By Jim Newell
Another year over and a new about to begin. And 2020 has been a year like no other in recent memory.
This week, The Lake Orion Review begins its look back at some of the news and business stories, sports and school highlights and events that helped shape the Orion community in 2020.
Beginning in March, the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on all aspects of life in the world dominated how our governments, schools, businesses and community groups and individuals had to alter their lives — from canceling events to social distancing events and dining, to businesses being temporarily — and in some cases, permanently — shut down, and the seasaw of remote and in-person learning in our schools.
So, without further ado, this is part one of the news that was…
Santa’s helpers share the spirit of the holidays with CJ’s waitress: On Dec. 17, Carissa Comer, a waitress at CJ’s Lakeside Bar and Grill, was surprised when a group of women she had been serving left her a tip of more than $500.
“You hear this stuff happening on T.V. but you never think it will happen to you,” Comer said.
The now infamous, yet mysterious, group of women travel around the area visiting restaurants and leaving large tips to unsuspecting wait staff.
Oakland Twp. receives $100k in park grants: Oakland Township will receive $100,000 to develop restroom facilities at Bear Creek Nature Park and Marsh View Park.
Both restrooms will be all-season facilities and will have two environmentally sustainable and accessible toilets.
Sheriff’s Office warns of jury duty scam: The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office received reports of scam phone calls using the names of sheriff’s office employees where the threat of arrest is made for not showing up to jury duty. The calls allege a warrant has been issued for the call taker’s arrest because they had not appeared in court. The suspects have proceeded to tell the call takers to pay a fine to take care of the warrant.
Lake Orion grad proves it’s never too late to pursue your dreams: For Anona Tolar, getting back into acting was a desire she had held for decades. “When I turned 50, I started pursuing acting again. I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to pursue my dream,’” Tolar said.
Tolar has recently worked on Hillbilly Elegy, a film directed by Ron Howard, where she was legendary actor Glenn Close’s stand-in. Tolar’s journey into acting began when she was a student in Lake Orion.
Village’s parking committee explores options to ease downtown parking woes: The village’s parking study ad-hoc committee on Monday discussed making the 15-minute parking spots permanent, pay-to-park options and pursuing valet parking during peak visitor hours.
LOPD to host a fond farewell party for former chief: Lake Orion Police officers will host a retirement party for former Chief Jerry Narsh on Friday to thank him for his 38 years of service to the community.
Authorities search for suspects in armed robbery at BP gas station: Oakland County Sheriff’s Office investigators are searching for two suspects who robbed the BP Gas Station on Baldwin Road at 1:28 a.m. Dec. 31, and hope the public can help identify the men. Detectives have also connected this robbery with other robberies in north Oakland County and are working with Oakland County Sheriff’s Office/FBI Violent Crime Task Force.
Orion Chamber of Commerce selects Noelle Champagne as its new executive director
Local chainsaw sculptor prepares to undergo life-saving heart surgery: For 25 years, Gary Elzerman has been a self-employed chainsaw sculptor creating thousands of pieces for local businesses, residents and charities, as well as celebrities such as Kid Rock and Clint Black.
However, in April 2018, everything changed when he was diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic valve, ascending aortic root aneurysm and coarctation of the aorta.
Village receives ‘clean’ 2019 fiscal year audit report: The Village of Lake Orion received an unmodified, or clean, independent audit report from its auditing firm during a presentation at the council meeting on Monday. The audit report was for the 2019 fiscal year, covering July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019.
Orion Neighborhood Television to hold 10th annual 5 for 5 food drive Feb. 8
CELL OUT for Soldiers at Lake Orion High School benefits ‘Minutes that Matter’: This year marks the sixth annual CELL OUT for Soldiers event at Lake Orion High School.
LOHS Thespian Troupe wins Technical Theater Olympics, several other awards at Thespian Festival in Detroit
Lake Orion DDA sets priorities for 2020 during Jan. 14 meeting: The DDA board voted the following as the DDA’s top priorities of 2020: 1. Lighting and Safety, 2. Parking, 3. Walkability, and 4. Farmers Market.
Orion Twp. Parks & Rec. director discusses millage, upcoming projects: In 2018, residents approved a five-year, 1- mill parks millage, with 57 percent of voters supporting the millage for the Orion Township Parks & Recreation Department. Since that time, the parks department has been implementing a five-year maintenance and improvements plan, just as they laid out when asking for the millage.
Oat Soda opens ‘quietly’ in downtown LO: Oat Soda owners Jason Peltier and Danny Fox had planned on a quiet opening for their new restaurant on Friday evening, but that quiet turnkey opening quickly turned into a packed house of hundreds of customers who wanted to check out Lake Orion’s newest restaurant.
Lakes Community Credit Union merges with BBCU: Lakes Community Credit Union in Lake Orion is joining with Birmingham Bloomfield and Metro North credit unions. The Lakes Community Credit Union members voted Jan. 11 in support of the merger, which becomes effective Feb. 1.
‘Going for 20’: LOHS competitive cheer looks to make state competition for 20th time
Dragons clinch OAA Red hockey title: The Lake Orion varsity hockey team defeated the M-1 United Griffins on Thursday to take the OAA Red division regular season title.
Parking alternatives to be considered in downtown Lake Orion in 2020: Parking discussions are a common occurrence in downtown Lake Orion. Now, with the addition of four new restaurants (Oat Soda, Anita’s Kitchen, Bitter Tom’s and 313 Pizza Bar – none of which have their own, private parking lots), parking troubles are not expected to subside anytime soon.
These alternatives include: valet parking, pay-to-park, utilizing NOTA and parking structures.
Village Council approves new events application process: During its meeting on Monday, the Lake Orion Village Council unanimously approved an amended application process for all would-be events in the village.
Now, any group that wants to hold an event in Lake Orion, even those groups who have previously held events in the village, will have to reapply each year and go through the approval process.
Orion Twp. man charged after allegedly installing hidden cameras in Auburn Hills Target fitting room: Nathan Howard Wilson, 46, was charged and arraigned Jan. 22 before Magistrate Karen Holt at the 52/3 District Court in Rochester Hills.
He was charged with Surveilling an Unclothed Person 2nd offense, a five-year felony; Capturing/Distributing Image of Unclothed Person, a five-year felony); Eavesdropping – Installing/Using Device, a two-year felony; and two counts of Using a Computer to Commit a Crime, a 4- to 10-year felony, an Auburn Hills Police Dept. report stated.
LOCS Board of Education discusses schools of choice enrollment for 2020-21: During the Jan. 22 board meeting, board members approved allowing students from outside the district to attend Lake Orion schools for the 2020-21 school year.
Parking changes are coming: village parking committee discusses pay-to-park, valet services:
Bomb threat garners additional police presence at LOHS: The Oakland County Sheriff’s Operation Center received an anonymous tip from Crime Stoppers at 10:24 p.m. Jan. 28 regarding a threat made against Lake Orion High School via Snapchat. The anonymous tip stated that a “bomb” had been placed in the locker rooms near the pool lobby.
LOCS Board of Education locks down timeline for superintendent search: The school board held a special meeting on Monday to discuss the superintendent search process with John Silveri from the Michigan Leadership Institute (MLI), the district’s search firm. The board essentially nailed down a timeline for the search process that is expected to wrap up in mid-May.
American Legion commander, Reighard meet and resolve dispute over ‘worthless’ comment: A disagreement between American Legion Post 233 members and the vice-chair of the Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors has reached a peaceful conclusion.
American Legion Post Commander Steve Hauxwell and DDA Vice-Chair Anthony Reighard met on Friday and resolved a dispute over comments Reighard made in a Jan. 14 DDA meeting.
In the Jan. 22 issue, The Lake Orion Review quoted Reighard as saying the American Legion building was “worthless” and anything built on the property would be “10 times better than what’s there now.”
Parking committee discusses understaffed enforcement, lot hours, valet services: Lake Orion officials are working to expand parking options in the village to accommodate the increased traffic to the downtown. Four new restaurants – Oat Soda, Anita’s Kitchen, Bitter Tom’s and 313 Pizza Bar – have opened in the village since November, and none had dedicated customer/ employee parking in their development plans.
But a lack of parking enforcement and the inability to direct visitors and employees who will be in the downtown for long periods of time to lots further off the main strip is creating parking chaos on the weekends. And the new public parking lot on S. Slater Street, next to the Lake Orion United Church, is technically available for use: but no one knows about it and it’s still not finished, village officials said.
And no one seems to know who is using the public lot on Shadbolt and Lapeer streets, which is full seemingly all hours of the day. These revelations came during the village’s Parking Study Ad-hoc Committee meeting on Feb. 3.
Village approves Polar Plunge event: The Lake Orion Village Council approved the proposed Polar Plunge event application during its meeting on Monday. The Polar Plunge is planned for Feb. 29 in the municipal parking lot off Shadbolt Street, behind 313 Pizza Bar, which is co-hosting the event with Special Olympics of Michigan.
Dragon athletes sign letters of intent to play college sports: 11 Dragon athletes signed their letters of intent on Feb. 5 to play college sports.
36th Annual Orion Firemen’s Ball is March 14 (It was later canceled due to the pandemic gathering restrictions.)
Vandals trash the Village of Lake Orion: Police found more than 50 ‘taggings’ across the downtown landscape. The damage and cleanup costs are still undetermined.
LOCS approves bid awards for bond and sinking fund projects: During their Feb. 11 meeting, the Lake Orion Board of Education approved bid awards for two school bond projects and one sinking fund project.
LOCS Board of Education discusses policy changes: Will possible new policy changes force the district to rename Blanche Sims Elementary once the new building is finished? No, and you won’t see any unapproved drones flying over school facilities either.
Down power lines cause widespread power outages throughout Lake Orion on Saturday: It was lights out for many of the businesses and homes in Lake Orion on Saturday. About 7:25 p.m., the lights went out for a several seconds, came back on for a few seconds, only to go out again, this time for hours. All on a busy Saturday evening when the restaurants were full of guests. The cause of the power outage appears to be a utility pole that tipped over next to the wooden pedestrian bridge across Paint Creek from the Orion Art Center, along the pathway to Meek’s Park.
Lake Orion schools ranks no. 1 in Oakland County for special education instruction: LOCS has 927 special education students, which makes up 13 percent of Lake Orion’s student population, according to district documents.
Village officials hold meetings on parking meter proposal: A pay-to-park parking system could be coming to Lake Orion in the near future if a proposed pilot testing program is successful.
Village officials met twice this month with representatives from Municipal Parking Services (MPS) about the possibility of installing parking meters in downtown Lake Orion, said council President Ken Van Portfliet.
Harold Rossman sworn in as new Lake Orion police chief: Sgt. Todd Stanfield promoted to lieutenant: The Lake Orion Village Council voted unanimously to appoint Acting Police Chief Harold Rossman as the permanent chief of police during its Feb. 24 meeting. The council also unanimously approved promoting Sgt. Todd Stanfield to lieutenant.
Polar Plunge raises $35K for Special Olympics athletes in Oakland County: More than 90 people participated in the Polar Plunge outside of 313 Pizza Bar in downtown Lake Orion on Leap Day, raising more than $35K for Special Olympics of Michigan.
Orion Twp. Fire Department Administration offices open at Gregory Road station: The fire department administration offices had been at Orion Township Hall. With a new addition on fire station no. 3, the offices moved to the Gregory Road location.
LOCS releases ‘desired skills and traits’ criteria for superintendent candidates: The position was posted online on Feb. 28. Applications will be accepted until 4 p.m. March 30.
Board members are expected to review applications and select five to six candidates and conduct interviews April 13-16. In February, board members, as well as community members, had the opportunity to discuss the qualifications they wish to see in candidates.
M-24 road project bid under review, no timetable set on start of construction: The M-24 road resurfacing and reconstruction project through the Orion and Oxford areas has a low bidder for the construction project.
Dan’s Excavating of Shelby Township was the low bidder for the project at the Feb. 21 project bid opening.
“While Dan’s was the lowest bidder, the amount was higher than our engineers estimate and it has to go through a special review, therefore, the project has not yet been awarded, nor is there a schedule yet,” said Diane Cross, communications representative for MDOT’s Metro Region.
Legion Riders help with Orion Veterans Memorial wall repairs: On Saturday, the American Legion Riders of American Legion Walter Fraser Post 108 on Drahner Road in Oxford donated $500 toward the cost of repairs at the memorial.
Oakland County Health Division confirms rabies in skunk in Lake Orion: The Oakland County Health Division in Pontiac confirmed a positive rabies case in Lake Orion on March 6.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the first two positive cases of coronavirus in Michigan on March 10, the day of the presidential primary election
Orion leaders come together to create a COVID-19 response team: On Monday, more than 30 community leaders, led by Orion Twp. Supervisor Chris Barnett, meet to discuss how they could best coordinate information and efforts to assist residents and businesses in the Orion community during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Lake Orion schools close for ‘indefinite period of time’ as positive cases of COVID-19 increase in Oakland County: In order to stop the spread of the novel Coronavirus, Michigan schools closed Monday and are expected to remain closed until at least April 6, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the evening of March 12.
LOCS school board approves bid awards for bond and sinking fund projects: Continuing with series one of bond work, as well as sinking fund projects, the Lake Orion school board approved bid awards for projects involving the new Early Childhood Center and Webber Elementary School, as well as district mechanical commissioning, furniture and playground equipment.
According to district documents, LOCS received 222 bids on 66 contracts. The contracts awarded and approved by the board totaled $22,298,578, with additional allowance and contingency costs of $3,501,656, for a grand total of $25,800,234.
Gov. Whitmer orders restaurants, bars closed, no large gatherings: Whitmer signed the order on March 16.
Village of Lake Orion to resume government meetings: The village council, planning commission and other boards and committees will meet virtually only.
New Oakland County COVID-19 map shows cases by zip code.
Lake Orion Flower & Art Fair tentatively rescheduled, vendors can still sign up
For the upcoming weeks, Sherman Publications, Inc. combined The Clarkston News, The Lake Orion Review and The Oxford Leader into one newspaper to save on printing and postage costs.
Orion nurse shares her experiences, observations on Coronavirus pandemic: For many in the medical field the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis fraught with equipment shortages, a lack of personal protection equipment and an influx of patients. Nurse Bridgette Giampa, who works at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital in Pontiac, shares her observations about the pandemic.
Local businesses and residents look to provide essential resources during COVID outbreak: Broadway Embroidery in downtown Lake Orion is one of the retailers using their own resources to help with the nationwide mask shortage.
During the week of March 16, owners Sally Medina and Olivia Mitteer started to notice embroidery Facebook groups sharing patterns for masks. Soon they began receiving requests for face masks from friends who are nurses.
NOTA expands services to help the community through pandemic: The North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA) helps people get to and from work, to a doctor’s appointment or to the grocery store. But with the spread of COVID-19, NOTA is adapting to best serve the current needs of the community, including adding grocery and meal runs to their services.
“We’re here to take our essential riders to work, we have people who go to Kroger and McDonald’s, and we’re also taking people to dialysis, which we do a lot of,” said NOTA Director Lynn Gustafson. “We also stopped charging for rides, so everything is free.”
Orion seamstress makes heartfelt cover masks for healthcare workers: Peggy Barry Bartz, a seamstress and owner of Glimmering Whims and Weddings, creates cloth cover masks to go over the disposable masks nurses’ wear. The cover masks help protect the surgical masks so that they are not as contaminated as they would have been. Nurses can then wash and reuse the cover masks and preserve their disposable masks a bit longer.
“Stay home, stay safe” made bearable with Orion Library’s online resources.
Perils of publishing during a pandemic: A letter from the publisher: Dear readers and businesses who have come to rely on Sherman Publications, Inc. (publishers of The Clarkston News, Lake Orion Review, Oxford Leader, The Citizen, Ad-Vertiser, Penny Stretcher and The Big Deal), for the first time in our very long history, we will temporarily cease print publications after this edition, beginning April 8.
LOCS school board holds first virtual meeting during “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, discuss remote learning updates: In compliance with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order, Lake Orion Community School’s Board of Education met remotely via Zoom for the first time on April 8.
Water main replacement resumes on Heights Road in Lake Orion: The Village of Lake Orion water main replacement project resumes the week of April 20, weather permitting.
Village of LO adopts 2020-21 fiscal year budget: The Lake Orion Village Council voted unanimously to adopt the village’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget and set the tax rates for the upcoming year during its regular meeting Monday.
M-24 construction, re-surfacing underway in Orion, Oxford: Traffic was backed up along M-24 (Lapeer Road) near Flint Street in the Village of Lake Orion during rush hour.
LOCS bond work starts back up, design teams continue to meet virtually
Lake Orion schools resumes superintendent search, solidifies timeline: The Lake Orion school board met for a special meeting April 20 to discuss reopening the superintendent search.
Orion Twp. board will have at least one new member after elections: Trustee John Steimel withdrew his name from the race. There are seven candidates running for four trustee positions. Supervisor Chris Barnett, Clerk Penny Shults and Treasurer Donni Steele are running unopposed.
Lake Orion DDA unveils crowdfunding campaign to aid businesses during the pandemic: the Patronicity Business Assistance Crowdfunding Campaign launched May 13.
LOCS plans for the ‘unknown’ as 2019-20 school year comes to a close: As students and staff begin their final month of school before summer vacation, the school board and administration look toward what could potentially be a strange start to the 2020-2021 school year.
Memorial Day ceremony to be broadcast live: There will be a Memorial Day ceremony at the Orion Veterans Memorial on May 25. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, viewers will have to watch the ceremony at home instead of attending in person.
Canterbury Village to host drive-in movies beginning May 29
Suspect arrested in multiple Oakland County convenience store break-ins: Brandon Twp. man allegedly stole cigarettes, alcohol, a BB gun and a DTE meter: Nathan James Calhoun is the suspect in breaking and entering spree that stretched across Orion, Brandon and Independence townships in the early morning hours of May 17, according to news release from Sheriff Michael J. Bouchard’s office.
Calhoun could face up to 20 years in prison, if convicted.
Lake Orion DDA revisits 2020 priorities, sets sights on bringing customers back to the downtown: The Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors met May 21 to discuss this year’s priorities. Earlier this year, the board had voted to make pedestrian safety and lighting, parking, walkability and a farmer’s market their main priorities for 2020.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic and current business climate, DDA Executive Director Molly LaLone asked board members to revisit their list of priorities and make adjustments.
The new number one priority: events.
Lake Orion grad opens up about the reality of COVID-19: Nikki Liogas works as a nurse at Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital and shared her experiences working on a COVID floor. “People need to really put into perspective how they’re being selfish…my message for people is to try and be more selfless and try and be at peace,” she said.