Kate Wells

Arts, Culture & Education Reporter/Producer

Kate Wells is an award-winning reporter covering cultural arts, education, and general news for Michigan Radio. Her work has been featured on NPR’s Morning EditionAll Things Considered, and Weekend Edition, as well as on WNYC, Harvest Public Media, KUT (Austin Public Radio) and in the Texas Tribune.

Kate got her start as an intern with New Hampshire Public Radio before heading out to the Midwest, where she covered the presidential caucuses for Iowa Public Radio and won a regional Edward R. Murrow award for investigative journalism. She joined Michigan Radio in 2012. Kate enjoys hiking, the Muppets, and cake in all forms.   

Kurt Stepnitz / Michigan State University News

After a year's deployment in Afghanistan, 600 members of Michigan's National Guard are coming home. They'll join the ranks of 19,00 local Guardsmen and women who’ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But this particular unit will soon embark on a new mission. And this time, they're bringing their families.

For 3 years, the veterans, their spouses, and children will be part of a Michigan State University study on how families cope with life after combat.

FreeAmir.org

The family of a Flint-area Marine veteran who's been jailed in Iran for more than a year, says time is running out for the family to reunite.

The Marine's father has been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, and wants pressure raised on the Iranian president while he’s in New York this week. 

Amir Hekmati is still being held in Iran on charges of spying for the US. Both his family and the US government say he is not a spy.

Now Amir's father, Dr. Ali Hekmati, has a brain tumor and his prognosis is grim.

University of Michigan

It's the largest gift in the art school's history, and believed to be one of the biggest gifts to any art school (perhaps in first place: Detroit's College for Creative Studies, with a $50 million gift from the Ford family in 2006). 

The money is coming from two donors, Penny and E Roe. Stamps (that name will sound familiar to Ann Arbor residents: they also sponsor the Stamp Lecture Series in town).

The art school will now be called the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design.

Kate Wells

Whether it's your show tunes-belting grandma, your Grand Rapids teacher getting Liberian schools named in her honor, or busted graffiti artists using their talents for good, this week Art Pod is a leeetle obsessed with the stories YOU tell us. So check it out, and keep those stories coming. 

Kate Wells

Justice still hasn’t been done in the case of a fatal police shooting of a mentally ill man in Saginaw this summer.

That was the message at a community forum this week, where some 200 residents came out to express frustration with local law enforcement, and with the county prosecutor for declining to press criminal charges against the officers. 

Among the mostly African American crowd at the forum, the primary question seemed to be: why was so much lethal force used on July 1st, the day Milton Hall was shot by police 11 times?

Photo courtesy of Jackie Ladwein

This next story is about an epic friendship between a white, 76-year-old Grand Rapids teacher, and the driven Liberian boy she inspired 50 years ago when she was a young Peace Corps volunteer.

Their bond has survived hunger, poverty, and a brutal civil war. And it’s created ripples across Liberia, leading to the country’s first school for social workers . Now, it’s reuniting both friends back here in Michigan.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

They called it the “Black Eden.”

From the 1920’s to 60’s, tens of thousands of African Americans poured into the resort town of Idlewild, Michigan. They came to escape steaming summers in segregated cities, and to see some of the greatest musicians of the age.

Kate Wells

Vice President Joe Biden took the spotlight at Detroit’s Labor Day parade. It's one more sign that the auto bailout is shaping up as a central theme of the Obama-Biden campaign.

Last week Republican nominee Mitt Romney asked Americans if they were better off today than four years ago. Now comes part of the Democrats’ response: you sure are if you’re an auto worker.

Cecelia Cichan shows a tattoo of an airplane she has on her wrist. She speaks about being the sole survivor of the crash of NW flight 255 out of Detroit in a documentary. WDIV aired clips of that documentary.
screen shot / WDIV

Filming has wrapped on a documentary featuring the only survivor of the 1987 plane crash near Detroit.

Twenty-five years after Northwest Flight 255 killed some 150 passengers, Cecelia Cichan is telling her story publicly for the first time.

She was just four years old when she survived the crash that killed her parents and brother. Now she and 13 other lone survivors of commercial crashes are the focus of the film entitled "Sole Survivor."

taliesin / Morgue File

Two months after Saginaw police fatally shot a mentally-ill man, his family and community are still calling for answers.

On July 1st, Milton Hall was gunned down in a parking lot during a confrontation with police. It was captured on a cell phone video and made national headlines, with some media reporting the officers fired 46 times.

Hall reportedly held a knife, though the video appears to show he was several feet away when police opened fire.

JoJan / wiki commons

Construction starts today  on a new exhibit at Michigan's Holocaust Memorial Center. It will showcase what's likely one of the last existing Nazi railway cars.

Millions of European Jews were transported to concentration camps in these boxcars.  Allied Forces later commandeered the trains.  That's according to Stephen M. Goldman, the museum's director.

imma / http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/219775

Maybe you've seen a note on your electric bill, saying some of your payment goes towards green energy initiatives. It's to help explain - and, just maybe, stave off frustration about - double-digit increases in the last few years.  

But green energy aside, all these rising rates have some out-of-state electric companies seeing a business opportunity. They’ve joined with several Michigan businesses to form the group Energy Choice Now, which put out a new study out this week.

danielito / http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/170485

It seems like agriculture in Michigan just can't catch a break. First the drought, now a growing labor shortage.

The industry is desperately seeking highly skilled workers with 4 year degrees. Think supply chain managers or grain market analysts. But these days, not enough college students are going into agriculture. 

http://www.a2gov.org/government/publicservices/Pages/aapac.aspx

A public art tax may be on the ballot in Ann Arbor this November. The millage would replace the city's current system of funding art installations.

Right now the city has something called the "Percent for Art" program. It sets aside one percent of the budget on capital projects for art installations.  But here's the thing: that art has to be directly linked to whatever project funded it. For example, a $750,000 water sculpture in front of city hall, paid for with storm water utilities.

taylorschlades / http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/602713

After more than two years of campaigning, a high-schooler with Down Syndrome will be able to play football his senior year. His family fought to create an age waiver for athletes with disabilities.  

Eric Dompierre of Ishpeming has played with his team the last three years. He's a kicker, practices twice a day, and even asked for a Bowflex for Christmas to keep training.  But now he's 19, past the state age-limit for high school athletics.

Kate Wells

Seventeen-year-old Claressa Shields has won the first US women’s gold medal in boxing.

And her hometown of Flint is celebrating. Residents came together to watch Claressa’s triumph in a standing-room-only bar downtown. Everyone was there, from the mayor, to families with babies strapped into high chairs.

Screenshot from Video / The New York Times

Flint’s Olympic female boxer Claressa Shields will fight for a gold medal.  The boxer's family and friends gathered to watch their hometown athlete in her semifinal match this morning.  

It was an all-out brawl of a fight, fast and breathless and dominated by Shields. She took down Kazakhstan’s Marina Volnova 29 to 15.

Cheers erupted from the crowd of supporters packed into a bar in downtown Flint. Marcella Adams is Shields’ mother. She says she may just pass out if her daughter wins the gold.“I might just faint! I almost fainted right here!”

jeltovski / http://mrg.bz/PpvEAw

Football practice starts up at high schools across the state this week. But for one athlete's family, the biggest day of the season is tomorrow.

That's when the Michigan High School Athletic Association will decide whether Eric Dompierre can play football his senior year. Dompierre has Down Syndrome, but that hasn't kept him from playing with Ishpeming High's team the last three years. Now nineteen, Dompierre is too old to be eligible for the team.

http://www.aclumich.org/michiganfamilies / ACLU

Five gay and lesbian couples head to federal court in Detroit on Tuesday. They're fighting to win back health coverage for domestic partners of public employees.

One of the couples is Peter Ways and his partner, Joe Breakey. Peter works for the Ann Arbor school district, which like other local public employers, isn't allowed to cover the domestic partners of their staff.

That's thanks to a recent state law. Proponents say the law could save the state several million dollars each year. But the ACLU says it's unconstitutional. 

NASA / wiki commons

The search for life on Mars takes a giant leap forward this weekend, and University of Michigan scientists are part of the mission. 

By now you’ve probably heard about the unmanned rover called "Curiosity." Set to land on the red planet Sunday night, it’s NASA’s most ambitious robotic operation yet. A science lab on wheels, the rover will scour Mars for any sign the plant could support life.

A Macomb County man has the right to display a Nativity scene in a public road median. That’s according to a federal appeals court ruling. It reverses a Detroit judge’s decision.

John Satawa's family has been displaying a crèche in this busy highway median every Christmas for decades. But the county asked him to take it down when it got complaints from the Freedom from Religion Foundation.  Satawa sued, and now the federal appeals court is siding with him.

Kate Wells

The Detroit Institute of Arts is going broke. 

Museum staff say to save the DIA, they need some $200 million dollars in property taxes from Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

Voters will decide the fate of the museum at the polls this Tuesday. That’s why DIA supporters held a “Save the DIA” rally in Detroit’s New Center Park this week.

Edmunds.com

Ford is issuing yet another recall, the company’s third in about two weeks. This time, it’s for older model Escapes.

Gas pedals in the SUV can get stuck when they’re pushed close to the floor. That’s only for the 2001 through 2004 models with 3 liter, V6 engines. Complaints involve 13 crashes and one death.

http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bystate/StateLanding.aspx?state=MI

A new report on child well-being ranks Michigan in the bottom half of all states: 32nd overall, down two spots from last year. 

http://www.ypsd.org/district/superintendentsmessage/

Superintendent Dedric Martin says the school system could need an emergency manager, unless staff agree to deeper cuts. 

Martin acknowledges staff already took a 10 percent salary cut. 

“That comes on the heels of additional concessions that they've made. And we've had reductions at all levels. Unfortunately it's not enough to carry a balanced budget and pay back money that has already been borrowed and spent," he said.

Martin says he knows the "emergency manager" card could be perceived as a ploy to get further concessions from unions.

http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153--167532--,00.html

If you're planning a trip to Michigan's state parks this summer, expect some company.

The parks are on track to break attendance records this year, with more than 25 million visits expected.  

It’s mostly thanks to hot weather, lowers gas prices, and cheaper park passes, says Harold Herta of the Department of Natural Resources.  "We've seen a lot of people coming out to the parks this year that said, I haven't been to a state park in years, and I thought I'd try it out. Especially in the metro-Detroit area."

Chris Killian
www.kickstarter.com/

Living in a swing state like Michigan means you're probably already tired of non-stop elections coverage, sound bites and negative ads.

Now, a Kalamazoo freelance reporter wants to offer an alternative...he just needs some help paying for it.

Chris Killian says he'll take a months-long road trip through 11 swing states, getting stories from average people about their politics and their hopes for the country's future.

Logan Chadde

Every summer, the Ann Arbor Art Fair draws more than half a million people to town.

Tourists come to shop, eat, and see work by artists from around the country.

Meanwhile, gear up for the crowds, the traffic, and the craziest time of the summer.

For four days, downtown becomes a tent city: more than a thousand artists and what seems like just as many vendors.

It can get a little nuts for residents like Lisa Larson. 

The Ann Arbor District Library wants a new building downtown.
AADL / Facebook

Ann Arbor residents can add a new tax levy to the growing list of issues on the November ballot.

The local library board wants $65 million for a new downtown building.

After 60 years, the Ann Arbor library's main branch has done its job, according to the board. 

But now they say they're running out of space, so they want to tear down and rebuild on the same site.

The plan would mean a 30-year tax hike. It would add roughly $54 dollars to the annual tax bill of anyone with a home worth $200,000.

If residents vote no, it would be the first time in 20 years the town's rejected a tax increase for the library.

Kate Wells / michiganradio.org

For a few hours Saturday morning, the Troy Public Library became Syrian immigration base camp. Some two dozen Syrian nationals came out to a makeshift legal clinic held there. Their visas are about to expire or already have, and the federal government’s offering a special extension due to the crisis in their country.

But as pro-bono lawyers explained to one family after another, Syrians who fled escalating violence in the last three months aren’t eligible; they’ve already missed the program’s crucial window.

That window ended March 29, when the Obama administration declared Syrians in the United States could receive Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. That lets Syrians stay here even after their visas expire.

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