This week, there’ll be a very special birthday dinner at the Pentwater Friendship Center. But you won’t want to be putting another candle on this cake, unless you want to call out the fire department. The honoree is none other than Pentwater itself, which turns 150 Thursday, March 16. On that date in 1867, the town that became, in so many ways, the jewel of Oceana, was incorporated, making 2017 its sesquicentennial year. And you’d better believe that the Village of Pentwater will be pulling out all the stops, with a myriad of events celebrating “Pentwater Throughout the Years.”
“That’s the theme of our sesquicentennial,” notes Pentwater Chamber of Commerce Director Eva Gregwer. “The birthday dinner is the kickoff for activities we’ll be holding throughout 2017, to show how proud we are of our village.”
And if there’s anything that distinguishes Pentwater from so many places, it’s civic pride—a pride stemming from the uniquely personal connection its residents have to the little beachside town that has been home to so many generations. Over the decades, families and friends have accumulated a vast collection of shared memories, to the point where Pentwater is more than just a town, or even just a community. It’s one big extended family.
A perfect example is Gregwer herself. On May 28, the Pentwater Public School’s time capsule from the 1990s will be officially opened. Gregwer was in elementary school when the capsule was assembled, and she’ll be there to see her own contribution unearthed.
“I’m kind of nervous about what I put in there,” she laughs. “I have no recollection what it was.”
Deb Deward of the Pentwater Historical Society Museum, and one of the planners of the sesquicentennial events, laughs too. “Eva’s afraid it’ll be something like a note saying, ‘Oh, So and So is so cute!’”
And of course, this being Pentwater, “So and So” is still around. But who knows what he put in the time capsule?
It’s all part of what makes the town so special—a shared past. “I’m fifth generation on both sides,” Gregwer says. “So personally, for me, the best thing about Pentwater is the generational aspect. I’ve seen so many people come back here. We’re such a close-knit community, and we support each other. Some of my closest friends from childhood have returned to live here. It’s the kind of place where you walk out the door and see someone you know. And even if you don’t know them, you’ll say hello, because that’s who we are.”
“It seems like people always come back,” Deward agrees. “And their families come back. History in Pentwater is not just something you view in a museum, or read about in old newspapers. It’s a very personal thing. So for the sesquicentennial, we’re trying to get the whole community involved, with everybody contributing something.”
Beginning with Founders Day, May 6, events will focus on different aspects of the 15 decades of Pentwater life—which actually began, notes Pentwater Historical Society Museum Director Ed Bigelow, much earlier, when lumber baron Charles Mears and other venture capitalists chose the area as a prime location for their enterprises.
“Mears came to Pentwater in the early 1850s and began doing things like opening the harbor for shipping and commerce,” says Bigelow. “The lumber industry had 2,000 people involved in the Pentwater area from 1853 for 50 or 60 years. And many of those people stayed, and that became the motivation for the village to become incorporated.”
“If I could go back in time for one day, I’d pick a day in 1853,” he muses. “I’d just walk through town. I’d like to see the ships, the big schooners coming into the harbor, loading up with lumber… I’d like it to be in warm weather, though!”
The village will be celebrating all summer long with a variety of activities. On May 28, after the opening of the time capsule, the movie, “Back to the Future,” will be shown on the village green. On June 4, the annual Start of Summer Party will feature tables representing each decade of the past 150 years, with costumes, music and other memorials of the different periods.
Beginning in June and running through August, the Pentwater Lake Association will host “10 Wonders of the Lake,” a self-guided boat trip with maps available throughout the village. And speaking of boats, the Pentwater Yacht Club is actually taking the plunge and recreating, July 1, one of the stellar events of days long past—“Venetian Night,” a glamorous, breathtaking display of boats that will make their stately way around the lake, festooned to the hilt.
“All the boats would be at the yacht club, decorated with lights going around the ship and up the mast,” remembers Bigelow. “Then they’d form a chain and go around the lake. It was quite spectacular. I recall this from the late 1940s, because in 1948 I was 10 years old and could get around town by myself, and what a thing that was to see!”
Homecoming in particular will be in full sesquicentennial mode. This year, it will be a week-long event, August 7-13, with each day devoted to a different aspect of Pentwater history, from a special tour of the Pentwater Historical Society Museum to a night of Decade Dress, where you’re encouraged to show up in your favorite decade attire for the viewing of the movie, “Pentwater Throughout the Years,” which will have its premiere on the village green. And you can expect a bigger and better parade, with floats sporting “Throughout the Years” themes.
“We’re going to have more floats,” says Deward. “The float for the historical museum will be a recreation of the old ferry coming across the channel. That was the old way to get from the south side of the lake to the north.”
The creator of the film “Pentwater Throughout the Years,” Claudia Ressel-Hodan, is also the chair of the village’s Downtown Development Association and one of the key forces in the sesquicentennial event planning. “Don Palmer, village promotions director, got things going,” she explains. “Juanita Pierman is also on the team, along with Bill Maxwell of the Pentwater Service Club. I designed the plate for the chamber— featuring different views of Hancock Street throughout the years—and Jane Weber designed the sesquicentennial logo.”
“I’ve been living and breathing this for a long time,” Ressel-Hodan acknowledges. “And I’m having a lot of fun.”
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