Our Story (1969-present)
Fred DesAutels (1903 – 1985)
The Commission is Formed
The Redford Township Historical Commission (RTHC) got its start in 1969 when local historian, Fred DesAutels, received approval from the Township. He was appointed to the Board and immediately began working to meet with other community members to fill the remaining board positions. And as they say….the rest is history.
When RTHC was first founded, it was referred to as the Historical “Committee,” had a budget of only $200, and consisted of a five-member board appointed by Redford Township’s Board of Trustees for a term of one year. Their original charge was to organize and gather information relating to setting up a Historical Society. The original five board members were Muriel Zink (secretary), Fred DesAutels (chairman), Elsmere Pearson, Lillian Doty, and Joe Kojesky (treasurer). The first meeting was held in November of 1969 at which time the aforementioned board positions were delegated.
After that first meeting, the “jobs” of the RTHC were “to locate a permanent place for the future museum, to accumulate collections from ‘old timers’ and their descendants, and to set up a plan for forming the future historical society to eventually become self-sustaining.”
A Society is Established & the Board Expands
For “Our Heritage Day” as part of Michigan Week in May of 1970, RTHC set up a historical display from noon until close at the library, where they planned to recruit members for the future Redford Township Historical Society (RTHS).
In February of 1971, RTHC and RTHS met at Muriel Zink’s home for an “organizational meeting” at which point by-laws and a proposed constitution were discussed. The first officers appointed to the Historical Society were Aileen DesAutels (president), Muriel Zink (vice president), Sharon Wall (secretary), and Betty Kojesky (treasurer).
In March of 1972, RTHC made a proposal to the Redford Township Board of Trustees that the Commission board be expanded from five members to seven. The proposal was granted and two new members were appointed: Dominic Paris and James Reid.
In February of 1974, the first by-laws of the Commission were approved, as well as a seven member board serving “staggered terms.” At the time, the Board consisted of Dominic Paris, James Reid, Ed Weiss, Joe Kojesky, Ruth Lewis, Joan Garver, and Viola Jaaksi. Eventually, all Board members would serve three-year terms. Meetings were held once a month, and Fred DesAutels served as “Township Historian.” The main concern brought before the Redford Township Board of Trustees (which remains relevant to this day) was a concern over the preservation of historical sites in the Township.
In April of 1974, Fred DesAutels proposed two locations for the possible future museum. The first was Schoolhouse #9 on Beech (1874), next to the 7-Up Bottling Company, and the second was The Wait House (c.1831-1840) on the corner of 5 Mile and Gaylord.
A History Book in the Works
Since about 1963 Fred DesAutels had been researching the history of Redford Township, dating back almost 150 years. Compiling his collection of knowledge and photographs, DesAutels successfully completed a 25 chapter, 200 page book which was set to be published in December of 1975 with a price tag of $3 and $4, with special hardcover books available for $7.
In April of 1976 a new Board was elected which included: Ed Weiss (chairman), Vi Jaaksi (vice chair), Ruth Lewis (secretary), James Reid (treasurer), Dominic Paris, Joseph Kojesky, Joan Garver. During the early years of RTHC, meetings were typically held at the Redford Library. The main goal of the Commission during the 70’s was to acquire a building (or rooms inside of a building) to be used as a museum or area for the artifacts that had been collected. It would also be a more fitting location for the monthly meetings of RTHC.
Two major projects of the Commission during this time period of Redford’s Bicentennial Celebration included a “Friendship Quilt” with the signatures embroidered onto it of many of Redford’s residents to be raffled off during the July 4th festivities, and the 1876 map of Redford which was sold for $1.
Redford Township: Its Heritage and Its History
After having been postponed printing first in January of 1976, and then again in April, finally by July, approximately 300 pre-orders for Fred DesAutels’ book were fulfilled with more orders coming in. The book could be bought at the DesAutels’ residence, as well as the Chamber of Commerce. Its final page count was 190 pages beginning with the history of Redford from the Ice Age through the present (1970’s). Half of the book is historical facts, the other half is tales (or “legends”) told by Redford’s early residents.
In 1980 a couple of new faces joined the Board for RTHC. Ed Weiss, Dominic Paris, and Ruth Lewis were re-elected, and the new members were Reva Wujick, Lois Scupholm, and Marilyn Churchill.
As of 1982 the Historical Society was still very active with their main goal being “to collect and preserve historical goods and documents related to the township.” Members included Fred DesAutels, Aileen DesAutels, Bill Ford, and Evelyne Shaufler. Two of the historic sites that they were focused on included the Buck School (1894) — possibly Schoolhouse #9 — and the Smith House (1830) which was being restored (the Smith’s owned the Wait House at that time).
It’s a slow process preserving and restoring the history of Redford when the Township Minutes of a 1985 Board Meeting lists the budget of the Historical Commission at only $100. On the plus side, Lois Carpenter and Joycelyn Koenig were re-appointed to the Commission’s Board.
A Legacy is Left Behind
With the coming of 1985, RTHC and RTHS were hit with a devastating loss with the passing of Fred DesAutels. To honor his memory, the Commission hosted a costume ball in February at Kara’s House in order to raise funding needed to complete the newly dedicated “DesAutels History Center” room at the Redford Community Center. It was also approaching the sesquicentennial year (150th birthday) for the State of Michigan.
By 1987 RTHC and the Michigan Sesquicentennial Agency of Redford Township began collecting items from the public that could be viewed as having significant historical meaning in order to put together time capsules. The time capsules would be buried throughout Redford for future generations to have a connection with the past. Items suggested included photos, yearbooks, telephone directories, and newspapers. The chairman of the time capsule project was Jim Bailey.
The first Redford Historical Museum was in Room C of the Community Center. One of the most memorable exhibits (and also one of the first) was the “Spirit of the Season” exhibit which was open to the public in December of 1991. The exhibit displayed historical winter, yule, and holiday-themed Redford artifacts. Items on exhibit included historic cars, a sled, a wooden train, and a doll with a tea set.
Picking Up Momentum
1991 was a milestone year for RTHC with October bringing a dedication ceremony for Schoolhouse #9 on Beech. It was the second historical marker EVER for Redford Township. Sybil Raeside, chairperson of the Commission, presided over the ceremony which was attended by Redford Township government and school board officials, as well as delegates from the State Capitol in Lansing. Mrs. Michigan, Sheila Sigro, and Miss Redford, Stacey Heisler, were also in attendance. Other notable township representatives also attended, representing the Boy Scouts, Redford Suburban League, Kenwood Women’s Club, Redford Theater Guild, Redford Chamber of Commerce, Redford Symphony Orchestra, Lola Valley Masonic Lodge, and many others. You can learn more about this historic site here.
In March of 1994, a third State Historical Marker was listed on the register for Redford Township. This time, Schoolhouse #5 on Beech and Margareta was the beneficiary. RTHC worked extremely hard on researching the history of the school in order to prepare the dialogue that would appear on the marker. A formal dedication ceremony was planned for July of August, but did not take place until September of the same year. You can learn more about this historic site here.
In 1996, RTHC moved into its second museum (but first actual building) at the historically designated Schoolhouse #9 aka “the little red schoolhouse.” The following year, 1997, Schoolhouse #5 received a second historical marker. This time the school, built in 1922, received a NATIONAL Historic Marker. So not only does Schoolhouse #5 have a State Historic Marker, it is also on the National Register. Having been nominated in January of ’97, the official designation was not announced until mid-October. Unfortunately, while township historian Sybil Raeside (the predecessor of DesAutels) had hoped to have a formal dedication ceremony, she passed away in 2008 before those dreams became a reality.
A New Generation of Historians
After the destruction of Schoolhouse #9 in 2014, RTHC was forced to relocate. Thankfully, in 2015 the South Redford School District offered up one of their old preschool buildings on Berwyn off of Schoolcraft. With the help of many volunteers, the building has become home to the current Redford Township Historical Museum. It serves three main purposes: as a museum, a place of research, and a meeting place for the RTHC. The museum is open to the public twice a month or by appointment, and also hosts exhibits and events throughout the year in order to spread awareness of Redford Township’s history.
In 2015, one of the Commission members, Ilona Klemm, along with the rest of the RTHC board, published a second book about the History of Redford, Redford Township, Michigan, An Early History in Photos. The majority of the book is black and white photographs of time gone by, with bits and pieces of Redford’s history sprinkled throughout. The time frame covers Redford’s early development up til the 1940’s.
Another milestone for the RTHC occurred in 2016, when the FIRST cemetery walk took place in early October. Guided tours with actors portraying early township settlers were held at the Redford Cemetery on Telegraph Road (also a designated State Historical site). Commission Secretary, Regina Gilbert, helped make the event possible. Also a member of the Redford Cemetery Association, the goal of the event was to bring awareness to both amazing organizations, possibly recruit new volunteers, and bring a little funding to the non-profit association and not-for-profit commission. Towards the end of October 2016, the FIRST “Movie in the Cemetery” night was held. The movie displayed on an 10×14 foot screen? Night of the Living Dead, the 1968 classic.
In 2019, the Redford Township Historical Commission celebrated Heritage Day in May, in which a plaque dedicated to current and former commission members was dedicated, as well as an exhibit highlighting all of the hard work of RTHC founder Fred DesAutels. A fourth edition of DesAutels’ history book is also available for purchase with a blue and white cover replacing the 1970’s yellow and red.
In October of 2019, RTHC received a milestone plaque from the Historical Society of Michigan for being a semi-centennial organization (50 years of continued service to the community). Soon the plaque will be mounted by the front door of the museum where all visitors will be able to view it. For now, here’s a photograph of the (very heavy) iron embossed award.
And the Journey Continues…
The Charter Township of Redford officially established the Redford Township Historical Commission with Ordinance No. 252. From the Ordinance:
It shall be the duty of the Historical Commission to collect and preserve historical materials relating to the history of the Northwest Territory, the State of Michigan, and the Charter Township of Redford; to acquire ownership and control of landmarks of the Charter Township of Redford with the funds budgeted by the Charter Township of Redford Board of Trustees; to compile histories of the Township and the area; and to participate in other historical endeavors which the Commission believes to be of sufficient interest to the Township.
The Commission consists of seven board members appointed by the Township Board of Trustees.
Notice of special meetings will be made on this website and will be posted at the museum.
Meeting minutes are filed with the Township and available from the Commission upon request.
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