Annual Baxter Award
The Baxter Award was created in 1980 by the Society to honor persons who have made significant contributions to the preservation and interpretation of Grand River Valley history. Named in honor of Albert Baxter, one of Grand Rapids early historians who published, History of the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1891.
2015 marked 36 years of honoring these great men and women. Thank you! — GRHS
2017 Baxter Award Recipient
Thomas R. Dilley
Thomas R. Dilley’s contribution to local history is profound. He has published several books through Arcadia Press including; Grand Rapids in Vintage Postcards 1890-1940, Grand Rapids Community and Industry, and Grand Rapids in Stereographs 1860-1900. The research regarding each of the images in these books is thorough. The most exceptional of his publications is The Art of Memory: Historic Cemeteries of Grand Rapids, Michigan. This book, published in 2014 by Wayne State University Press, won the Michigan Notable Book Award in 2015.
Tom currently sits on the boards of the Grand Rapids Historical Commission, the Grand Rapids Historical Society and is on the Board of Trustees of the Grand Rapids Public Museum Foundation as well as the museum’s Collections Committee. He previously sat on the Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation board. Tom gives presentations throughout the area on local history topics. Hundreds have accompanied him on tours of cemeteries (over 250 on some tours). He has spoken about his postcards and research regarding his collection to volunteers at the Public Museum.
Tom is modest in his acknowledgement in the donation of objects and ephemera to the local library and the museum. In the museum’s collection are objects as varied as a flour bag from the Voigt Milling Company to a token from the West Michigan State Fair. The Thomas R. and Debra C. Dilley Historical Collection #364 can be found on the 4th floor of the main library. It contains postcards, trade cards, scrap books, booklets, yearbooks, etc. of local companies and organizations. At present the collection totals 30 boxes, with the finding aid 58 pages long.
Thank you Tom Dilley, and a special thank you to his wife Debra and daughter Sarah for sharing him with the community.
Past Baxter Award Recipients
2016 Ruth Van Stee
Ruth Van Stee’s passion for local history has been exhibited by her work for this society as well as the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council and the Grand Rapids Public Library. She has spent countless hours researching local history topics and furthering the knowledgebase for other local history researchers to call upon. Her indexes, and finding aids, at the Grand Rapids Public Library are used regularly to assist patrons. Many have enjoyed Ruth’s presentations on a range of topics including the Women’s Temperance Movement during prohibition. Understanding that some of her efforts were while an employee of these groups, she has always shown enthusiasm to go “above and beyond” her actual duties.
2015 Garret Ellison
To those who move in local history circles in Grand Rapids, Garret Ellison is no stranger. Since 2008, when he began writing for the Grand Rapids Press, and particularly during the last three or four years, Garret has dedicated significant effort to the production of many feature articles published in the Grand Rapids Press, and the MLive on-line version thereof, covering historical events and presenting to the reading public the stories of those in our past who have made and shaped this community.
Born in Grand Rapids in 1982, Garret spent much of his childhood living in Traverse City, before completing his education at Central Michigan University and Northwestern Michigan University, and returning to his hometown in 2008 to write for the Press. His work for the Press...
2014 Henry & Lokie Boersma
Henry and Lokie Boersma would stop out at each of the West Michigan libraries, from Grand Haven to Grand Rapids, and drop off each new publication or index they had created. During this time the Boersma’s have produced numerous works that either index or document the historical progression of the Western Michigan area, with special focus on Western Kent and Ottawa Counties. In total the Boersma’s, since their retirement over 20 years ago, have produced over 27 different indexes and publications. These works range from indexes of the records of Ottawa County Infirmary to the indexes of cemeteries in Missaukee County and the compilation of the obituaries of the Coopersville Observer.
On top of all of this indexing and compiling the Boersma’s have also been...
2013 The Western Michigan Genealogical Society
“The Western Michigan Genealogical Society (WMGS) was founded in 1954 with the purpose of preserving and making available for genealogical research the records of our ancestors; encouraging and assisting members in genealogical research; promoting the exchange of knowledge and encouraging the deposit of genealogical records in established libraries and archives.”
Their area of focus includes Kent County and the counties immediately surrounding; namely Ottawa, Muskegon, Newaygo, Montcalm, Ionia, Barry and Allegan Counties. There is some extension beyond these counties into other areas of the Western Lower Peninsula.
The objectives and purposes for which the Society is organized are:
1. to preserve and make available for genealogical research the records...
2012 Kevin Finney
Kevin Finney, local cultural historian, outdoorsman and scholar, is widely known for his expertise in the life and history of Native Americans from the Great Lakes region. Our community's awareness of Native American history has been greatly enriched with the work of Finney. He teaches and writes books in the Pottawatomi language, helps kids build authentic birch-bark canoes and bark houses, and develops educational resources focused on Native American culture.
Finney, who lives with his family just north of Hopkins, is hired by schools, museums and historical sites from across the country for his expertise. Since 1998 he has reconstructed dozens of detailed, historically accurate Native American structures at interpretive sites and schools across the Great Lakes region....
2011 Rebecca Smith-Hoffman
Each year the Albert Baxter Award is presented at the Annual Meeting and Banquet in May to someone who has contributed to the preservation and interpretation of the history of the Grand River Valley. This year the Board of Trustees honors Rebecca Smith-Hoffman.
Historic Preservation is Rebecca Smith-Hoffman’s vocation and avocation. For more than thirty years she has been involved in issues arising out of maintaining the built environment of Grand Rapids and other Michigan communities. She believes that our buildings are what shape us as a community – they provide people with a necessary sense of place and time.
Her first action to save a building was in the late 1970s when she joined her Heritage Hill neighbors in picketing Calvary Undenominational...
2010 Michael Johnston
A history teacher at Kenowa Hills Public Schools, Johnston led the establishment of the Spirit of Solidarity National Labor Monument in front of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum commemorating the historic 1911 furniture strike that dramatically changed Grand Rapids' economic and political structures for decades.
2009 Milton Ehlert
His quiet research and writing led to his recruitment by Z. Z. Lydens in the 1960s to the team that worked on the last major broad-based history of this city, The Story of Grand Rapids. His section of the book was the histories of the parks and cemeteries in Grand Rapids.
2008 Diana Barrett
Working with the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council, serving on the Grand Rapids Historical Commission, the main force behind the creation and maintenance of their website (historygrandrapids.org), and for her historical research on the Women's Committee of the Council National Defense cards, collected during World War I and now stored in the archives of the Grand Rapids Public Library.