Nonprofit demonstrates how auto industry drives the region’s past, present

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 10, 2023


GROSSE POINTE SHORES — From the recent international auto show in downtown Detroit to the ongoing UAW autoworker labor negotiations, the auto industry makes headlines on a regular basis.

But while many people realize that the automotive business plays a key role in the region, fewer are aware of an effort to share this story with the public. The MotorCities National Heritage Area is a nonprofit affiliate of the National Park Service that promotes and protects Michigan’s labor and automotive past and present by linking a diverse spectrum of significant places, museums, archives and more that span over 10,000 square miles in southeast and central Michigan.

The MotorCities National Heritage Area also supplies grants and organizes programs with these sites. Entities in the MotorCities National Heritage Area include the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, Detroit Historical Museum, Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Stahls Automotive Foundation in Chesterfield Township and the Packard Proving Grounds in Shelby Township, among many others.

MotorCities National Heritage Area is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and it will mark that milestone with a gala fundraiser from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Ford House Visitor Center. Tickets cost $100 for MotorCities members and $125 for nonmembers, and reservations must be made by Oct. 24.

“The gala is the culmination of 25 years of continuous effort by our staff and board,” said Michael Bauman, of Grosse Pointe Woods, a board member of MCNHA, by text message. “Most folks don’t recognize the social and economic influence the auto industry has had and continues to have on southeastern Michigan. The success of the gala will help maintain the MotorCities National Heritage Area’s ability to tell the story of the people and places that make up our auto industry.”

Ford House President and CEO Mark Heppner has been on the MotorCities Board since 2012 and currently serves as the chair.

“Awareness is always a challenge for many nonprofits but especially one like MotorCities that consists of a large regional area,” Heppner said in an email interview. “We are not one physical location but a large geographic area which is hard, at times, to explain to people.”

He said MotorCities supports partner organizations through engagement, communication and funds.

“One of the most impactful recent engagement initiatives we have launched has been the placement of interstate-highway signs through the Heritage Area letting people know they are entering the MotorCities National Heritage Area,” Heppner said. “MotorCities (is) often the quiet partner that helps support and advocate for all … the museums and heritage sites in our area.”

Since its inception, MotorCities has invested more than $1.7 million into grants and programs. The gala enables this work to continue. Partner institutions have a multimillion-dollar economic impact on Michigan and employ thousands of Michiganders.

“This event will be the primary friend and fund raiser for the calendar year of 2024,” Heppner said. “Funds raised will help support the event but also the important programming initiatives we do annually and that we specifically have planned for 2024. For example, the Junior Ranger program is one of (the) newest programs to engage youth in preserving and sharing our automotive heritage and the pilot program actually was launched in Grosse Pointe.”

Students at Grosse Pointe Academy in Grosse Pointe Farms were the first to take part in the Junior Ranger program when it started in 2022.

Gala attendees will enjoy a dinner, beverages, a silent auction, and a chance to view exhibitions in the Visitor Center and stroll Ford House grounds.

“My personal goals are to honor the past while setting the stage for a brighter future.” Heppner said. “I want to bring people together for a fun evening, to meet new people, learn about the important work that MotorCities has done and is doing but also to celebrate the many heritage partners in our communities. … For me, Michigan, and particularly (southeast) Michigan, is the American story and one told through the evolution of the automotive industry. This is something we own. Something we are proud of. Something we should be proud of. MotorCities is the champion for this story and continues to leverage it and celebrate it for all.”

For tickets or more information, visit and click on the 25th Gala tab on the home page.