Benzie County

Sam Corden

Larry Bordine grew up a surfer in California, but when he moved to Michigan in the 80s, he left the surfing lifestyle behind.


After a trip to Hawaii, Larry’s childhood passion was reignited, and he wanted to bring that passion back home to Michigan. He bought a surfboard but it didn’t work with the fresh water waves – so he designed his own board just for the Great Lakes.


David Cassleman

There aren’t many businesses left in Thompsonville, and one of the few that remains is closing.

Paul’s Party Store is a place to grab a gallon of milk or buy a pack of cigarettes. But you can also find a more hard-to-find item, like balsamic vinegar.

The store is a small, blue pole barn. It used to be a fishing shop — you can still find fishing gear for purchase — and it’s retained the feel of a tackle shop, dark with a concrete floor.

David Cassleman

Thompsonville is a small town of roughly 450 people. The village center is just down the road from Crystal Mountain.

And while some people are enjoying the quiet life of a small town, Ron Osga is worried about police protection and a rise in drug use.

He says things got really bad in Thompsonville when heroin hit five years ago.

"For a while they were burying somebody once a year from an overdose," he says.


The Benzie County Players rehearse "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater."
Daniel Wanschura

Forty-five years ago, Andy Mollema participated in his first readers theater production. He was a graduate student at Central Michigan University. The show was adapted from Kurt Vonnegut’s 1965 novel, "God Bless You Mr. Rosewater."

Today, Mollema is the one directing his own version of the novel, again in readers theater format.

“What’s going on with society today with this wealth versus disparity sort of thing, just brought me to want to resurrect this script,” says Mollema. “It’s absolutely pertinent, if not more so, today than it was then.” 

Linda Stephan

A Traverse City-based program that helps victims of child abuse will expand into another county.

The Traverse Bay Children's Advocacy Center will partner with the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office and Frankfort Police Department.

Linda Stephan

At Interlochen Public Radio, we first met Mike and Stacey Fekete at their Benzie County home last spring, when their grief for their son was very raw. Jake Fekete had died only weeks before of a drug overdose. His family believes Jake was trying to medicate his depression with drugs that had not been prescribed for him.

His parents shared their story as part of an Interlochen Public Radio series looking at the community response to a number of drug-related deaths in the close-knit county. 

New York (magazine)

Kelli Stapleton is on the cover of this week’s edition of New York (magazine).

The Elberta woman was sentenced earlier this month to at least 10 years in prison for trying to murder her autistic teenage daughter in September 2013.

Hanna Rosin, a journalist based in Washington, D.C., wrote the cover story after months of reporting and interviewing Stapleton and her family.

David Cassleman

The Elberta woman who tried to kill her autistic teenage daughter has been sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison – and a maximum of 22 years.

Kelli Stapleton pleads guilty to lesser charge

Sep 2, 2014
The Status Woe / The Status Woe

The Benzie County woman accused of attempting to murder her autistic teenage daughter has pleaded guilty to first degree child abuse.

Kelli Stapleton Trial Delayed Until September

Jul 15, 2014

The trial for a Benzie County woman accused of trying to kill her autistic daughter in a murder-suicide attempt has been delayed until September. Jury selection for Kelli Stapleton was originally slated to begin Wednesday.

Stapleton is accused of locking herself and her daughter into a family van and lighting two charcoal grills inside. Police say they found both mother and daughter inside, unconscious with carbon monoxide poisoning. That was in September 2013.

Linda Stephan

  IPR has been reporting recently on reaction in Benzie County after a slew of overdose deaths, six deaths in two years. We’ve talked about everything from drug testing and education to life-saving measures during an overdose. But the parents of one victim say none of this really gets at the root of the problem.

Community Fights Back After Overdose Deaths

Apr 14, 2014
Linda Stephan

The use of heroin and other drugs is on the rise across northern Michigan, but the effects are being felt particularly in the small, tight knit communities of Benzie County.

Toxicology reports are not back for the two latest victims. But if their deaths are confirmed overdoses the count will rise to six deaths in two years. And some in the community are looking for anything they can do to ward off the next.

Drugs Testing Kits At The Funeral Home

It’s not just the police who have noted a rise in heroin and other drug-related deaths in Benzie County.

“You’re taking care of a lot your friend’s kids now,” says Funeral Director Gaylord Jowett. Some of those funerals have taken place at the Jowett Family Funeral Home in Benzonia.

Two more deaths in Benzie County are suspected drug overdoses.

The Benzie County Sheriff’s Department says officials believe a 22-year-old man likely died from an overdose Wednesday. They are also waiting on toxicology reports from the death of a 42-year-old man last week Wednesday, March 19th.

Already the county of 18,000 people has seen four overdose deaths confirmed in the last year and a half. County deputies have begun carrying a drug that can save the lives of overdose victims, if administered quickly. 

Brine Investigation To Proceed

Sep 13, 2013

Some residents in northern Michigan are upset about the practice of spraying liquid waste from oil and gas wells on dirt roads. County Road Commissions have been doing that for decades to control road dust. But an incident this summer has critics accusing state officials of failing to protect human health.

Falls Short
In Benzie County, in June, a county official decided to test the water being sprayed on the dirt roads. It tested at levels way above limits to protect human health from cancer causing chemicals.

Family Reports Issy Stapleton Is Walking, Talking

Sep 9, 2013
The Status Woe / The Status Woe

The father of an autistic girl from Benzie County says Isabelle Stapleton is making “incredible strides” in her recovery.

Earlier this summer, a Kalkaska company spread industrial waste on roads in Benzie County. The toxic contaminants were mixed with brine from oil wells that is used to keep down dust on gravel roads.

The pollutants tested way above what’s allowed for human contact. And some residents think the DEQ is treating the oil and gas industry with kid gloves.

Set of Coincidences

If Bryan Black hadn’t been out tending his garden one morning in early June, it’s likely nobody would even know about the toxic chemicals spread on nearby roads.

DEQ Cites Company for Road Brine Violation

Jul 31, 2013

State environmental regulators sent a notice of violation to a Kalkaska company last Friday.

The DEQ says the company, Team Services, violated its permit for applying brine from oil and gas drilling to keep down road dust in Benzie County.

A sample taken by the Benzie County Road Commission exceeded state standards for toxic chemicals, such as benzene, by as much as a thousand times. The brine was applied in early June on several roads southwest of the village of Lake Ann. 

The Status Woe

This week, a mother in Benzie County wrote a blog post about the abuse she suffers at the hands of her autistic daughter. The 13-year-old is prone to violence. She’s put her mom in the hospital. And as she grows, she grows harder to restrain.

The family accumulated massive debt to pay for early interventions. For the next leg of her care, the community is chipping in.