Traverse City Record-Eagle


March 4, 2013

History Center seeks barrier breakers

Wanted: Individuals who broke the ethnic, racial and cultural barriers of their time.

That’s the message from The History Center of Traverse City, whose leaders seek individuals to showcase in their recurring project, “Legends of the Grand Traverse Region: Community Out of Diversity.”

“The concept is to identify people in the community who have not only had a big impact, but who have also in some way broken a barrier of some sort,” explained Peg Siciliano, project director.

This spring “Legends” include Dr. Harry Weitz, Les Biederman, and Rev. Marshall R. Collins.

Weitz, (1909-2009) was instrumental in Munson Hospital’s development, and also in founding Northwestern Michigan College. He was a prominent member of Congregation Beth-El and is noted for breaking mid-20th century anti-Semitic discriminatory practices at local clubs and businesses.

Collins (1930-2012) served as pastor of the Northport Indian Mission Church from 1990-2000. A black man, Collins worked both with the mostly white citizens of Northport and the American Indian population, said Siciliano.

Over the years Biederman (1911-1986) made vital contributions to Munson, NMC and other Traverse City developments.

“One way he broke a barrier was bringing 20th century media to the area,” said Siciliano.

The Legends Project will host an opening reception Saturday at 2 p.m. at the History Center on Sixth Street.

Dale Moler of Central Michigan University will be the featured speaker. He will discuss how the introduction of radio and television drastically changed mid-20th century America. Biederman’s role in bringing radio and television to northern Michigan will be highlighted.

The exhibit, the project’s second installment, will run from March through April.

The Michigan Humanities Council funded the project, and a committee was organized to identify local people of note who will be showcased each spring and fall.

The grant is for a year, but Siciliano said History Center leaders will continue to identify and highlight local “legends” with the help of various partners, including the Grand Traverse Genealogical Society, the Women’s History Project of Northwest Michigan, Temple Beth-El, the Hispanic Apostolate of the Diocese of Gaylord, Professor Jim Press of NMC’s history department, Cindy Patek of the Grand Traverse Tribe’s Eyaawing Museum and Cultural Center and the Traverse City Human Rights Commission.

“We were able from our own local knowledge to pick out some more obvious people, but with the help of these groups it will give us a broader input,” said Siciliano.

For further information, visit the History Center website at or call (231) 995-0313.

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