After spending twenty-five years in the architectural design, marketing, and graphic design in Chicago and Michigan, all the while serving in a volunteer capascity leading projects to research and document shipwrecks, Valerie began a full-time career as a writer and museum exhibit designer with a focus on maritime interpretation and cofounded the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association. Since that time, she has written six books, designed numerous exhibits, websites, and outdoor signage kiosks, participated in the discovery and documentation of over a dozen shipwrecks, and raised a family. Many of her books, films, and exhibits have won awards and she has been honored with an induction in the Women's Divers Hall of Fame and recognition for her volunteer work documenting shipwrecks from the Historical Society of Michigan.



2014 IPPY SIlver Medal Fatal Crossing

2014 Finalist Midwest Book Awards Fatal Crossing

2014 Fatal Crossing Voted One Book One Community Oceana County Public Libraries

2011 INDIE First Place Book Award: Lost on the Lady Elgin

2011 Illinois Histiory Award- Superior Achievement: Lost on the Lady Elgin

2009 Historical Society of Michigan: State History Award: Buckets and Belts

2009 Historical Society of Michigan: State History Award:Exhibit-Shipwrecks: A Deep Look at the Rise of the Self-Unloaders

2008 Historical Society of Michigan: State History Award: Icebound.

2007 Inductee Women DIvers Hall of Fame

2007 Historical Society of Michigan: State History Award: for distinguished volunteer service in promoting Michigan's submerged maritime heritage.

2009 Guest expert in an episode of the History Channel Cities Underground.

2007 Waterfront Film Festival Debut of She Died a Hard Death.

2006 Waterfront Film Festival Debut of Icebound Found.



In 2001 Valerie, Jack van Heest, Craig Rich, and Geoffrey Reynolds formed the non-profit Michigan Shipwreck Research Association (MSRA), dedicated to research, exploration, documentation and interpretation on the shipwrecks of Lake Michigan. Working with experienced and successful shipwreck hunter, David Trotter, and nationally acclaimed author Clive Cussler, MSRA has conducted annual shipwreck searches in the waters off West Michigan covering over 400 square miles and discovering fourteen new shipwrecks in as many years. These include the SS Michigan, Ann Arbor No 5, Hennepin, Joseph P. Farnan, Hamilton, William Tell, Hattie Wells and several scuttled vessels not previously found.

In 2010 and 2011 Valerie served as project Director for "Unsolved Mysteries- The Shipwreck Thomas Hume," a project funded by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council to conduct an archaeological investigation on the schooner Thomas Hume Lost in 1891. The projectsresulted in an exhibit at the Lake Shore Museum Center,a book, a documentary film, a curriculum guide and a public program on the 120th anniversay of the sinking.

The discovery of the Hennepin and its significance as the world's first self-unloading vessel, led to a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for Humanities to develop a museum exhibit in collaboration with The Heritage Museum in St. Joseph, as well as a publication Buckets and Belts: Evolution of the Great Lakes Self-Unloader. In addition, she and William Lafferty, a maritime historian and expert on the self-unloading industry, together nominated the Hennepin to the National Register of Historic Places, which was officially listed in February 2008. The success of the exhibit propelled Lafferty and van Heest to form a partnership, Lafferty van Heest and Associates to provide design and fabrication of maritime-themed exhibits and publications.

In 2004, MSRA began a multi-year joint venture project with Clive Cussler and members of the National Underwater Marine Agency (NUMA) to search for Northwest Flight 2501 which crashed in Lake Michigan in 1950 killing all 58 persons aboard in what was then the Nation’s worst commercial aviation disaster. Cussler sent his side scan sonar expert, Ralph Wilbanks, to West Michigan to work with MSRA. Wilbanks is best known for locating with Cussler, the Civil War Submarine Hunley. After seven expeditions, the plane wreck remains elusive, but Valerie has found something equally important. In compiling research on the crash, Valerie has interviewed dozens of individuals including witnesses, officials involved in the 1950 search effort, pilots, airline officials, and in just two years, she located the families of nearly all of the airplane victims and remains in touch with them to deliver news of the teams search efforts. In September 2008, she hosted a memorial service for the families of the crash victims and oversaw the placement of a granite memorial at the site of a newly discovered mass grave where the remains of the victims had been buried 58 years earlier without any notice to families. The search for Flight 2501 continues.

1995 - 2001

In 1995, Valerie married and relocated to Western Michigan, where she joined the Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve Committee as the grass--roots organization was beginning efforts to initiate Michigan’s tenth underwater preserve. Serving as its President for over six years, and working with archaeologist and museum curator, Kenneth Pott, she coordinated activities of the group until the preserve was made official in 1999. Valerie was responsible for the documentation of several sites and the creation of a preserve brochure. She served as Project Director for a Michigan Humanities Council grant in 1997 to produce educational programming on the pleasure yacht Verano. She spearheaded the “Quest for the Chicora”, an unprecedented search for the region’s most enigmatic shipwreck. That quest instead led to the discovery of the H.C. Akeley.

Valerie co-founded the Underwater Archaeological Society of Chicago, serving as Director for eight years. Her first project was documenting the wreck of the five-masted schooner David Dows under the mentorship of Archeologist David Keene. Later, she led archaeological documentation efforts on numerous Chicago-area shipwrecks including the intact and shallow schooner Wells Burt, the side-wheel steamer Seabird, the tug Tacoma, and the Lake Huron schooner Goshawk. She worked on the initial reconnaissance documentation of the Civil War era side-wheeler Lady Elgin and then worked with Smithsonian archaeologist, Paul Johnston, to further detail the site. In 1992, she worked with UASC teammates and archaeologist Philip Wright, to document the Alva Bradley in northern Lake Michigan. In 1994, she traveled to Florida to participate in a project with archaeologist John Gifford of the University of Miami to document the Germania in Biscayne Bay. Valerie is responsible for producing in-situ drawings on over thirty shipwrecks, many of which have been published in a variety of maritime books and are held in the collection of the Milwaukee Public Library. She is also responsible for co-authoring three reports on shipwreck projects as well as co-producing numerous multi-media presentations about her work with the UASC.


While now focusing her efforts on the interpretation of shipwrecks, Valerie holds her degree from a dual program with Loyola University and The Harrington Institute of Design in Chicago and has for twenty five years specialized in architectural and graphic design, marketing and project management in both Illinois and Michigan. She began her new venture as a professional author, lecturer, and exhibit designer in 2004. Valerie and her husband Jack live in Holland, Michigan with their two daughters.