Orchard Lake Clerk Rhonda McClellan, Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society grant writer Christian Sonneville and President Gina Gregory, and Orchard Lake City Services Director Gerald McCallum receive a grant check. The grant helped the historical society continue with its “Our School History” project.

Orchard Lake Clerk Rhonda McClellan, Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society grant writer Christian Sonneville and President Gina Gregory, and Orchard Lake City Services Director Gerald McCallum receive a grant check. The grant helped the historical society continue with its “Our School History” project.

Photo provided by Gina Rieck

Grant provides major boost to Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published January 9, 2023

WEST BLOOMFIELD — The Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society has entered into the third phase of a project that has chronicled the history of the West Bloomfield School District.

The first phase involved historical society volunteers gathering information from the district and from the archives at the Orchard Lake Museum, which resulted in 10 reports that chronicle early school history.

An outreach campaign sought additional information from members of the community, which helped result in informational panels being installed in each West Bloomfield School District building. That was the second phase of the project, and it provided details of the individual history of each of the schools.

The historical society is currently in the third phase of the “Our School History” project. In this phase, the historical society will digitally catalog what is expected to be over 1,000 documents and photographs into the society’s archive collections database using professional standards.

GWBHS Museum and Communications Assistant Shelby Nelsen will provide project administration, digitizing techniques and volunteer training.

The project was supported by a $9,100 grant from the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan, which, according to a press release, was made possible with a historical society financial endorsement by Orchard Lake and support letters from West Bloomfield community partners.

“It supports adding over a thousand images and documents to our collection from the Our School History project,” said Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society President Gina Gregory. “By doing so, these archives will be available through our website at no cost to the public, and we think that’s pretty exciting to offer more archives — available always. Students can use these images in projects relating to their school history.”

Receiving the grant represents a first for the historical society.

“We’re very excited, because this is our first grant from the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan and our first database archive grant,” Gregory said. “Since we have thousands of archives, we’re really excited to move this forward. This is something we’ve been working toward since 2012, so it’s long anticipated.”

Volunteer Christian Sonneville managed the grant submission for the historical society.

He stated that, in the past, applying for grant applications was viewed as cumbersome, with a limited chance of success.

However, in order to add to the Our School History project, securing a grant was vital.

“Getting this accomplished was an important part of our mission,” Sonneville stated via email. “The activities would involve retrieving items from storage, photographing, scanning/digitizing, assessing and cataloging them, and making them available in an easy-to-use format via our website gwbhs.org. The cost to complete this unique project was estimated around $9,000. GWBHS didn’t have the funds available to implement the project and decided to apply for a grant.”

Sonneville stated that, during the first attempts of applying for a grant, there were some “real obstacles.”

With the historical society not having the financial resources to pay for annual certified financial audits — which are often required for organizations applying for a grant, according to Sonneville — “several foundations discouraged us from applying because we did not meet this requirement.”

The Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan also required annual certified audits.

However, the news got better from there.

He said he was fortunate to reach a helpful grant project officer at the foundation “who listened and was sympathetic to the difficulty we were facing.”

“He coached me and shared with me a method to circumvent the need for a certified audit,” Sonneville stated. The grant project officer suggested that the historical society find a financial sponsor, a larger institution with annual certified audits, willing to endorse their grant request and work with them. “The City of Orchard Lake, who has been GWBHS’s greatest long-term supporter, stepped up to the plate,” he stated.

The historical society was also assisted in other ways.

Volunteer DuAnne Sonneville contacted the West Bloomfield School District, the West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation Commission, the library and the city of Orchard Lake, Christian Sonneville said. “Each of these organizations were happy to attest to the importance of GWBHS’s activities and projects to our community. Their endorsing letters were made part of our grant submission. It took a team of many volunteers to put together a quality grant submission resulting in the $9,100 CFSEM grant award,” he stated.

Gregory expects the archives collection to be available for viewing by the end of September.

She discussed what she considers the most fascinating aspect of the project.

“It gives us the opportunity to see the deep history of our community schools,” Gregory said. “They were first established in the 1830s and have always been (an) integral part of the community. So this project highlights school history with a variety of interesting facts and activities of schools.”

The third phase is the last one planned at this point.

Gregory shared the importance of the final phase of the project.

“It’s (an) integral part of the project because it highlights our history in a way that is accessible to the community for further research, understanding and use,” she said. “(There’s) over a thousand individual archives … where you’ll be able to look at and learn about that image or article and then utilize it for research purposes.”

Gregory hopes to have other projects going forward that are supported by grants.

Becoming a member, donating funds for projects and sponsoring museum exhibits are examples of ways that individuals can help to support the historical society.

“With people’s support, we can appreciate, enjoy, collect, share and learn about who we are as a community in the past, (and) as we live in the present, we look forward to the future — we’ll have a better understanding of the roots of this community,” Gregory said.

For more information, visit gwbhs.org/our-school-history.