SOUTHFIELD/LATHRUP VILLAGE — There was rarely a dull moment around Southfield and Lathrup Village during the last year.
Whether it was a reason to celebrate, like the grand reopening of the Southfield-Lathrup greenhouse, or a reason to mourn, such as the death of 10-year-old Xavier Joe after Southfield EMS reportedly didn’t reach him in time, headlines through 2012 reached all community members.
Southfield had big news coming from City Council chambers, as fire and police chiefs were named and the City Centre vision took shape. 2012 brought a fresh perspective for the Southfield Area Chamber of Commerce and secured several incumbent leaders in new terms this election. The year started and ended with swirling talks of a possible Wal-Mart moving into the city.
Lathrup Village made strides in strengthening its community vision with energy-efficiency programs leading the way, talks on the future of Southfield Road, and annual festivals and the farmers market reaching new heights. The region was in shock when a resident stepped forth to open up about alleged abuse from her Catholic school teacher, as a child.
The year seemed to be a wild ride, to say the least, with an impact that will be carried into 2013. Here is a look at some of the most notable happenings that came from 2012 and what they may mean moving forward.
• News broke that a pending sale between the Archdiocese of Detroit and Wal-Mart might bring the retailer to the 75,000-square-foot property that once housed the Church of St. Bede at the corner of 12 Mile and Southfield roads. At this time, city officials were not involved in the process to complete the sale, though an Archdiocese spokesman confirmed Wal-Mart’s interest in opening a Supercenter store.
• A 3-year-old child was found dead in an indoor hot tub at a Southfield hotel during the afternoon Jan. 4. According to the police report filed, the boy was in the pool facility at the Embassy Suites Hotel with other children, ages 7-14. The other kids reportedly left the Jacuzzi area to swim in the pool, and the victim was left at the ledge of the Jacuzzi, unsupervised by an adult. His father found him floating in the Jacuzzi shortly after, and he was pronounced dead after being transported to a local hospital.
• The Southfield Area Chamber of Commerce welcomed several new board members, a new director, Tanya Markos-Vanno, and moved into a new office at 24300 Southfield Road by the start of the year. The Chamber launched several new programs, including the Entrepreneur Innovation Series.
• Southfield continued the efforts to fill the position of former Police Chief Joseph Thomas after he resigned to take a job in Baghdad with the U.S. Department of State. By January, six candidates had been narrowed down from the 26 applicants.
• A mother pushing her 14-month-old daughter across Eight Mile in a baby stroller was hit by a passing sport-utility vehicle at Lahser Road Jan. 16. The baby died from wounds two hours later. The mother, a 20-year-old Detroit woman, and the driver, a 29-year-old Livonia man, both survived the collision.
• Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, with more than 20 years of public service in Oakland County, announced her bid to run for the open seat in the newly drawn 14th congressional district, joining competitors and sitting congressmen Gary Peters and Hansen Clark.
• A carjacking and armed robbery suspect wanted in multiple cities was shot in the buttocks by a Southfield police officer in Detroit Jan. 23. The suspect, a 19-year-old Detroit man, had fled from police when he was shot and was later treated for his non-life-threatening injuries at a local hospital while in police custody.
• Southfield’s City Cable 15 bounced back from “major equipment failure” with City Council approving the purchase of a video production console and other items. The upgrades totaled nearly $180,000 and allowed the Southfield City Council to once again be aired live online.
• City Council first authorized the Fire Department to accept a $143,200 Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the Department of Homeland Security Federal Emergency Management Agency Jan. 30. During the meeting, city officials also talked about upcoming budget plans, vowing that “layoffs continue to be a last resort.”
• Destination Southfield, a web gallery of apps and maps, was launched on the city’s website, www.maps.cityofsouthfield.com/ destinationsouthfield. The city was among the first in the nation to take advantage of the Geographic Information System provided by Environmental Systems Research Institute, offering information on city happenings, voting, trash collection, Parks and Recreation resources and emergency precautions.
• Southfield police said they found the man allegedly responsible for the brutal murder of 81-year-old Helen Gale, killed on Nov. 26, 2011. The suspect was first only identified as a 45-year-old Southfield man, and a warrant for his arrest was issued, pending the completion of forensic testing.
• Semifinalists for the year’s James Beard Foundation Awards — the culinary industry’s most prestigious honor — included Luciano Del Signore, owner and chef at Bacco Ristorante and Pizzeria Biga in Southfield. The restaurant ushered in its 10th anniversary, coinciding with the nomination for 2012 Best Chef, Great Lakes Region.
• Mayor Brenda Lawrence delivered the 11th annual State of the City Address March 5 at the Westin Southfield Detroit at the Town Center. She told locals, “I see the light at the end of the tunnel” and urged community members to work together to overcome challenges in Southfield.
• Southfield’s Almost Home Animal Haven welcomed a new pup, Freeway, who was found and rescued by drivers along the Lodge who saw the dog shot, bleeding and running frantically in the fast lane, as cars swerved around him. Two Metro Detroit motorists stopped to help him — one coincidentally an Almost Home volunteer from Southfield. The dog was treated at a local vet, and the other good Samaritan who rescued him announced plans to adopt him after his treatment.
• Verizon Wireless closed a local call center, announcing March 8 that it would equate to laying off 750 employees at the Southfield office, located off the Northwestern Highway service drive, near Lahser Road.
• Milford resident Andrea Marchand led the March 21 opening of the new Just Baked franchised that moved into Southfield. The local location marked one of 14 that opened in the Metro Detroit region since the company was first founded by a Franklin couple in 2008.
• On March 20, Lathrup Village City Council approved plans to transform the vacant, blighted property that was once home to the historic House in the Woods mansion into a nature preserve. The 2.5-acre property, nestled on Forest Drive, was once home to the city’s matriarch, Louise Lathrup, and had been destroyed by a fire in 2009.
• The Detroit Institute of Arts set up shop in Southfield with the museum’s Inside|Out program, bringing reproductions of masterpieces to local communities. A total of six paintings were displayed in the city just in time for spring, including in Southfield’s City Centre.
• Oakland Community College unveiled its renovated and expanded Southfield campus March 30. The new wing added more than 69,000 square feet to the campus, equating to a 75-percent increase in space.
• A 44-year-old Southfield man was arrested April 2 and charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct after his wife reportedly learned he’d raped their 12-year-old daughter. The girl was adopted by the family when she was a year old; bond was set for $250,000 for the man.
• Sixty students from all four Southfield-area high schools joined forces to produce “Jesus Christ Superstar” April 20-28. Southfield Regional Academic Campus, University High School Academy, Southfield-Lathrup and Southfield high schools teamed up after budget cuts prevented the drama program from continuing productions at Southfield High School.
• The father of 21-year-old Raymond Jackson identified his son’s body after the Oak Park victim was found on the sidewalk on West Eight Mile in Southfield April 16. Injuries indicated that he may have suffered a gunshot wound, and police described the incident as a homicide.
• Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County pledged to rehab six local foreclosures around Southfield. An estimated 15,000 volunteers were needed to assist in the efforts to rehab the houses by the end of the year.
• The Southfield Police Department took part in a special crackdown known as Click it or Ticket during Memorial Day weekend this year. They followed it with dates featuring high traffic volumes, including Thanksgiving week, which sees the unofficial biggest bar night of the year.
• The Southfield Police Department launched a Youth Police Academy, the one-week program that submerses students in law enforcement. The session ran June 25-29 and was free and open to any students, ages 14-18, who attend school in Southfield or Lathrup Village.
• A 24-year-old man died at the scene of a shooting, and three teenagers were wounded, after two men reportedly crashed a birthday party and robbed attendees at a hotel May 27. A 19-year-old West Bloomfield woman was in critical condition after being shot in the neck, a 19-year-old Waterford Township woman was shot in the leg and a 17-year-old Keego Harbor resident also suffered a gunshot to his leg during the 1 a.m. shooting at Marvin’s Garden Inn on Northwestern Highway.
• Lathrup Village hosted another successful summer festival June 16-17. For several years, the event was widely known as Art in the Park, and in 2011, it was rebranded as the Michigan First Art Fest. In 2012, Summer in the Village was the name of the game, bringing back all the favorite traditions and activities of the annual event.
• The Southfield pool opened for the summer June 16. Pool patrons could test out the new Aqua Climb climbing wall in the deep end of the Olympic-sized pool and check out the two new interactive play features in the kiddie pool. The upgrades were part of more than $500,000 in capital improvements put into the facility during the last year.
• The Southfield Parks and Garden Club hosted its sixth annual Garden Walk June 24, featuring landscapes and beautiful blooms, just weeks after the first-ever Michigan Flower Planting Day observation June 9.
• Southfield hosted the second Southfield Real Estate Open House in June, featuring more than 80 Realtors and a breakfast with city officials touting Southfield’s major selling points. Realtors then boarded buses to tour 25 open houses in various Southfield neighborhoods. The event was designed to showcase what the city has to give to potential homebuyers.
• Lathrup Village resident Mark Barlow showed what being a good Samaritan is all about, after he witnessed two teens stealing mountain bikes from a local’s garage May 20. The man, who happened to be celebrating his birthday that day, followed the teens from a safe distance while phoning local police to report the incident. Police were able to catch up with the teens, and Barlow returned the bikes to his unsuspecting neighbor.
• The new Southfield Eatery found its home in the vacant café area of the Southfield Public Library and opened its doors in July. The restaurant was established by Southfield High School graduate Johnny Cannon and his business partner, Greg Armstrong. The eatery offers breakfast foods, soups and salads, sandwiches, and coffee drinks, with nostalgic and Southfield-themed names attached to select menu items.
• Lawrence Technological University welcomed a new president, Virinder Moudgil, July 1. Moudgil, who has a background in research and biochemistry, is the seventh head of the school.
• The Southfield Public Library announced in July that hours would be cut for all part-time personnel in the library, leading to a reduction in operating hours. Despite an approved millage increase the year prior, the library was unable to manage the 66-hour week in the wake of declining property tax revenues.
• Southfield resident and Senior Girl Scout Kyla Wright, 15, claims the title of top cookie seller in the region. Wright, of Troop 40393, sold 5,419 boxes of cookies this year, leading the way for more than 23,600 other local Girl Scouts in Southeastern Michigan.
• City officials, the Southfield Fire Department and the federal government collaborated to use the city’s $2 million Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to hire four trained reservists onto the full-time public safety staff. The grant, originally applied for in 2011 to hire 11 new firefighters on two-year terms, was reconfigured to better fit the city’s needs and welcome the four new firefighters and still maintain existing staff with no added costs to the city.
• Southfield City Council voted and became the first city government to join Lean & Green Michigan, a public-private partnership facilitating economic development and cost-saving techniques for local business owners, sparking job growth and making the community greener.
• Southfield’s Poetry, Pages & Scribes decided to bid adieu on its sixth anniversary, after a decline in funding made the program difficult to maintain. The program, which was hosted at the Southfield Public Library, saw its final show Aug. 2.
• City Council worked with a local Jewish congregation to find them a permanent home in Southfield. The outcome was their approval to build inside the strip mall space on West 10 Mile Road on the border of Oak Park. Members of Ahavas Olam Weingarden Torah Center will transform the façade of the building, which still houses retail shops, and hope to move into the space sometime in 2013.
• During August City Council meetings, the Municipal Lawn’s use was questioned to debate stricter policies for events, and officials explored the idea of an art installation — an obelisk — on Eight Mile. Council also approved the liquor license for one of the city’s newest restaurants, Gastronomy, housed inside the old Morton’s building at 1 Town Square.
• A 29-year-old Southfield man was shot in the forehead by his 23-year-old ex-girlfriend Aug. 1 and survived. The ex-girlfriend called 911 after reportedly shooting the man following a disagreement in a parking lot in the 26000 block of Berg Road. The victim was transported to a local hospital and was in stable condition shortly after.
• Southfield and Lathrup Village both saw higher-than-expected voter turnouts during the primary race Aug. 7. Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, one of five candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives’ 14th District, lost to sitting Congressman Gary Peters and reaffirmed her commitment to the city moving forward.
• The community rallied together to get students in the Southfield Public School system off to a good start. Health fairs, book drives and backpack assembly events prepared students to be successful inside the classroom. During the annual Stuff the Bus event held in August, more than 10,000 items had been collected.
• Local clothing designer Loren Jordan brought the first Michigan Fashion Week to the Southfield Pavilion, showcasing 14 different designers from across the state. The event was meant to highlight Michigan-based designers and put Southfield in the limelight for style and sophistication.
• Southfield and Lathrup Village authorities worked to crack down on a check fraud ring in the area. The Southfield Police Department sought the public’s assistance in identifying a woman caught on a local bank surveillance camera, believed to be in connection with the check fraud ring operating in Metro Detroit. The woman was found and brought in for questioning after someone tipped off police about the woman’s identity.
• The 2012 Southfield City Calendar won the Silver Circle Award in the 24th annual Savvy Awards competition, sponsored by the City-County Communications and Marketing Association. Southfield, which is no stranger to winning 3CMA awards at the annual conference, was recognized Sept. 6 in Portland.
• Southfield police investigated a dead body found in a pond outside offices in the 28000 block of Northwestern Highway during the afternoon Sept. 15. The body belonged to a 46-year-old Redford man, and his death appeared to be an accident. Empty alcohol bottles were found near the scene, police said.
• Two of the area’s signature events for the season, the Taste of Southfield and the Lathrup Village Fall Festival, both saw success in 2012. The Taste of Southfield, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce Oct 2, added a vibe of sophistication, and the Fall Fest welcomed back the ever-popular adult beer tent to complement the family-friendly festivities during the weekend of Sept. 29-30.
• Ten-year-old Xavier Joe, of Southfield, died after Southfield EMS reportedly took too long to reach him while he was suffering from an asthma attack. His mother, Danielle Joe, said she was rerouted to various dispatchers, and the responders took 45 minutes to arrive to their Oxley Street apartment; Fire Chief Keith Rowley said it was closer to 15 minutes and the matter would be investigated.
• Thanks to a generous donation by an alumnus, the Southfield-Lathrup High School community greenhouse reopened after 16 years of being abandoned. Sheldon Yellen, the 1972 Southfield-Lathrup graduate, made $40,000 worth of repairs to the custom greenhouse through his restoration company, and it opened to students and the community Oct. 10.
• Acting Fire Chief Keith Rowley and Acting Police Chief Eric Hawkins were appointed as the new permanent chiefs for the city at the Oct. 15 City Council meeting.
• Two brothers and graduates from Lawrence Technological University were to thank for helping NASA’s rover Curiosity in its mission to explore Mars. Javad Mokhbery and Mohammad Mokhberi, who grew up in Iran and graduated from LTU in the 1970s, founded Futek Advance Sensor Technology Inc., based in California. The company designed sensors that guide Curiosity’s robotic arm on Mars.
• A 37-year-old Rochester man was arrested in connection with a Charter One Bank robbery in Southfield, after being discovered at a strip club in Kalamazoo. The man reportedly drew attention to himself while handing out crimson-stained dollars at the club Oct. 9, just five days after the robbery. The owner of the club called local authorities, who arrested the man and transferred him to local authorities to face multiple counts of armed robbery, possession of a firearm and bank robbery.
• Lathrup Village resident Marlene Veres, a student at the former St. Bede school in Southfield, came forth to allege that her former Catholic schoolteacher and basketball coach sexually abused her while she was 12-14 years old. John P. Kiley, the current principal at Holy Redeemer Catholic Elementary School in southwest Detroit, is the man she claimed molested her, and he was put on paid administrative leave while the matter is investigated.
• Several local schools hosted mock elections to get future voters excited about the 2012 presidential election. Children as young as preschool age, all the way to middle school students, learned how to cast their votes and take part in debates. The National Congress of Black Woman Voters assisted with programming in several schools.
• On Veterans Day, a 64-year-old man identified as Harold Joseph Collins, a retired military veteran, opened fire inside the Southfield Police Department lobby, injuring one officer. The suspect, a Southfield resident believed to have mental and physical health issues, was gunned down by officers at the scene. The officer was hospitalized for treatment and released later that week.
• Incumbents led the way in Southfield elections, with incumbent Rudy Hobbs, a Democrat, winning the spot for state representative in the 35th District over Republican Timothy C. Sulowski. For the District 21 county commissioner race, incumbent Democrat Janet Jackson beat out Libertarian Dick Gach with a landslide vote of 91 percent. Incumbent Democrat Nancy Quarles, who served as county commissioner for District 23, was elected to represent District 17 for her next term. She beat Republican Milton Dzodin, who was running for his first elected position. Two incumbents on the Southfield Board of Education, Yolanda R. Smith and Nathanial Lewis, Jr., were elected for four-year terms.
• The Southfield youth football team, the Southfield Jayhawks, was involved in a crash on southbound I-75 in Monroe County Nov. 16 that closed the highway for several hours after a tanker hauling an empty trailer jackknifed and blocked the road. The team and their families were traveling to Tennessee in four buses, and the driver of the first bus sideswiped the truck once it lost control. The bus driver quickly reacted to the tanker in front of her and was called a hero for avoiding a potentially fatal accident. Five members on the bus were treated at a local hospital for minor injuries, and the team eventually proceeded on its journey to Knoxville, where the Jayhawks won their national tournament.
• Southfield Public Schools Superintendent Wanda Cook-Robinson was surprised at a November Board of Education meeting when she found out she had been named the 2013 Michigan Superintendent of the Year. Cook-Robinson called the honor the “most significant” in her career, since it was a peer-elected honor by the Michigan Association of School Administrators.
• City Council voted to seek bids for plans to improve features on the Municipal Lawn. Council members will look at installing a pathway around the perimeter of the lawn with construction possible in the spring of 2013.
• The Southfield Police Department hosted an inaugural toy drive in honor of the city’s fallen officers. The first Harding/McMahon Charity Toy Drive was held during the month of December to collect toys for the needy around Metro Detroit. Organizers hope the event will be an annual effort to bring Christmas to less-fortunate families in the area.
• A public hearing was held by the Southfield Planning Commission Nov. 28 to discuss potential plans for a Wal-Mart Supercenter to be constructed on the property of the vacant Church of St. Bede at 12 Mile and Southfield roads. More than 300 residents turned out to speak on the possible sale, and despite overwhelming criticism for the plans, the Planning Commission decided to favorably recommend rezoning of the property and also the demolition of the church for construction of the Wal-Mart store. City Council is expected to vote on the matter in January 2013.
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