The Birmingham Museum received an award in 2018 from the Michigan Museums Association for excellence in community engagement with its crowd sourced exhibit, The People of Birmingham: Celebrating 200 Years of Stories.
The public was invited to share a story and photo of a special person from Birmingham's past or present that had inspired them. Over 100 stories were collected and exhibited throughout the year to celebrate Birmingham's bicentennial by highlighting its people. The contributions to the exhibit were heartwarming, sad, and charming and called attention to famous as well as not-so-famous individuals. In addition, the historical information, photos, and artifacts that were generated by the exhibit have enriched our collection.
The People of Birmingham: Women
Florence Ackerly (1884 - 1984)
Florence May Ackerly was born in 1884 in Joensville, MI near Hillsdale. She attended Michigan State Normal Teacher’s College (now Eastern Michigan University).
Florence taught at several schools before ending up at Baldwin High School in 1921 where she taught geography and health. Later she transferred to Barnum Junior High School to teach science. She said of middle schoolers, “I always liked teaching junior high school kids best. When children are that age, they know all the questions. When they get bigger, they know all the answers.” [right- Florence Ackerly from The Birmingham Eccentric]
Ackerly further encouraged her students’ interest in science by starting the Science Club at Barnum. After school, they went outside and “visited every gravel pit we could find to study insects and rocks. The members weren’t interested in flowers.” Even after retirement, Florence
enjoyed the outdoors. Her hobbies included bird watching and tending her vegetable garden. She even performed her own scientific experiments. She successfully grafted two different varieties of apples to create a third, getting one tree to produce three different varieties of apples! [left- Science classroom at Barnum]
Why I was inspired: Florence May Ackerly was interested in and dedicated to the
subject of science, at a time when few women explored the field.
--Submitted by Brittany Phalen
Pat Andrews (1921-2021)
This remarkable lady has been an active member of the Birmingham community for all her adult life, teaching at Pierce, Quarton, and Midvale elementary schools prior to retirement. [Left-painting of Pat Andrews by Bonita Bohl]
As an active senior, she is an inspiration to all and her love of Birmingham is evident. Look no further than her garage that she refurbished into a neighborhood museum. Ask her about Birmingham politics and she will engage you in a detailed conversation. Her love for the neighborhood children is evident as they are frequent visitors to her home. [Left- Pat Andrews with children. Below- Pat Andrews with Ron and Linda Buchanan in the Hunter House]
Why I was inspired: A history of Birmingham MUST include 96-year-old resident Patricia Andrews. The April 2016 publication of Birmingham Living accurately stated: Patricia is the "undisputed, unequalled, unofficial historian of all things Birmingham".
--Submitted by Bonita Bohl
Ethel Bassett (1893 - 1963)
One of the friendliest people in Birmingham was a woman by the name of Ethel Bassett. She was your friendly neighborhood pharmacist.
In 1912, at the age of 19, Ethel began working at Shain’s Drugstore as a temporary summer employee. Little did she know then, that she would work there for over fifty years! [right- Ethel behind the counter at Shain's in 1962]
Desiring to make a career out of it, Ethel attended the Sandusky School of Pharmacy. In 1919, she became the first registered woman pharmacist in Oakland County. This was at the time when few women worked outside the home, let alone received formal medical training.
Ethel was an independent woman and never married. She was very career focused. She even was the co-owner of Shain’s for 17 years. [below- Ethel outside of Shain's]
Ethel certainly made an impact on the community, so much so that Mayor Florence Willett declared May 16, 1962 Ethel Bassett Day. This was to celebrate her 50 years at Shain’s. The community came together to show their appreciation for her service. One friend wrote, “you richly deserve all the praise and honor given you, not only in pharmacy, but for the happiness you have given to all people who know you.”
Why I was inspired: My husband is a pharmacist and Ethel’s story resonated with me because she shows how a pharmacist can have a very positive impact on their community. --Submitted by Brittany Phalen
Peggy deSalle was born Marguerite Fox in Snok, Hungary. She emigrated to the U.S. with her family in 1910 when she was six years old. As a young woman, she trained as an art photographer and worked for the art conservator at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
In 1929, she married Zoltan Sepeshy, a Hungarian painter who would later become president of Cranbrook Academy of Art. The marriage was brief; in 1933, Peggy married Albert deSalle, who was her lifelong partner in championing the arts. [left-Peggy DeSalle in 1980, from the Detroit Free Press]
In a later interview, Peggy talked about her first experience selling fine art. Refugees fleeing Europe in the 1940s needed someone they could trust to sell their family heirlooms. Peggy held an exhibition and sale at her home in Detroit, dubbed “Peggy deSalle’s Gallery.”
In 1942, Peggy and Albert moved to Birmingham, and in 1950, she opened the Little Gallery at 915 E. Maple. It was the first art gallery in the Detroit area. Peggy called herself the ‘grandmother to the whole cause of contemporary art,” and tirelessly promoted young artists, giving them an opportunity to “take flight and go elsewhere” once they were established.
[right- DeSalle's "Little Gallery" in Birmingham]
Why I was inspired: Whether she was aiding refugees or giving struggling artists a place to launch their careers, Peggy deSalle exhibited a passion for helping others through art. --Submitted by Lori Eaton
Ella Parks (1874 - 1939)
Ella Maud Johnston was born to Emma and Alfred Johnston of Southfield. She graduated from Birmingham High School in 1894 and married Edgar A. Parks two years later. They lived on Pierce Street and had no children. After a long illness, Ella Parks died in 1939 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery. [right-Ella at her easel]
The unique thing about Ella is her love of painting. Ella learned to paint from her aunt, Sarah Beddow, from an early age. It is not known if she ever received any formal training, but throughout her life, she was awarded approximately 150 prizes. She was most proud of her inclusion on Wayne State University’s list of Michigan artists. She was even featured in a DIA exhibition of Michigan artists.
Ella Parks left something very special behind: a log of her paintings. Many times she would note the title of the work, the medium, who she sold it to, for how much, and in what year. As a historian and one who prides herself on her organizational skills, I greatly appreciate her meticulous note-taking. She even recorded what Christmas gifts she was going to give to whom from 1900-1912. Frequently, those gifts were her paintings. Posthumously, someone added to the log when the remainder of her paintings were sold or gifted. [below: a watercolor of Ella's]
Why I was inspired: Ella shared her talent with those around her and the community supported her. --Submitted by Brittany Phalen
The People Of Birmingham: Historical Figures
Dr. Ebenezer Raynale (1804 - 1881)
Dr. Ebenezer Raynale, born in 1804, was a man of many talents.
He was a doctor, a politician, an inventor, and even a postmaster for a time. Beyond all of that, Raynale was also a good man who went above and beyond to care for his patients. [left-Dr Raynale]
Raynale was always interested in medicine and worked hard to learn everything he could about it. He received his degree in 1828 and practiced medicine in various places across Michigan before finally settling in Birmingham in 1839.
One story about Raynale shows us what kind of man he was. At some point during his medical career, Raynale went far away to visit a poor woman who was sick. On his way home, he got lost in a snow storm and was gone for a full day before he found his way back. Apparently, Raynale only charged the woman three dollars despite all of his trouble.
In addition to his medical career, Raynale also was a representative to the Michigan Constitutional Convention in 1835, a state senator, and even submitted four patents (only one of which was medically related). He also managed to find time to personally care for Greenwood Cemetery. [right-Raynale's 1874 patent for a vessel propulsion system]
Why I was inspired: Dr. Raynale is an excellent role model. He filled his life with so much and still worked to do good for Birmingham and its citizens.
--Submitted by Robert Lutey
Ellsworth C. Plumstead (1863 - 1938)
Ellsworth C. Plumstead lived in Birmingham with his wife Isabel and their 4 children. For many years, Plum, as he was called by friends, made his living as an actor and entertainer. He was well known on the Chautauqua circuit around the country.
Chautauquas were traveling educational shows which brought performers to small towns from the late 1800s until the 1930s. They performed in tents in the summer and lyceums in the winter. Daily shows included music and literary readings.
Plumstead was one of only a few actors known as “impersonators” who dressed like the characters in their stories. They applied wigs and greasepaint while talking to the audience. They might change costumes and their appearance several times in one performance.
An Eccentric article in 1910, (“Birmingham Impersonator”) said of Plumstead, “He is to the Lyceum what Maurice Chevalier is to the larger world of entertainment.”
Local resident and historian Hartland Smith relayed how local businessmen had to underwrite Chautauqua tickets and guarantee at least 150 sales. Smith said his grandfather, who owned a lumber yard in Birmingham, was never very happy about this, because they never sold all the tickets and had to cover the cost. [left- Program featuring Ellsworth, courtesy of the University of Iowa]
Why I was inspired: I was delighted to learn from Hartland Smith that Birmingham was on the Chautauqua Circuit and one of our very own residents was a well-known performer. --Submitted by Pam DeWeese
John Hanna (1858 - 1931)
John Hanna was an extraordinary Birmingham citizen who worked in both the private and public sectors of the village. He was an entrepreneur, a postmaster, and a village trustee, just to name a few of his occupations.
Hanna was an Irish immigrant who came to the country at the age of three. He moved to Birmingham in 1878 and worked at a grocery store owned by John Bigelow until 1884.
Later Hanna and Alec Park opened a general store on the corner of (Old) Woodward and Maple.
In 1891, Hanna began his work in the public sector as a trustee to the village council. He was reelected four more times. During the same time period, Hanna also served as township treasurer and later during the early 1920s as the village treasurer. Hanna also served on both the library board and the school board. As if this was not enough, Hanna also served as Birmingham Postmaster from 1899 to 1913. [right-Hanna’s General Store, located next to the O’Neal Building on the southwest corner of Woodward and Maple]
Why I was inspired: John Hanna did so much to make Birmingham a better place while also tending to his various business interests.
--Submitted by Robert Lutey
Charles Patrick “Mac” McCarthy was born on March 17, 1889 (St. Patrick's Day!) in Fenton, MI. He moved to Birmingham to become a barber. He needed a place to live, and learned that Louise Reynolds, who had been widowed in 1911, was taking in roomers to earn extra money. Mac rented a room from Louise. In 1913, he married Louise. So, Mac acquired a wife and three young children. Later, they had a daughter.
Mac had a barber shop on the north side of West Maple, about two doors west of Woodward Ave. It became a gathering place for men in the community. In addition to getting a shave and a haircut, they often stopped in, just to chat (or gossip!). As youngsters, some of his grandchildren would stop in, also. The shop had a high bench along one entire wall. Men sat there, waiting their turn. Often, a grandchild would climb up on the high bench and "eavesdrop" on their conversations.
Sadly, Mac died of a heart attack in 1939, at the age of 50, making Louise a widow for the second time. Early in their marriage, Louise and Mac lived in the Reynold’s family home at 422 Merrill St., but later moved to a house at 315 Park St. That house was moved to make room for a parking garage. [right- The Merrill St. home where Mac and Louise lived for much of their marriage]
Why I was inspired: Charles McCarthy was a very loving man. Even though he only had one daughter of his own, he showered everyone with warmth and devotion.
--Submitted by Jackie Mallinson
Charles J. Shain (1882 – 1951)
Doctors knew they could depend on Charles Shain. Shain’s Store would open whenever a patient needed medication, day or night. His business, both a drug and grocery store would serve an integral role in the community for more than 40 years.
He was born to Charles and Fannie in 1882 at the Rudgate Farm on Quarton Road. Charlie, as he was called, attended high school in Birmingham and with the help of Martha Baldwin, would go onto study to be a druggist at the Ferris Institute (today, Ferris State University) in Big Rapids.
His skills as a businessman were useful in 1924 when he was president of the village. The state wanted to route traffic away from downtown, something that would have harmed local businesses. Charlie erected a water tower near the new route’s path, ending the change.
He and his wife Ruth traveled to Belgium in 1927 as a representative of Birmingham at the International Rotary Convention. They would also help found the Village Players and served as a chairman in 1931.
In 1946 Birmingham honored him with a dinner to celebrate his 40th year in business and upon his death named Shain Park in his memory. [left- Shain's Pharmacy, 1930s]
Why I was inspired: Charles Shain worked nearly his entire life to improve Birmingham and through Shain Park, we still remember him today. --Submitted by Amy Wells
The People of Birmingham: Contemporary Figures
Born Timothy Alan Dick, the actor better known as Tim Allen moved to Birmingham in 1964. He then graduated from Seaholm High School in 1971. Upon a dare from a friend, he made his first stand-up appearance in 1979 at Detroit's Comedy Castle. [left- Tim's high school senior portrait]
Living in metro Detroit, Allen did stand-up at night, and appeared in local commercials by day. He moved to Los Angeles in 1990 and attracted the attention of Walt Disney Studios. Soon after, the wildly popular television show Home Improvement started airing on ABC.
In addition to his stand-up and television careers, Allen launched a successful film career in 1995 with his starring role in The Santa Clause. He appeared in many other Disney movies, including the Toy Story franchise and The Shaggy Dog.
Most recently, Allen has lent his voice to various advertising campaigns such as Chevrolet and Campbell’s Soup. Locals perhaps love him best for his contribution to the Pure Michigan campaign.
Why I was inspired: I nominated Tim Allen because he is a feel-good, family-friendly actor whose voice recalls the love we have for our state.
--Submitted by Brittany Phalen
Jaan Uhelski rose through the ranks at CREEM Magazine from the subscription desk to noted critic and editor for the magazine. Working concessions in the Grande Ballroom as a teen in Detroit introduced her to music from the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Stooges, Janis Joplin, The MC5 and others. Dave Marsh assigned her first story, covering Smokey Robinson’s retirement press conference. [left- Jaan, in middle, with Kiss]
As a woman in the industry, she had to go further and work harder than her male counterparts. Jaan turned that into a strength though. “A man couldn't have done that story. He wouldn't have got the access. Being an underestimated under-gender I got away with things my male counterparts couldn't,” she wrote of performing onstage in full make-up with the band KISS, an experience she documented in her feature article "I Dreamed I Was Onstage with KISS in My Maidenform Bra.” She would say later that that experience helped her writing, because she understood the thrill of performing in front of thousands of screaming fans better than other critics and music journalists.
Other notable interviews were with Jimmy Page of Led Zepplin - after following the band on tour for a week with Page’s publicist serving as an “interpreter” - and Lynryd Skynryd - where Ronnie Van Zandt told her that he didn’t see himself living to 30 (he died a year later) and that he “only drank while working”.
In 1976, Jaan left CREEM to work for other publications and continues to work in the music industry to this day.
Why I was inspired: Jaan was a pioneer who didn’t let anything hold her back from getting an exceptional story. --Submitted by Caitlin Donnelly
Bruce Campbell, a graduate of Groves High School, has written numerous books on the humor of show business, created and starred in popular TV shows and epic movie franchises, is the subject of comic books, stage shows, action figure playsets, and continues to inspire artists and performers today to follow their heart in creating something special, exceptional, and just plain fun.
I’ve always had an interest in film, passed down through my family. Before Birmingham 8 theater reopened, my aunt and uncle would take me to the now defunct cineplex up the road in Pontiac on a regular basis. Later I would go to the Maple, the Main, the Birmingham 8 on my own or with friends to catch art films, alternative films, foreign and cult works. At some point I discovered a movie called “Army of Darkness,” a schlocky horror satire starring none other than Bruce Campbell. He was that guy from the new Western on TV, “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.”
My interest was piqued and next thing I knew, I was knee deep in the cult of Campbell. I wrote about his films for the school newspaper, followed his TV career, collected his memorabilia, and attended live presentations of his films and books.
Amazingly enough, one day when I went out to lunch from the museum, I crossed Maple Road and ran into none other than Bruce Campbell. Needless to say I was speechless.
Why I was inspired: This man is doing exactly what he wants to do on his own terms and making work. That’s what I want to do. It was this attitude that led me to work at the Birmingham Museum. --Submitted by Dan Patton
The Kamms lived in Birmingham and appeared to be just another couple to their neighbors—but in reality they had important secrets to keep. They both worked with the Army Corps of Engineers’ Manhattan Project, the research and development undertaking during World War II that produced the first nuclear weapons.
Robert was a metallurgical engineer, psychiatrist, and theologist. He worked at the Los Alamos site on the atomic bomb. [left- Robert Kamm's photo from his Los Alamos security badge]
In later life, the Kamms were under periodic surveillance due to the top secret nature of their past work. Perhaps this is why, after Robert died in 1992, Jane asked the son of neighbors Pam and Carroll DeWeese to come to her basement and shred documents for her. In addition, Jane Kamm was the niece of Alger Hiss, who was targeted by Richard Nixon as a communist double agent.
Among the famous people the Kamms met was the renowned psychoanalyst and student of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung. [right- Jane Kamm's photo from her Los Alamos security badge]
Why I was inspired: I knew Jane; she had only 4 degrees of separation from Abraham Lincoln-her uncle, Alger Hiss, was an attorney who clerked for Oliver Wendell Holmes, who had himself met Abraham Lincoln. --Submitted by Susie Vestevich
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Birmingham’s fair housing referendum. Its passage made Birmingham the first all-white city in the nation to do so. Dr. John Dorsey Jr. served as the chairman of Birmingham Residents for Fair Housing committee and served a critical role in gaining community support.
Dr. Dorsey was born in Iowa, raised in Highland Park, and spent five years in the US Navy Reserves from 1945-1950 . He married Sally Stanton in Detroit in 1951 and later moved to Birmingham, where they raised 3 children.
Dr. Dorsey’s community involvement has been enormous. A few highlights include cofounding Common Ground Sanctuary and was a chairman on the Migrant Health and Child Safety Committee. Dr. Dorsey served three years on the Birmingham City Commission and served as board president of Oakland Family Services.
Today, you will still find Dr. Dorsey in his pediatric office seeing patients three times a week. At age 90, he says he has no plans on retiring. With all that he has done in his life, it seems unlikely he will change that soon.
Why I was inspired: I was inspired by Dr. Dorsey’s seemingly endless commitment to improving the lives of others. --Submitted by Amy Wells
The People of Birmingham: Just Plain Folks
Jim Peabody (1917 - 2001)
Jim Peabody was many things to many people: businessman, civic leader, friend, husband, father, boss, grandfather, and host. Though countless friends and customers will associate him with an honest handshake, a charismatic smile, and great memories from Peabody’s Restaurant, when it came time to roll up his shirt sleeves and get to work, one of his favorite sayings was, “It will only take twenty minutes if you just get going.”
Of course, anyone who worked for Mr. Peabody knows that it never really took just 20 minutes, not if the job was going to be completed to Peabody’s standards. The point was to have the courage to start what needed to be done. Then he empowered, sometimes demanded, and often inspired people to work to the best of their abilities. Simply by doing the right thing, day after
day, he was able to build an exemplary business that stood the test of time at the corner of Maple and Woodward Avenue for seventy years. His model, his success, serves as a reminder that often the simplest idea, executed with hard work and passion, is the best. You just have to get going. [right-Peabody's Restaurant shortly before closing]
Why I was inspired: Jim Peabody was a true son of Birmingham. He grew up on fruit orchards surrounding Gilbert Lake, left only to serve his country in WWII and returned to help build the city of Birmingham and start two successful businesses: Peabody’s Market (1946-1975) and Peabody’s Restaurant (1975-2016).
--Submitted by Nancy Peabody
Ron Buchanan (1941 - 2017)
Ron thought of cemeteries as places where you could feel close to history. When he conducted his tours, he felt that the mourners of the past were at once physically present in the same
space as present day observers. He also enjoyed bringing forgotten grave marker names back to “life” through sometimes poignant and sometimes amusing stories of their lives. In addition to the Birmingham Museum, Ron’s special talent was utilized by many area organizations including NEXT, Baldwin House, Troy Historic Village, and various school groups.
Why I was inspired: Ron’s skillful ability to combine his love of education and local history into a talent for telling the story of Birmingham through walks in Greenwood Cemetery. He honed his presentations by learning from local iconic historian Max Horton and his own research. It was a “labor of love.”
--Submitted by Linda Buchanan
David Greenwood has served in the Birmingham Fire Department since 1992. Previously, he was a firefighter for the City of Southfield. He now serves as Fire Inspector (Badge #31) for the commercial district of Birmingham along with his ongoing duties as firefighter. He also is instrumental in public education and the department’s annual Open House.[left- David with his family]
But there is more to Greenwood than the BFD. He attended and played basketball for Lake Superior State University, and from 1984 to 2005, he was the curator and historian of St. Martin De Porres (Detroit) High School Athletic Hall of Fame, blending his love of sports and history. As one of the ‘unofficial’ historians of the BFD, Greenwood helped set up a 2012 exhibit for the Birmingham Museum to celebrate the department’s centennial, rounding up antiques and archival materials for our display.
Lisa and David Greenwood have been married 14 years and have an adored and lovely daughter, 12-year old Lauren. David volunteers for the (Dave) Bing Youth Institute, and also with Detroit Public Schools Community District, inspiring and providing guidance to young people in setting and attaining educational goals. [below- David Greenwood (fourth from left) is the first African American member of the Birmingham Fire Department]
Why I was inspired: David is a fine example of a public servant, is dedicated to helping others, and is one of the warmest and friendliest people I have met in Birmingham. Plus, he’s a devoted history buff! --Submitted by Leslie Pielack
Sheila Brice has devoted much of her life to the improvement of the city, its schools, and most especially, its library. Ms. Brice worked as a Community School Organizer and Community Service Organizer with the Birmingham Public Schools and Community Relations Coordinator at the Baldwin Public Library.
One of the founders of the Diversity Task Force on Race Relations, Sheila was also selected for the honor of Diversity Champion. A champion for the library and Birmingham at large, Ms. Brice is a true inspiration to all who know her.
Sheila was an elected member of the Library Board of Directors – one year as president – serving on numerous committees: Communications, Community Relations, and Policy Committees to name a few.
As a Friend of the Library, Ms. Brice coordinated high school volunteers for the Friends of the Library book sale and served on the fundraising committees for Books & Bites to raise funds for much needed library renovations.
Why I was inspired: Always positive and full of energy, Ms. Brice’s cheerful attitude is contagious, her unwavering dedication to the library truly admirable. She compels me to be, not only a better librarian, but a better person. -- Submitted by: Donna Dobihal Smith
Ruby was the only person I ever let call me “Suzie.”
After a knee replacement, at around age 80, we would walk almost every night to the corner, with her holding my arm.
Up until the age of 95 she was going strong. She would always call to me, “Suzie, get to work!”
My one regret is that she never taught me to bake a pie.
Why I was inspired: Ruby Stinson was my idol.
--Submitted by Suzanne S.