Beaver Island Oral History Project
The first important step forward came in 1990, when a partnership between the BIHS and the new Community Library received a $10,000 grant for oral history from the Michigan Council for the Humanities. Together, the organizations made a list of ten notable islanders, and began interviewing them and recording the sessions on audio tape, with local historian Robert Cole conducting most of the interviews.
Copies of the completed tapes were made available for check-out at both the library and the museum. At the onset there was healthy activity, but after a few years it dropped off, and after another few years the library’s tapes were given to the BIHS and put in storage.
Beginning in 2000, dozens of interviews were recorded over the next three years, many of which Mr. Cole himself transcribed. In 2001, the program was expanded to include more than just personal remembrances of elderly Beaver Islanders. The BIHS began to film cultural events, on the grounds that in the future they would become an invaluable resource. The annual Museum Week celebration brought a number of speakers on historic topics, and they were recorded. Additionally, parades, concerts, and political gatherings anticipated to be heated were put on film.
Mr. Cole began making trips to such cities as Chicago, where small groups of expats had set up their camps. On one he recorded Allie McDonough, sharp as a tack at age 100, in his art studio. Despite being gone from Beaver Island for over sixty years, Mr. McDonough was still faithfully reproducing Island scenes from memory. Mr. Cole drove to Marywood Academy in Grand Rapids and recorded six nuns who had taught at the Beaver Island public school between the 1940s and 1980s, and to St. Claire Shores to record four of the five “Rushin’ Girls,” volunteers who had put out a monthly newsletter to Island servicemen during WW II, reaching a circulation of 250.
In the summers of 2011 and 2012, interns from the University of Notre Dame began digitizing the recordings, and, with the help of a grant from the Charlevoix County Community Foundation, copying them onto an Apple computer, an external hard drive, and a set of DVDs. The Historical Society is now finally able to fill requests for digital video copies of its interview collection.