Mayor Rick Brooks speaks to the crowd that gathered to dedicate the sculpture and bench in Noreen Farmer’s memory on Wednesday, May 16.  (Photo by Ryan Lewis)

Former Plainwell clerk and ‘Ginger Ninja’ honored

Ryan Lewis, Editor

Were former Plainwell city clerk Noreen Farmer alive today, she could look out the window of her office at city hall and see the sculpture assembled in her memory.

“Rosie the Ginger Ninja” is a new, permanent addition to the mill race, a steel sculpture of a fish that at times seems poised to leap up- or downstream.

Plainwell Arts Council members, city staff, friends and family were all on-hand for a brief ceremony Wednesday, May 16, to dedicate the new piece of art.

Plainwell Arts Council treasurer Cathy Green said she was so happy to see everyone at the dedication. She said both the sculpture and a new bench will memorialize the longtime city clerk. She was hired by the city in 1999 and became clerk in 2000. Farmer died Nov. 11, 2016, at age 59.

“She was a past arts council member, and we miss that woman dearly,” Green said. “She was a force to be reckoned with. She could get stuff done.”

She also explained the fish’s name.

“One of her coworkers, who shall remain unnamed—but whose title is treasurer and clerk—he called her the Ginger Ninja, hence the name,” Green said. Plainwell’s city treasurer and clerk is Brian Kelley. “She really was a ninja. She had a wicked sense of humor and a good sense of right and wrong. And you better be not wrong and argue with her, ‘cuz you weren’t going to win. She stood up for what she believed in.”

Green explained that Farmer had always talked about installing a kinetic sculpture in Plainwell.

“She loved the mill and was instrumental in executing the move of city hall. So I think it’s fitting (the sculpture) is where it is, under her old office window,” she said.

Hickory Corners artist Marty DetWiler designed both pieces at his Kalamazoo studio, Sparks Metal Arts.

Rosie is made of stainless steel colored using a torch on a wire-frame structure mounted on a pole, balanced to allow it to rotate in a light breeze. He created it starting during the winter over 200 hours of work. It was installed May 12 in time to delight students taking prom pictures at the mill race bridge.

The garden bench has a slate seat and carbon steel legs and backing in the shape of intertwining branches, all hand-formed and weld-textured.

Green said arts council members saw DetWiler’s work at an art hop.

“We just said we’ve got to have it. I call it the waiting bench,” she said. “Then we mentioned something kinetic, and he goes, ‘Look at this little drawing I have.’ And it was like—flash, cool. Right on the river. That’s how it all started.”

DetWiler said, “We wanted something native to the Kalamazoo River, something that was kinetic, that would be here forever in her memory.”

Mayor Rick Brooks said, “If you met Noreen once, you were her friend. That’s just the kind of person she was.

He joked that she babysat him.

“She helped me with so many projects I had going on,” Brooks said. “She would just take care of it. She was just a wonderful human being. We were blessed to have her as long as we did.”

Farmer’s son Jarrod Van Ness of Wayland attended the ceremony with his wife Beth and daughter Katelyn.

“The sculpture is what she likes, all stuff she enjoyed, a kinetic design,” he said.

Beth Van Ness said one of the last things Farmer bought Katelyn was a fountain.

“Because every time Katelyn would stay the night at her house, she told her she would look out the window and listen to the water flowing at night,” she said, noting Farmer lived next to the river near Dean’s Ice Cream. “So, having this here where you can hear it, I think it’s perfect placement.”

Farmer’s oldest son Eric Van Ness, of the Chicago area, also made the trip, though his wife Dana couldn’t make it.

“She lived and worked here. I don’t know that she was ever so immersed in a community,” he said, noting Farmer had lived in Wayland while he grew up and later was in Hopkins and Allegan before landing the job in Plainwell. “She could walk everywhere in town and knew all business owners. She played cards with friends. She was really involved. Plainwell meant a lot to her.”

He recalled there was no shortage of people who wanted to sign up for times to keep watch over her during her final hours.

“My brother and I couldn’t do it all the time—we ended up with more people who volunteered to be with her at all hours of the night. So many people were willing to help. That speaks to the type of people who are here and how many friends she had,” he said.

Contact Ryan Lewis at or (269) 673-5534.


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