theatre for a 50th anniversary video and program, followed by dessert and afterglow at Kids ‘N’ Stuff Museum. All of these places have been recipients of major ACF grants.
Cost of the gala anniversary celebration is $45 per person. Invitations are being mailed for this event or to purchase tickets contact the ACF office at 517-629-3349 during office hours Tuesday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm or visit http:/www.albionfoundation.org/50years.
Linda Jansen Kolmodin, a resident of Albion since 1981, is originally from North Muskegon Michigan. She was a special education teacher for Olivet Community Schools for 18 years and has had a variety of jobs related to public relations and writing since that time. Most recently, she was the catalyst for the successfully funded Coca-Cola mural restoration project for downtown Albion Michigan. She is involved in many Albion organizations including the Albion Community Foundation and the Albion-Homer United Way. She is a graduate of U of M, with a Master’s Degree from EMU in Special Education.
This story is reprinted with permission from The Recorder.
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