BENZONIA — Ned Edwards has called Beulah home for almost 30 years now. But even before moving to the area in the 1990s, Edwards, 85, summered in northern Michigan for decades. Though he attended college and divinity school elsewhere, he and his wife retired to the area.
“We’ve enjoyed continuing the family campfires and storytelling so all our kids and grandkids know,” Edwards said.
As the story goes, his grandparents traveled from Kansas City, Missouri to camp on the shores of Crystal Lake in 1903. The Wolfe family and 10 children tried to cross the lake but a storm delayed their arrival to the other side. Edwards said his grandmother told the kids to use their shoes to bail out the rowboats.
They, of course, survived, as his mother was about 2 then, Edwards said. The next day, they purchased a 55-acre plot that has stayed in the family for more than 100 years.
“They discovered some property they liked and that’s the property I’m living on,” Edwards said. “That’s how we got here.”
Edwards’ tale is just one that the Benzie Area Historical Society is highlighting in its oral history project.
Benzie Area Historical Museum Executive Director Barbara Mort said the organization wanted to start with Edwards and Althea Petritz, two families with deep Benzie County roots.
“There are so many wonderful stories here,” Mort said. “You don’t have to travel to Rome or Beijing to see history happen. It’s all around you.”
Mort said project organizers recruited professional genealogist, oral historian and photographer Randy Gladstone to interview Edwards and Petritz. He spent several hours with each of them, listening and recording their experiences.
“I was able to make them feel their stories were important,” Gladstone said. “I feel like I’m part of their family when I’m done.”
Gladstone said everyone should view the photos and listen to the recordings, which will be archived at the Benzie Area Historical Museum. They are not solely for the families, he said, but for future generations.
“This project is extremely important to have people record their memories,” he said. “I’m trying to capture their memories so their story lives on. They’re kept for the community and historians of the future.”
Luedtke Engineering in Frankfort provided the initial funding, which Mort said also covers at least three more recordings this year.
The museum also applied for a grant through the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences that would, Mort said, allow the group to employ Benzie Central High School students for a two-year project. Future interviewees would include a local bartender, a former Elberta ski jumper and others.
Mort added that motion picture arts students from Interlochen Arts Academy also are assisting with the oral history project. The students researched and conducted interviews with area veterans.
Benzie Area Historical Society celebrates its 50th anniversary with a variety of activities this year. The Benzie Area Historical Museum features the exhibition “Cycles of Yesteryear 1869-1940.”
The Society also provides archives and research help, tours of the Drake School, the Benzonia Academy Lecture Series and educational opportunities for youth like the “Unplug and Rewind to 1900” College for Kids.
Dylan Colby, a senior at Michigan State University, was recently hired as a summer education and outreach intern for the Junior Historians Program. Colby is studying international relations and political theory and constitutional democracy. He leads family-friendly activities at the Drake School and area libraries.
The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Donations are appreciated.