By Loren Weiss

231t6 beauty and beast theatricalIf there’s anything that performers around the globe have learned in the past two years, it’s that pandemics and performances don’t exactly mesh well. Thousands of concerts, plays, and art showings were delayed or canceled as questions about the COVID-19 pandemic rose unanswered, and for the years of 2020 and 2021, it seemed as if there would be no answer to them. The CSA was no exception to this consequence of the virus; social distancing and other safety measures created a tension around indoor activities, and it was almost without question - the 2020 production of Beauty and the Beast would have to be postponed.

The operettas have been a fundamental part of CSA culture ever since the first Children’s Operetta, The Snow Queen, in 1931. With each new director came a different approach to the musicals; before our current volunteer team of director Judy Rodes, producer Molly Harrison, and musical director Marilyn Winter, the charismatic Steve Elrick was directing and acting in the shows. Countless roadblocks have arisen throughout the years, but giving up isn’t the CSA way, and the volunteers and community have always found a way to make ends meet. “One year Steve Elrick and I were casting, and we didn’t have enough men,” Judy reminisces with a laugh. “We heard that somebody in Beulah at the ice cream store sang, so we went over and said Hey, can you be in this show? So, you know, it’s always been like that.” Whether it was casting shortages, copyright claims, or some other strange circumstance, they had it handled - but, well, a global pandemic is a considerable cause for a different approach.

Even in its beginning talks in 2018, CSA’s Beauty and the Beast was no normal operetta, making its postponement even more discouraging. To produce and put on an official showing of a non-original play or musical, the directing team has to pay royalties to the owners in order to legally use the music, script, and premise in their own production. This alone is a very costly process and a big commitment, so the decision for the Assembly to put on the show was a big one. Also, since Beauty and the Beast is such a recognizable title, Judy, Molly, and Marilyn wanted to make sure it was done right - and done well. Now, with the show four years in the making, everyone with a part in the production is prepared, excited, and ready.

Another thing that made Beauty and the Beast different is that since it was originally planned for 2020, the principal roles were cast in the summer of 2019, in order for the cast members to connect with their characters. A few of the castings were revealed in a sneak peek video created in 2020, with Dave Johnson as Lumiere, Greg Abbey as Gaston, Katherine Barbour as Belle, Joe Perrino as The Beast, and Shannon Wise as Mrs. Potts.

Katherine Barbour recounts how the stressors in her work life got more and more relevant as each summer passed; “It’s every girl’s dream to be Belle. I was having a fight with myself because I didn’t know what I was doing next summer. I thought that I might be going to graduate school… but you know what, I made a commitment. This show is something I want to do, and the directors want me to do; it’s something that I’d love, and I knew it would be an amazing experience.” Maggie Swetland was cast on July 29th this year to play Chip as the final touch to the principal cast, and the ensemble came together on August 1st, solidifying their promise to themselves: the show would go on.

The delay, though unfortunate, hasn’t been all bad; Molly coordinates between the set design team led by Gary and Judy Dawley and the production team, and the extra two summers gave them more time to finalize, construct, and reutilize the appropriate set pieces. Most of the principal actors also had much more time than usual to settle into their roles and connect to the story. Best of all, the news of this resilient show and its cast members has excited everyone in the CSA community and surrounding areas. After two years without these performances, the Congregational Summer Assembly is back and ready to show their audiences what they’re made of. The show will take place on August 12th and 13th at 7:30pm in the Meeting House. We hope to see you there - and that you’ll be our guest!


By Fran Somers

228w6 ArchivesJaneAs a child, Jane Cooper laid in her bed on misty nights and listened to the deep bellow of the Point Betsie foghorn. Two blasts every 30 seconds, answered by the Frankfort foghorn. The comforting sound lulled many in the CSA to sleep. Until 1974, that is, when the foghorn was dismantled and sold off in pieces.

Now Jane is the CSA archivist and she’s been searching everywhere for a recording of that foghorn. She wants it for the movie she’s creating for next year’s History Night (Aug. 4, 2023). The event is usually held every four years, but Covid sidelined it in 2000 and 2021, and the archival team needed this year to prepare.  

“Because it will have been seven years since the last History Night, there will be many people who have never been to one,” Jane said last week. “We plan to focus on being sure that the things people expect to see—Catherine Stebbins’ albums, operetta pictures, memorabilia from the dining hall and lodge—are in good shape.”

The Stebbins albums are a prized possession. Stebbins took photos as a teen of the earliest CSA gatherings in tents. Later, as the first CSA archivist, Stebbins put her photos into albums for everyone to enjoy. The photo-documenting tradition was continued by others, including Jane’s father, and then Jane, after her father died.

But the movie could be a new fan favorite. Jane is sorting through hundreds of photos taken by her father, her own stockpile, and oral history team photos to create a video slide show with audio of familiar local sounds. Jane hopes the movie will “tickle the memory.”

Loren Weiss, the Communications and Archives assistant, is cooking up a “Then/Now” exhibit of local landmarks that can be added to year after year.

Being an archivist means thinking about the future as much as the past.

 “We’re in a transitional period. For History Night, we’ll be putting out the operetta albums that go back decades, but in 20 years, will people want to come back and see digital pictures?” Jane commented. Digital is the only way to survive when you are a small museum with limited space. Within two days of the Children’s Operetta, Jane began cataloging the many digital photos that were submitted. She plans to print a selection for a physical album; the rest will be cataloged digitally.   

All of the CSA’s history—hundreds of photos, 70 oral histories dating to 1980’s, playbills, legal opinions, back copies of the Assembly News, and more--live in Pilgrim Place, the modest cottage near the Woods tennis courts. The building that once housed the laundry facilities for the Assembly lodge, now holds hundreds of objects and tens of thousands of digital items. Two groups regularly meet there, and a handful of visitors stop by weekly looking for old operetta photos, plat maps to resolve property disputes, minutes from a meeting on a controversial subject, or just to browse.

“Almost all of the albums and cottage histories are digitized now,” Jane said. She’s able to print out research for someone on their cottage or minutes from meetings from the early years. “The middle part of Assembly history still needs to be digitized.”

She’s still researching the best software to recommend to the board that will make access to the digital records more widely available. Privacy is the biggest stumbling block.


Jane comes to this work naturally--she’s a consummate record-keeper. Every day, she records the air temperature at her cottage, and she or her brother, Bob, take the temperature of Crystal Lake. For the record, “As a general rule, the lake gets warmer sooner and stays warmer longer than it used to.”

But she was lassoed into committee work. “I was pushing a baby carriage and Rachel Murmann came running out of her cottage. She asked would I be president of the Women’s Association next year. I’d never even been to a coffee,“ Jane laughed.

It’s been non-stop CSA volunteer work since then, resulting in a Citation for Long and Valued Service to the Assembly in 2013.  

“I’ve never been able to come up and just be here,” Jane says. “I’ve always had friends who sleep in and go out to lunch, then lie on the beach. That sounds really nice . . . and I never would enjoy doing that.”

She joined the CSA choir at 12. Began working in the Assembly dining hall at 15, then worked in the office. Got married, had two kids, earned an advanced degree, had a demanding career in management development, and in retirement has kept busy on boards and alumni associations in Ann Arbor. This is a person who swam across Crystal Lake three times, the last time at age 71. She would never read a book during the day because that seems too indulgent, but she will allow herself to needlepoint at night while listening to an audio book and watching a sporting event with the sound off.

Now 83, she worries about overstaying. “I’m trying to think of someone who would be a reasonable heir apparent. I do believe in succession planning.” And she wants to ensure future generations appreciate the CSA.

“I really like the thought that we’re maintaining the old traditions of the Assembly. I worry kids don’t learn history, they don’t go to museums. I want it to be a place that makes them feel connected so they’ll want to carry on that knowledge to the future.

“Last week a longtime CSA member said her grandchildren wanted to see Pilgrim Place,” Jane said. “They asked wonderful things like, ‘why did the railroad stop having trains come here? What was it like when the lodge was here? Why isn’t it still here?”  

A few weeks earlier, Jane had given a talk at St. Andrews Church in Beulah and attendees had asked the same questions. “Places like the Assembly popped up all over the Midwest. Most that survived are just resorts; they aren’t a community,” she explained.

“How do you make it something that’s attractive and desirable to young people now without preaching that it’s very special, so they don’t just want it to be an Airbnb? I think archives play a very important part.”

October is American Archives Month. Does Jane have any special requests?

“I’d like people who are thinking about archives to find one example of how they can put themselves into the history that’s represented at the archives. For example, someone might have lived at the lodge, someone took tennis lessons from Lysle Butler, or understand how it is to start an adventure like the Assembly, have a vision for it and see how close they can come in 100 years to having that vision still be valid.”

Or maybe you could just find her a nice recording of the Point Betsie foghorn.

­­­­­­­­­­­­Pilgrim Place is open from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesdays or by appointment. Email Jane at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Assistants to the archivist are Nancy Gosnell Gillett, Carol Nethercut Edmonds, and Judy Dawley.

By Alan Marble

229t6stor Dead AlewivesAt least, that is what my dog Goose tells me, as he surreptitiously crunches down on yet another dried dead fish off the Lake Michigan beach.  Goose is one of our two Labrador retrievers.  He is going on 11, and, while his hearing is just fine, he has reached that stage of life where he gets to choose which commands to obey.  The first command we teach our pups is, “Leave it!”  Translated, that means whatever the pup is doing, or eating or even thinking, stop it right now.   With Goose, not so much.

The aforementioned dead fish are alewives, singularly alewife. Like potato chips, of which it is said that you can’t eat just one, you don’t have just one dead alewife on the beach.  You have a bunch.  More on that in a minute.

Talk about unintended consequences; the human race sure knows how to leap-before-it-looks.

An important industrial milestone was achieved in the early 20th century when the Welland Canal was completed, linking the Atlantic Ocean and the upper Great Lakes. Shipping bolstered the economy of cities from Duluth to New York, and many points in between. 

Along with the ore freighters, however, came a couple of marine invaders which began establishing themselves in Lakes Huron and Michigan.  Relatively small in stature, these fish made up for their size with their amazing ability to reproduce themselves.  Enter the alewife and the lamprey eel.

Anadromous in their native Atlantic Ocean, lampreys and alewives evolved to live in saltwater and breed in freshwater.  The lack of a saltwater source was of no importance, however, as they adapted to living and spawning in freshwater.  Unseen as they moved into the upper Great Lakes, they found themselves in vast inland seas, a sterile and largely lifeless aquatic environment.  Commercial fishing for lake trout in the 1940’s was lucrative, and in 1945 a record haul of 6.5 million pounds of lakers went from Lake Michigan to fish markets throughout the eastern half of the country.  Ten years later, they were all but gone.  The Department of Conservation (now the Department of Natural Resources), utilized 1,400 miles of gill nets to sample the lake trout population.  Those miles yielded a measly 8 lake trout.  For all intents and purposes, lake trout had been extirpated from Lake Michigan. 

Unregulated commercial fishing rang the bell, and the lamprey eels delivered the knock-out blow.  As unlovely as any creature in our lakes, the lamprey eel is not a true eel, but a jawless fish that has a circle of rasping teeth which burrow through the soft skin of lake trout and related species of fish.  The suction action keeps them attached to their hosts as they secrete an enzyme into the wound to prevent coagulation.  Over the course of 18 months of adult life, the average lamprey kills 40 to 50 trout and salmon.  They spawn in the spring, in rivers such as the Platte, and die, as do all Pacific salmon.

With the top-line predators all but eliminated, the alewives took over.  Spawning in huge numbers, with few fish around to dine on them, their population took on staggering proportions.  The Department of Conservation estimated that, in 1965, alewives comprised 90% of the biomass of Lake Michigan, at the incredible weight of 5 to 6 billion pounds.  Let’s use a checklist here:

A.         Huge numbers of alewives.  Check

B.         No one home to eat alewives.  Check

C.        Alewives are a small relative of ocean herring, are bony, skinny, oily and taste awful (unless you are a salmonid).  Check

D.        DDT, widespread throughout the state for insect control, all but eliminated our common fish-eating coastal birds (tern species, gull species, mergansers) by interfering with calcium formation in their eggs, leading to totally failed nests.  Check

So, what to do?  Mother Nature, who is highly effective when she is taking care of population balance issues, is unfortunately ruthless and messy.  Die-offs of millions upon millions of alewives began in the 1960’s and stretched into the 70’s.  Piles 8 feet high of dead fish stank up the place, and coastal communities turned to bulldozing and burning huge numbers of dead fish.  The peak die-off occurred in 1967.  With an alewife population estimated at 5 billion fish, given an alewife’s 5-year life-cycle, you have a billion fish dying each year.  Given the fact that Lake Michigan’s prevailing winds are southwesterly and northwesterly…well, you get the point.  Add to that huge numbers of young alewives still coming through the canal, and others hatching in natural reproduction.  It began an incredible cycle generating millions of fish with massive die-offs, without an end in sight.

The truly amazing story of what happened next is for another day. In a nutshell, the Department of Conservation introduced coho salmon from Oregon into tributary streams.  Dow Chemical of Midland, MI, donated thousands of hours of testing and developed what came to be the gold standard of pesticides, which killed the larvae of lampreys without affecting the surrounding aquatic flora and fauna.  The 660,000 smolt coho salmon (5 inches in length), planted in the Platte River and Bear Creek in the spring of 1967 ventured forth into a target-rich environment.  Biologists (and everybody else) held their breath and waited.  Eighteen months later, in September of 1967, those little salmon did just what they were supposed to do; return to the streams in which they were planted.  In that time those salmon grew from perhaps 2 ounces to 20 pounds, gorging on alewives.  They all spawned in the rivers, and died, as do all Pacific salmon species.

Alewives, nearly a hundred years later, are now part of our Great Lakes.  They are the primary forage fish for the even larger Chinook salmon, which have largely replaced coho salmon (live longer, get bigger, easier to raise in hatcheries, more successful in natural reproduction).  The current die-off, which is two months in duration and still going on, is “normal” but also alarming to DNR fisheries personnel.  The dying fish are smaller (younger) on average compared to die-offs of 10 years ago.  The die-off is also larger than recent die-offs.  Sport fishermen are seeing huge schools of what are believed to be alewives on their onboard sonar screens. 

What’s next?  Hard to say.  It’s sort of like what they say about Michigan’s weather…stick around, it is bound to change.

By Fran Somers

What you need to know about the new CSA tennis coach is this: After a long day of teaching tennis, he likes nothing better than to watch re-runs of Wimbledon.

Steve Shreiner—the No. 2 ranked USTA player for men’s doubles in his age group—really loves the game. Steve isn’t new-new to the CSA. He coached tennis here for four years in the 1980’s, and for 27 years at Crystal Downs Country Club.

“I’ve always hustled tennis balls,” Steve says. “I learned to play tennis on the CSA courts at age 7. My grandparents had a cottage near Lake Michigan, and I’d hit the ball against the backboards on those courts, then ride my bike to tennis and swimming lessons.”

Steve was lucky to be taught by Oberlin College coaching legend Lysle Butler as a kid at the CSA, and then to cross paths with him at Oberlin because his high school team used Oberlin’s courts.   After graduating from Miami University in Ohio, Steve taught American history in Cincinnati, and coached at the local racquet club.  He and his wife Wanda raised a few tennis players of their own, and after retiring, Steve and doubles partner Howard Ames began playing in USTA tournaments.

Steve, 73, downplays his wins, but there are trophies and purses.  His most cherished tennis moment, however, was when he and his son, Brent, qualified for the father-son division of the US Open in 1988.  They “went a few rounds” but mostly loved the spectacle of seeing the pros play and the camaraderie with CSA friends who came to cheer them on. Of course he did have to ask Jim Buzzell, the managing director, for the time off. “He said, ‘Go have fun, but it will come out of your pay.’ ”

The kids and adults who attend tennis lessons at the CSA this year will get a lesson that Steve’s favorite player excels at: never giving up. “Rafael Nadal never gives up, even if he’s way behind.” Nadal was forced to withdraw from the Wimbledon quarterfinals on July 7 after tearing an abdominal muscle, but Steve admires his willingness to fight for every point.  “He stuck it out for over four hours. He’s just a great sportsman.”

 That’s a message Steve would like everyone to take to heart. “My serve, my forehand, my backhand—they’re nothing special. But when I get knocked down, I get back up. Even if I lose, I can accept it.”

A friend once estimated that Steve has hit a tennis ball more than 8 million times. That could explain the shoulder he blew out 13 years ago—his only serious tennis injury. For anyone looking for a less strenuous game, Steve is not opposed to pickleball. “It’s wonderful for some people. I teach it sparingly because I’m a tennis purist, but I appreciate that pickleball is social and still good exercise.”   

For those sticking with the big court, here are Steve’s five tips to improve your game:

  • Move your feet
  • Don’t over-hit; it’s about keeping the ball in play, not hitting hard
  • Watch better players
  • Compete so you can focus and see where you’re at
  • Practice, practice, practice

“I watch good tennis, it makes me want to improve. The day that I can’t improve, I better put my racket down.” Will that day ever come? “I don’t know when I’m going to retire. It’s sooner than later, but I will keep doing it because I enjoy sharing the game with other people.”

 228t6 Steeve Shreiner and staff

Rounding out the coaching staff with Tennis Manager Steve Shreiner are Noah Buntain, Jon Blessing, assistant tennis manager, Caitlin Siles, Avery Leete, and two of Steve’s grandchildren: Olivia Kockaya and Hannah Shreiner (not pictured).

By Loren Weiss - June 30, 2022

Trees Yellow DotSafety is one of our primary concerns at the CSA - M22 runs right through our grounds, and most roads are only wide enough for one car to drive along at a time. Those visiting the Assembly have always been encouraged to be cautious whether they’re driving or walking; but as the 2022 season rolls in, our Maintenance Department headed by Tom Mauer has worked tirelessly to make things a little safer for all of us through their renovation and reconstruction of Assembly walking paths.

The first step in their community-wide project was to make the walking path in the woods running along Alden Edwards Avenue more accessible and usable. The path starts directly next to the Meeting House and stretches all the way to the intersection between Alden Edwards Ave. and Winslow Way, creating a perfect path for runners, dog-walkers, and anyone else who previously would have stuck to the roads. Trees are marked with visible yellow markers to keep hikers from straying, and all plants and hazards (including poison ivy) have been cleared away. The trail is surrounded by recently planted native trees and luscious wonders of nature, making it a much more attractive walk alongside its practicality.

Mauer’s plan is to renovate all of the unpaved paths crisscrossing the Assembly, so walkers feel more comfortable off of the road - and away from vehicularPath through trees traffic. Among the paths slated for renovation are the Carver Crescent to South Shore trail and the stairway down the hill to Lake Michigan. His hopes are that by making these trails safer and more accessible for those on foot, we can keep Assembly patrons out of harm’s way while also giving them scenic, enjoyable trails to walk along. 

Road safety is especially important by M22 - and since construction started on June 27th, the CSA wants to encourage its members to be vigilant when crossing and otherwise navigating roads. These paths are a great way to do so, and we encourage all those who are curious or just feel like going for a walk to check out the beautiful trail by the Meeting House - and hopefully, as the project continues, even more trails that crop up across our scenic grounds.

By Alan Marble

Black bears are beginning to show a strong presence in our neighborhood at the CSA.  Last year a big boar (male) around 300 pounds or so began tearing up bird feeders and garbage bins in the late summer, fall, and well into winter.  He was active again in late winter after what appeared to be only a brief nap of about a month.  He hasn’t been around this spring - he is probably doing what boars do this time of year, which is look for female bears (sows) to breed. They will roam far and wide in this search for romance, or the ursine version of it.

bearscatonsandIn late March I found a generous pile of bear scat (poop) on the Crystal Lake beach. 



Lately, though, there have been several bears visiting the CSA. Tracks of a sow with what may be two or three young cubs have been noted north along the Lake Michigan beach, and the tracks of what appears to be another sow with a single, year-old cub, have been appearing north from the stairs.  



bearbuttinsand These bears left interesting butt marks in the sand as they slid down the low bluff just north of the Edmonds’ cottage.

The bears are almost certainly foraging on the abundance of small, fresh, dead alewives that are washing up on the Lake Michigan beach (alewives are small anadromous fish which will be another story to be related at a later date: if you are over 45 years old, you probably remember them). 

Why the uptick in bear activity?  They are highly adaptable to man and his civilization, are omnivores (more vegetable than mineral), live a long time and have been steadily growing in number over the past 30 years or so since the hunting of black bears went from unregulated in Michigan, to hunting seasons today which are based on modern sound science with lotteries for tags.  They have been expanding their range as well, appearing more and more often in central and even southern Michigan.

 Black bears are our only bears, and they are the smallest of their clan.  That said, “small” is a relative term, as a big old boar can top 600 pounds.  They breed in late spring, spend the next six months eating the bounty of nature and agriculture. They thrive in the orchards of Benzie County and make a serious nuisance of themselves in the fruit country, tearing off branches to nosh on apples, cherries and everything else fruit.  The primary element in their diet is plant material of all kinds, followed by insects, grubs, bees and honey. They are indiscriminate diners, eating every form of garbage from diapers to food wrappers and rancid food.  An unprotected garbage bag rings a bigtime dinner bell in a bear’s little brain. So does a well-stocked bird feeder that is within reach.

In early winter bears undergo a subtle metabolic change that leads them, especially the pregnant sows, to seek rudimentary shelter for “hibernation.”  The word is in quotation marks only because it is not a true hibernation, which is just shy of total shutdown of an animal’s bodily functions.  Sows go into hibernation earlier and longer than the boars, because their bodies are telling them to prepare to birth their tiny, hairless cubs.  These little fellers do not resemble the cubs you think of.  They nurse and sleep and develop a cub’s appearance before heading out with the sow into the world in late spring.  Boars are not powered by the same maternal instincts, and often resist slumber as long as there is ample forage (garbage, bird feeders, etc.). Climate change is also certainly playing a factor in black bear behavior.

What does all of this mean to those of us who have moved, unwittingly, perhaps, into black bear country?  We need to share the land, and be smart, and attentive.

The garbage bins which I helped invent are a piece of cake for a bear of any size.  We may have to rethink how we all handle our trash, because a bear that makes a steady diet of food supplied at your home will quickly become habituated to the process and will come to expect an easy meal.  Same goes for bird feeders (I will share my story on that in a future email). Anything and everything we can all do to remove a food attraction will pay off.  A bear that expects the free meal can be a real nuisance, and probably constitutes the single largest threat to our individual safety.

How does all of this affect us, our behavior, and our day-to-day existence? Other than strictly avoiding any feeding attraction for bears, very little.  Black bears will avoid human contact if given half a chance.  A sow with cubs will vacate the area you are in as soon as she smells you (crazy-good sense of smell), sees you (not so great sense), or hears you (ears like antennae).  She will either remove herself and her cubs at 30 mph (yup, 30 mph), or send the cubs up a tree while she retreats and observes.  A boar wants nothing to do with you and will almost certainly detect you long before you see him. 

Bears become quite nocturnal in their activities when pressured (like summertime at the CSA).  So, what do we do?  First, be aware of your surroundings as you walk Lover’s Lane or the CSA main drag, especially at dusk and dawn.  Put your phone away and listen and look at what is around you.  If you have company, chat while you walk; the best strategy is to give a bear (or any wildlife, for that matter) advance warning of your presence.  Listen to your surroundings…heck, you might learn something….and allow yourself to enjoy that you are a part (a small part, mind you), of a natural environment that continues to change and expand.

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