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ABOUT VALERIE VAN HEEST
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
2006/2007 Waterfront Film Festival Debuts of her documentaries: Icebound Found and She Died a Hard Death.
CO-FOUNDER - MICHIGAN SHIPWRECK RESEARCH ASSOCIATES
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.
PRESIDENT - THE SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN UNDERWATER PRESERVE
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.
CO-FOUNDER - THE UNDERWATER ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF CHICAGO
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.
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