Michigan History… In the Making

By Rick Garcia
Coca-Cola had a famous ad slogan, “The Pause That Refreshes.”  The artwork and part of the text originally appeared in a 1931 campaign, rebooted in June 1943 to tie the nation’s current military activity to a long line of military service—and when servicemen needed a break from their grueling work, they took a pause. Naturally, those pauses involved refreshing bottles of ice-cold Coca-Cola.
I say there’s a pause that refreshes our mind, body, soul or heart, but, because of our busy lives, we sometimes fail to take it.
After working over 23 years in the health and human services field, I finally took a long pause and realized I overlooked an opportunity while traveling the entire state – historic treasures.  In my new role with the Historical Society of Michigan (HSM), I never would have dreamed I would be re-discovering Michigan History. 
The Society, which was founded in 1828 by territorial governor Lewis Cass and explorer Henry Schoolcraft, focuses on five major mission areas: publications, conferences, education, awards and recognition programs, and support for local historical organizations. 
As a transplant from California via Chicago, my knowledge on Michigan History was limited to what my children have learned in 3rd and 4th grade touring the Historic Museums in Lansing, Greenfield Village, Henry Ford Museum and of course the coveted field trip to Mackinac Island.
HSM coordinates Michigan History Day (National History Day in Michigan) a project-based educational competition designed to encourage students in grades 4-12 to explore historical subjects through hands-on study.  Students perform self-directed research on an individually chosen topic.  Over the course of several months, each student becomes the historian and presents their research by creating an exhibit, documentary, website, performance or paper.  The regional competition starts in the early spring leading to the state finals, with the finalist moving on to the National History Day completion in D.C.
In my travels, I was exposed to pockets of the past witnessing smaller crown jewels from local communities-both urban and rural-whether it’s the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum; the Courthouse Square in Charlotte; or the Michigan Railroad Museum and train depot in Durand. 
The beauty about visiting all these historic treasures – It’s next to free (donations are always encouraged).  You’re probably shaking your head thinking it’s not on the parent(s) child’s radar screen of being remotely interested.  True, there were times I was a frustrated chaperone at a school historic field trips when my “pack of students” by-passed a rare collection or photo journals making a bee line towards the souvenir shop or the molding vending machine.
I found the best way to really appreciate Michigan History is to make it a family experience by slowly introducing parts of history through a self-guided tour of these great sites.  A good reference tool I use is HSM’s Historic Michigan Travel Guide, which list over 800 historic museums, attractions and other historic destinations.  After the tour, I reward my kids to a quick meal and a light discussion.  Because they are smart-phone prone, I’ll have them research historical facts using Google or other search engines.  Why fight it when you can harness that energy, right?
There are many other ideas and stories to be told about re-discovering Michigan History.  I hope to bring our readers more stories and other related programs and events through my work with the Historical Society. 
The Historical Society of Michigan is a not-for-profit organization that is not part of the State government and relies on public and private donations. To learn more and to become a member subscriber, call (800) 692-1828 or visit the website www.hsmichigan.org   
Rick Garcia, a nonprofit executive, a civil rights advocate, blogger and a contributing writer for The New Citizens Press can be reached at [email protected]
This was printed in the November 17, 2013 – November 30, 2013 Edition