Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bentley Historical Library receives $1 million endowment from Meijer Foundation

Every year, hundreds of scholars, students, teachers, journalists, novelists, amateur historians, and others make their way to a secluded, tree-shaded building on North Campus. There, in the hushed interior of the Bentley Historical Library, they delve into a treasure trove: more than 45,000 linear feet of one-of-a-kind primary source materials, 22,000 maps, 80,000 printed volumes, rare film footage, more than 1.5 million photographs, and archival documents dating back as early as 1817.


Click here for more information about the Bentley Historical Library.

Considered by many to be one of America's most distinguished historical libraries — and the state's premier source for archival materials — the Bentley has been in operation since 1935. Now, in recognition of the library's unique value, the Meijer Foundation of Grand Rapids has made a gift of $1 million to endow the Bentley's iconic Michigan Historical Collections, thereby ensuring that this extraordinary resource will be viable and accessible to the public for generations to come.

Established by the Board of Regents, the Bentley houses both the U-M Archives and — of particular interest to researchers from across the state and the nation — the Michigan Historical Collections.

Consisting of donated materials from more than 12,000 individuals and organizations, the collections span a vast range of subjects. Politicians, pioneers, poets, business executives, lumber barons, farmers, immigrants, soldiers, scholars, social reformers, athletes, architects, reporters, religious leaders, artists, and writers all are represented.

With the help of the Bentley's skilled archivists, patrons can explore everything from the Civil War diaries of Union soldiers to the papers of CBS correspondent Mike Wallace. They can study the note cards used by President Lyndon B. Johnson for his Great Society speech or examine a letter signed by the infamous John Dillinger. They can read the commentary of Susan B. Anthony or view the original draft of Ernest Hemingway's "Snows of Kilimanjaro." They can admire the schematics of famed Detroit architect Albert Kahn, pore over rare photographs, or sight-read Native American songs.

Treasures such as the Michigan Historical Collections demand constant and expert attention. Maintaining the current collections, analyzing and reviewing newly donated materials, assisting scholars, and archiving materials are essential functions that require staff, facilities and financial resources.

As Fran Blouin, director of the Bentley Library for more than 30 years, notes: "More than a century ago, the English barrister and author Augustine Birrell correctly observed that, 'Libraries are not made; they grow.' The Michigan Historical Collections are of enormous importance to scholars — students, professors, amateurs — from around the world. Keeping this collection alive and insulating the operation from future university budget constraints requires the long-term, consistent funding that only a permanent endowment can provide. Such an endowment makes it possible to protect, preserve and expand this superb collection in a responsible way."

In fall 2011, the Meijer Foundation made a gift of $1 million to be applied toward a full endowment of the Michigan Historical Collections and the establishment of the Johanna Meijer Magoon Principal Archivist, named in honor of the late company chairman Frederik Meijer's sister. Magoon operated the first Meijer store at the age of 18, went on to graduate from the U-M in 1939, and later became active in social causes, including the civil rights movement. Thomas Powers, head of the Michigan Historical Collections Division, assumes the role of the principal archivist. The endowment will be instrumental in anchoring the Collections and ensuring their future.

According to Hendrik (Hank) Meijer, co-chairman and CEO of Meijer Inc. and a longtime amateur historian, the gift was made in recognition of the fact that the Bentley Historical Library offers a uniquely rich resource for anyone exploring topics that touch on the state of Michigan, its citizens, its history, its government, and its contributions to the arts and culture.

"There is no way to adequately measure the significance of the Michigan Historical Collections," Meijer says. "The Meijer Foundation was established in 1990 to support organizations that make outstanding contributions in the realm of arts and culture as well as issues related to the environment and conservation. As someone who has used and benefited from the resources of the Bentley Library, I'm particularly gratified that the Meijer family is able to play a role in assuring the continued strength and vitality of this magnificent collection."