Leelanau News and Events

Anonymous Donation Means Iconic Leelanau Interviews Preserved Digitally

By Emily Tyra | March 12, 2020

More than 250 irreplaceable interviews with iconic Leelanau County residents originally captured on cassette tapes from 1987 to 2009 have now been preserved digitally, thanks to an anonymous donation.

Many familiar Leelanau family names appear in the reformatted archive: Raftshol, Dame, Gauthier, Houdek, Hohnke, Telgard, Pleva, Grosvenor, Garthe, Schaub, and Anderson among them.

A significant donation from an anonymous individual with longtime connections to the Leelanau Peninsula funded the painstaking digitization of 305 delicate one-off cassettes in the Leelanau Historical Society & Museum’s collection. 

“We sent them away in a lockbox this winter to Preservation Technologies in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania,” says Kim Kelderhouse, Curator of Collections. “They had worked with a couple of other historical societies and universities in Michigan and we were able to speak with them about their experiences.”  

The first-person stories make for captivating listening, Kelderhouse says. Find a list of all the interviews on the archive page at leelanauhistory.org

“For the immediate future people will have to email a request for the file; ultimately the goal will be to get them into a searchable database on our site so people can access them at free will,” she says. 

As a sneak preview, recordings of Owen Bahle and Bob White are now available in an audio file on the site.

Owen Bahle, who was born in the apartment above Bahle’s store in Suttons Bay and later became a partner with his father in the store, talks about the ebb and flow of retail in the village through his lifetime. The well-known clothier, along with wife Leila, raised their five children, operated cherry farms and famously renovated an old theatre — renaming it The Bay.

Bob White, Leelanau County’s Sheriff from the late 1930s to 1964, shares stories of growing up near the cedar swamps of Solon Township. He recalls the days a passenger vessel called The Leelanau ran a regular schedule the entire length of Lake Leelanau with stops at Bingham, Fountain Point, Provemont (now Lake Leelanau), Porter’s Landing, and Leland.

Rita Rusco’s oral history is also a must-listen, says Kelderhouse. Rusco moved to North Manitou Island in 1942 and lived 11 years as a year-round resident, managing the Post Office and general store. She returned to North Manitou in the summer of 1966 and was on the island in the early 1980s when it was transitioning into part of the National Lakeshore.

The historical society and museum’s curators seek more oral histories.

“This is a priority,” says Executive Director Francie Gits. “We think of people to interview, but they can always come to us, too.”

Gits encourages anyone interested in researching Leelanau roots to check out the resources available at leelanauhistory.org and at the Leelanau Historical Society & Museum, located at 203 East Cedar Street in Leland, two blocks from historic Fishtown.

“It’s amazing how many people have not yet been in here, and don’t realize what resources we have,” Gits says. 

Adds Kelderhouse, “Ancestry.com doesn’t come to little historical societies and ask what records we have, and we often have stuff that gives more color to a story than a census data piece.”

Photo of Owen Bahle, from the Peter and Betty Mann Collection, Leelanau Historical Society 

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