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A look back at 2018

Tribune Staff • Dec 27, 2018 at 10:00 AM

As we approach the end of 2018, we look back at the top stories from the past year.

We’ve divided the list into quarters. Today, we’ll highlight the top news stories from April, May and June.

July, August and September will be included in Friday’s Tribune; and Saturday will highlight the top stories from October, November and December. The top stories from the first three months of 2018 were printed in Wednesday’s Tribune. 

April 14

Lubbers Cup Regatta canceled – A weather trifecta was blamed for the first complete cancellation of the annual Lubbers Cup Rowing Regatta in almost a decade of Division I collegiate competition on Spring Lake. Temperatures in the 30s, rain and winds gusting to over 40 mph were to blame, according to Grand Valley State University rowing coach John Bancheri. Officials more recently announced the relocation of the race to Grand Rapids, where the event would less likely be affected by adverse weather conditions.

April 20

Buc’n’Gears qualify for robotics world championships – Grand Haven High School’s F.I.R.S.T. Robotics team qualified for the world championships after excelling at the state tournament, which took place at Saginaw Valley State University. The Bucs competed with teams from across the state, competing in 12 qualification matches. At the world championship, the Bucs went 8-1 and were seeded in sixth place before eventually losing in the quarterfinals.

April 30

Grand Haven’s Science Olympiad team qualifies for nationals – The Grand Haven High School Science Olympiad team earned a spot at the national championships after finishing in second place at the 36th annual state competition, held at Michigan State University. The top two teams from the state meet advanced to the nationals. Sixty teams competed in the high school event. This was the Buccaneers’ first time qualifying for the national tournament since 2015. Grand Haven’s Lakeshore Middle School and White Pines Intermediate School teams also had outstanding seasons, with Lakeshore placing fifth at the state meet and White Pines finishing ninth. In May, the high school team placed 16th out of 60 teams at the national tournament in Fort Collins, Colorado.

May 17

Willis found guilty of murdering Heeringa – A Muskegon County jury found Jeffrey Willis guilty of the 2013 abduction and murder of a Norton Shores gas station clerk whose body has never been found. Jessica Heeringa disappeared late one night from the gas station located on Sternberg Road near U.S. 31. Willis was already serving a mandatory life term for the June 2014 murder of Rebekah Bletsch, who was fatally shot while jogging in Muskegon County’s Dalton Township. He was convicted of her murder late last year. In mid-June, Judge William Marietti sentenced Willis to life without parole for murder and 18-40 years for kidnapping. These sentences will be served concurrent to those he's already serving.

May 21

Kite Festival finale – It started in the late 1980s as a competition and was changed to a festival in 2000. Thirty years later, organizers raised a toast and hugged each other on the Grand Haven State Park beach after the annual Great Lakes Kite Festival concluded. Organizers Steve and Lynn Negen said that it was time for the festival to end. Many of the kite flyers said they would be back for the same weekend next year, with or without a festival.

May 22

Fruitport breaks ground on high school updates – With construction going on in the background, students, administrators, residents and local government officials celebrated the official groundbreaking for the $48 million refurbishing at Fruitport High School. Fruitport Community Schools Superintendent Bob Szymoniak said they wanted to host a ceremony as a way to celebrate with the community. While voters in the Fruitport school district have supported and passed bond proposals over the years, Szymoniak said it was the first time in 50 years that they approved what he called a “significant bond” for new construction.

May 25

Drawbridge stuck, wreaking havoc on Memorial Day traffic – The Memorial Day weekend typically sees a rush of traffic heading north through Grand Haven as vacationers break out their campers and other recreational equipment and head “up north.” That travel hit a serious snag on May 25 when the U.S. 31 drawbridge over the Grand River was stuck open for several hours. Traffic was diverted to M-231, but the side streets leading to the new highway proved incapable of handling the increased traffic flow, and vehicles were backed up for miles attempting to reach the bypass. The bridge issues continued throughout the summer, with several malfunctions leading to significant traffic backups. 

June 2

Spring Lake Burger King closes — The Burger King restaurant at 15549 Cleveland St. abruptly closed as an unexpected turn for many long-time employees, local residents and neighboring senior citizens. Cindy Rose, the lead cook, had worked at the Spring Lake restaurant since it opened in 1993. “It's still a shock,” she said of the closing. “This is our home.”

June 14

Memorial service marks 75th anniversary of sinking of Escanaba – It’s been 75 years since the Escanaba sank in the Atlantic Ocean during World War II, but the spirit of those who served aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter lives on. The Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival Committee paid tribute to the ship’s crew during a memorial ceremony at Escanaba Park. The event honored the 103 men who went down with the ship, as well as the two survivors who’ve since died.

June 25

Queen’s Cup returns to Grand Haven – After an eight-year hiatus, the Queen’s Cup sailboat race returned to Grand Haven in June. A total of 137 boats crossed the starting line in Milwaukee for the 80th annual regatta, but only 111 boats finished at Grand Haven’s Municipal Marina. David Bluhm, a race participant and Pentwater native, said waves rose up to 10 feet when the boats left Milwaukee, causing some of the smaller boats to abandon the race. Local officials are hopeful that the Queen’s Cup will return to Grand Haven in the near future. 

June 22

Waterfront Stadium opens – A vision born half a decade ago finally became a reality in June as hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the new Lynne Sherwood Waterfront Stadium. The project came with a price tag topping $3 million. While a portion of that money came from a Michigan Department of Natural Resources grant and support from Fifth Third Bank, the majority came from the estate of a local philanthropist, the late Lynne Sherwood. “It’s truly an investment in this community,” said Holly Johnson of the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation. “This space will always be a lasting tribute to Lynne and her love of our community, and an inspiring reminder to all of us to always live generously.”

June 23

Coast Guard Station Grand Haven change of command – After four years at the helm of Coast Guard Station Grand Haven, Master Chief Justin Olsen was transferred to the same position in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Taking his place in Grand Haven was Master Chief Kirk McKay, who served as station chief in Grand Haven for the four years prior to Olson’s arrival.

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