Tag Archives: Grand Rapids

Eyeology with Dr. Verdier

New eyes one year later

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

Grand Rapids, MI- It’s been exactly a year since I’ve had surgeries to remove cataracts from both eyes. The process took close to two months at the Verdier Eye Center in Grand Rapids.

In May, I went almost completely blind to a point where I could no longer drive or write because I couldn’t see the computer screen or the windshield. And that’s exactly what a cataract is- a dirty windshield or lights on the car. Some cataracts take years to develop, mine only took two years from the first consultation. They don’t necessarily just strike older people, which is also one of common misconceptions.

Verdier Eye Center
Dr. David Verdier, a recognized eye surgeon

I couldn’t see the TV screen, so I couldn’t do my yoga practice. I cried hard. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to see my son Jake and daughter-in-law Maranda at their wedding on Oct. 25.

I knew Dr. David Verdier from earlier stories that I had written for Advance Newspapers and Gemini Publications about his worldwide work for Orbis. He is a well-known eye surgeon who brought to West Michigan subspecialty skills of modern corneal transplantation and external eye diseases, cataract removal and intraocular lens implantation.

Dr. Verdier is recognized by his peers as a member of The Best Doctors in America, Who’s Who in the World, Who’s Who in Medicine and Health Care and Who’s Who in American Education.

As such other ophthalmologists have to recommend you to get to him. I asked my eye doctor Holzer that I want Dr. Verdier to do the surgery.

“You’ll have to wait to get in, but he’s worth waiting for,” said Dr. Holzer.

The whole process took several visits to the eye center, but it was well worth it.  I overheard some patients waiting for the surgery say, that it is a frivolous surgery.

I would never call any surgery, a frivolous affair. It was done under local anesthesia and with an anesthesiologist present. The prep time for it took two hours.

After eye surgery
After eye surgery

Today, one year later I still don’t need eye glasses because Dr. Verdier also implanted lenses into my eyes that corrected the vision. I carry patient lens implant identification cards on me.

I am grateful to Dr. Verdier for his expertise and for “Taking my eyes to heart.” I even got a plant Kalanchoe to get well. Both, the plant and my eyes are doing well.

Here are the links to last year’s stories grouped in a mini-series “New Eyes with Dr. Verdier.”





Copyright © 2015 Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.


IW Inspiring Women, Betty M.

Inspiring Women at home and around the world

Orchids in full bloom
Enigmatic orchids

Note: This is the second installment in a feature series about Inspiring Women. It is dedicated to all women who are trying to make a difference and better other people’s lives, as well as their own.  In putting together this feature series, I was inspired by several moments in life that in particular stand out.

No.1  A dedication of a Relax, mind, body & soul book by Barbara Heller from my son Jake: “I dedicate this to my inspiring and motivational mother.” Kuba

No. 2  While on a story prior to Mother’s Day, I dropped in at Ace Bernard Hardware to talk about the prizes with owner Charlie Bernard. We talked also about the Lowell Area Chamber and its director Liz Baker.

“You know what I like about Liz, she keeps re-inventing herself,” Bernard said.

No. 3 Again on a story prior to the International Women’s Day I talked to Sow Hope president Mary Dailey Brown.

“If you want to make a difference in this world, seriously consider helping impoverished women. Helping women is the key to unlocking poverty.”

No. 4  At a parents teacher conference at Cherry Creek Elementary in Lowell in mid 1990s: “Mrs. Pala, we do not give up,” teacher Karen Latva said.

Lowell city clerk battled cancer with positive attitude

Name: Betty Renfro Morlock

Position: city clerk

Residence: Lowell Township

Family: husband Sam, daughter Jamie and four grandsons

Hobbies and interests: wrestling, soccer, football and camping

Betty’s story

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI- “I’ve had a few bumps in my life.”

Now, that’s Betty Morlock’s way of looking at life’s blocks, setbacks or just pure tragedies.

Betty Renfro Morlock
Lowell city clerk Betty Morlock

As the Lowell city clerk since 1988, Morlock has been through highs and lows, mostly in her personal life. She is also a highly visible and accessible person, and that’s not just during the elections.

Two major tragedies early on have pulled the family together. Adopted grandson Tyler Morlock, 4, was diagnosed with cancer in January of 2000. That same year on April 28th, son Steven was killed in an accident on a quad.

“I have that silver lining,” she said. “I am a people person. I love my residents and my community.”

Always vibrant, equipped with enormous energy, Morlock has navigated the city politics well. Twice, she was the president of the Rotary, and she traveled to the Dominican Republic, as part of a program to ship ambulances to the country.

Morlock has enjoyed a successful career, by the side of only two city managers, current Mark Howe and past Dave Pasquale, until the biggest challenge of her life hit hard.

While visiting her sick mother-in-law in Reed City on Dec. 29, 2013, Morlock started feeling increasingly sick herself. After throwing up due to an internal bleeding, Morlock was transported to the Reed City Hospital, and then transferred to Blodgett in Grand Rapids. She was diagnosed with cancer in her ulcer.

Morlock lost weight the hard way. To date, Morlock lost 68 pounds. She had to undergo a surgery that took away one third of her stomach much like in the bariatric bypass surgery.

“I had to have both chemo and radiation because I had cancer in the lymph nodes,” she said.

Betty Renfro Morlock
Betty Renfro Morlock

At the time, Morlock posted enthusiastically on facebook:

“Okay here’s the game plan: Twice a week chemo and then radiation.”

It was really more than that, but her optimistic outlook carried her through the serious illness.

“I’ve never been sick,” she said. “I’ve only been to the hospital to have babies.”

She underwent the treatments at the Lemmen Holton Cancer Center under Spectrum Hospital.

But, Morlock was no stranger to cancer.

“Cancer has been prevalent in our family,” she said.

Morlock lost both her parents to cancer, as well as her sister and brother, aunts and uncles.

She bought a wig, and never had to use it.

“My hair just got thinner,” she said. “I don’t think I was as sick as most people are. I got very emotional.”

The whole time during the treatments, Morlock stayed at her daughter Jamie’s house. She had a feeding tube in the stomach and it took 12 hours to feed six cans of Ensure. Morlock started dropping weight rapidly.

“Thanks God, I had a lot of weight to drop,” she joked.

Morlock received enormous support from the family and the community.

“If you’re going to get sick, Lowell is the place to be,” she said.

Morlock had to go a few times to ER because of anxiety attacks. She started feeling better once the feeding tube was out.

Now, all done with the treatments and back at the city hall, Morlock admits that the chemo and the radiation took a lot of strength out of her.

“It slowed me down a bit,” she said in a recent interview. “I continue to focus on being healthy and starting the next phase of my life, which is retirement.”

Currently, she is working on the cemetery program and the upcoming special election on May 5 for the sales tax increase.

What really gets to Morlock is the actual aftermath of the chemotherapy.

“I have something they call a chemo mind,” she said. “I forget things, I can’t focus or concentrate.

“How long can I claim this chemo mind?”

“As long as you want to, you deserve it,” said the doctor.

For Morlock, always surrounded by stacks of documents at the city hall, the inability to focus is really frustrating

And her biggest fear is that the cancer may come back. Morlock didn’t drive at all during the chemo and the radiation due to lack of concentration.

But, there were many positive outcomes from whole treatment process.

“Cancer made me a stronger person, more understanding and it taught me to value my community and family more.”

                                                                                           Betty Morlock

 Cured, driving and working, Morlock says she was very fortunate.

“I had good doctors and support,” she said. “We’re lucky that we have the Medical Mile.”

She did have her pity parties when the feeding tube started acting up.

“I would feel sorry for Betty,” she said.

Throughout her career, Morlock had her role models like election specialist for Kent County, Sue de Steiguer.

“She is phenomenal,” she said. “All our elections run smooth, we’re lucky to have her.”

Morlock is looking to retire mid-year in June/July.

“I will miss the people, the staff and the community,” she said, “but I am looking forward to volunteering with Lizzie at the chamber.”

Morlock can’t wait to get to Tyler Creek Golf Course area to stay at the summer trailer.

And of course her no.1 love after the family is wrestling.

“I am their number one fan,” she said. “We’ve created bond ship through wrestling. The wrestling families are so tight, they made food for us when I was sick. We help each other.”


Betty Renfro Morlock- the woman behind the superwoman

 Emma: What makes you feel good about yourself?

Betty: The fact that I kicked it and made the best of it. It may come back but I am ready for it.

Emma: What do you do for yourself?

Betty: I pray daily. I know God has a plan for me, and if it is to survive, I will survive. Don’t ever lose your faith.”

Emma: How do you balance all this out?

Betty: I continue to focus on my health and I want to start journalling.

Emma: Your plans?

Betty: Get well is my number one plan. Before I got sick, I overworked that might have brought it on.

Emma: Your tips and advice to other women?

Betty: It’s very important to talk to someone to get support. I love facebook. Between the family, community and facebook I kept connected.It’s good to be back. Call me if you need to talk to someone at 897-8457.

About the cover photo: Kathleen Mooney’s abstract inspired by Gee’s Bend quilting.

About the orchid logo: Photograph from the group “I love Czech Republic” on facebook.


Copyright © 2015 Emma Blogs LLC. All rights reserved.

25 Years in the USA II

25 Years in the USA II

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a mini series about the 25th anniversary of arrival to the USA.

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI – The early years in the USA consisted of me packing up my luggage and kids and wanting to go back home to former Czechoslovakia. Once it got so far that my dad Vaclav said he was going to buy me airplane  tickets.

I unpacked and my mom Ella with a German neighbor friend Mrs. Gunnell brought over a fortune teller.

“You got yourself in a mess,” she said. “You don’t know where you want to be.”

arrival anniversary
25 years in the USA

I was torn between the old and the new. The new didn’t seem so great. I remember dad teaching me how to drive on a short stretch of a freeway between Big Rapids and Reed City. Both “holes” terrified me with their nothingness.

“You came unprepared,” he said.

When I think about it today, he was right, like most fathers are. I was unprepared. I didn’t have a driver’s license or a license to practice civil engineering in America, or a desire to do so.

All I could do was listen to the band “Chicago” and cry.

Everything took a turning point when my husband Ludek found a job in Grand Rapids and we could move to an apartment in Kentwood. I took writing classes at the Grand Rapids Community College.

But in the meantime I worked as a clerk in women’s department at a Midwest  chain Meijer. Most people have. That’s where I started the store’s newsletter X-Files with a friend. We wrote it on a box from bras. Since Twitter or Facebook were not around, we wrote messages to each other on that same box until finally someone threw it out.

I also wrote for a Czech newspaper former “Czechoslovak Newsweek” that later changed names to ” American  Lists.”That was  the first time I got into trouble for writing. The article had something to do with religion. Ever since then, I follow the two major pillars of journalism; if you don’t want to get into trouble don’t write about religion or politics.

The kids were doing well in the public schools. Jake went to Challenger elementary and Emma to Kentwood High.

But, then something else transpired. Family members back home started dying. That meant flying to funerals painful flights.

When you emigrate, you don’t think about these things. You are never completely separated from your past, and never fully integrated into the present. You lose old friends, and don’t find new ones.

Gabrielle Garcia Marquez wrote in his “100 Years of Solitude:”

“You’re not home in a new place until someone close dies there.”

To be continued……

Copyright © 2015 Emma Blogs LLC, All rights reserved

Holiday moods

Christmas in the Grand Rapids area

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

Following is a picture essay of the holiday season in the Grand Rapids area, Michigan. From big events such as the annual Christmas party for the ABC Undercar employees in  Amway Grand Plaza counting 400 people to a small pioneer one-room school house in Fallasburg Historic Park. That all happened in one day on Dec. 13, 2014. I was overwhelmed by the disparity of both events. One was like a magical kingdom, the other inviting like a tiny cottage in the woods. Enjoy.

Holidays in Grand Rapids
The lobby of Amway Grand Plaza was decked out for Christmas.

The humble one-room school house, home to the Fallasburg Historical Society.

Fallassburg Park
The annual Christmas fundraiser for the Fallasburg Historical Society.

Watch for the big story ” 25 years in the USA” Copyright (c) 2014 Emma Blogs LLC, All rights reserved

In the spirit of Octoberfest

International union in the spirit of Octoberfest

By Emma Palova

Hastings, MI- In the spirit of the original Octoberfest that honored the marriage of crown prince Ludwig and princess of Saxony on Oct. 12, 1810, we invite all along to celebrate our upcoming international union.

Jakub Pala, born in former Czechoslovakia, will be marrying Maranda Ruegsegger of Saranac on Oct. 25th in the pioneer Saint Patrick Church in Parnell.

The guests, like birds, started to fly in to Gerald Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids as of yesterday. The first batch came from Dijon, France.

First guests from France
First guests from France

The second batch is arriving tonight from Czech Republic. The house will be full to the rafters with kids tweeting like the birdies on the patio.

To honor the international bond between the countries as well as between the couple, we are putting on a “Welcome dinner” celebration this Sunday. This is preceded by the baptism of Samuel Chavent, also at the Saint Patrick Church.

The dinner, catered by AdelineLeigh, reflects our love for our new homeland. We also wanted to introduce our Czech guests to American cuisine. So, barbeque is the theme: bbq chicken, bbq pork, au gratin potatoes, seven layer salad and baked beans. And of course a keg of Samuel Adams Boston lager.

Hops, Czech liquid gold
Hops, Czech liquid gold

Much like in Germany, home to Octoberfest, and Austria, no Czech celebration would be complete without beer. Most beers in these countries are high-quality and long-aged lagers made from Western Bohemian hops in small to mid-size breweries.

Czech immigrants carried this tradition with them to other countries.

“Beer is the Czech liquid gold,” according to an old saying.

However, communication between the Czech, American and French guests may be a challenge. So, many of us will serve as interpreters between the three different languages.

Pala, fully bilingual, hopes that his daughter Josephine Marie Palova will speak Czech as well.

“He speaks and reads to her in Czech,” said Maranda.

Pala is very proud of his Czech heritage. He came to the USA when he was 2.5 years old. During our stint in Montreal, Canada in the 1990s all of us were trilingual.

“You’re as many persons as the languages you speak,” according to an old Czech saying.

Follow us on our journey to the international wedding.

To be continued

Copyright © 2014 All rights reserved Emma Blogs LLC

New eyes with Dr. Verdier

Eyes set on Dr. Verdier


EW Emma’s Writings

Lowell, MI- On May 16th, my world dipped into a blur. The white fuzzy ball in my right eye turned into fog that surrounded me.

As I turned on the computer in the morning I couldn’t see the Google logo on the screen. I panicked. I drove to the eye doctor in town, but I couldn’t see the signs on the road.

“What brings you here on a Friday morning?” asked Dr. Holzer.

“I can’t see,” I said with tears in my eyes.

After the exam, Dr. Holzer said, “I see why you can’t see. You have cataracts in both eyes.”

Dr. Verdier's practice in Grand Rapids
Dr. Verdier’s practice in Grand Rapids

I was diagnosed with a fast-moving cataract in my right eye two years ago. Unlike the cataracts that most elderly people eventually develop, this one strikes younger people at a fast pace.

“You will need a surgery in two years,” said the doctor exactly. “I cannot correct your vision to 20/20. This is worse than I expected.”

I cried that fall as I walked to the newspaper office. I could barely see the sidewalk.

The new eyeglasses helped somewhat, but the right eye was useless. I started using the left eye straining it further. Now, the fuzzy ball was also in the left eye.

I couldn’t see from the treadmill my beautiful garden. Everything became a chore. I had to use the magnifying glass on top of the eyeglasses, and still the letters were dancing in front of me somewhere in deep 3D. I had to guess where everything was or used to be.

So, here I was two years later sitting across from Dr. Holzer by the optical equipment in the dark.

“You’re going to need a surgery in both eyes,” he said.

“I want Dr. Verdier to operate on my eyes,” I said.

“You know Dr. Verdier?”

I did know Dr. David Verdier from a story for the Grand Rapids Magazine and Advance Newspapers about his surgeries aboard the Orbis airplane in China. Orbis is a well-known organization among eye specialists, and Dr. Verdier is a renowned eye specialist.

I was well aware of Verdier’s specialization both in corneal disease and cataracts, and about his practice. Verdier Eye Center, located at 1000 E. Paris Avenue in Grand Rapids. That’s where we did the interview for several stories.

“You’re going to have to wait, but Dr. Verdier is worth waiting for,” said Holzer. “He can also correct your vision during the surgery so you won’t need eye glasses.”

The initial consultation was scheduled for Sept. 22 to evaluate how far along the cataracts were.

In the meantime, my eyesight was getting worse by the minute. On the night of the first Summer Sizzlin’ concert, I was blinded by the setting sun as I walked out of the Sneaker’s Restaurant. That was at the beginning of July.

When I was shooting the Riverwalk parade on July 12, I could not see the floats or candidate Lynn Mason marching in the parade. I was shooting into the fog. My son was standing by my side with baby Josephine and I could hardly make out their contours.

On Monday, when I walked to the Franciscan Sisters I couldn’t see my neighbors doing wood on the other side of the gravel road.

“Hey Emma, we’re here,” Karen shouted.

At the Sisters, I couldn’t see the nearby school from their Canticle House on the hill.

Finally, I couldn’t see myself in the mirror. I picked up the phone.

“I have to have the surgery as soon as possible,” I cried. “I can’t write, I can’t drive. Tell Dr. Verdier that I know him.”


To be continued


Copyright © 2014 story and photos by Emma Palova

Of style & substance

Common Gentry Carriage Co. celebrates 25 years in business

Of style and substance


Connie May Elsasser is the stylish woman behind The Common Gentry Carriage Co. of Sparta. Sitting at the dining table Elsasser showed her trophies and print publications including

a 1997 Parragone Corvette parts catalogue.

“They wanted to show the contrast in the beauty of both the Corvette car and the horse Tess,” she said. “Tess was the cover girl.

Today, Elsasser has an impressive fleet of five gentle Percherons and a slick town coach, a sleigh, a two-wheel cart, two romantic vis-à-vis carriages and two wagons.

She started the business by leasing one black standard bred horse Magic and buying a harness and a carriage in April of 1989 after working in a floral shop.

Connie May Elsasser of Common Gentry Carriage Co.
Connie May Elsasser of Common Gentry Carriage Co.

Elsasser stationed herself in front of the Amway Grand Plaza to give rides in downtown Grand Rapids. In May she called schools for proms and churches for weddings. Then she added festivals and fairs for a full time business.

“Within three years I needed more carriages,” she said.

She uses Amish built carriages in Indiana and buys Percherons from Amish breeders at auctions.

“They have that Cinderella look,” she said. “I sold the black horse and upgraded to vis-a-vis or face to face carriage.”

According to Elsasser, winter marriages are not that unusual, but proposals are more common in winters during holiday time for most families.

Jake Pala with Maranda Ruegsegger on a romantic sleigh ride with Common Gentry in Sparta
Jake Pala with Maranda Ruegsegger on a romantic sleigh ride with Common Gentry in Sparta

“It was like in a fairy tale,” said Jake Pala of Kalamazoo.

Pala recently went for a sleigh ride on the farm to get pictures for his wedding invitations and announcements with Maranda Ruegsegger.

The vis-à-vis wedding carriage is as romantic as it gets. The ride comes complete with a footman and a coachman dressed to the occasion in the turn-of-the-century swallow tail coats, champagne served in crystal goblets, a garland of flowers decorates the carriage along with a “just married” signage. The couple can also play their favorite song.

Elsasser offers carriage rides in downtown Grand Rapids area also in the classy 1880s Town Coach from England. The windows and doors have fancy curtains. The convertible coach seats four, and its kerosene lamps have been converted to electric.

A romantic ride in Fallasburg Park
A romantic ride in Fallasburg Park

Most of Elsasser’s business comes from weddings, but overall it can be a toss-up.

“It’s toss up between weddings and festivals,” she said.

The town rides can bring up to 69 jobs between the 14 weekends from May through July.

Misty eyed, Elsasser said after all these years she still gets emotional when she sees the groom and the bride leave the church as man and wife from her driver’s seat on the carriage.

“You don’t get rich in this business, because it’s seasonal, but you make a lot of people happy.”

She recalled one very creative proposal on Rosa Parks Circle where the gentleman rented skates and serenated the woman playing a guitar.

“Will you marry me,” he sang.

Her future plans include hosting wedding receptions and offering horse-drawn photo shoots on the expansive farm just outside of Sparta.

“I want to do more with schools and work with children who have special needs,” she said. “I also want to focus on family gatherings.”

Her vision is that children will benefit from the contact with the horses and share a common message of love, joy and laughter.

“I want to be a part of that,” she said.

To celebrate her 25th anniversary in business, Elsasser will offer a 20 percent discount, if customers mention this article as seen on EW Emma’s Writings on http://emmapalova.com

The historic carriage rides in downtown Grand Rapids run from April through November for half an hour for $60, and in the summertime for $40.

Elsasser also offers an exclusive hour tour through the downtown and Heritage Homes area.

“I talk about the history of the city en route,” Elsasser.

The tour comes with appetizers on the carriage, complete narration based on research. She highlights churches such as the oldest one St. Mark Church which is a mix of French and English gothic style with limestone exterior, and old furniture exhibit buildings.

Some of the ornate buildings on Monroe and Lyons streets and on Campau Square were built in the 1800s, and reflect rich furniture tradition of Grand Rapids.

“I studied history like crazy,” she said.

Her most popular events include the Venetian Festival in Charlevoix, Ionia Free Fair, Muskegon, Hastings and  Marshall.

Out of all these activities, Elsasser still loves the weddings and the proposals the most for the romance, and for the moment of the day.

“I am the first person they get to see as a couple as Mr. & Mr,” she said. “Everybody gets so excited. For that day they are the royalty, they’re the queen and the king.”

Her partner Scott Banga helps maintain the fleet on the farm.

“Scott is a phenomenal horseman,” she said.

Banga worked with the famous Budweiser horses.

The Common Gentry Carriage Co. will be again at the Lowell Christmas activities.

“The horses are so elegant,” she said. “They’re substance with style.”

Percheron horse Pete weighs around 2,500 pounds and his mate is Tess. The horses have a champion bloodline. The dappled horses are born black, then they dapple out and turn white. They are members of the Percheron Associations of Michigan and USA.

You can come by appointment to the farm or to schedule an event call Connie Elsasser at 1-616-204-3190 or go to website: http://www.commongentry.com or on facebook page thecommongentrycarriagecompany.


Related links

Common Gentry Carriage Co. at



Percheron association of America at

http:// www.percheronhorse.org

Percheron Horse Association of Michigan


Copyright © 2014 story by Emma Palova