I’ve been complaining some about the snow we’ve gotten this winter. I guess last year spoiled me just a little. But even so, I shouldn’t be complaining about the relatively little snowfall. First, it’s good for the environment, especially our lakes. Second, it’s good for the businesses that rely on wintry weather. Finally, it’s nowhere close to the blizzard of 78. This year is the 35th anniversary of the snowstorm, considered one of the state (and Midwest’s) worst. People were hospitalized for exposure, there were fatalities – related directly or indirectly to the storm, cars were abandoned on the state’s highways (about 100,000) and institutions, like the University of Michigan, closed for the first time in their history.
Even though the brunt of the storm occurred mostly on two days, January 26 and 27, the lack of power, massive snowdrifts, and cold temperatures shut down the White Lake area for close to a week. Memories of the blizzard are still vivid. Harold Wheaton, a Montague resident, recalled how he and his wife, Barbara, lost power in their home for a week. Their aquarium fish died and Harold had to strap on skis and head out to get food and supplies. Ever since that storm, the Wheatons have not been without a wood stove. Several of my high school classmates remembered the storm also. (1978 was the year following our graduation.) Pam Olsen Valliancourt recalls that Benston Road was closed for three or four days, until the National Guard plowed it. Jane Bartholomew Kritzman remembered how her mother, Bee Bartholomew, director of nurses at White Ledge Nursing Home (now Heartland Manor) and several other nurses were transported after work to the house by snow plow. She also remembers that the nurses ended up borrowing several pairs of her dad’s pajamas for the night.
Mostly, I remember all the snow. The roads in the area were completely impassable - just piled unbelievably high with snow in drifts as tall as buildings. Shortly after the storm, I made my way across the top of the snow drifted streets, from my home on Alice Street to White Ledge Nursing Home on Lewis Street. Not all of the nurses and aides were able to make it to work, so I pitched in to help my sister, who worked as a nurse’s aide there, and was working day and night shifts for several days in a row. Walking back home was hard work. I made sure to keep my eye on the huge snowplows digging away at the snow filled streets. I wanted to get home fast because I wasn’t sure I was visible. As I neared my home, I came to the surprising realization that I was snowed out. So much snow had piled up against the front door that I had to dig it out to get inside!
I recently read Editor Darwin Bennett’s column in the February 1, 1978 White Laker Observer about the snowstorm. First, he grumbled about the challenges of being holed up with his teenage children. He noted the lack of people on his street, likening it to “suspended animation” and expressed his irony at how it wasn’t until a snowplow accidentally cut off cable TV that people came out of their homes in a “panic.” Maintenance and emergency crews were praised for working around the clock to clear the snow. There were stories of restaurants that stayed open to provide coffee for the workers and neighbors helping neighbors. Babies born at home and farm families put up stranded motorists. Finally, Bennett expressed his appreciation for the state and federal help we received and concluded: “It’s our week we’ll never forget.”
It’s good to know that things have not really changed all that much in the last 35 years. It is still a challenge to be stuck indoors with teenagers, people still panic without their TV, maintenance and emergency workers always deserve praise, people will always help people, and we do still appreciate extra help from the state and federal government during serious emergencies.
Tanya Cabala is a lifelong resident of the White Lake area. A former educator and professional environmental advocate, she is currently the owner of Great Lakes Consulting, which provides project support and grant writing services to environmental and community nonprofit organizations. More information is available at www.tanyacabala.com. Tanya loves her hometown, loves writing, and loves to hear from her readers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (231) 981-0016.