Photo by Sue Suchyta
Dearborn Heights residents Chad Fisher (left), 9, and his cousin Trent Reid, 13, remove their skates after honing their ice hockey skills Jan. 8 with Chad’s uncle and Trent’s father, Bob Reid, on the outdoor ice rink at Penn-Vassar Park in Dearborn.
By SUE SUCHYTA
Area residents shivered, shoveled, slipped, slid and sloshed through last week’s snow storm and plunge of Arctic air.
From Dearborn to Downriver, residents shared stories over social media and steaming mugs, and realized most weathered the storm and polar vortex with common sense and a renewed faith in the kindness of friends and neighbors.
While some children ventured onto local sledding hills and outdoor rinks, some teens took advantage of the extended winter break to catch up on homework and prepare for exams.
Maddie Kaplan, 14, of Dearborn, a freshman at Divine Child High School, was relieved to have extra days to study for her first round of high school final exams.
“The snow days have really helped me,” Kaplan said. “I really needed the extra time so I would feel as comfortable as I could with my final exams.”
While students may have used the extra days to study, teachers had homework too.
When Claire Brisson of Dearborn, a language instructor at Wayne State University, had two extra days off due to the snow, she found herself changing lesson plans and modifying her course syllabus.
“I used my online modules to contact my students and to keep them productive while they were barricading themselves away from the cold,” Brisson said. “I think that is even more of a task than shoveling.”
She said she spent time shoveling snow when she was not working on lesson plans, and she cleared the driveway and sidewalk for her home and her 80-year-old neighbor.
“Being able to give back, if only a little bit, to the people who live around me makes snow days fulfilling,” Brisson said. “Whenever it snows, it seems like we act more kindly to others. It is a lesson to always remember kindness even when the snow is not deterring you from your usual routine.”
She said when she was outdoors she saw resourceful sparrows building makeshift nests near her home’s vents to keep warm, and she was entertained by the squirrels and birds who stopped to watch her shovel.
“I think they were wondering why anyone in their right mind would get out and shovel all of the cold stuff away,” Brisson said.
Another teacher, Paul Bruce of Dearborn, with Dearborn Public Schools, said he is glad his students did not have to walk to school through the heavy snow and extremely cold temperatures.
Bruce said he decided to take a walk when it was 40 degrees below zero outside to experience the wind chill first-hand.
“I bundled up thoroughly and walked exactly four houses away from my own before returning,” Bruce said. “Suffice it to say that I now know what a minus-40-degree wind chill feels like.”
Like Brisson, Bruce found himself shoveling snow for elderly neighbors and completing projects while indoors.
“I was able to knock out an article for a magazine, complete a charity project and finish reading a play,” Bruce said.
He said he only ventured beyond his neighborhood to keep a doctor’s appointment, and said though the roads appeared clear, unexpected ice made driving treacherous.
Mary Calder of Dearborn was shoveling her driveway at 4:30 a.m. Jan. 6 to enable her husband to drive to his kidney dialysis treatment. She said she shoveled frequently to try to keep ahead of the snow.
“I feel better after all the exercise, but when that snow plow came storming down the street and dumped more than 10 inches of heavy wet snow (on the driveway apron) I had enough,” Calder said. “Thankfully, my neighbor and her huge snow blower went right through the 10 inches of snow.”
Calder said she drove a grandson to a doctor’s appointment Jan. 8 and was disappointed when his scheduled medical tests were cancelled due to a shortage of personnel.
She said she felt the cold was worse than the snow, especially when it caused warning lights on newer model cars to warn of low tire pressure.
Jerry Kondraciuk of Garden City, who teaches at Henry Ford Community College, said he tried to help others when he could during the snow days.
A neighbor’s child stayed with his family overnight when her parents had to work, and he even dug his ex-wife’s van out of the snow.
“The snow days affected my life in a very positive way,” Kondraciuk said. “I got to spend more time with my kids. I shoveled the walks of my surrounding neighbors (who have) done the same for me in the past. We are all grateful (for) each other.”
Postal carrier Michele Devins of Southgate said customers expressed appreciation for her delivering their mail despite the extreme cold, and one even gave her hot chocolate in a travel mug.
“As long as the sun is shining and the wind is calm, there really is not a huge difference between normal winter temperatures and the sub-zero temps of the last few days,” Devins said. “I just add a couple more layers and keep moving. It is a lot easier to handle once you get your blood pumping.”
Grocery store employee Tracy Kyle of Dearborn said she finds it ironic that people who use snow days as an excuse not to drive to work are still able to make it to the grocery store.
She said that before the storm hit Jan. 4, every checkout lane was open, and lines still extended down the aisles. She said most shoppers were patient and friendly.
“It was a zoo,” Kyle said. “One thought it was the end of the world. The next day (Jan. 5) I worked, and the shelves were bare, but the trucks came in, so we restocked as soon as possible.”
Because of the cold, her store offered complimentary curbside grocery cart unloading so the baggers did not have to spend more than 10 minutes at a time outside.
She said she was afraid to answer the service counter phone because often it was employees calling to say they could not make it to work. She said her boss bought lunch for all of the employees who showed up the Sunday of the snowstorm.
For Donna Kutylowski of Dearborn, the snowstorm was beneficial, as her husband received overtime pay when he covered shifts for employees who could not make it to work.
Mary Ellen Bork, a senior citizen from Dearborn Heights, said she baked and delivered muffins to neighbors cleared who her driveway of snow and the chunks left by the city plows.
“I shoveled a little,” Bork said. “I couldn’t have stayed out in the cold long, and it was too heavy for me to shovel. That’s why I baked.”