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Hospice nurse's e-mail leads to meeting, memories of West Michigan history

8:17 PM, Mar 21, 2013   |    comments
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SPRING LAKE, Mich. (WZZM) -- A lakeshore hospice worker thought the stories a patient was telling her needed to be preserved, so she sent and e-mail leading to a meeting this week between her patient and a spokesperson for Consumers Energy.

The power of the Muskegon River has been harnessed since the early 1900s. The Hardy Dam and several others still generate power for the utility company. The last dam Consumers Energy built was Hardy in 1931, and at that time the company also built an entire neighborhood for employees and their families.

Russell Ronning remembers 1931 because it was year he moved to Consumers Power's Hardy Dam neighborhood after his father was transferred. The company housing kept employees close by, on call to keep the dam producing electricity 24 hours a day, seven day a week.

"Every hour they turned in a report of how much electricity they needed," recalls Ronning. "He never missed a day of work."

The neighborhood of kit homes offered Russell and the seven other children of employees the opportunity grow up along the Muskegon River. The children spent time swimming and fishing in the summer.

"I could catch 50 perch," says Ronning. "I can not think of anything bad about it."

In the winter, he even went down the dam on sleds and could warm up inside the dam's main building when they were cold.

These are some of the stories Hospice worker Jennifer Eitniear was hearing over and over again from her 85-year-old cancer patient.

"Mr. Ronning has great stories and he has great history, at his age he can tell you bits and pieces that you would never imagine," says Jennifer Eitniear. She knows from her own grandfather's passing stories like these need to be passed on. "I learned that history dies with people. His stories and the things he would tell me are no longer available to me."

So she sent an e-mail and this week Consumer's Energy sent Roger Morgenstern to meet Russell Ronning at his Spring Lake Assisted Living Center. Morgenstern handles public relations for Consumers and said Jennifer's e-mail struck a cord with employees at the utility company.

Morgenstern didn't arrive empty handed, offering the Ronning family photos to add to their collection and commemorative coins too, but what Ronning gave the company in return-- insight into its long history-- may be the gift that holds the most value.

"This is like an open history book. This is fantastic," Morgenstern said to Ronning.

The company homes are long gone, replaced by a park dedicated to unique neighborhood that once was at the Hardy Dam site. It's even made the state's list of historic sites and few, if anyone alive today, knows it as well as Russell Ronning.

"It was a good place to live," says Ronning.

Jennifer Eitniear said the meeting was priceless. "Mr. Ronning is in his glory today."

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