West Bloomfield resident recognized with state history award

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published March 18, 2023

 West Bloomfield resident and WXYZ-TV/Channel 7 Editorial/Public Affairs Director Chuck Stokes has been selected to receive a History Hero Award by the Historical Society of Michigan.

West Bloomfield resident and WXYZ-TV/Channel 7 Editorial/Public Affairs Director Chuck Stokes has been selected to receive a History Hero Award by the Historical Society of Michigan.

Photo provided by Chuck Stokes

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Over the course of his decades-long career in broadcast journalism, Emmy-winning WXYZ-TV/Channel 7 Editorial/Public Affairs Director Chuck Stokes has had the opportunity to interview many people who have had an impact on national and state history.

He has interviewed presidents, governors, mayors, CEOs and sports figures, among others.

Aside from his work with Channel 7, Stokes, who is a resident of West Bloomfield, also contributes articles for Michigan History Magazine. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see him browsing exhibits at local museums.

Stokes’ tie to history has caught the attention of the Historical Society of Michigan, and he is set to be recognized with the organization’s History Hero Award at a conference scheduled to take place March 24-25 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.

The Historical Society of Michigan was founded in 1828 and is the state’s oldest cultural organization. It is considered a nongovernmental nonprofit, focusing on publications, conferences, education, awards and recognition programming.

Larry J. Wagenaar is the Historical Society of Michigan executive director and CEO. He said that Stokes was on the HSM’s board for six years and currently serves as a board advisor.

Wagenaar shared what helped lead to Stokes being recognized with a History Hero Award.

“Chuck has been a leader in advocating for history,” Wagenaar said. “He’s been a speaker at our conferences; he’s done a lot to lead our board and lead the organization well, so that’s part of what we’re celebrating, but also his impact on the greater Detroit metropolitan area. I think everyone that lives in southeast Michigan knows who Chuck Stokes is, and how he has interviewed virtually every leader in Michigan as well as many other individuals who are not leaders. He’s a … genuinely humble man.”

Stokes shared his thoughts on the award.

“I was surprised, but I was pleased,” he said. “History has always been an interest and I would say, to some degree, a passion of mine. It’s something that, professionally, I’ve done 40 years now, just the field of journalism — interviewing people and dealing with all sorts of topics. They always say that we’re sort of that first line of defense for chronicling history just because we’re dealing with it every day, or events that eventually become history.”

Part of  Stokes’ duties with Channel 7 include serving as the moderator and producer of “Spotlight on the News,” which was created in 1965 and is Michigan’s longest-running weekly news and public affairs show. He began moderating and hosting the show in 1994, and it has played a large role in his interactions with individuals who have played a part in the state’s history.

“When you’re doing it at the time, it doesn’t seem like history, because, technically, this is not history yet, but then when you’ve done it for a good bit of time and you start looking back and realizing it’s now part of history because it was an interview that was five years ago, 10 years ago or 15 years ago, and that person is no longer around — but oftentimes the issues are still very much around; it’s just a matter of what form has the issue taken now and who’s riding herd over the issue now,” Stokes said. “We oftentimes find ourselves in that position, saying, ‘Wait a minute. We interviewed governor such-and-such on this 15 years ago, and here we are dealing with the same topic again,’ only this time it may be from the Republican side of the aisle or the Democratic side of the aisle … with a different bent and a different twist to it. So there are many similarities between what the Historical Society of Michigan is doing and what … I do on a weekly basis. With (the) show, we’re capturing history and the time, and it becomes even more significant in Michigan’s history as time goes on.”

Stokes said that “numerous” interviews from over the years stand out to him, ranging from figures involved with politics, business, sports and health care.

Although he is hesitant to discuss some of his more memorable interviews due to a concern that he’ll forget to include others, he did reflect on a couple.

Stokes was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and part of his childhood included attending Cleveland Browns football games with his dad.

NFL Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, who played for the franchise from 1957 to 1965, is probably the most well-known player to ever suit up for the Browns, and Stokes said he grew up watching him.

He estimated that it was about 10 years ago that he had an opportunity to interview him.

“I thought to myself, ‘Oh, man, I get to sit across the table and interview Jim Brown,’” Stokes said. “You have flashbacks of childhood and say, ‘What a great job this is; it’s put me in a position to meet a childhood sports hero and have an intelligent conversation with him.’ … I remember shaking hands, and at this point he had been retired, I don’t remember, 20, 30 years, something like that, but his hands were massive, and I’m thinking, ‘I can’t imagine what it was like in his prime trying to take this guy down when he’s coming at you.’ … It’s those type of memories. It stands out.”

Stokes also recalled some “special” and “long” interviews that he had at the home of former Michigan Gov. William Milliken, who served as the state’s leader 1969-1983.

“Most memorable one, I guess, was the one in which it was the first time he admitted publicly that he had voted for Barack Obama instead of John McCain (in the 2008 presidential race),”  Stokes said. “Here’s this staunch, lifelong Republican saying, ‘I voted for the other guy.’ He had great respect for McCain, but he had become disappointed with how McCain ran his campaign for president that year and the picking of Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska (as his running mate). He felt like he played too much politics rather than plan to be his own person. … I said, ‘Is this the first time you’re admitting this?’ He said, ‘Yeah, it’s the first time I’m talking about it.’”

Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society President Gina Gregory is keenly aware of the recognition Stokes has received from the Historical Society of Michigan.

“Chuck’s been active with the Historical Society of Michigan — local perspective, conferences — for years and years,” Gregory said. “I’ve seen him at those conferences. … He did stop by our museum this summer, and we hope to see him at our April 21 open house when we have 10 more permanent exhibits installed.”

The open house is scheduled for 1-4 p.m. at the Orchard Lake Museum, located at 3951 Orchard Lake Road in Orchard Lake.

Stokes received a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

He said that is when he knew what he wanted to do for his life’s work.

“And it’s what I’ve done and haven’t looked back,” Stokes said.

He moved to Michigan and started at Channel 7 in 1981.

“So much history has taken place here, whether it’s from the auto industry, the music industry with Motown. Michigan has had a big footprint on the rest of this nation, and so much of it still ties back to today,” he said.

Although it can be easy to focus on what is happening in the moment and wondering what might lie ahead, Stokes is a proponent of also taking time to study the past.

“If you look back in history, then you come to appreciate where you are currently a lot more, because there are so many who paved the way for what we now have in America, in our society, in this state,” he said. “It’s easy to think, ‘Oh, everything’s new.’ Well, everything isn’t new; people came before us who were courageous (and) did extraordinary things to make it so that we are in the position we are now as a country, and (it) makes you appreciate a lot more what those icons before did in their own time and in their own sphere and in their own generation. You can’t really appreciate where you are and where you’re going if you have no sense of where you’ve been as a country and as a people, and so I think that’s why history is particularly important.”

Although he still has a ways to go to accomplish it, Stokes’ goal is to visit every presidential museum and library in the nation.

“Democrat, Republican — I don’t care about the party,” he said. “To see what they were dealing with at that point during their presidency, dealing with various issues, national, international. It’s fascinating.”

Stokes is married and has two daughters and one grandson. He worked in Nashville prior to arriving at Channel 7, which he said has “been a great station and a great ride.”

The gravity of what he gets to do for a living is something that occasionally dawns on him.

“There are certain days and times and topics in which you are there and you’re realizing, this is special; this is something that I can tell my kids and grandkids about one day, if they have any interest,” Stokes said. “There have been a number of times throughout the years I’ve sort of pinched myself and said, ‘OK, this is one to remember.’”