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“A long time ago, in 1933, I was born in Tokyo, Japan. I told you the year I was born because that means I experienced World War II. I was a little girl, but I watched. There was no television, no computer, just radio, and the city was all taken over by the military.
I was in fifth grade when the bombing of Tokyo happened. They knew it was going to be bad, I guess, we were warned, and the Empress ordered us to evacuate all the elementary school children. I had to leave for about one year. About a year later the war was over. I came back to Odawara because my family moved while I was gone. Odawara was my mother’s hometown and that’s where the rest of my education was done.
After my schooling, I applied for a job in the American Army because I had to work. My parents died when I was really young but I liked to study English in school. So, I applied, had an interview and I was hired. I was working in the United States Petroleum Depot Headquarters. I was stationed as the Secretary to Captain Ash at the Quality Control Department.
I was very young and I’m sure a lot of the things I did were inadequate, but they were very kind. I did have an awful time on the telephone because I never talked to Americans before, but it only took about one year and I was comfortable.
My husband, meanwhile, was brought up in Saginaw and graduated law school. As soon as he graduated, he was drafted. He was sent to Japan and came to our building. We met and got to know each other. He proposed and brought me here to Saginaw in October 1957. I have been in Saginaw since then. I’ve never lived in any other place, besides Japan. Saginaw is my only home here in the States.
After World War II, President Eisenhower said he’d seen enough destruction and misery through the war. That we should never have war in this world, and in order to do that we have to understand each other, get to know each other, then we can prevent war.
He came up with the Sister City and People to People program. Communication directly, from people all over this country to people all over that country without going through the government. The whole world, and people everywhere would want the same thing because all people are human beings.
I think if you don’t understand, you will have fear. Thinking “What are they doing? Why do they do that?” But, if you understand why, and understand what kind of thinking they have, you could create better relations and that’s much better than war.
President Eisenhower said, I’m a five-star General, and I want to tell the people that I want peace. So he says, I would like to be remembered as a man of peace, not the five-star general.
The People to People and Sister City programs laid the foundation for the garden and the tea house and still exist today.”
– Yoko Mossner, Former Executive Director of the Japanese Cultural Center of Saginaw, MI
“I woke up and went to the gas station to get my coffee like I usually do. When I came back and was getting out of my car, I noticed a rope and some paper in my door. So I took it out and looked at it.
It was a noose with a note that said, ‘Accessory to be worn with your BLM T-shirt! Happy Protesting!’ Someone had slid it into the door through a window I left open overnight.
It was mind-blowing. I didn’t believe what I was seeing, and I showed it to Regina,” Donald says.
I thought he was just playing jokes like he usually does when he tries to wake me up early,” Regina says. “I thought he was just playing a joke. But I saw it and said, ‘This is a noose.’ and then I read the note.
My son had made me a BLM T-shirt about a month before. The Saturday before this happened, we had gotten a little puppy for our daughter and were out in the yard playing with it. It was the only time I wore it.
I told the FBI the person must have watched YouTube 300 times to get it right. Who knows how to tie a noose these days?
I took a picture of the noose and the note and called the police. We put the picture on Facebook and that’s when it set in that we were victims of a hate crime.
But I’m a social worker, and everything we know is kindness and dignity and respect, no matter who you are, even if someone is full of hate.
So we decided that since the person who left the noose and the note wished us ‘Happy Protesting!’, we’d give them a happy protest.
So we went to the dollar store and got balloons, poster board and markers.
Then the FBI came, along with the Saginaw detectives, came and introduced themselves. The next day we saw them going house to house. We got calls from the mayor, Floyd Kloc, Bill Ostash, Clint Bryant, Carly Hammond, Vanessa Guerra, Keith Stevens – all these strangers that wanted us to know they supported us and that Saginaw wasn’t about this.
And we agreed. Saginaw is not about this. I can’t say it never has, but it won’t be.”
“The protest came and it was like nothing I have experienced,” Donald says. “Just total love from strangers.”
“We had strangers that morning knocking on our door asking if we needed any help,” Regina says. “We were trying to iron shirts because I had shirts made and people were showing up with irons. I had people in the kitchen I had never met before.
People you’ve never met, but they show up to support you? I had never seen that, you know? It was amazing.
We had a sign in the front yard that said ‘We love Saginaw’ because we do. And even more now. We see the diversity and we see the change that is occurring. We were born and raised here, this is where our families are, all of our loved ones.
We couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. It was important to say, ‘We love Saginaw and we’re not going anywhere.’ No one is going to shame a biracial person or an interracial couple or a black man or my daughter. That’s not Saginaw. Never in my lifetime have I felt ashamed about these things, and we weren’t going to let that happen. Nobody’s going to make us feel ashamed of ourselves.
We want to continue to be able to act when things go wrong and to show up with the love and the kindness and genuineness of the people of Saginaw, but with the backbone that we’re not going to be quiet. We’re not going to go backwards. We’re not going back to those times again, and people aren’t going to shush or shame us into it.
The protest happened the day after John Lewis died. It was definitely good trouble…happy trouble.”
– Regina & Donald Simon
“My first job outside the family business was in sales. I sold shoes and men’s wear from Toledo to Saginaw.
One day, I got a call from my father who said he wanted me to join him in a venture. I did, and took a 70% pay cut. But with the anticipated success of that venture, I then would have the capital to start my own business.
That was 1973 in the days of disco. The air was dirty and it was a very unique time. We had a nightclub called The Fortress which is now currently the Panda House restaurant. Then in 1975, I opened my own nightclub in Bay City called The Fortress North.
In 1975, there were seven nightclubs in the area. By 1978, there were 17.
By 1980, there were two, and I wasn’t one of them.
When you lose everything, you get a wake-up call…and then you can either be a victim or get up and do something.
I went to work for a remodeler and my job was to sell kitchens and cabinet refacing. I didn’t know a doggone thing about kitchens or cabinet refacing, but I had a family to feed. I was a straight commission salesman which is almost like being unemployed, so I decided to venture out on my own. We started a cabinet shop and it became successful.
But then the bottom dropped out again.
Once again, I got a call. My father had a little bar on the South side of Saginaw that was damaged during the demolition of an adjacent building. The city demanded that he be vacated and they were going to give him nothing for his building or his business.
So I negotiated. We didn’t get a lot, but greater than they initially offered because we promised we would take that money and reinvest it back into the city.
In my search for properties, I ran across an old fire station on the corner of Bay and Court. We bought it and opened a pub called “Nines”.
In the language of the firefighters, they called their building the plural of the station number. So Station #5 was “Fives”. This building was Station #9.
It was also the ninth business my father and I had started in the City of Saginaw. The license plate issued to me randomly was “NYN 909”. The antique art deco mirrors from the bar that was demolished had nine rays of sun on them. There was only room for nine barstools and the building could fit 69 people.
It was a small place, but extremely successful. I shared in that success with my father and found a new love. I had big dreams.
The building Jake’s is in now came up for sale in 2001. I purchased it and then the events of September 11th happened. The world changed. In this business, there’s a substantial failure rate and banks don’t like restaurants in good times. Those weren’t good times. The money wasn’t available and we had to pause the project.
I used that time to really think about what I wanted to do. I wanted to respect the historical value of the building, so I started doing research at the Saginaw News and the Historical Society about the buildings, the district and the community.
I kept running across the name “Little Jake”.
He was 4-foot-11, 110 pounds. A Jewish immigrant that came from Germany to Detroit, then Flint, then Saginaw where he became very well known. A consummate entrepreneur, a marketing genius.
There was no historical significance to calling it ‘Paul’s’, so we called it ‘Jake’s’”.
– Paul Barrera, Sr., Co-owner of Jake’s Old City Grill
“In Lebanon, my family has a home in the mountains. My two sisters and my dad’s family are there. I was born and raised here in Saginaw, traveling back and forth overseas once a year. I miss my sisters a lot. With the explosion in Beirut and with COVID, I haven’t seen them. It’s so sad, but they’re safe. Some scratches and some bruises, but they’re safe.
I graduated from Arthur Hill and got my Associates Degree in Business from Delta. But then my mother became very sick. Doctors didn’t know what was wrong with her. Her lungs collapsed and she died in front of me three times. She was in a coma for five months. I brought my pillow and my blanket and slept on the floor of the waiting room, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for those five months.
But I also met a lot of amazing people. The staff at St. Mary’s and even the patients were so amazing to me. You learn to love everybody.
I grew to love being in a hospital setting so I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to go back to school to become a nurse.’ So, I got my Medical Assistant’s Degree and I worked in hospitals.
A friend of the family was a fertility doctor in Dubai. They flew me out, and I ended up working for them for four years.
Dubai is, like, ‘WOW’. Imagine a 24-karat gold Lamborghini car on the street…that’s nothing. They have tigers on the passenger seat. It’s an amazing world, it’s beautiful.
At the end of that phase, I said to myself, ‘I have to find somebody. I should get married. I want my child; I want a family. It’s time.’ So, I met somebody, got married, came here, and had my son Jude. He’s the love of my life.
Mom and Dad were like, ‘You need to start your own business. You love helping people. You love giving your all to customers, and to everybody.’ Food was my passion. But I said no, I could never start a business, I don’t know anything about business. And they said, ‘Your food is gold!’
My dad, being a businessman, said, ‘There’s nothing like being an entrepreneur. You’ll grow, you’ll learn to know yourself better.’ And that’s exactly what happened.
When I opened Falafel Hut, it was hard in the beginning! I’m not gonna lie. I didn’t know what I was doing except cooking.
But I said, ‘I’m never going to give up.’
You shouldn’t hesitate on your dreams. It’s gonna be a lot of obstacles, and you might fall. But you’ll get right back up and become smarter, stronger. So, if you have a dream, you have to go after that dream.”
– Nawal Hamd, Falafel Hut Middle Eastern Cuisine
“I’m a Saginaw guy, born and raised. Graduated from Arthur Hill in 1980. Spent two years at Delta, was accepted at Jackson State University, then went back to SVSU to get my Masters in Organizational Leadership and Administration.
I worked 10 years as a district court probation officer in the City and then became a mental health administrator for Saginaw County Mental Health. Eventually, I retired from Saginaw County Mental Health after 20 years at the age of 55.
About a month before I retired, I walked into this building to buy a hat. The woman who owned the store told me she was looking to sell. So I put all my other post-retirement plans away because I saw something that I could do here that would actually benefit my city, my community, and the neighborhood I grew up in. My mom still lives right down the street, you know?
I thought about her store closing and the clothes people couldn’t get. Then the barbershop idea popped into my head. So we shut the store down, put in the shop, and started looking for barbers.
I wanted to provide an opportunity for young barbers here in this city, just starting out in the game. You know, they’re young, they’re hungry, very talented barbers.
The barbershop is in the front, the clothes are in the back. We call it “grab and go urban wear.” So you can come in and get a cut, grab some clothes, and go.
When I started to formulate this idea, I heard all the time, “Man, I don’t see what you’re trying to do here.” But moving down the road, it became clearer to everybody.
I wanted to sell more than haircuts and clothes. All these sports pictures on the walls? These are all local guys. Everybody on these walls is from Saginaw. They went to Saginaw schools, lived in our neighborhoods. When kids come in, it starts a conversation that shows them all the talented people that have come out of this city. They grew up in the neighborhoods our kids are growing up in now, and that with hard work, focus, and determination, that kind of success is possible.
In the back, I’m collecting pictures of people who aren’t in sports but are excelling in their professions. Lawyers, judges, entrepreneurs, entertainers, trade workers.
Hard work, determination, and a plan breeds success. When kids come in here and see these individuals on the wall, an ideal gets planted. They can say, ‘I can be a doctor. I can be that CEO. I can be the owner of a successful business.’
We’re selling more than haircuts and clothes – maybe we’re selling dreams.”
– Greg Carter, owner of Thread 128
First things first…who’s Katy?
“I have no idea who Katy is!” laughs Christy Ferguson. Ferguson, along with daughter Ce’Erica Allen and son-in-law, DeVario Allen, are the new owners of
Katy’s Kards, a party-supply store located at 1200 Court Street.
“There actually is no Katy,” says Christy. “The lady who owned this business before us is named Kim. She didn’t want her personal name tied up in the business, so she randomly picked a name out of the sky. People still come in and say, ‘Well, I talked to Katy and she said…’ and we just grin.”
While some might spend a long time deliberating the purchase of a business, the trio saw the need to keep the business in the community and moved fast.
“I saw an ad on Facebook that Katy’s Kards was being sold,” says Christy. “It was around 9 o’clock at night. I inboxed her at 10pm. I called DeVario first. He said to me, ‘You want it?’ I said, ‘Yes’. He said, ‘Let’s get it’. We had a meeting at 3 o’clock the next day, and the store was ours.”
DeVario and Ce’Erica were living in Atlanta at the time. DeVario was working on a rental property he owns in Saginaw when his mother-in-law called.
“We love Atlanta, but we missed our family,” says DeVario. “So when Christy presented the idea of owning the store to me, we packed everything up and moved back. It was a tornado, getting it all here. We’d bought a house in Atlanta just the year before, and I mean to tell you, my wife had just unpacked the last box a couple days before we received that phone call from my mother-in-law.
But I must say, from our first day open as a family business on June 30th to now—every hour has been worth it.”
“I thought he was joking at first,” says Ce’Erica. “I was like, ‘Sure, yeah, I want the store’. Then he started talking about the moving day, and me giving notice at my job. I was like, ‘What are you talking about? This isn’t really happening!’ It was scary at first, when it started to get real. Then it all fell into place.”
“We’re part of so many people’s happiest moments,” says Christy. “We may not be at the event, but we are part of the celebration. That moves me.”