TRAVERSE CITY — The History Center of Traverse City unveiled its Legends exhibit Monday evening.
The exhibit explores the story of the city’s 20th century industrial pioneers John Parsons and Frank Stulen. It also celebrates the region’s Hispanic population, which has played an important role in the area’s economy for almost a century.
Parsons (1913-2007) and his chief engineer Stulen (1921-2012) invented “numeric control,” an important manufacturing process developed in the late 1940s at the Parsons Corporation’s rotary helicopter blade plant in Traverse City.
The Society of Manufacturing Engineers considers Parsons the “Father of the Second Industrial Revolution” because numeric control changed machining from an imprecise craft to an exact science and led to automation of both machine tools and tool processes. Numeric control also was the forerunner of modern digital computer control systems.
Parsons Corp. became the world’s largest producer of helicopter rotor blades from 1943-1968, employing 700 people at its peak. Parsons sold the company in 1968 and the new owners moved it to California three years later.
The exhibit also highlights Leo and Carmen Ocanas, the first area migrant farm workers to purchase their own orchard on Old Mission Peninsula. The exhibit will run through Oct. 13, when it will close with a fiesta-themed celebration of the area’s Hispanic community and the Ocanas family. Speakers included Gladys Munoz, who received the Traverse City Human Rights Commission 2013 Sarah Hardy Humanitarian Award for her 25 years of service as a medical interpreter and advocate for the area’s Spanish-speaking population.
In addition to the History Center, local Legends partners include the Grand Traverse Genealogical Society, the Northwest Lower Michigan Women’s History Project, Temple Beth El, the Hispanic Apostolate of the Diocese of Gaylord, Northwestern Michigan College history instructor Jim Press, Cindy Winslow of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians’ Eyaawing Museum and Cultural Center, and the Traverse City Human Rights Commission.
The original “Legends of the Grand Traverse Regions: Community Out of Diversity” project debuted last fall with Michigan Humanities Council funding.