why's that | WMUK

why's that

Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

In 1971, Erika Loeffler Friedl and her husband bought a three-bedroom ranch house near Western Michigan University, where Erika went on to have a long career as an anthropologist. Fifty years later, retired, their kids grown, the couple lives in the same house. So when a realtor described it as a starter home, it surprised Erika.

Sehvilla Mann / WMUK


This story begins on an island: a patch of land that is surrounded by the City of Kalamazoo but is not part of it. This episode originally aired in Nov. 2019.


The photo shows trees with leaves just coming in, right, and a long multilevel building in shadow, left. In the background behind the building is a tall, pale chimney.
Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

To the west of Kalamazoo, in the Village of Lawton, just off the main drag, there’s a sprawling brick building with arched windows and sturdy walls. Here’s what’s special about it: This building has a chimney, or smokestack so tall you can see it from all over town. For locals, it's a symbol of home. For visitors, it’s a curiosity.

A young woman holds several stickers, fanned out, which are dark blue with an American flag. They read, "I registered to vote today."
Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

In 2018, by a two-to-one margin, Michigan voters approved Proposal 3, a ballot initiative expanding voter rights. Among other things, it legalized no-reason absentee voting and the right to register to vote on Election Day at your city or township clerk’s office. Rick Kinas of Kalamazoo thought same-day registration sounded like a good idea, “in terms of allowing people not to be disenfranchised in the case they hadn’t gotten quite coordinated.”

Photo provided by forestryimages.org / USDA APHIS PPQ

Andrew Conkling lives in Kalamazoo, in a house with a big oak tree in the middle of the backyard. He and his four kids like to observe the insect life out there.

“We have ground bees this year, and we’ve had wasps before that we had to get rid of. The ground bees apparently are gentle so we don’t have to do anything about those. We don’t really like to kill stuff,” he added.

But he’s wondering what he should do about gypsy moths. Or more specifically, the fuzzy, spotted gypsy moth caterpillars he finds on his oak tree in the summer.