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Valerie is a professional writer, speaker, and exhibit designer who focuses on maritime interpretation. She cofounded and serves on the board of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association, directing the work of the organization and is co-owner of Lafferty van Heest & Associates, an exhibit design firm. She has authored six books, written numerous articles, delivered several hundred public lectures, designed dozens of exhibits, and participated in the discovery and documentation of over 50 shipwrecks. 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 an award from the Historical Society of Michigan recognizing her volunteer work documenting shipwrecks. Previously, she spent twenty-five years in the architectural field in Illinois and Michigan, all the while serving in a volunteer capascity leading projects to research and document shipwrecks.
AWARDS AND HONORS
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.
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.
CO-FOUNDER - MICHIGAN SHIPWRECK RESEARCH ASSOCIATION
Manages annual shipwreck searches working with shipwreck hunter, David Trotter, and nationally acclaimed author Clive Cussler, Covered over 700 square miles and discovered 14 new shipwrecks, each with a story to tell.
Coordinates themulti-year joint venture project with Clive Cussler 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 America's worst commercial aviation disaster.
Produces numerous documentary films about nely discovered shipwrecks.
Served as 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 2011 project resulted 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.
Served as director for a project on the newly discovered shipwreck Hennepin funded by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council to develop a museum exhibit in collaboration with The Heritage Museum in St. Joseph, and the book Buckets and Belts: Evolution of the Great Lakes Self-Unloader. With William Lafferty, a maritime historian and expert on the self-unloading industry, nominated the Hennepin to the National Register of Historic Places, which was officially listed in February 2008.
PRESIDENT - THE SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN UNDERWATER PRESERVE
Worked with archaeologist and museum curator, Kenneth Pott, to coordinate activities of the group until the preserve was made official in 1999.
Responsible for the documentation of several sites and the creation of a preserve brochure.
Served as project director for a Michigan Humanities Council grant in 1997 to produce educational programming on the pleasure yacht Verano.
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.
CO-FOUNDER - THE UNDERWATER ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF CHICAGO
Led documentation of the wreck of the five-masted schooner David Dows under the mentorship of Archeologist David Keene.
Led archaeological documentation of 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.
Worked with UASC teammates and archaeologist Philip Wright, to document the Alva Bradley in northern Lake Michigan in 1992.
Travelled to Florida to participate in a project with archaeologist John Gifford of the University of Miami to document the Germania in Biscayne Bay in 1994.
Produced 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, co-authored three reports on shipwreck projects, and co-producied numerous multi-media presentations with the UASC.
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