Announcing the Winners of the 2023 State History Awards
The Historical Society of Michigan (HSM) announces its 2023 State History Award winners, who were recognized during the 149th Annual Meeting and Michigan History Conference on September 22-24, 2023, which took place in Roscommon-Grayling.
Announcing the Winners of the 2023 State History Awards
LANSING, Mich. — The Historical Society of Michigan (HSM) announces its 2023 State History Award winners, who will be recognized during the 149th Annual Meeting and Michigan History Conference on September 22-24, 2023, which will take place in Roscommon-Grayling. The Society presents the State History Awards every year to individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the appreciation, collection, preservation and/or promotion of state and local history. The awards are the highest recognition presented by HSM, the state’s official historical society and oldest cultural organization.
The 2023 winners are:
- Lifetime Achievement Award—Dorothy V. Walter of Alden
- Distinguished Volunteer Service—Judy Gager of Greenville
- Distinguished Volunteer Service—Ira James “Jim” Holcomb of Washington
- Distinguished Professional Service—Dawn Malek of Port Sanilac
- History Hero—James Cameron of Saline
- Books: University & Commercial Press—
- "Cinema Ann Arbor: How Campus Rebels Forged a Singular Film Culture” by Frank Uhle (University of Michigan Press)
- "The Forgotten Iron King of the Great Lakes: Eber Brock Ward, 1811-1875” by Michael W. Nagle (Wayne State University Press)
- "Seeing Red: Indigenous Land, American Expansion, and the Political Economy of Plunder in North America” by Michael John Witgen (University of North Carolina Press)
- “Great Women of Mackinac, 1800-1950” by Melissa Croghan (Michigan State University Press)
- Books: Private Printing—
- "The Great Seney Fire: A History of the Walsh Ditch Fire of 1976" by Gregory M. Lusk (published by the author)
- "Stories From the Sidewalk: A Walk Through 137 Years That Shaped Detroit" edited by L. Glenn O’Kray and Christopher Merlo (published by the Museum Guild of Dearborn)
- Education: Educational Programs—"Lakeview Cemetery Restoration Project," Sashabaw Plains Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution & Independence Township, Clarkston
- Special Programs/Events—Historical Society of Greater Lansing for its exhibit at the Library of Michigan, "By the Yard: Michigan in Panoramic Photographs"
- Local Societies—Livonia Historical Society
- Institutions—Heritage Hall, Michigan State Capitol
- Websites—"The Keweenaw Time Traveler” by Don LaFreniere, Sarah Scarlett and John Arnold
- Best Article in Michigan History Magazine—"Under the Cover of Night: Cass County’s Kentucky Raid” by Debian Marty
- Best Article in Chronicle Magazine—"A Martyr for Peace: Alice Herz’s Journey to Self-Immolation” by Francis Shor
The Annual Meeting and Michigan History Conference explores significant people, places and events in Michigan’s past through a diverse offering of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, workshops and tours. The 2023 event features unique content focused on the history of Roscommon and Grayling and the surrounding Northern Lower Michigan community. Standard registration ends on September 15, 2023. Registration details and full session descriptions are available on HSM's website.
HSM will recognize Dorothy V. Walter of Alden with the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award, the Society's capstone award. Dorothy Walter cofounded the Alden Depot Museum and the Helena Township Historical Society in 1988 and served as the driving force behind the organization for the next 35 years. Through her efforts, the society restored the derelict 1908 Alden railroad depot and renovated it as a museum. The Alden Depot Museum opened in 1990 and features artifacts and exhibits that interpret the history of the Helena Township area. It also displays one of Michigan’s largest working model railroad exhibits. Walter has served as the museum’s only curator, providing administrative guidance to the board of directors and leading fundraising projects, educational programs, and the design of new exhibits.
The 2023 State History Awards for Distinguished Volunteer Service will go to Judy Gager of Greenville and Ira James “Jim” Holcomb of Washington.
Judy Gager serves in numerous roles with the Flat River Historical Society and Museum in Greenville, including crafting its website and editing its newsletter, “Logmark.” She lends her expertise to creating publicity for the Tri-River Historical Museum Network, a consortium of about 30 small museums in a five-county area, and its annual “Spring Into the Past” weekend. She devotes much of her time to curatorial work for the museums, exhibit design and development, and educational programs. In addition to her work with local organizations, Gager serves on the Michigan Museums Association’s committee for volunteer-led museums.
Jim Holcomb played an instrumental role in founding the Greater Washington Area Historical Society in 1975. He and his wife, Jean, purchased and restored the derelict 1843 house of Wells Burt, an octagon house built by William Austin Burt, an inventor, legislator, surveyor, and millwright. Holcomb worked with Washington Township and the Romeo Community School District to save the 1916 Washington High School and transform it into the Washington Historical Museum. Holcomb has coordinated the museum’s fundraising events and educational programs, written grant applications, and overseen capital improvements to the museum building.
Dawn Malek of Port Sanilac will receive the 2023 State History Award for Distinguished Professional Service. In 2017, Malek was hired as the director of the Sanilac County Historic Village and Museum and, over the next six years, turned it into a thriving organization bustling with year-round activities. The museum is now on firm financial footing and offers a wide variety of programs that include a nature trail around the museum grounds, dozens of musical performances, bourbon tastings, farmers markets, holiday events, and online auction fundraisers.
The 2023 History Hero Award will be presented to James Cameron of Saline. Cameron is a retired teacher at Saline High School, where he taught Michigan and U.S. history for 37 years. He currently serves as president of the Michigan Oral History Association, and his book, “Voices Over the Valley: An Oral History of Saline Valley Farms,” earned HSM’s Award of Merit in 2005. He is a member of the Michigan Council for History Education and served as its executive director for 12 years. At HSM, he has served on the board of trustees, chaired committees, judged at Michigan History Day, and presented numerous workshops.
HSM will present a State History Award in the category of Books: University & Commercial Press to “Great Women of Mackinac: 1800-1950” by Melissa Croghan, published by Michigan State University Press. The book follows the histories of 13 women who were leaders on Mackinac Island in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A native of Mackinac Island—with family history dating back to the 1880s—Croghan delves into each woman’s distinct visions of family and community, revealing how they inspired and led other island residents in industries such as fur trade, farming, writing, and community building.
Frank Uhle will receive a State History Award in the category of Books: University & Commercial Press for “Cinema Ann Arbor: How Campus Rebels Forged a Singular Film Culture,” published by University of Michigan Press. In the book, Uhle weaves together interviews, deep archival research, and more than 400 images into a documentation of Ann Arbor’s unique historical relationship with film and media. With almost 100 years of history, “Cinema Ann Arbor” reveals how a college town in the Midwest fostered artistic freedom, pushed the status quo, and forged a thriving underground art film community.
HSM will present a State History Award in the category of Books: University & Commercial Press to “Seeing Red: Indigenous Land, American Expansion, and the Political Economy of Plunder in North America” by Michael John Witgen, published by University of North Carolina Press. The book chronicles the stories of various characters in the history of U.S. expansion and the Anishinaabeg people who successfully resisted removal. Witgen examines the powers tribal members utilized to assert their rights and reclaim their culture, highlighting their roles in the political economy and civil discourse.
Michael W. Nagle will receive a State History Award in the category of Books: University & Commercial Press for “The Forgotten Iron King of the Great Lakes: Eber Brock Ward, 1811-1875,” published by Wayne State University Press. By the time of his death in 1875, Eber Brock Ward was the wealthiest man in Michigan; his name, unfortunately, would be shrouded by competition, conflict, dispute, and scandal—all leading to a nearly forgotten history. Nagle’s study of the Industrial Age leader revives the character who predated the successes of Carnegie and Rockefeller, piecing a saga together through Ward’s correspondence, business records, and other various archival records.
HSM will present a State History Award in the category of Books: Private Printing to “Stories From the Sidewalk: A Walk Through 137 Years That Shaped Detroit,” edited by L. Glenn O’Kray and Christoper Merlo and published by the Museum Guild of Dearborn. Walk the sidewalks of Dearborn’s Arsenal and Riverbend neighborhoods in this comprehensive documentation of more than 360 historic houses and other buildings. Designed to lead readers on a walking tour of the community, the book details the rich histories of an area that include several key players in the development of Ford Motor Company, as well as the development of the neighborhood by civic and local business leaders, farmers, and more.
Gregory M. Lusk will receive a State History Award in the category of Books: Private Printing for “The Great Seney Fire: A History of the Walsh Ditch Fire of 1976,” published by the author. In the book, Lusk chronicles the events that led to the most destructive and costly fire in Michigan since 1908. Fueled by a record-setting drought, unclear policies, and initial inaction, what started as a small lightning-strike fire in the Seney National Wildlife Refuge quickly grew out of control, burning more than 72,000 acres in late July. While 1,200 firefighters worked to contain the blaze, only heavy winter snowfall would finally extinguish the flames.
A State History Award in the category of Education: Educational Programs will be awarded to the Sashabaw Plains Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) and Independence Township for their Lakeview Cemetery Restoration Project. In 2020, the NSDAR decided to restore toppled and damaged headstones in the historic section of Lakeview Cemetery, located just outside of Clarkston. NSDAR members raised more than $24,000 toward the project, and Independence Township matched that amount, enabling them to hire the Carter Cemetery Preservation Company to restore more than 300 headstones to date. Hundreds of other stones have been cleaned with help from Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the National Honor Society, and church groups.
HSM will present a State History Award in the category of Special Programs/Events to the Historical Society of Greater Lansing for its exhibit, "By the Yard: Michigan in Panoramic Photographs." The society staged the new exhibit at the Library of Michigan to showcase 50 original and reproduction panoramic photographs of Michigan scenes that depict Native Americans, the Michigan Agricultural College, Camp Custer, World War I, school groups, industry, fraternal organizations, and much more. In conjunction with the exhibit, the society held a lecture series at the library that brought in archivists, curators, collectors, and other experts on many subjects related to photographic history.
A State History Award in the category of Local Societies will be awarded to the Livonia Historical Society for its turnaround amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The society, founded in 1956, had declined and nearly collapsed when the pandemic hit. Instead of closing its doors, the society updated its organizational structure, created a website and Facebook page, instituted new programs and activities, and launched an aggressive membership campaign. Those projects have rejuvenated the organization and made its Greenmead Historical Park a centerpiece of community history activities.
A State History Award in the category of Institutions will be awarded to Heritage Hall at the Michigan State Capitol. Heritage Hall provides the Capitol’s first purpose-built entrance for visitors. The Capitol welcomes thousands of tourists every year, including school groups and bus tours, and those groups now have orientation rooms, a check-in desk, and restroom facilities, all located in the new, underground facility. Several exhibits in Heritage Hall put items from the Capitol’s collections on display, and a window into a conservation lab allows visitors to witness the conservation of historical artifacts.
The State History Award in the category of Websites will go to “The Keweenaw Time Traveler” by Don LaFreniere, Sarah Scarlett and John Arnold. The internet has transformed the world of historical research, and the Keweenaw Time Traveler uses spatial data infrastructure to create a website that allows researchers to access detailed information through a “deep map” with layers of historical data and maps. It is also interactive, allowing professionals and amateurs alike to contribute data to the site. The digital archive covers Michigan’s “Copper Country” from 1880 to 1970 and will continue to grow in the future.
Debian Marty will receive the 2023 State History Award for the Best Article in Michigan History Magazine for her article, "Under the Cover of Night: Cass County’s Kentucky Raid." The article appeared in the magazine’s November/December 2022 issue and detailed the August 1847 attempt of 22 Kentucky slave catchers to recapture a group of nearly two dozen freedom seekers in Michigan’s Cass County. Underground Railroad activists enabled the freedom seekers to evade capture in one of the largest successful escapes in U.S. history. Marty’s article brought new details of the famed “Kentucky Raid” to light and gave the episode a more accurate historical interpretation.
The 2023 State History Award for the Best Article in Chronicle Magazine, HSM's membership publication, will go to Francis Shor for his article titled, "A Martyr for Peace: Alice Herz’s Journey to Self-Immolation." The article appeared in the magazine’s Spring 2023 issue. In Detroit in 1965, 82-year-old peace activist and German immigrant Alice Herz poured flammable liquid over herself and lit a match. She died of burns ten days later. Shor’s article describes how Herz’s life experiences led her to become an advocate for international peace and an opponent of the Vietnam War—and eventually to a drastic act of martyrdom.
The Historical Society of Michigan is the state’s oldest cultural organization, founded in 1828. A nongovernmental nonprofit, the Society focuses on publications, conferences, education, awards and recognition programming, and support for local history organizations to preserve and promote Michigan’s rich history.