The Nicest Place in Michigan: Armada

"Remembering April Millsap"

A beautiful public park full of butterflies and doves is a living, loving monument to a young girl taken too soon.

Stroll up the McComb Orchard Trail to Fulton Road, and you’ll find what one resident of Armada, Michigan, calls a “place of peace,” the April Millsap Memorial Garden. Butterflies flit around as children play, walkers stop to rest, and volunteers pull weeds.

Sometimes people come just to remember a young woman lost too soon, and to thank the town that keeps her memory alive, even as life moves on.

“There’s a white dove that hangs around, sits right on the power lines—and we don’t have white doves around here,” says our nominator, Debra Randall.

Armada—pronounced “Ar-MAY-duh”—is a town of fewer than 2,000 people, parked in the flat green countryside north of Detroit. Surrounded by cider orchards and lavender fields, it remains relatively untouched by sprawl.

Ask people what captures the town’s spirit, and they’ll usually point to the garden. April Millsap was just 14 in 2015 when a stranger attacked and killed her as she walked her dog on a local jogging trail. The town sprang into action, tracking down witnesses and pulling in every available resource to solve the crime.

The killer was eventually caught and is serving a life sentence, but the people of Armada knew that Millsap’s family and friends needed more than a guilty verdict. They started the memorial garden; they launched a scholarship fund; last year, on graduation day, her fellow students decorated what would have been her seat at the ceremony in her favorite colors, pink and white.

“I’m just very touched by the thought that the school put into remembering her even after four years,” April’s mother said that day.

Armada is a town that steps up, raising money for scholarships and for families in need. And recently, local son Jason Friewald, a Navy SEAL who was killed in Iraq, was honored with a memorial fitting his legacy. Locals and fellow veterans placed a massive antique anchor in the park downtown, under a plaque bearing his name.

—The Editors

The Nomination

Our town has the beautiful Memorial Garden for a young girl that was killed a few years ago. We do not have murders like this around here. The Garden also lets us honor our loved ones or post in different sections in memorial of our lost loved ones.

armada michigan nicest placeCourtesy Debra Randall
The April Millsap Memorial Garden is a place to go for reflection and peace.

The Garden is maintained all by volunteers and donations. It is a beautiful and peaceful place to see nature and sit quietly remembering lost loved ones of our own along with remembering April, the young girl who was killed. We do not have this type of crime in our area and everyone pulled together and the killer was captured and is in prison. But we have put that behind us and just remember the beautiful young lady, her dog that showed where she was and help her mother feel connected with the memory of her daughter. Our town also is working hard to have a scholarship in her name for our graduating senior class.

armada michigan nicest placeCourtesy Debra Randall
Armada goes above and beyond to remember all who were lost before their time.

Our town has large caring hearts and has a second memorial park for a lost Marine from our area. These are just two examples of why I believe our small town is a perfect example of the beauty and caring of living in a little village…walking through town enjoying the people, surrounded by nature and miles of farm land. A little piece of Heaven with our own beautiful angel smiling down from above on us.