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Published: Tuesday, 10/28/2008

Businesses, farms co-exist nicely in West Unity, bus travelers find

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WEST UNITY, Ohio After brief stops in Morenci, Mich., and Fayette, Ohio, the Countdown to Vote bus tour pulled into this northwest Ohio village in Williams County shortly after noon Tuesday.

Gathered to greet reporters and photographers in the parking lot of West Unity United Methodist Church was a small group of the village s community and business leaders, including Mayor Peggy Bernath, village Administrator Randy Mahlman, and Deb Piotrowski, superintendent of the Millcreek-West Unity Local School District.

Both Ms. Bernath and Ms. Piotrowski are the first women to have held their positions.

"There s a lot to be said for moms, because running a household is a lot like running a business," said Ms. Bernath, a mother of two adult children.

After a little chit-chat with WTOL anchor Jerry Anderson, the group climbed into the motor home and directed Mr. Anderson on a tour of their one-stoplight village, which is home to about 18,000 people.

The first stop was outside the Kamco Industries plant near the village edge.

The facility, which is surrounded by now-harvested cornfields, is West Unity s largest employer, with roughly 350 jobs. It makes components for Honda vehicles.

"That is the neat thing, you have a factory here and you have your cows grazing over there," Ms. Piotrowski said.

While many small towns in Ohio and Michigan have been hurt in recent years from business and plant closures, the regional job base for West Unity residents has been relatively stable, and is even projected to grow in the near future, Mayor Bernath said.

"I think we ve been very fortunate here," she said. "We may lose one, but we bring something else in."

From West Unity, the media bus set a course for Bryan: the Williams County seat.

Adrian With the second highest unemployment in the nation, Michigan and its residents have been feeling the pain of the economic downturn long before the financial markets dived into a frenzy last month.

So it may come as little surprise during the first leg of "The Countdown To Vote" bus tour yesterday, two issues dominated people's thoughts in Monroe and Lenawee counties: jobs and the economy.

"The economy is definitely the No. 1 issue. We need our jobs back," said Brenda White, 35, a single mother and a waitress at the Blissfield Coney Island & Restaurant in Blissfield Township.

"If we don't get them back soon, there ain't going to be a Michigan - we're all gonna move."

Emil DePetro of Adrian is a campaign volunteer who is working the phone bank in support of Sen. Barack Obama at the Lenawee County Democratic Party headquarters in Adrian.
<BR>
<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> <font color=red><b>VIEW</font color=red></b>: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=TO&Dato=20081028&Kategori=NEWS09&Lopenr=102809998&Ref=PH" target="_blank "><b> Media bus tour</b></a> photos
Emil DePetro of Adrian is a campaign volunteer who is working the phone bank in support of Sen. Barack Obama at the Lenawee County Democratic Party headquarters in Adrian. <BR> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> <font color=red><b>VIEW</font color=red></b>: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=TO&Dato=20081028&Kategori=NEWS09&Lopenr=102809998&Ref=PH" target="_blank "><b> Media bus tour</b></a> photos
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Having finished serving soup and sandwiches to the last of the midday lunch crowd, Ms. White batted a lock of chestnut hair from her eyes and allowed herself a short break behind the counter.

While waitressing is presently Ms. White's sole employment, she, like many people she knows here, is seeking a second job to help pay the bills.

Several of her friends who once held jobs in the automotive industry are out of work, she said.

September's 8.7 percent unemployment rate was second only to Rhode Island's 8.8 percent.

"The Countdown to Vote" bus tour is a collaboration between The Blade and WTOL-TV, Channel 11, to take the pulse of voters in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan just before the election.

Traveling by motor home and by Jeep, the news organizations are focusing on a mix of Democratic and Republican-leaning areas.

WTOL anchor Jerry Anderson, left, and cameraman Paul Kwapich board the  Countdown to Vote  bus for a swing into southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio to gauge voter sentiment. WTOL anchor Jerry Anderson, left, and cameraman Paul Kwapich board the Countdown to Vote bus for a swing into southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio to gauge voter sentiment.
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President Bush prevailed over Democratic challenger John Kerry in Lenawee and Monroe counties during the 2004 presidential election.

In Blissfield, Ms. White said she intends to vote for Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) on Nov. 4, but feels that lower-income people like herself have been overlooked by the nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties.

The campaign discourse seems focused on the well-being of the middle class, without enough attention on folks like Ms. White, who says "I'm not even middle class. I'm the poor people that they don't even talk about."

Ms. White's 18-year-old son, Kevin Patterson, an Army soldier, will be sent to Iraq in December.

Next door to the Coney Island on South Lane Street is Mohr's Barber Shop, where dozens of decorative old-fashion metal razors line the walls.

Jerry Holland has been cutting hair at Mohr's for 37 years, and yesterday afternoon he gave a clip and a shave to Michael Andrix as a Fox News broadcast of Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) played on the television.

Mr. Holland and Mr. Andrix said they agreed more with the Republicans in this election than the Democrats, for reasons including tax policy and national defense.

"I don't think raising taxes has to be the answer," Mr. Holland said, whisking away the foamy soap from his customer's neck with a straight razor.

Mr. Andrix had his opinion, too: "Redistributing the wealth is definitely not the answer."

Mr. Holland said he also would feel safer if Mr. McCain were elected. The Democrats "are already talking about cutting the military down."

Both men said they feel the news media have generally been biased in its reporting of the presidential election, going hard against Mr. McCain and running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, but treating Mr. Obama and his running mate, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden (D., Del.), with kid gloves.

With WTOL news anchor Jerry Anderson at the steering wheel, the 40-foot media bus left its parking lot at Channel 11 in downtown Toledo yesterday morning and made its first stop at Cabela's in Dundee, Mich.

Reporters and photographers wandered about the massive sporting goods store, asking customers what they had on their minds with just eight days before the election.

"One of the biggest issues in my mind is keeping the jobs here, in the United States," said Mitch Osting, 43, of Defiance, who was eyeing a display of stuffed white-tailed deer.

Mr. Osting said he is strongly against the NAFTA trade agreement, which he feels has led to American jobs being shipped away and thus needs to be renegotiated.

Politically, he considers himself an independent.

While he was once leaning toward supporting Mr. McCain, Mr. Osting now is favoring Mr. Obama, whom he hopes could help staunch the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs across the border and overseas.

"I want to make sure that whoever has the presidency makes sure those jobs stay here," he said.

Later in Adrian, Steven Butler held a cell phone to his ear as he worked his volunteer job: making hundreds of cold calls a day to registered voters for the Obama campaign.

"I'm about as far from a liberal as you get," he said. "If you would have told me a year ago that I'd be doing this, I'd have lost the bet."

A retired state corrections officer, Mr. Butler, 43, has two grown sons and two young grandchildren, and said he has always considered himself politically independent.

But with things now looking so bad in Michigan, he started campaigning for Senator Obama in the hope of bringing positive change to the economy and extending health care to more people.

"You have people here taking two or three jobs at a time. People are frustrated." Mr. Butler said.

While John Kerry won Michigan in 2004, President Bush carried Lenawee County (25,675) 54 percent to (20,787) 44 percent.

But with this year's presidential election just days away, Mr. Butler said he has spoken to some lifelong Republicans in Lenawee who are begrudgingly voting for the Democrat this year.

Sydney Angel of Adrian appears to be one of many Republican supporters in Michigan still disappointed by the McCain campaign's decision to pull its resources and staff from the state where Senator McCain lagged in the opinion polls.

"Everybody was surprised because we felt that we really had a chance," said Mrs. Angel, a state social worker and a delegate at the Republican National Convention.

She is also a fan of Senator McCain's running mate, Governor Palin, whom she feels represents the interests of many Americans.

"I feel that Obama is more of a world citizen than an American citizen, and it really has no concerns with race - I would vote for Condoleezza Rice in a second," she said of the U.S. secretary of state who is a black.

"I don't want to be a citizen of the world. I am an American, that's just who I am."

Still, Mrs. Angel can agree with Democrats on at least one matter: that Michigan residents are suffering economically.

"I suppose I am more pessimistic about the state because every day I sit across the desk from people who are hurting, and it's very sad," she said of her social work job.

"I've been there for 34 years, and I've never seen it like this."

"The Countdown to Vote" bus will depart Adrian this morning for the Bryan area in northwest Ohio.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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