Chief Kyle Knight begins a new chapter in a stellar law enforcement career
By Rhonda Dedyne
Chief Knight is leaving the Mint Festival City – but he’s taking lots of good thoughts and memories with him.
It’s true that St. Johns Police Chief Kyle Knight will soon wear a different uniform serving as chief of the Harbor Springs Police Department, but that doesn’t mean he’s leaving people here behind. A lifetime of memories both personal and professional have created lasting friendships that will never go away.
“Just like a seed, I was planted here and the experiences I’ve had and connections I’ve made with so many people have helped me grow and develop,” Chief Knight says, displaying the strong but quiet emotion that’s characteristic of his leadership style. “I’ve learned from so many people throughout my law enforcement career and have had the opportunity to serve people here and at the same time be an athletic coach and volunteer at events for a variety of community organizations. I’ve been blessed.”
The sentiment works both ways. Hundreds of people who attended a farewell open house June 9 for Chief Knight clearly felt equally blessed. There were lots of handshakes, pats on the back, smiles – and more than a few tears – as stories were told of shared experiences. The guest of honor acknowledges making a new start in a new setting was “a hard decision,” but he’s also confident it’s the right one at this point in time. “Hopefully what I’ve learned in St. Johns and Clinton County will be beneficial to the people of Harbor Springs, and I will also learn from them.”
Given the importance of family to Chief Knight, it’s not surprising that an event last year may have foretold the future. “My wife, Denise, and I were visiting our daughter, Brooke, who lives in Petoskey with her husband, Ben Carlson, and their children, Olivia and Evan,” he says. Brooke was running in a half-marathon from Bay Harbor to Harbor Springs and I remember saying to Denise, ‘This is a place I would consider working someday.’ We had no way of knowing at that time Chief Branson would be retiring a year later, and that I would apply for the position and be hired.”
A career that spans 28 years – and still counting – provides ample evidence of Chief Knight’s dedication to law enforcement. He has demonstrated success in every job title on a long resume of accomplishments with SJPD and the Clinton County Sheriffs Department. He began as a SJPD part-time dispatcher in 1987; was a SJPD patrol officer from 1988-1991; served as a road patrol deputy and in other law enforcement positions including community police officer, sergeant, detective and administrative sergeant at the CCSD and SJPD from 1991-2014; and as SJPD Chief from December 2014 to the present date.
“I’ve been privileged to have great mentors every step of the way, beginning with Chief Lyle French who hired me as a part-time dispatcher and gave me a chance,” Chief Knight says about the respected former chief – who may have had more people shake his hand at the open house than Knight. “I remember asking him when I was in dispatch, ‘How can I become a police officer?’ He said the department would sponsor me for training at the Lansing Community College Police Academy. So, I enrolled in January 1988; graduated that June; and started with SJPD in July. My career in law enforcement began with Chief French”
Knight’s relationships with other “chiefs” in the ensuing years has been equally rewarding. “I’ve learned something from all of them – Don Hengesh and Wayne Kangas at Clinton County and Mike Madden here in St. Johns,” Knight says. “It’s been great working with current CCSD Chief Larry Jerue in the past year, who was also a big help as the undersheriff when I was with the county. He is a man of great integrity and cares a lot about the people who work with him. I have tremendous respect for him and will miss our friendship.”
Chief Knight expressed a similar sentiment in regard to other law enforcement co-workers both past and present, noting that Steve Nobis is a good example of those friendships. “Steve really helped open doors for me when I became the Administrative Sergeant at the sheriff’s department in 2005,” he says. “That experience prepared me to take on the job of chief here in St. Johns.”
There’s no doubt that his interaction with St. Johns Public Schools as a law enforcement officer and a volunteer has always been a priority for Chief Knight. He’s “the voice” of Redwing athletics as an announcer at games. His presence – and those of all SJPD officers – at school events is a big part of community policing that’s a trademark of the department. Whether he’s speaking to groups of students or school organizations about safety and other issues or just walking the hallways at the district’s school buildings talking with students and staff, Chief Knight demonstrates law enforcement in a positive light. He genuinely enjoys being with people of all ages – but maybe especially youth.
“I will really miss being part of the schools here,” Chief Knight says. “I have nothing but praise for the way we all are able to work together and I know that everyone in our department feels the same.”
SJPD personnel also get rave reviews. Chief Knight singles out a long-time staffer as a prime example of the overall excellence of the city’s police team. “Our administrative assistant April Wilson understands what needs to be done and the importance of taking care of people who call or come into the office – she’s sets a great example,” he says, citing even greater respect to some other folks he knows well. “I am most blessed to have great parents, Doug, and my mom, Jane, who is deceased, and especially a wonderful wife. I am grateful for their support.”
“I do want to acknowledge and thank the entire community for its support. Even though I am leaving, St. Johns will always be home to me.”
Random Notes – Remembering Mr. V
by Rhonda Dedyne
It’s impossible to measure the impact someone like Gordon Vandemark had on the lives of people in our community. He was an educator who enjoyed working with young people, passing along his love of music and vocal performance to so many students at Rodney B. Wilson High School – myself included.
It was a pleasure to be able to continue a relationship with Mr. V in the years following graduation in 1970 from the “new” St. Johns High School. I recall talking with him when he was honored with the William Patton Award, taking the photo of him and Judy, the love of his life, and writing the story. Perhaps my favorite article about Mr. V came at the time of his retirement from St. Johns Public Schools. That story is reprinted below.
There’s no doubt but that he’s singing with the angels right now. If we listen closely, that music will fill our hearts and minds. That would be a fitting tribute to Mr. V.
A singing bulldozer operator – that was C. Gordon Vandemark’s dream occupation when he was growing up in the ’50s on a farm near Byron.
Okay – the ‘singing’ part lies in the future, but the idea of working with heavy construction equipment is true.
“I always wanted to be a bulldozer operator,” the veteran educator and administrator confesses on the eve of his Dec. 29 retirement date from St. Johns Public Schools.
“I love the outdoors, and growing up on a farm you have an opportunity to work with all kinds of equipment – I really wanted to run a bulldozer.”
While he may yet get his wish, fortunately for the thousands of St. Johns students and community members whose lives Mr. V has touched in the past 36 years, his parents had a different vision for their son.
“My mother and father insisted that I go on to get more schooling in one form or another,” the graduate of the Byron Agricultural School District says, adding that’s where formal music training entered his career equation. “Music was what I loved, so I enrolled at Central Michigan University as a instrumental music major – and a tuba player.”
It didn’t take long for the golden-voiced tenor to make the switch to vocal music – and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I found there was a need in my heart to express music with my voice and eyes – I’ve stayed with music all my life,” he says.
It was through his involvement with CMU choirs that Gordon was hired in the fall of 1964 as the vocal music director for junior and senior high classes at St. Johns. Walt Cole, the well-respected former band director at SJ schools, had followed Vandemark’s singing career through high school and college, and suggested that he apply for the open vocal music position.
“I came here scared to death,” Gordon says with a smile, recalling his interview with RBW Principal B. Stanley Pocus and Superintendent Earl Lancaster. “I grew up in a small community and had just three years as a teacher and principal at Breckenridge – moving up to a ‘big’ school district like this, with teachers like Bob LaBrie and Gary Kingsley, was taking a step to a higher level.”
As he has throughout his life, Gordon proved equal to the challenge. His drive and determination coupled with a sincere desire to provide the best education possible for all students was a trademark of his years as a vocal music teacher, and continued from 1968 to the present time in various administrative capacities.
“Gordon is an extremely hard-working individual and very much a professional,” says SJ Middle School Principal Bob Kudwa – who will attempt to fill his mentor’s shoes and assume the position of Director of Maintenance and Community Education upon Gordon’s retirement.
“He can always find a way to solve a problem – whether it’s roofs, drainage, maintenance, educational issues or whatever. If it wasn’t for his creativity, the district would not have been able to do many of the things it has over the years.
“Gordon’s contributions to the school system are immeasurable.”
Facing – and conquering – challenges have been a constant in Gordon’s administrative career, beginning with his stint as principal at the rural school buildings of Riley, East Olive, and Olive Center when they opened in 1968.
“It was definitely a time of transition for the school district,” Gordon recalls of his debut year in administration, and the ones following when he moved up to assume the job as principal at the brand-new St. Johns High School.
During that period of change and growth, and in the years since that have culminated with the recent construction of the new middle and elementary schools and renovations to every other building in the district, Gordon’s ‘broad vision’ has served the district well.
“Gordon’s not afraid to get his hands dirty,” says a music compatriot, Bill Tennant, director of orchestras for SJ schools. “Over the years, I can’t think of another single person who has done more for our school system.”
The man who was Tennant’s first administrator back in ’68 certainly doesn’t agree with that assessment – but he does admit to being inventive in finding ways to make things work across the district.
“People have often said that I’m a ‘baling wire’ man, and I guess I am,” Gordon says. “When the district didn’t have a lot of money, we found a way to create a new soccer field, or renovate a room for a different purpose, or add a new education program – there’s no such word as ‘can’t.'”
In each scenario, however, praise for the accomplishments is spread around.
“They certainly weren’t all my ideas – they were other people’s,” Gordon says. “You can do the sorts of things we’ve done here over the years with equipment and maintenance projects when you’ve got good people like we have who can make the repairs and know what they’re doing.”
That may be true, but it still takes an individual with vision to get the job started – and follow it through.
“In terms of education, Gordon is very forward-thinking – his creativity is always challenging everyone to look forward, beyond the next year,” Kudwa says.
The next year for Gordon and his wife, Judy – whom he calls his “greatest asset along with our faith” – will feature a somewhat slower pace of activity that includes time traveling to the visit the four Vandemark children and two grandchildren who are spread across the country in Ohio, Kentucky, Maryland, and California. The couple has no plans to relocate from St. Johns, however.
Gordon Vandemark was the recipient of the Patton Award. He is shown here with his wife, Judy, and her parents, Luella and Rev. Gordon Showers.
“This is our home – it’s been a wonderful community to live in and raise our children, and we’d like to thank everyone for all they’ve done for us over the years,” Gordon says, adding a personal wish for the future of the community and school district.
“I’m concerned that we’re becoming so intent on individual wants and comforts that it will be difficult in the future to stay focused on cooperating and sharing with each other. We need to be the most honest and caring individuals we can be for our kids – I would hope the school district can be that.”
And, true to his nature, the ‘music man’ is ending his career in just that fashion. He is helping conduct a ‘Holiday Chorus’ made up of students in the alternative education program at the Wilson Center, and will accompany the SJHS orchestra in a farewell solo of “O, Holy Night” at the holiday concert this afternoon.
“Gordon has always been so supportive of all the music programs here, it just seemed very fitting to have him sing at this concert,” Tennant says.
His friend appreciates the honor.
“I guess I’ll go out singing,” he says.
A Look Back – St. Johns Hospital
by Barry Clark Bauer
Located at 108 Spring St. was the hospital before Clinton Memorial Hospital was built. It was also known at one time as the Hart Clinic. Today it serves as an office building and has changed in appearance.
Benny and Jessie’s Pet Info – Recalls Rawhide Chew Products for Dogs
United Pet Group, a division of Spectrum Brands, Inc. is voluntarily recalling multiple brands of packages of rawhide dog chew products that were distributed to retail outlets and sold online in the U.S. The recall involves the brands and products described below.
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United Pet Group received very limited reports of pet illness based on the volume of possibly affected rawhide chew products manufactured and distributed. The primary complaint received from consumers was that the affected product had an unpleasant odor. Diarrhea and vomiting were also reported.
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The affected product was distributed nationwide from United Pet Group’s Edwardsville, Illinois distribution facility and was delivered to consumers through various retail establishments including online outlets. All of the dog chew products included in the voluntary recall identify an expiration date ranging from 06/01/2019 through 05/31/2020 located on the back of the package.
This recall is limited to dog chew products that contain rawhide. Only products with lot codes listed on the back of the package that start with AH, AV, A, AI, AO, or AB and which list expiration dates from 06/01/2019 through 05/31/2020 are affected by this recall. This includes all package sizes and/or weights.
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