Valerie is an underwater explorer who has been involved in the discovery and archaeological documentation of numerous historic Great Lakes shipwrecks. Combining her passion for maritime history with her professional writing and design experience, Valerie shares her adventures through award-winning books, films, lectures and museum exhibits in ways to educate, entertain and inspire. She is an inductee in the Women Divers Hall of fame and the recipient of a Michigan State History Award for her work preserving and promoting the state’s submerged maritime history. Valerie has written six books and numerous magazine articles. She is a regular presenter at museums, libraries, and film festivals sharing the dramatic stories of mysteries on the Great Lakes, and she has appeared on television news networks as well as the National Geographic, History, and Travel Channels. Valerie is a partner in the exhibit design firm Lafferty van Heest & Associates and serves as a director of the nonprofit Michigan Shipwreck Research Association, spearheading the search for and documentation of lost ships.
AWARDS AND HONORS
2017 Joyce C. Hayward Award for Historical Interpretation from the Association for Great Lakes Maritime History
2014 IPPY Silver Medal for Fatal Crossing.
2014 Finalist Midwest Book Awards for Fatal Crossing.
2014 Fatal Crossing Voted One Book One Community Oceana County Public Libraries.
2011 INDIE First Place Book Award: Lost on the Lady Elgin.
2011 Illinois History Award- Superior Achievement: Lost on the Lady Elgin.
2010 Honor Role-International Legends of Diving
2009 Historical Society of Michigan: State History Award: Buckets and Belts.
2009 Historical Society of Michigan: State History Award: Exhibit-Shipwrecks: A Deep Look at the Rise of the Self-Unloaders.
2008 Historical Society of Michigan: State History Award: Icebound.
2007 Inductee Women Divers Hall of Fame.
2007 Historical Society of Michigan: State History Award: for distinguished volunteer service in promoting Michigan’s submerged maritime heritage.
2007 Waterfront Film Festival Debut of “She Died a Hard Death.”
2006 Waterfront Film Festival Debut of “Icebound Found.”
MICHIGAN SHIPWRECK RESEARCH ASSOCIATION 2001- PRESENT
Manages the nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve and interpret Michigan’s submerged maritime history. The organization’s work includes research and documentation of submerged cultural resources and the creation of educational resources. MSRA hosts an annual public symposium, maintains this website, and produces a newsletter, documentary films, informative articles, books, and museum exhibits.
—- Click the MSRA link at upper right for more information —->
- Cofounded the organization with her husband, Jack, Craig Rich and Geoff Reynolds.
- Coordinates annual expeditions working with shipwreck hunter, David Trotter.
- Coordinates the multi-year joint venture project with Clive Cussler of the National Underwater Marine Agency (NUMA) to search for Northwest Flight 2501 which crashed in Lake Michigan in 1950 killing all 58 persons aboard in what was then America’s worst commercial aviation disaster.
- Produces documentary films about newly discovered shipwrecks.
- Served as director for “Unsolved Mysteries- The Shipwreck Thomas Hume,” a project funded by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council to conduct an archaeological investigation on the schooner Thomas Hume Lost in 1891. The 2011 project resulted in an exhibit at the Lake Shore Museum Center, a book, a documentary film, a curriculum guide and a public program on the 120th anniversary of the sinking.
- Served as director for a project on the newly discovered shipwreck Hennepin funded by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council to develop a museum exhibit in collaboration with The Heritage Museum in St. Joseph, and the book Buckets and Belts: Evolution of the Great Lakes Self-Unloader. With William Lafferty, a maritime historian and expert on the self-unloading industry, nominated the Hennepin to the National Register of Historic Places, which was officially listed in February 2008.
- Coordinates the annual Mysteries and Histories Beneath the Inland Seas, an evening event each spring attended by 300-500 people at the Knickerbacher Theater in Holland.
SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN UNDERWATER PRESERVE 1995 – 2001
Took over leadership of the Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve Committee as the grass-roots organization was beginning efforts to nominate Michigan’s tenth underwater preserve.
- Worked with archaeologist and museum curator, Kenneth Pott, to coordinate activities of the group until the preserve was made official in 1999.
- Responsible for the documentation of several sites and the creation of a preserve brochure.
- Served as project director for a Michigan Humanities Council grant in 1997 to produce educational programming on the pleasure yacht Verano.
- Spearheaded the “Quest for the Chicora”, an unprecedented search for the region’s most enigmatic shipwreck. That quest instead led to the discovery of the H.C. Akeley.
UNDERWATER ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF CHICAGO 1988-1995
- Served as director for eight years and maintains a seat on the board of trustees.
- Hosted seven annual fundraising events.
- Led documentation of the wreck of the five-masted schooner David Dows under the mentorship of Archeologist David Keene.
- Led archaeological documentation of numerous Chicago-area shipwrecks including the intact and shallow schooner Wells Burt, the side-wheel steamer Seabird, the tug Tacoma, and the Lake Huron schooner Goshawk.
- Worked on the initial reconnaissance documentation of the Civil War era side-wheeler Lady Elgin and then worked with Smithsonian archaeologist, Paul Johnston, to further detail the site.
- Worked with UASC teammates and archaeologist Philip Wright, to document the Alva Bradley in northern Lake Michigan in 1992.
- Travelled to Florida to participate in a project with archaeologist John Gifford of the University of Miami to document the Germania in Biscayne Bay in 1994.
- Produced in-situ drawings on over thirty shipwrecks, many of which have been published in a variety of maritime books and are held in the collection of the Milwaukee Public Library, co-authored three reports on shipwreck projects, and co-produced numerous multi-media presentations with the UASC.
While now focusing on the interpretation of maritime history, Valerie holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from a dual program with Loyola University and served for twenty-five years in the architectural field as a project manager. She transitioned to a professional author, lecturer, and exhibit designer in 2004. Valerie and her husband, Jack, her partner in her exploration projects, live in Holland, Michigan, with their two daughters, who have recently become certified divers.