2016 - 2017 Board of Directors
Co - Presidents - Jo Ellyn Clarey and Mary Seeger
Vice President - Susan Coombes
Secretary - Ruth Van Stee
Treasurer - Connie Ingham
- Jennifer Bryant
- Kristin Du Mez
- Kyle Irwin
- Ruth Stevens
- Amy Dunham Strand
- Julie Tabberer
- Kate van Liere
Immediate Past President - Falinda Geerling
Honorary Director - Twink Frey
- Newsletter Editor - Ruth Van Stee
Webmistress - Deirdre Toeller-Novak
Founding Member: Mary Caroline "Twink" Frey
GGRWHC founder Twink Frey has led her life as a catalyst. In the late 1980s when she found virtually nothing in Grand Rapids histories and archives about female community builders, she identified area women interested in the systematic research necessary to document the lives and to credit the contributions of Grand Rapids women who played major roles developing the region. In 1988 a GGRWHC steering committee of six quickly grew into an incorporated board. By November 1989 the young group was hosting a conference on women’s history. The GGRWHC is not the only organization founded by or given a boost by the generous Twink Frey. Closest to her heart was Nokomis. Begun in 1989, a year after GGRWHC, Nokomis Foundation began providing seed money for myriad organizations and projects that created stronger voices for women and girls. For 25 years it funded visiting social activists at the University of Michigan, nurse examiner programs in Western Michigan, and empowerment workshops for adolescent girls. After awarding $20 million to over 200 organizations, Nokomis Foundation closed its doors in 2014. At the end it endowed two institutions with major grants enabling their continuing advocacy for systemic change. The Michigan League for Public Policy and the National Women’s Law Center continue the fight for women’s rights on behalf of marginalized women and their families.
Meet the members of the board:
Jo Ellyn Clarey, Co-President
Term ends: 2019
Jo Ellyn served as an officer of GGRWHC from 1993 through 1997 and came on board again in 2010. By profession a literary scholar, she added local women’s history to her research, programming, and communications efforts, tracking down the local roots of early women professionals, the early leaders of the Michigan suffrage movement, cultural historian Constance Rourke, and 1890s African American women’s clubs. Currently, she is coordinating local participation at regional conferences and overseeing an intern working to share women’s elective history in the crowd-sourcing project Her Hat Was in the Ring. She organized a centennial re-enactment of the 1899 national suffrage convention here and month-long series for Legacy, the University Club, Central High School, and Clark Retirement Community. Besides serving on the boards of the Grand Rapids Historical Society and Commission, her service extends to the Progressive Women's Alliance, Torch Club, and local theaters. She has spoken frequently and published in news sources and magazines such as Grand Rapids Magazine and Grand River Valley History.
Jo Ellyn is passionate about her work: "Currently I seek to prove the significance of local women’s history to national narratives and to inspire 'citizen historians' to share documentation giving more consequence to still-inadequate accounts of American women’s history."
Susan Johnson Coombes, Vice-President
Term ends: 2019
Susan joined the board in 2013 and serves as its vice-president. She has been active with the Communications Committee and Equality Day programming. Susan is the retail manager for the Grand Rapids Art Museum and holds a degree in Communications & Art History from Michigan State University. Susan brings an international perspective to the board from her life, employment and public service in in Hong Kong, Nigeria, and the Netherlands.
Susan notes that “Prior to joining GGRWHC I had no idea how under-represented women were in local history. Through the efforts of this organization, women who made important contributions to this community and the nation are being recognized.”
Term Ends: 2019
Kristin joined the GGRWHC board in April 2016. She is the chair of the History Department at Calvin College where she teaches the history of women and gender studies. Kristin is the author of A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism (Oxford 2015). She received her Ph.D. in American History from the University of Notre Dame.
About the GGRWHC, Kristin says, “they do fabulous research and advocacy, and help gather and preserve irreplaceable resources for future generations.”
Falinda Geerling, Immediate Past President
Falinda served as a GGRWHC board member for nine years. She was the Legacy 2010 chairperson, webmistress and communications chair, maintained and updated oral histories, and was a member of the executive committee during all of her service. Falinda retired from Spring Arbor University as an assistant professor in the Graduate and Professional Studies Program. Her PhD in higher, adult, and lifelong education was received from Michigan State University.
Falinda writes that she “learned that there are almost endless stories of exceptional local women who came before us, and we must never forget their legacies. They lead to our securing our current rights in this country.” She encourages all women to join the GGRWHC because “time and many different skills are needed to research and disseminate historical women’s stories.”
Connie Ingham, Treasurer
Term ends: 2018
Connie has been a member of the GGRWHC board since 2012 and manages all things financial. She is retired from Grand Valley State University where she served as the academic coordinator for the GVSU Department of Biology. She received BA degrees in Language and Literature, Philosophy, and History from GVSU. While at GVSU Connie served as a core member of the Women’s Commission and a subcommittee, Fireside Chats, dedicated to developing a greater understanding of issues based on race and culture. She was recognized for her work with the Maxine Swanson Award.
Connie believes that the work of the GGRWHC is important as it seeks to “uncover and preserve stories, experiences and contributions of the women who have gone before us and to enrich our understanding of the values and worth we have carried throughout history.”
Term Ends: 2018
Having joined GGRWHC's board in 1991 to help with the young group's first Legacy effort, a 1990s community-wide women's history extravaganza, Kyle Irwin is now the board's longest serving member. The current president of the Grand Rapids Zoo board and former president of Opera Grand Rapids, Kyle has over the years helped numerous local organizations, especially in the fields of children, housing, women’s issues, the arts, and education. She has also served in leadership roles for Dwelling Place Inc., the Children’s Assessment Center, Bishop Whittemore Foundation, the YWCA, Planned Parenthood, and the Grand Valley State University Foundation board. She attributes her curiosity about the world to training as a librarian and work as a bookstore manager.
Mary Anderson Seeger, Co-President
Term ends: 2017
Mary has been a board member since 1996. Having served in nearly every capacity within the organization, she sees her role as representing GGRWHC in the community while planning and occasionally presenting programs. Her special area of expertise is that of immigrant women, particularly Swedish and German.
Mary is a retired professor and dean emerita at Grand Valley State University where she taught German and linguistics. The recipient of several community recognitions including the Tribute award, Mary’s work on behalf of women in leadership includes volunteer service with the Michigan Women’s Studies Association, Women’s Resource Council, American Association for University Women, Equity of Female Athletes, the Girl Scouts, the Swedish Council of America, and the Swedish American Historical Society. Her undergraduate degree is from the University of Minnesota, and she received her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin.
Mary notes that “In addition to showcasing the accomplishments of earlier women, the GGRWHC also assists today’s women and organizations in documenting their own histories.”
Ruth S. Stevens
Term ends: 2019
Ruth has been a member of the board since 2013; she has worked on the oral history project and GGRWHC programming. Ruth received her J.D. from the University of Michigan and an MLIS from Wayne State University. She is the author of "Assistant U.S. Attorney Ella Mae Backus: A Most Important Figure in the Legal Profession in the Western District of Michigan" (Michigan Historical Review, Sept. 2016). Ruth is a Legal Studies professor at Grand Valley State University and a trustee of the Western District of the Michigan Historical Society. She has been a tutor and mentor for students in the Grand Rapids Public Schools for many years, initially through United Way Schools of Hope.
Ruth believes that the “GGRWHC helps to discover and preserve the stories of accomplished women from diverse backgrounds who might otherwise be lost to history and who provide important role models for today’s women.”
Amy Dunham Strand (temporarily on leave from the board)
Term ends: 2019
Amy Dunham Strand joined the board in 2016. She is director of the Jane Hibbard Idema Women's Studies Center and assistant professor of Women's Studies at Aquinas College. She has taught courses in composition, literature, women and environment, and women's political rhetoric and has co-directed the Sister Story oral history project on the lives of women living in religious community. Her first book, Language, Gender, and Citizenship in American Literature, 1789-1919 (Routledge 2009) was the result of her research in the intersection of ideas about gender and language in American literature and culture. Always using historical context in her study of literature, language, and gender, she has published and presented on the rhetoric of 19th-century women's petitioning in the U.S., women's writing instruction in U.S. settlement houses, American dialect, and Catharine Sedgwick's writings.
Term ends: 2018
Julie Tabberer, a board member since 2015, is the Local History Department supervisor with the Grand Rapids Public Library and has also worked with the archives of Davenport University, Steelcase, and Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. She was the presenter of “Pushing Boundaries in Factories: The Berkey & Gay Girls in Wartime,” “Spirited Women: Grand Rapids and the Push for Temperance,” and “Speak up: All about Oral History.” Julie was new to the board in 2015 and is especially active in assisting the GGRWHC with its archival records and digital content management. Julie holds an undergraduate degree in philosophy and an MLIS from Wayne State University. Outside of her job, Julie has been active with the Creston Neighborhood Association.
Julie believes that “women are often absent from histories and stories about Grand Rapids, but it is not because they weren’t doing anything. Bringing out the hidden stories of local women enriches the story of our community and inspires us to shape our future in a more inclusive way.”
Katherine van Liere
Term ends: 2019
Kate van Liere, Professor of History at Calvin College, joined the board in 2016. She holds a B.A. in History of Ideas from Williams College, an M.A. in history from Cambridge University, and a Ph.D. in history from Princeton University. Before moving to Grand Rapids she taught at the College of Charleston (S.C.). She teaches courses on European and world history since 1500 at Calvin, with an emphasis on the Renaissance and Reformation eras, religious history, and historiography. Kate publishes articles on early modern Spanish intellectual history. She also teaches part-time in the Spanish and Dutch departments. She directs the history internship program at Calvin which places students in museums, historical societies or local non-profit organizations.
Kate is active with the GGRWHC because she “loves the way that GGRWHC brings together academics, public historians, students, and amateur history lovers in creative collaboration.”
Ruth Van Stee, Secretary, Newsletter Editor
Term ends: 2018
Ruth became a member of the board in 2013. In addition to her roles as secretary and newsletter editor, she maintains the membership records. Ruth’s special interests include research and presentations on the members of the African American community in Grand Rapids during the first half of the city’s history. She is particularly interested in Grand Rapids area women who were active in the suffrage movement, provided leadership to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and in business. Ruth retired from the Grand Rapids Public Library where she served the Children’s Library, Local History and Special Collections. She was the administrative assistant and newsletter editor for the Grand Rapids Historical Society which awarded her the 2016 Baxter Award. She holds a BA in History from Calvin College.
Ruth notes that she was “surprised to find early Grand Rapids newspapers reporting on important women in the community, whether of European descent or African American, who were not included in city historical accounts except in relationship to spouses or families into which they were born.” She seeks to shed light on those women.