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.

Thank you! — GRHS


2019 Baxter Award Recipient

George Bayard

George Bayard

George is the founding director of the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives. Their mission statement is to “Promote, preserve, display, collect and honor the lives, culture, history and accomplishments of African, African-American and connected peoples in the Greater Grand Rapids Michigan community”. George has been active in our community for decades. GRAAMA is the culmination of his work, his passion, and desire to share knowledge. It is for these reasons, and more, that the Grand Rapids Historical Society will be honoring George Bayard with the 2019 Albert Baxter Award.


Past Baxter Award Recipients

2018 Angela Owens Jando

Angela Owens Jando

Over the years since, Angela’s efforts as a dedicated volunteer have resulted in the restoration of St. Andrew’s Cemetery, as well as the completion of the many records that assist greatly in telling the stories of the many who are buried there.

Without her efforts, and those of her family, the resting places of our city’s founders, the Campau family, its pioneer priests, Fathers Viszosky and McManus, and entire generations of Irish families, the first real wave of immigrants to arrive locally, would have sunken beneath the turf in neglected silence and obscurity. But Angela would have none of this. She, and those who joined her in the battle chopped and sawed, dug and trimmed, and then x-rayed the ground until she could with admirable authority, record who among...

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2017 Thomas R. Dilley

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...

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2016 Ruth Van Stee

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.

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2015 Garret Ellison

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...

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2014 Henry & Lokie Boersma

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...

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2013 The Western Michigan Genealogical Society

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...

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2012 Kevin Finney

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....

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2011 Rebecca Smith-Hoffman

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...

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2010 Michael Johnston

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

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 (, 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.

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2007 John H. Logie

John Logie represents the fourth generation of an early Grand Rapids family which arrived in Kent County nearly 150 years ago. After completing high school in Grand Rapids, John attended Williams College and the University of Michigan, where he received his bachelor’s degree, then going on to earn a master’s degree from George Washington University. His formal education was complete with his return to the University of Michigan, where he received a juris doctor degree from the law school.

After service in the United States Navy from 1961 to 1966 which included active duty as an operations officer in the Pacific Fleet and several years as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy, John returned to Grand Rapids to enter the practice of law with the firm Warner, Norcross...

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2006 Dr. Carl Bajema

For more than two decade, Dr. Carl Bajema has taken a personal interest in researching, photocopying, and organizing an enormous number of old news accounts published between 1830 and 1930 on a variety of topics related to Grand Rapids and Michigan.

What began primarily as a chronological compilation of old clippings on area logging, reforestation and forests eventually developed into a fascinating and comprehensive glimpse into the early days of Grand Rapids. The collection, containing thousands of old news accounts, now fill two large four drawer cabinets in the Special Collections and Archives at the main building of the Grand Rapids Public Library, and it continues to grow. And that includes only those he has donated to the library. Many, many more fill his basement at home,...

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2005 William Cunningham

The City Archivist and Records Manager Bill Cunningham is the recipient of the 2005 Albert Baxter Award. He was chosen for the honor because of his nearly 25 years of work creating and developing the Grand Rapids Community Archives and Records Center into a model program. A native of Minnesota, he earned a BA degree in history from St. John’s University and MA degree from the University of Minnesota (Latin American history) and the University of Wisconsin (Library Science and Archives Administration). He came to Grand Rapids in 1981 under the auspices of a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. At the time, Grand Rapids had neither a records management program for its official records, a place to store them, nor a plan for making them available to city...

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2004 Bruce & Marcia Butgereit

Since his grandfather took him to Antietam when he was a boy, Bruce Butgereit has had an interest in the Civil War. He made his first presentation in high school and has continued for almost 30 years telling and showing people the history of the Civil War, emphasizing the roles of women and children. In 1998 he teamed up with Marcia Bruin and other re-enactors to form a company of “living historians”. They engage school children by wearing historic dress and letting them handle and study Civil War artifacts.

In 2000, after he delivered a report to the Sons of the Civil War on the monument in downtown Grand Rapids, he began a three year odyssey to restore that monument. The project grew in scope and cost, but Bruce and Marcia beat the bushes for funds, even exciting...

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2003 Charles Bocskey

Former Grand Rapids Historical Society president Charles Bocskey is honored with the Albert Baxter award. Bocskey has been a Society board member since 1994, and served as its president from 1997 through 2002. Under Bocskey’s enthusiastic leadership, attendance at the society’s yearly program series and annual meetings grew steadily. He found no task too small or too large, handing duties from brewing coffee to introducing speakers. The gifts he gathered for the annual drawing have become a staple of the meetings that swells attendance and sends many guests home with unique souvenirs of the meeting.

A retired science teacher, Bocskey’s love of history is an avocation that is a part of every day’s routine. He is a one person ambassador for local history,...

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2002 Gordon Olson

It seems altogether fitting that a person born on the 105th anniversary of the incorporation of the Village of Grand Rapids should become the first Grand Rapids City Historian. After earning a bachelor degree from the University of Wisconsin, and forty hours of doctoral work at the University of Wyoming, contrary to the advice of Horace Greeley, Gordon Olson headed east. He came to Grand Rapids in 1973 to work as the assistant director of the Grand Rapids Public Museum. After six successful years at the museum he assumed a newly created position of city historian, one of only a handful of city historians in the country.

As city historian he supervises the Local History Department of the Grand Rapids Public Library, consults with local schools on a large variety of local history...

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2001 Edward V. Gillis

The 2001 Albert Baxter Award was presented posthumously to Edward V. Gillis for his book Growing Up In Old Lithuanian Town, and for his effort to collect oral histories and photographs documenting the story of Grand Rapids’ West Side Lithuanian immigrant community.

Born in 1920, Gillis was the son of Lithuanian immigrant parents. He grew up in the “Lithuanian Town” area along the west side of the Grand River between Leonard and Ann Streets. A lifelong student of history, he devoted his time to research and writing after retiring from a long career in the tool and die industry.

Edward Gillis had many interests, including Native American History and postcard collecting, but about a decade ago he decided to turn his attention to his own history....

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2000 Rev. Dennis Morrow

In honor and memory of Reverend Dennis Morrow. May 1948 – May 2020

Reprinted from the May 2000 Grand River Times newsletter

At their March board meeting, the directors of the Grand Rapids Historical Society voted to recognize Rev. Dennis Morrow with their 2000 Albert Baxter Award. The award is given each year to an individual who makes an outstanding contribution to the “collection, preservation and publication of local history.” The historical society’s board of directors chose to honor Father Morrow for his work as a volunteer archivist, and advocate for historic preservation.

For more than a decade, Father Dennis Morrow has been a regular volunteer at the Grand Rapids Public Library’s Local History Department. Nearly every Thursday...

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1999 Jo Ellyn Clarey

Jo Ellyn Clarey is recognized for the significant contribution to our understanding of the history of women in Grand Rapids by serving as an officer of the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council, researching and writing about the accomplishments of local women, and taking women’s history to adult and student audiences.

Between 1993 and 1996 Jo Ellyn Clarey served in various capacities on the Michigan Women’s Studies Association; from 1995 to the present she has served on the Grand Rapids Historical Commission and is currently vice-president; from 1993 to 1997 she was a board member of the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council serving first as secretary and then as vice-president. As a member of the “Legacy 1997” executive committee,...

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1998 Dr. Richard Harms

Dr. Richard Harms is recognized for his books, magazine series, public programs, professional activities, work at the Grand Rapids Public Library’s historical collections and service as treasurer of the Grand Rapids Historical Society.

Born in the Netherlands, Dr. Harms immigrated to Grand Rapids as a child. He received his bachelor’s degree from Calvin College, his master’s degree from Western Michigan University, and his Ph.D. from Michigan State University. His doctoral dissertation on lumberman Charles Hackley of Muskegon was subsequently published. Dr. Harms worked at the Michigan State University Archives and the Bureau of Michigan History before taking the position of archivist with the Grand Rapids Public Library in 1987, a position he would hold for the...

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1997 Jane H. Idema

1996 Dr. Eduard A. Skendzel

Dr. Eduard A. Skendzel has spent many years studying and writing the Polish history of Grand Rapids. He has shown how Polish history fits into the other ethnic cultures in the Grand Rapids Community. His knowledge of local church history and how that history impacts our community adds to his understanding of Grand Rapids cultural history. Dr. Skendzel is also a linguist and has taught server foreign languages, including Russian. He serves on the board of the Grand Rapids Historical Society and his wit and knowledge makes the board meetings very enjoyable.

Research work by Dr. Skendzel can be found on the Grand Rapids Historical Commission web site on the Architecture of St. Adalbert’s, and the Eduard Adam Skendzel Polonian Historical Collection at the Grand Rapids Public...

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1995 Dr. Herb Brinks

1994 Melvin C. Goolsby

Melvin Goolsby, is well-known for his work in African American genealogy and local history, Goolsby will be recognized for his research, help with local exhibits, videos and publications. He has also presented workshops and programs to Grand Rapids audiences.

Goolsby came to Grand Rapids with his parents in 1925 after boll weevils destroyed their cotton crop. Like many migrants, they had friends here. Aside from military service in World War II, and a few years after the war in Chicago, Goolsby has lived in Grand Rapids.

When he retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 1977 Goolsby began in earnest his study of local African Americans and genealogy. His is now an acknowledged expert in the field, having traced both his wife’s and his own family to their roots in...

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1993 Evelyn M. Sawyer

Evelyn Sawyer received the award for her many years of work as a family history research volunteer in the Public Library’s Local Historical Collection, and as the author of numerous indexes to census, property owners and other family history resources.

Sawyer set up a volunteer program to respond to writers seeking genealogy information from the Library and coordinated the service for many years.  Today the research program is a smoothly functioning part of overall Library service. Every writer seeking assistance with a family history question receives a prompt answer based on research in the Library’s materials. All fees earned for the program are used by the West Michigan Genealogy Society to purchase much needed books and supplies for the Library’s Local...

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1992 J. William Wheeler

J. Wagner “Wag” Wheeler’s commitment to the collection, preservation and publication of the Native American history of Michigan epitomizes the characteristics the Grand Rapids Historical Society had in mind when it created the Albert Baxter Award a decade ago. Wheeler, executive director of the Grand Rapids Intertribal Council, received the award at the Society’s annual meeting. He was honored for his many efforts to preserve and promote Michigan’s Native American heritage. During his tenure at the Intertribal Council, Wheeler encouraged the teaching and demonstration of native crafts, the production of videos demonstrating crafts such as quillwork and basket making, the preservation of oral traditions, and the publication of books on Michigan Indian history.


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1991 William Bennett

1990 Mary Jane Dockeray

Mary Jane Dockeray


Dr. Mary Jane Dockeray, known throughout the Grand Rapids area for her school lectures and work at the Blandford Nature Center, is the 1990 recipient of the Albert Baxter Award. In presenting the award, Grand Rapids City Historian Gordon Olson called attention to Dr. Dockeray’s work in preserving the Kuhtic Log Cabin, the Star School House and the Stillwell Horseshoeing Shop, and making them part of the interpretive programs at the Nature Center.

He also reminded guests at the annual meeting that the natural environment is an important part of our history, and that few people in the area have worked as long or as hard to assure that an appreciation for the importance of preserving the environment is passed on to each new generation.


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1989 W. D. Frankforter

1988 Mary Ann Edmond

1987 Richard Flanders

1986 Barbara Roelofs

1985 Frank Dumond

1984 Rev. John Whalen McGee

1983 Gerald Elliot

1982 William A. Johnson

1981 Sister Marie Heyda

1980 Homer Burch