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Making Manceiona their mission

The Antrim Review of Bellaire, Michigan

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Couple opens new community center to help give people 'a reason to smile'

MANCELONA — When Sandy and Felilx Bockhorst moved up north a few years ago, they were just looking for a quiet home in a colder climate than that of Florida where they were living.

"Felix has some health issues that do better in colder climates than in the heat of Florida," said Sandy Bockhorst last week. "I remembered this great little place in northern Michigan where my family and 1 had camped as a kid, and how I had thought that area would be such a great place to live in some day,"

Those thoughts may have been the best thing to happen to the village of Mancelona in years. The couple made that move north, and started a small farm. But soon, Felix was bored, Sandy said.

"I thought back to when I was a child and remembered the candy lady — one of our neighbors that had a small candy shop in the basement of her home where all the children would go and buy penny candy. That basement was like a fairyland for all of us kids, and we thought that was something that the kids of this area would like, too," she explained.

Sandy's Candies and Ice Cream soon became reality — but not in the

Bockhorsts' basement Instead, the couple opened their shop in downtown Mancelona on State Street. "We looked around downtown Mancelona and saw a town that was full of empty buildings where a lot of dreams had died. With the loss of so much manufacturing in town, the pollution in the water, the poverty, we realized that Mancelona was dying, too," Sandy explained. "Mancelona had a broken heart. We knew we had to do something that would make people happy. And candy and ice cream always makes people happy."

As the Bockhorsts got to know the people who live and work in Mancelona, it wasn't long before Sandy decided she had to do something more to help raise the spirits of the village. "There's a lot of really great people in this town with huge hearts and a lot of fighting spirit, and I knew that — with their help — we could bring Mancelona back," she said.

With that, the community grassroots group — now known as Mancelona Matters — was born, with 10-12 holiday events held a year, a spring cleanup last May that went a long way in sprucing up the appearance of the downtown area, and future plans for much, much more.

"Mancelona Matters now has 480 members," Sandy said proudly. "We're going places. We're moving this town ahead into the future, giving everyone something to smile about and bringing pride back to the community."

But it wasn't long before Bockhorst and her husband saw a need for yet more.

"Mancelona needed a place where people could go to sit and relax, especially in the winter," Sandy stated. "A place where they could meet and get to know others, share their hobbies and learn about the history of this wonderful area we live in. And the kids need a place to go, too."

Additionally, the couple was trying to think of ideas about how to lure some of the steady stream of traffic down U.S. 131 into downtown Mancelona.

"We put up signs north and south of town on the highway, which brought visitors to the candy store, and a lot of them would ask us if there were any visitor's centers or areas where they could go to relax and find out more about this area."

Looking at the empty and forlorn building next door to Sandy's Candies that for a short time had housed Cinderella's Closet, which gave slightly used formal wear to area teens headed for homecoming dances and proms, the couple knew there was a place where visitors-as well as residents — could come to learn more about Mancelona.

The idea for the Nickelodeon Community and Welcome Center was born, and it officially opened last month.

"We've already had music on

Friday nights, karaoke on Saturday nights," the candy shop owner said. "We've got a ladies' knitting group coming in on Mondays, and on Oct. 26 we hosted a public forum with representatives from the DEQ where people could ask questions about Mancelona's water and the plume as it has moved over the years."

Additionally, anyone visiting the new community center will find a pinball game, popcorn and cotton candy machines, a big Barbie house for little girls that Felix Bockhorst has just finished, Lincoln Log toys, and a room offering drinks and snacks.

"And it's all free, although we do accept donations for the snacks," Bockhorst said. "We're building a stage and Felix is building shelves "People like Herb Tipton (from the Mancelona Area Historical Society), who is going to be bringing over some things so visitors at the Community Center can learn about the history of this area, are jumping on the bandwagon, too. Area churches are getting involved as well.

"Together, we're all going to make Mancelona a better place," she added.

The Nickelodeon Community and Welcome Center is located at 107 W. State St. in Mancelona, and can be contacted at 231-676-1214 or via Mancelonamatters.com.



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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015



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