Every thriving community, like a stage production, has essential contributions from people working behind the scenes. Such people are not always brought to light, but there are four people in the greater Flint area who deserve at least one moment in the spotlight. Signs of the greater Flint area’s recent revitalization are prominent, but to continue this renaissance is quietly dependent on the rekindled spirit of these four and other humble heroes in the community. onthetown salutes you!
Ed Custer: Covering Central Flint’s Comeback
While onthetown Magazine has a 43-year legacy covering the optimism of the greater Flint area, another local publication has been serving our community nearly as long with its unique and engaging publication style. East Village Magazine is a neighborhood nonprofit operation with a mission to inform people about public and private actions affecting them, provide good writing about life in the “village” and document surroundings through thoughtful photography.
Founded in 1976 by Gary Custer, East Village Magazine is now managed by Editor Jan Worth Nelson with Gary’s brother, Edwin D. (Ed), bringing a historical perspective, continuing the neighborhood preservation mission and using his artist’s eye to capture in photos the unseen that is in plain sight. Through the years, Ed has served in various capacities with the magazine, including board member, distribution director, graphics editor, community affairs, proofreader and photographer. But East Village Magazine fills only a portion of Ed Custer’s day-to-day activities.
A Flint resident since the early 1950s and a Vietnam War veteran, Custer is a retired urban land planner who owns and manages several properties in the Central Park neighborhood, where he currently resides. He has served as an officer in the Central Park Neighborhood Association (CPNA) and its subcommittees more than 20 years, following a family legacy of CPNA involvement since the urban renewal of the 1960s. His father was the president of the CPNA for several decades.
In Custer’s view, the CPNA area, defined by the boundaries of East Court Street, Gilkey Creek, R. T. Longway Boulevard and northbound Chavez Drive, is the most diverse socioeconomic place in the county. He feels residents of this older neighborhood have had to defend for decades its diverse, historic housing environment against commercial and institutional encroachment. He states that in recent years, Central Park housing stability has been greatly enhanced by Norma Sain of Court Street Non-Profit Housing Corporation as she interacts with public and private entities, obtains and implements project grants and provides meeting space. He concludes that neighborhood preservation is an ongoing effort to retain and enhance quality living environments integral to the urban core.
In addition, Custer is an accomplished artist, expressing his creativity through ceramics, sculpture, painting and photography for most of his life. He holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts along with master’s degrees in the arts and landscape architecture fields. He is an artist member of Flint’s Buckham Gallery while producing many works of art through ceramics and sculpture, crediting the Flint Institute of Arts and Mott Community College studio facilities with being a big part of that creativity. In addition, he is a member of the Greater Flint Arts Council and was a past winner of Best of Show there for a 60-foot-long ceramic piece, “The Great Circus Parade,” and a past award winner for a large oil painting, “Ship’s Screw.”
As a longtime resident of Flint, he can attest to its decline and is now encouraged by the gradual reemergence of Flint’s core. He believes in this recent progress, although a number of architecturally unique buildings were lost, while others are now being restored.
“As a preservationist and artist, I have hope we keep the best of the remaining while creating compatible infill,” he astutely says. “Ultimately, that would make for a pride of place and bridge to our heritage. This downtown comeback will greatly depend on the students and young professionals new to Flint not burdened with negative perceptions of past decline. As a whole, the greater Flint area will continue to grow from private investment of middle and upper classes. Its suburban and exurban rim primarily to the south will thrive from the greater Detroit megalopolis growth.”
Ultimately, he comes to the stark realization that Flint will struggle against preconceived negative ideas, which will keep the greater Flint area population away in the short term. During this transition, East Village Magazine will continue its mission of informing people about public and private actions affecting them so that they may act in their own best interest.
Josh Ingersoll and Mark Hoffman: Contributing to Communities Near and Far
This past summer America witnessed the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the U.S. Hurricane Harvey’s floods devastated the Houston, Texas, metropolitan area, inundating hundreds of thousands of homes and displacing more than 30,000 people. Even though Houston is 1,500 miles from Flint, a local business and a group of concerned residents took on the challenge to contribute to the massive relief efforts.
While SERVPRO is a leader in the restoration industry backed with a claim that its professionals are faster to any size disaster, it reached out with a call for “all hands on deck” to its 1,700 franchises who had the capability and manpower to head to Houston immediately. According to Josh Ingersoll, owner of SERVPRO of northwest Genesee County and Fenton, corporate gave them an opportunity, and within two days, his crew of eight individuals and four professionally equipped vans were heading for Houston.
One of Ingersoll’s crew included good friend Mark Hoffman, owner of Hoffman’s Chop Shop at the Flint Farmers’ Market and part owner along with his brother, Heath, of Hoffman’s Deco Deli & Cafe near downtown Flint on Garland Street. Any business owner would give serious thought to leaving the store for any length of time; however, when Hoffman informed his crew he would be away for an extended period, he did so with complete trust and confidence.
“It was a good test for my crew,” he says. “But I realized how important the whole team is – it was a good test and they proved they could do it.”
“I realized how important the whole team is – it was a good test and they proved they could do it.” —Mark Hoffman
When the SERVPRO crew arrived, the initial reaction was amazement. “The news coverage did not do any justice to the reality of it,” Ingersoll explains. “We learned firsthand how devastating it can be on a family.”
Hoffman was taken aback by the sight of entire subdivisions’ homes’ contents being completely destroyed and stacked on curbs for miles. After encountering the situation, Ingersoll flew three more people down to the site to help out the original crew. Ingersoll mentioned once they got to work, they had to go deeper with the demolition.
“The magnitude of the level of demolition was staggering,” he solemnly says.
It was so severe that at times, the crew had to wear hazardous material suits to get through the deconstruction process. After 24 days Ingersoll’s crew had tended to nine homes – “I could have used 50 more people,” Ingersoll says.
Ingersoll was definitely moved by this experience. After a pause, he revealed he gained a lot of hope in humanity.
“I saw the way the people of Houston came together; I saw an outpouring of love and support for people who never knew each other,” he says.
Mark Hoffman reflected on how genuine the home owners were. He says, “They just lost everything and still were able to carry on regular conversations. I am thankful I had the opportunity to go – it was very humbling and makes you feel fortunate for what you have.”
Ingersoll is also proud that his SERVPRO business has been and now, with inspiration, will continue to be involved in the greater Flint area. Hoffman too is enthused to continue with his community involvement along with spouse Meghan, who is proprietor of the Floradora flower shop, also located at the Flint Farmers’ Market.
Maddie McGuire: Cherishing Community Children
In November 1998, onthetown Magazine featured Madaelen (Maddie) McGuire on the cover and acknowledged her as “Flint’s very own angel.” Almost 20 years later, Maddie’s wings are shining as brightly as ever!
At 90 years of age, this personable dynamo continues to be actively involved in her community by volunteering her services with Flint’s venerable Whaley Children’s Center (WCC). After retiring from the Flint public school system in 1990, she never missed a beat as she started tutoring children at WCC along with helping out in many capacities.
Although she is heavily involved with WCC currently, she feels a personal obligation to her craft of teaching. “I believe God gave me the gift to help any child,” she says with conviction and adds, “Up until two years ago, I still tutored some of my friends’ young grandchildren in my home who needed extra help. My reward for this was hearing the children were succeeding in their classrooms and enjoying school again.”
“I believe God gave me the gift to help any child.” —Maddie McGuire
McGuire began to carve her legend at WCC’s World’s Greatest Office Party in the early 1990s, eventually organizing the hectic coat check process of which she is a pleasant fixture today. She beams with pride because all proceeds from this event directly benefit WCC’s nationally accredited residential and clinical programs for children who have suffered from abuse and neglect.
She adds, “The World’s Greatest Office Party is a great place to catch up with old friends, meet new people and support a good cause. People have already told us that they can’t wait for next year.”
The World’s Greatest Office Party is one of three major annual fundraisers WCC hosts to help fill the gap between federal funding and the annual operating budget. McGuire is heavily involved in those too. The Tux & Tennies Gala and Auction is held in May and hosted by Grand Blanc Motorcars while the Whaley Golf Classic is played in September and hosted by Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club.
A lifelong resident of Flint, McGuire has certainly witnessed our area’s ups and downs over the years but is encouraged by the recent revitalization efforts in the downtown area. “I can remember when there was a real rush hour in downtown Flint,” she heartily recalls with a laugh. “I am very excited for downtown’s revival.”
This past August, WCC presented McGuire with a cake and celebration commemorating her 90th birthday – coincidently it was the 90th birthday of the WCC facility too!
Kim Gray, publisher of onthetown Magazine, admits her heart smiles when talking about McGuire. “She truly is an earth angel!” Gray exclaims. “She is one of the most inspiring women I know. Her dedication to the children of this community shines as bright as her soul.”