The historical State Savings Bank in downtown Detroit will serve as home for the Detroit Historical Society’s fundraising Society Ball, during which former DHS Board Chair Thomas C. Buhl will be honored.

The historical State Savings Bank in downtown Detroit will serve as home for the Detroit Historical Society’s fundraising Society Ball, during which former DHS Board Chair Thomas C. Buhl will be honored.

Photo provided by the Detroit Historical Museum


Grosse Pointe Farms man’s dedication to preserving Detroit history to be honored

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 14, 2020

 Thomas C. Buhl will receive the 2020 Moving Forward Award from the Detroit Historical Society Jan. 18.

Thomas C. Buhl will receive the 2020 Moving Forward Award from the Detroit Historical Society Jan. 18.

Provided photo

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GROSSE POINTE FARMS/DETROIT — A Grosse Pointe Farms resident whose family tree reads like a who’s who of Detroit history will be honored this weekend by the Detroit Historical Society for his personal longtime commitment to preserving regional history.

The nonprofit DHS — which oversees the Detroit Historical Museum and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum — will give its 2020 Moving Forward Award to Thomas C. Buhl during its annual Society Ball Jan. 18 at the historical State Savings Bank in downtown Detroit. Buhl chaired the Detroit Historical Society Board from 2010 to 2019 and continues to serve as a board member.

“He’s wonderful and he’s done so much for us,” DHS President and CEO Elana A. Rugh said. “He’s going to continue to be very involved.”

Buhl was the board chair during what Rugh said was “the society’s most important capital campaign to date,” Past>Forward, during which the DHS raised $21 million “in a really tough economic time.” The Past>Forward campaign, which concluded in 2012, allowed for complete renovation of the Detroit Historical Museum and extensive renovations at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum.

Rugh noted that Buhl also led the board during the creation of the groundbreaking “Detroit 67: Perspectives” exhibition, which explored the city’s history during the tumultuous summer of 1967. The exhibition earned acclaim and international attention, including the 2018 National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the highest honor a museum or library in this country can receive, and, most recently, second place at the 2019 Best in Heritage Conference, an international event.

“Detroit 67,” which opened in 2017, had been slated to close this month, but Rugh said it has been so well received that the Detroit Historical Museum will keep it up through May 2020. She said a smaller version of “Detroit 67” containing key elements will be turned into a permanent exhibition.

Buhl’s family has played an important role in the history of Detroit. His great-great-grandfather, Christian Buhl, was the mayor of Detroit in the mid-1800s, and his great-grandfather was responsible for constructing downtown Detroit’s landmark Buhl Building, although the family no longer owns it; Buhl said his father sold it in the 1970s. Christian Buhl’s brother, Frederick, also served as mayor of Detroit in the mid-1800s.

“I’m very passionate about Detroit history,” said Buhl, who started serving on the DHS Board roughly 15 years ago. He said the Detroit Historical Museum and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum are “great institutions.”

“We’ve got over 250,000 artifacts,” Buhl said of the DHS. “It’s a really fantastic collection of everything southeast Michigan.”

Buhl called being the board chair “an absolute honor” and said he was “very humbled” when he learned he was going to be honored.

“I’ve been the chair for the last 10 years, but it’s been a team effort, 100%,” Buhl said. “Me being honored is the result of a team effort, (and this award) is going to be shared with everyone.”

Buhl has also served on the boards of other cultural institutions, including the College for Creative Studies, the Henry Ford Health System, the Detroit Zoological Society, Buhl Sport and the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan.

When the Detroit Historical Museum reopened to the public in November 2012 after undergoing renovations, it offered free admission for what was only supposed to be a year. However, the museum ended up continuing free admission until Nov. 1, 2019, when it had to reinstate admission charges “to make sure we ensure our financial sustainability and to do new, innovative exhibitions,” Rugh explained.

Admission now costs $10 for adults; $8 for seniors, students, active military members and first responders with valid identification; $6 for children; and $35 for a household of up to six adults and children at the same address. Admission is free for DHS members and children under age 6; admission to the Dossin Great Lakes Museum remains free, although a $5 donation is suggested. A free Detroiter membership is available to residents of Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park; call the Detroit Historical Museum or visit the website for more details.

Although tickets to the Society Ball were no longer available at press time, there are other ways local residents can support the work of the DHS. Buhl said volunteers are always welcome, and there are many ways people can get involved, including serving as a docent, greeter or tour guide. He encouraged residents to revisit the museums as well, since many adults might not have been there since they were kids, and there’s much more to see and explore now.

“As with any cultural institution, we’re always willing to accept any kind of support,” Buhl said.

For more information, visit detroithistorical.org or call (313) 833-1805.

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