The Directors of the National Trout Festival were compelled to do something out of the ordinary this year. We received several nominations for Dr. Hodgman as this year’s Trout King along with several for Jamie Dunn as the Trout Queen. While we believed that both deserved those titles, we also knew that Karen Hodgman had played an equal and special role in our community. With that in mind, the Directors voted to honor Dr. Hodgman’s queen as the Trout Queen posthumously while also honoring Jamie for her roles in our community.
Both Karen Spencer Hodgman and I were raised as farm kids in small towns. Karen grew up in Spencer on her great grandfather's farm and graduated from Kalkaska Public Schools. I was raised in Bangor on a fruit farm, graduating from Bangor High School.
Both of us were very involved Christians in local churches. Karen went to Lansing to study at Great Lakes Bible College and I went to Michigan State University, East Lansing on a 4-H scholarship. We met at a freshman open house and four years later married just before I entered medical school in 1968. While in my Family Practice residency at Sparrow Hospital, we had our only child, Mary-Deb.
On completion of the residency in 1975, we wanted to practice in a small community with a Church of Christ congregation, offering a great school for Mary Deb, and a community where we could make a difference for God. Kalkaska had everything including an experienced doctor (Dr William Kitti) and a struggling, but promising hospital. The community embraced us. Over the 48 years that I have practiced here, there has been a progressive development of a premier, award-winning community-owned hospital with multiple highly
trained professionals including Board Certified Family Practice physicians and specialists providing exceptional patient-focused care. Wow!!
This could have never happened without Karen’s love and commitment to our community and willingness to share her husband. She was a dynamic community supporter and marital helpmate. While I was on call 24 hours covering the emergency room and inpatients, Karen stayed committed to our medical and church mission.
Karen was always involved in a community or church project. She did so much for so many, small helps to large and everywhere between. For many years, she raised large amounts of money for the American Cancer Society. She was very involved with Fitch’s School of Dance. Several times, she took in teenagers who needed a safe, stable, and loving home to get a start on life. She helped many families with meals, clothing, shoes, etc. There were times she would help pay for people’s medications while waiting in line at the pharmacy.
Because she saw a high school student duct tape his shoes together, she started what is now called Karen’s Closet. With strong community support, it continues to provide food, clothing, shoes, hygiene supplies, and even scholarships for struggling teenagers at both Kalkaska Middle and High Schools.
Karen also shared me with the Army National Guard for over 27 years. I served as a flight surgeon for a helicopter unit and later as a medical doctor in a full-service mobile hospital. It was in this capacity that I was sent to Saudi Arabia to serve in Desert Storm in 1990. Karen gave me full support in a very difficult time. The community held her up during this time and celebrated with us upon my return.
I am proud to have been involved with Kalkaska Public Schools as a school board member since January 2013. The quality of our education is another area of continued excellence for this community.
Karen is sadly missed after being one of the first in the area to die of Covid-19 in April 2020. Again, the community lifted her up and honored her with a 100+ car parade past our house and an overflowing parking lot COVID funeral. Only Kalkaska could be so generous and kind. This has been an amazing journey for Karen and I.
Thank you for the honor of being Trout Festival King and remembering my special Queen.
My name is Jamie Dunn and I have been a resident of Kalkaska almost long enough to be considered a native now, 37 years! With my husband of 34 years, Robert, we raised three wonderful kids; Megan Smith who resides in Lake Orion, and our twin boys, Mitchel and Michael, both living in Kalkaska. Robert and I have owned Dunn’s Construction for over 16 years and four years ago, purchased Grandview Golf Club which we are enjoying giving a facelift.
In 2012, I opened a small boutique called Just Between Friends, where I could inspire and encourage young women to become comfortable in their own skin. I used the platform to hold events to help girls boost their self-confidence, self-love, and gain self-respect, because that is what I are about most in this world. Eventually, we were able to expand the boutique to two additional locations, in Elk Rapids and Bellaire. In all the boutiques, our ads featured young ladies of all walks of life who lived in the communities.
In 2016, Karen Hodgman invited me to work with her at the high school food and clothing pantry (now known as Karen’s Closet). Together, we fundraised and re-designed the outlet to help bring food, hygiene products, school supplies, and clothing (including outdoor wear) to our high school children in need. After Karen passed away from Covid in 2020, many have worked exceptionally hard to carry on and expand her mission. Amie Chaulk, Bonnie Iott, Krista Nichols, Sue Dorman, and Karen’s daughter, Mary-Deb Rabourn continue to pass along Karen’s legacy of lifting up and motivating kids.
Whether it’s helping a child in need, building a home, or providing a placer for family entertainment, Robert and I will continue to proudly serve this amazing little community we call home.
Jerry Cannon is the very definition of a public servant. The retired Kalkaska County sheriff and U.S. Army Major General isn’t resting on his laurels as he continues to keep community involvement a priority in his life. Mr. Cannon currently serves as a Kalkaska Memorial Health Center board member, Kiwanis President, member of the Garfield Township Parks and Recreation Committee, and a Michigan Heritage Foundation board member. He is also on staff at Northwestern Michigan College faculty.
Jerry has been married to his bride, Elizabeth, since 1970. Together, they raised four children, all graduates of Kalkaska High School and all still living in Michigan. Julie Bellinger (Miss Kalkaska 1988) is in Williamston. Jerry Jr. makes him home in Kalkaska as does brother Tom. Joe Cannon resides in Richmond. Jerry and Elizabeth are blessed with 13 grandchildren: Jack, Will, Liz, Aidan, Emily, Nate, Allie, Quinn, Emmett, Luke, Rosy, Pete and Russ.
Cheyenne (Farr) Wilcox created the 2023 National Trout Festival logo using the slogan of “Rise and Shine; It’s Fishing Time!” Cheyenne married her husband, Chase, in 2019 and they have a chocolate lab puppy named Pym. Although design isn’t her career (she’s a Student Success Liaison for an online school), she has enjoyed designing shirts for her family and friends. She thought the NTF Logo competition would allow her to stretch her creative wings and perhaps give back to her community.
As a Kalkaska native and a seven-year marching band student, she didn’t miss a year of the Trout Fest. She’s been enjoying it for as long as she can remember. She loved the parade and all the carnival food!
When you think of Steve and Rhonda Wurtz, you can’t help but think about the hundreds of children who have found a sense of home with this couple. They were even awarded the Maura D. Corrigan Foster Family Lifetime Achievement Award from the State of Michigan in 2022 for their commitment and outstanding dedication to fostering children. The family is often described as having hearts of gold and a houseful of children. In 30 years, they have brought in over 330 children, from infants to older teens, whose lives have been enrichened by the time they spend with the Wurtz family.
They also host international exchange students; so far, from over 10 countries. Hosting these students not only provides a unique opportunity for the child to experience another country and culture but it also exposes the foster kids to the beauty of other cultures, too. Even more so because Steve and Rhonda have given the children the gift of travel. When it’s time for a vacation or holiday, they pack up the family and off they go to such locales as Washington D.C. and San Francisco or out of the country to Belize, Thailand, Chile, and across Europe. They are real globetrotters exposing their children to all the responsibilities and lessons that come along with traveling.
We share the closing words of Judge Norman R. Hayes who nominated the Wurtzes for the Maura D. Corrigan award:
“…I would like to say how lucky Michigan is to have Steve and Rhonda Wurtz open up their home, their experiences, and their hearts to our children. Many of these children have significant mental and medical needs, but none are too significant for the Wurtz family. Their family has expanded over the years, hundreds of our kids who now have the education, experience, love, and family to navigate their adult lives and make a difference in the world.“
We will continue to sell these pins until they are gone!
During the 2021 Trout Fest, we were often asked about a pin for 2020, the Festival we weren't able to hold due to Covid-19 regulations. The Board of Directors decided to ask the People of the Trout (our Facebook fans) to submit a slogan for that year and we would add it to a pin. Director Deb Ball-Odeh created the trout with a mask design and the Directors chose the slogan, "The One That Got Away". It was submitted by Kalkaska resident Sara Blasko. The pins will be available at the Trout House merchandise shop.