Society Presents 2012 State History Awards in Monroe

The Historical Society of Michigan presented its 2012 State History Awards at the 138th Annual Meeting and State History Conference held September 28-30 in Monroe. The 17 awards were presented at the awards reception and banquet Friday evening. The State History Awards are the highest recognition presented by the state’s official historical society.

Lifetime Achievement
This was the sixth year that the Society presented its capstone Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors men and women who have dedicated themselves to preserving Michigan’s history over a significant amount of time. This year’s recipients were James and Annette McConnell, who, since their marriage in 1990, have planned, promoted, and led hundreds of history tours, trips, conferences, workshops, classes, seminars, and lectures throughout Michigan, the Midwest, and Canada.

A former history teacher for Dearborn Public Schools and five area colleges, James made time to work on Michigan Historical Commission projects to celebrate the Michigan Statehood Sesquicentennial, the bicentennial of the American Revolutionary War, and the bicentennial of the United States Constitution. After he retired, James and Annette found they had more time for history-based projects, which have included the Detroit 300 Tricentennial, walking tours of Detroit historic sites, and many exhibits and programs at the Detroit Historical Museum. They helped Dr. Philip Mason and the Wayne State University History Department plan, promote, and conduct the Annual Michigan in Perspective History Conference. This event, recently taken over by the Historical Society of Michigan, draws hundreds of registrants every year.

The McConnells also prepare, publish, and circulate the Michigan Council for Historical Education’s monthly e-notes and quarterly newsletter, which highlight history-related events and activities going on in the state. James is currently serving as State Secretary of the War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission, for which he and Annette have created or coordinated more than 30 programs and events to observe Michigan’s role in that conflict.

Distinguished Volunteer Service
In the category of Distinguished Volunteer Service, the Society recognized Janet L. Kreger,who helped organize the Michigan Historic Preservation Network in 1981. Since then, Kreger has served in almost every leadership position available through the network, and today, is the organization’s immediate past president.

During Kreger’s tenure, the network has sponsored three generations of legislative amendments that have strengthened legislation establishing local protective ordinances and historic districts. Janet was also involved in the 1999 legislation that resulted in 25% investment tax credits (ITC) for the costs incurred while rehabilitating historic properties. While the ITC was eliminated in 2011, during the 10-plus years it was in use, it leveraged $1.46 billion in direct rehabilitation activity, created 36,000 jobs, and created $11.37 in direct economic impact for every $1 of credit issued.

While volunteering with the network, Kreger led a distinguished career that has included high-level development positions at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. According to her nomination form, Janet’s friends and colleagues have always been impressed by her ability to regularly volunteer 40 hours a week, while working 40 hours a week in a demanding professional job.

Distinguished Professional Service
For his role in preserving, protecting, and interpreting Michigan’s Native American history and culture, William Johnson was named the recipient of theDistinguished Professional Serviceaward.

For the past decade, Johnson has served as the curator of the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways in Mt.Pleasant. Through his efforts, the center’s excellence in exhibits and events has earned it numerous awards, including the 2006 Museum Award from the Michigan Cultural Alliance, the 2008 Harvard University’s “Honoring Nations” Award, and a Gold Muse Award from the American Association of Museum’s Media and Technology Committee.

In 2011, Johnson became the chairman of the Michigan Anishinaabek Cultural Preservation and Repatriation Alliance. He worked as a coordinator of Flint’s Stone Street Ancestral Recovery and Reburial Project, helping oversee the proper burial of more than 108 ancestral remains and their associated funerary objects that were inadvertently discovered during a construction project. He has also worked with many Michigan museums and colleges to accrue and respectfully inter Native American remains that had been removed from their resting places.

Johnson serves on the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School Committee. The Boarding School, which operated from 1879 until 1934, sought to educate Native American children but also had the darker purpose of “taking the Indian out of the child.”  The committee is charged with preserving and transforming this site to become a place of awareness, education, and healing for our state.

Communications: Newsletters and Websites
In the category of Communications: Newsletters and Websites,the Society recognized both the Grand Rapids Historical Society and Rochester Avon Historical Society.

The Rochester Avon Historical Society received the award for its website, Oakland Regional Historic Sites (, which launched in October 2011. The website serves as a comprehensive public resource featuring historic buildings, significant objects, and notable monuments and memorials, and is searchable by county, city, partial street address, or architectural classification. Each property is identified on a map, and upon selecting a given location, the website provides current photos and information detailing that property’s history. A valuable tool for government officials, real estate professionals, and history enthusiasts, this site supports local history education, raises awareness of historic preservation, and promotes heritage tourism.

The Society also presented a State History Award in this category to the Grand Rapids Historical Society for Grand River Valley History, a magazine that focuses on Grand Rapids and the other communities along the Grand River in Kent and Ottawa counties. Since launching in 1980 under the direction of its first editor, Gordon Olson, the magazine has gained a wide readership and is now sold at several local bookstores. Not only are its articles based on original research aimed to appeal to the broadest possible audience, its wealth of illustrations include many rarely seen images from the vast collections of the region’s libraries, archives, and museums.

Local Society
The Empire Area Heritage Group received the State History Award in the Local Society category. Founded in 1972, the society began as a one-room display featuring memorabilia pertaining to the Empire area’s past. Since then, the museum has evolved to include four restored buildings, a main museum, schoolhouse, Beeman Barn, and fire-hose house. These buildings house several historical photographs and artifacts, and are overseen and interpreted by volunteers. The society’s docent program currently includes 67 trained members.

In 1995, the heritage group took a leading role in celebrating the Empire Village Centennial. This involved many special programs and projects, including the publication of a replica of the 1895 village newspaper, The Empire Village Leader – Journal. Another program involved a building recognition program targeting all homes and business structures constructed in 1895 or earlier. This involved research and the placement of plaques. Ongoing activities include regular programming and an impressive array of publications and DVDs. This is especially ambitious when one learns that village of Empire has about 400 residents.

The Institutions award went to the Temple Emanuel Archives. Founded in 1857, the Congregation Emanuel—the oldest Jewish congregation in Grand Rapids—has had a long interest in preserving its history. In 1954, June Horowitz and Lena Warsaw wrote a centennial history of the temple and later organized boxes of minutes, photos, clippings, and other ephemera that the organization had accumulated over the years. The Peg and Mort Finkelstein Archives grew out of these early efforts. They shared the vision and provided generous financial support to preserve these materials.

The Mort Finkelstein Family Archival Fund was established in 2002 and lists over 35 categories of materials to be collected and preserved.  The support has generated substantial interest and volunteers have placed documents in protective sleeves. Nearly 5,000 documents have been scanned. Volunteers have sought out training and, in turn, have helped other religious archives in the area. This impressive collection and its associated activities provide a valuable historical resource for the entire community.

The 2012 State History Award in the Restoration/Preservation category was presented to Daniel Harrison for his work preserving Hull’s Trace, the only surviving section of the corduroy road figured prominently in the War of 1812. The 200-mile road was blazed by General William Hull as he marched his forces from Dayton, Ohio to Detroit in the summer of 1812.

In 2008, Harrison began preserving the corduroy remnant of Hull’s Trace that crosses the Huron River in Wayne County’s Brownstown Township. Officially Hull’s Trace North Huron River Corduroy Segment, the site consists of about 600 partially buried unsquared logs on a stretch of road covering about a quarter mile. His work in documenting the road culminated in its 2012 listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Publications: University and Commercial Press
Four books were recognized with State History Awards in the Publications: University and Commercial Press category. Among those works was “Vintage Views Along the West Michigan Pike: From Sand Trails to US-31,” written by M. Christine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson and published by Arbutus Press. This book captures an often-overlooked aspect of Michigan history: the efforts to build a road along the west coast of Michigan and the resulting development of automobile tourism. This volume opens with the first guidebook in 1913 to promote the roadway, and allows readers to travel back in time and experience the gas stations, tourist cabins, restaurants, and other roadside attractions.

The second book to receive an award in this category was Sara Fitzgerald’s “Elly Peterson ‘Mother’ of the Moderates,” published by the University of Michigan Press. After interviewing Peterson in 2006 and corresponding with her until her death in 2008, Fitzgerald drew upon several sources to tell the story of the first woman in Michigan’s history to chair a major political party. Fitzgerald provides a missing chapter in the political history of Michigan and the United States. It provides a history of women’s political involvement and activism and also sheds light on the evolution of the Republican party in the last half of the 20th century.

Written by Anthony J. Yanik, “The Fall and Recapture of Detroit in the War of 1812” received a State History Award as well. For some time, General William Hull had been branded a coward for his surrender of Detroit to the British during the War of 1812. Published by Wayne State University Press, this book reexamines Hull’s surrender and comes to a different conclusion than the previously accepted studies of the event. Yanik argues that Hull’s surrender was justified on humanitarian grounds, and shows that a detailed study of the court-martial testimony reveals a different, and much more sympathetic, picture of Hull.

An award was also given to “Civic Empowerment in an Age of Corporate Greed,” which was written by Edward C. Lorenz and published by Michigan State University Press. Lorenz explains how corporate executives at Velsicol Chemical in St. Louis, Michigan left behind an economically shattered community and some of the most heavily polluted industrial sites in America. Velsicol’s actions included reckless stock and financial manipulations; the largest food contamination accident in American history when it mixed chemicals into cattle feed; environmental pollution on an almost unbelievable scale; and a massive shift of jobs overseas. This book is history at its best. It not only provides analyses and conclusions about historical events, but it offers communities facing similar situations a blueprint for action.

Publications: Private Printing
The Historical Society of Michigan presented two awards in the category of Publications: Private Printing. The first award went to “Indiantown,” written by Roselynn Ederer. A compilation of oral histories along with additional information from newspapers, deeds, and journals, the book provides a history of two cultures—the Native Americans who lived there first and the German immigrants who followed them. While journeying into Indiantown’s past and present society, readers will learn how its residents were an important part of Saginaw’s interesting history and better understand the significant role they played in developing Michigan’s agricultural industry.

Published by the Presque Isle County Historical Museum,“Calcite and the Bradley Boats: A Pictorial History, 1912-2012” also received an award in this category. The book celebrates the centennial of operations at the Michigan Limestone & Chemical Company’s Calcite Plant in Rogers City, and the launching of the steamer Calcite, the first of 11 freighters operated as the company’s fleet subsidiary. Authors Gerald Micketti and Mark Thompson offer an engaging narrative history of this important industry, supplemented by nearly 500 photographs from the Presque Isle County Historical Museum collections. In addition, museum personnel handled all the design and layout work for the book themselves.

Publications: Children & Youth
Mara McKay’s “Haylee’s Treasure” received a State History Award for its informative and engaging story based on the history of the Upper Peninsula’s Munising area. Written for young people, the adventure book gives readers a glimpse of one of Munising’s most important past industries, the Munising Woodenware Manufacturing Company. Though the company no longer exists, it played a very important role in the timber management and local economic scene for several decades.

Educational Programs
In the category of Educational Programs, the Society recognized the Castle Museum of Saginaw County’s History on the Move program. Noting that Michigan and Saginaw have been affected by the current economic climate, and that schools simply do not have the funds to go on field trips, the Historical Society of Saginaw County developed a unique solution to address this reality. Using a modified tractor-trailer, the History of the Move program brings local culture and artifacts to schools throughout Saginaw County. This program is free and available to all 14,000 public, charter, and private elementary school students (grades K-5), and is tailored to Michigan standards and benchmarks.

Special Programs and Events
The Special Programs and Events award was presented to The Henry Ford for its Emancipation Proclamation Event. It is very rare for the proclamation to travel outside of Washington D.C., and when it is displayed, it sees the light of day only for 36 hours a year. On June 20, 2011, The Henry Ford, which had borrowed the document from the National Archives, displayed the Emancipation Proclamation for 36 consecutive hours—without charging admission. In total, 21,000 guests came to the museum to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime event, with some guests waiting in line for up to eight hours.


Historical Society of Michigan 7435 Westshire Dr., Lansing MI 48917
Email | Phone (517) 324-1828 | Fax (517) 324-4370

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