All posts by Joni Hubred

Joni Hubred is a writer of mystery and history.

Miss Farmington crowned July 19

Miss Farmington 2016 Grace Murphy will crown her successor July 19, during the Miss Farmington Pageant, which kicks off the Greater Farmington Area Founders Festival.

Opening at 7 p.m. in the Farmington Civic Theater, 33332 Grand River, the pageant is not a beauty contest, said organizer Ginny Morris.

“It’s about what’s up here,” she said, pointing to her head. “I want to see a young woman who knows what she wants for her future, a go-getter. A young woman who isn’t afraid to get out there and work and speak on behalf of the city. It’s a serious job. She’s Farmington’s ambassador at large.”

An educational program, the Miss Farmington Pageant requires among other things a 300-word essay and personal interviews with the judges. Miss Farmington makes community appearances, has opportunities to share her ideas with the city’s leaders, advocates on behalf of her chosen charitable platform, and works directly with people in the community.

“It’s about making sacrifices, not going to that special concert with her boyfriend because she has a scheduled commitment on behalf of the City,” Morris said. “Maybe she’s not feeling well and doesn’t really want to attend a meeting, but that’s what the job entails. She is an involved public member of the greater Farmington community.”

UPDATED: Farmington Voice shuts down

UPDATE: On July 29, Farmington Voice relaunched with a new design and focus. Learn more and how you can support our return at or


After two years and almost seven months, the Farmington Voice website is closing shop. I’ll keep sharing items of local interest on Facebook and Twitter but will no longer do any original reporting.

Thank you for your encouragement and support and news tips, and for your respectful, thoughtful social media comments. Thank you for caring about local news and about our community. I hope you continue to do so, wherever and however you can.

One opportunity will happen later this year, with our second Farmington Voices fundraiser to benefit Operation Common Good, a charity that provides direct help to Farmington Public Schools students and families in need. Details will be shared on social media and via email. I’d love to send you more information as it becomes available – sign up here:

Thanks to everyone who took our exit survey; it is now closed.

Finally, please join me in supporting these local news sources:

This journey has been a struggle at times, but always a true privilege. Thank you again, Farmington and Farmington Hills, from the bottom of my heart.

Joni Hubred

Harrison High students focus on ocean ecology in ‘Little Mermaid’

Harrison High School’s spring musical isn’t just a performance of the Disney movie, “The Little Mermaid.”

As students bring the beloved Hans Christiansen Andersen fairy tale to life March 16-19, they have also learned valuable information about ocean ecology through a partnership with the Ocean Conservancy. Their goal: to draw attention to the devastating impact of plastic shopping bags and water bottles, which choke coastal areas and waterways.

Assistant director Sue Cobb said the theater program received a $1,500 grant from the Farmington/Farmington Hills Education Foundation to make the connection. The sale of reusable shopping bags will raise funds split between the Ocean Conservancy and the theater program.

“Through this grant, we directors are adding another layer in the musical process with the students’ participation in ocean ecology through the Ocean Conservancy and its message that impacts us all … including the characters the cast will be portraying ‘Under the Sea’,” she said.

While some students hadn’t seen the movie, 17-year-old junior Chania Malcum said it was a childhood favorite, and she loves “channeling” the character of Ursula. The evil sea witch makes a pact with the mermaid Ariel (played by Bridget Smith) who dreams of living in the world above the sea and is willing to sacrifice her most prized possession – the beautiful singing voice she inherited from her late mother – so she can be with the sea-loving Prince Eric (played by Zack Heger) whose life she saves during a storm.

“I always loved Ursula,” said Malcum, who has been acting since elementary school. “She was powerful. She was so big, so out there, it was amazing to me.”

Like Malcum, castmate Julia Luterman, also a 17-year-old junior, works on stage and behind the scenes. She’s playing Arista, one of Ariel’s older sisters, but her work as a makeup artist starts three or four hours before the curtain goes up.

“We’re creating scales, gluing eyebrows … for the fish, we’re giving them a whole new skin,” she said.

Luterman also did makeup for last fall’s “10 Ways to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse,” and has performed in “The Addams Family” and “Xanadu,” among other Harrison productions.

“It’s something new and fun every year,” she said, “which is part of the rush.”

Malcum said students involved in this production have worked together since their freshman year.

“Everyone’s so kind to each other and supportive,” she said. “It’s one big family.”

The directing team of Dean Cobb, Sue Cobb, Lucy Koviak and Kathy Seremet is joined by Rachael Rose, co-vocals, and Travis Cook, orchestra. In all, 100 students are participating as cast, crew and pit members – about one-tenth of the school’s population, Sue Cobb said.

If you go…

You can see this family-friendly production of “The Little Mermaid” March 16 and 17 at 7 p.m., March 18 at 6 p.m. and March 19 at 2 p.m. Kids can have their photos taken with the characters after each performance, and those 12 and under will be eligible for a drawing held at intermission. Costumed kids get a second chance at the drawing.

Student and senior adult tickets are $12, and adult tickets are $15. Tickets are available each day school is in session during lunches (11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.) through March 17 or by calling the box office, 248-888-6274. All tickets are reserved. Those over 60 can get a free ticket with a Senior Adult Card from School and Community Relations. For information, call 248-489-3349.

North Farmington takes ‘Shrek’ from big screen to stage

A troupe of North Farmington High actors who grew up watching the movie “Shrek” will bring those childhood memories to life later this month in a production of “Shrek the Musical”.

On stage March 23-25 at the Cobb Center for the Performing Arts, the tale of an ogre, his four-legged sidekick, Donkey, and beloved Princess Fiona reflects a decision to produce light, fun shows this season.

“This year was all about trying to do fun things on stage,” said Sean McGuckin, who directs the show. “It’s fun for the kids to have the opportunity to be campy and a little goofy.”

Matthew Swarthout, left, and Daniel Isabella, right, play Donkey and Shrek, respectively.
Jordan Gagnon plays Princess Fiona.

Daniel Isabella, who plays the title role, said the musical is similar to the movie “with a little extra Broadway pizazz.” He’s making his own costume, shopping for extra-large t-shirts and other clothing at local Salvation Army stores and customizing a fat suit to get just the right build. Inserts in his shoes will make him taller, and prosthetics and make-up will complete the picture.

As the sidekick “Donkey,” Swarthout will also have elaborate makeup. He said his character is very flamboyant, so he plays Donkey larger than life.

“I’ve never played a character that is so active,” he said. “He moves quickly from one end of the stage to the other.”

Coincidentally, Jordan Gagnon, who plays Princess Fiona, was featured in the Sky’s the Limit Productions version of the show in her freshman year. Cast as Donkey then, she said doing the North Farmington show is like “coming full circle.”

While Fiona has a more princess-like demeanor in the movie, she is “a lot more quirky and genuinely bizarre” on stage.

“Over the past three years, we’ve done some serious shows,” Gagnon said. “This one is very silly and much more kid-friendly. I’m really excited.”

“Shrek the Musical” isn’t only about having fun, Swarthout said. One song, “Freak Flag”, is all about “accepting everyone the way they are.”

“And even a big, ugly ogre can be the hero of his own story,” Isabella added.

Performances of “Shrek the Musical” are Thursday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, March 25, at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. All seats are reserved. Adults are $15. Students and seniors 60 and older are $12.

New this year, tickets are available online by visiting and clicking “Buy Tickets” or following the link in the Upcoming Events section at — where you’ll also find show publicity and early rehearsal photos. Tickets will also be available at the door, with the box office opening at least an hour before the shows.

North Farmington High is located at 32900 W. 13 Mile Rd. in Farmington Hills.

DAR honors Farmington Hills couple

Three Flags Chapter DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) recently honored Farmington Hills residents Gene and Mary Buchan with DAR Community Service Awards recognizing their years of volunteerism.

Three Flags Community Service Awards 2017
From left: Gene Buchan, Mary Buchan, and Three Flags Community Service Chairman Sally Kirsten. (contributed photo)

The DAR award recognizes worthy individuals for unpaid voluntary achievements/endeavors within their local community.

Mary has served for many years as the secretary of the Farmington Area Commission on Aging. For the last eight years, she also facilitated a bi-monthly Caregivers Support Group that meets at the Costick Center. She is also a cheerful, eager volunteer at many other senior events hosted by the Senior Division at the Costick Center.

Gene has also been very involved with the City of Farmington Hills Senior Division. He taught computer classes for older adults, creating the manuals, lesson plans and mini exercises for the classes. Gene has served on the Oakland County Senior Advisory Committee for over four years and is also active in planning and volunteering at senior events.

Both Gene and Mary are active volunteers within their faith community and have served as Stephen Ministers in a confidential ministry with church or community members who are going through trying times.

Press release

Farmington school officials approve one-year extension for Heitsch

Farmington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. George Heitsch will serve the district at least one more year after officials on Tuesday approved an unusual contract extension.

Heitsch said the one-year extension, which includes another one-year option, was a “mutual decision.”

“I think it’s important for us to finish the work we started,” he said, adding that at the end of the year, officials will decide whether “I’ve got enough juice left,” or it’s time to look for a new leader.

Hired in May of 2014, Heitsch formerly served as superintendent of Avondale School District. Among other things, his tenure has included a successful $131.5 million bond campaign, a grade level reconfiguration, challenging union contract negotiations, and last year’s contentious decision to close Harrison High School and Dunckel Middle School.

Heitsch said the last two and half years “feel like dog years with what we’ve been through.”

The unusual contract extension comes before Heitsch’s evaluation, due to a change in state law. The contract terms require the renewal, but the state established a new evaluation tool, and board members won’t begin required training until March 14.

Board member Jim Stark stressed the short extension is “in no way…based on a reflection of the job Dr. Heitsch has done. He’s done a tremendous job.”

Dancers set to swing into downtown Farmington pavilion

The 2017 Swing Farmington season, opening May 4, will mark the 10th year of Thursday night dances at downtown Farmington’s Walter E. Sundquist Farmington Pavilion and Riley Park.

Alexander Steward, who organizes the weekly events, last week received city permission for the season, which runs through October 19. He said attendance averages around 200 during peak months (May through August).

While most who come out to dance fall between the ages of 13 and 35, Steward said swing dancing is open to all ages. “We’d like to build this year and become a broader-based community event,” he added.

The group will partner with the Farmington Farmers and Artisans Market and Greater Farmington Founders Festival and hosts its annual Summer Swing Spectacular with live music on August 3.

“I look forward to this starting up every year and listening to the music from my backyard,” said council member Steven Schneemann.

Swing Farmington’s indoor season is held at St. John Lutheran Church in Farmington Hills, Steward said. To learn more, follow the group on Facebook.

Farmington Civic live music series wraps March 31 with songwriters

A series of live concerts held at the Farmington Civic Theater over the winter months has given music lovers an “off-season” reason to come to downtown Farmington.

Producer Tom Birchler, who also coordinates the warm-weather Rhythmz in Riley Park concert series, said the idea for Friday Night Live emerged from conversations with theater manager Scott Freeman, who has booked live events over the past several years.

“People have gotten used to the idea of coming to downtown Farmington for music,” Birchler said. “This is a trial to see if we can get people to support live music in the winter months.”

Birchler said the theater provides a more intimate space that allows performers to better connect with their audiences. It’s a different experience from open air concerts in Riley Park, where audiences are there for the experience as much as the music.

“When you’re sitting in a theater, in a very close environment, you’re there to listen,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to develop is that real close artist-audience connection.”

Sixties band Paisley Fogg and singer/songwriter Paco Higdon performed in January and February, respectively. The March 31 concert will feature The Motor City-Music City Songwriters Round, which brings a popular Nashville format to the theater stage. Performers will include Rob Taube, a New York-based musician, songwriter, educator, and producer; Mark Barnowski, a performer and songwriter living in Nashville; and Allie Louise, a singer/songwriter from Rochester Hills.

Louise and Taube have traveled to Nashville to write music with Barnowski, Birchler said.

The two-hour shows begin at 8 p.m., and all ages are welcome. Cash-only tickets are $10 in advance at the box office (after 2 p.m. daily) or at the door. The Farmington Civic Theater is located at 33332 Grand River.

Ready to dine al fresco? Downtown restaurants get seating waiver

As the mercury climbed above 60 degrees over the weekend, customers at Los Tres Amigos dined on the downtown Farmington restaurant’s patio.

But John Cowley & Sons owner Greg Cowley, who also sits on Farmington city council, said he had to keep his customers from dragging chairs outside. The difference? Cowley’s outdoor seating rests on a public sidewalk, while the Los Tres Amigos patio is private property.

On Monday, city officials temporarily moved the limits of an existing ordinance to allow all Farmington restaurants to take advantage of Mother Nature’s winter warm-up. Economic and Community Development Director Kevin Christiansen said the city has in previous years extended the end of the season but has not moved the opening date back from March 1.

“I don’t think it’s inappropriate of you to authorize the use of a public sidewalk,” city attorney Tom Schultz said, noting that officials are simply giving permission for the use of public property.

“Los Tres Amigos was packed outside over the weekend,” council member Sara Bowman said. “Obviously, we need to be flexible with providing for the needs of our customers.”

Council member Jeff Scott said he hopes businesses take advantage of outdoor seating while handling it appropriately if the weather takes another turn. But Mayor Bill Galvin wondered whether the temperature should make any difference at all.

“If somebody wants to sit out there when it’s 30 degrees, who am I to stop them?” he said.

The initial request to move the date came from Cowley, city manager David Murphy said, but Christiansen noted several other downtown businesses had contacted him for the same reason.

Officials also voted to refer a review of the outdoor seating ordinance to the Planning Commission.

Farmington council approves final food truck ordinance

After months of discussion and study, Farmington city council members on Monday approved the final version of an ordinance governing mobile food vendors, including food trucks.

Officials first began to explore new rules after heated discussions over Farmington Brewing Company requests to bring in food trucks for special events. Council member Greg Cowley, who with his family owns John Cowley & Sons restaurant, has been a particularly vocal opponent; he has said they compete with brick-and-mortar businesses, but pay no taxes and take revenues out of the central business district.

The ordinance aims to level the playing field a bit by requiring a $150 fee, which city manager David Murphy said covers administrative costs and additional police patrols. Mobile vendors are also limited to three permits per year, and mobile food events may not last longer than three consecutive days. Vendors may not park within 150 feet of an existing restaurant unless the permit applicant also has a business that serves food or alcohol.

Murphy said he expects to monitor activities under the new ordinance, which goes into effect as soon as it’s published, and may suggest future changes.

While it may not be possible to cover every possible scenario, council member Steven Schneemann said, “I hope this relieves the concerns and consternation we’ve heard.”

Read the full text of the ordinance