Growing Community

This year, the Kutsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State University became one of three Michigan sites to receive a Common Heritage grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Called "Growing Community," this project is a collaboration among GVSU, El Centro Hispano de Oceana, and the Oceana County Historical and Genealogy Society. Together, the project partners will work with student and community members to collect oral histories and to digitize family photos and related memories of Oceana County residents, current and former.

Michigan currently has the fifth largest migrant population in the United States. The largest percentage of migrants – who hail primarily from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Texas, and the Gulf Coast -- work in Oceana County, which is located along the shores of Lake Michigan, in the northwestern part of the lower peninsula. These are migration patterns that stretch back over a century, forming the backbone of the region’s agricultural industries. Home to one of the nation's largest canneries as well, Oceana's fields and factories literally feed the state and nation. Launched in January 2016, the goal of this effort is to work with community members to collect and preserve memories about how the county's farming communities have grown and development over the past centuries. 

We hope you will consider sharing your story, family photos, letters, or related materials as part of this effort. Donors keep all physical materials; we will make digital copies and provide copies of digital files to donors as well. We are also looking for community members, GVSU students, and others who may be willing to volunteer as part of this effort as interviewers, transcribers, translators, researchers, or to assist with digitization of donated materials. 

Oral histories are currently being collected. To share your memories or photos, letters, etc., please contact El Centro Hispano at (231)301-8300 or via email at

Individuals wishing to volunteer as part of the project are encouraged to contact El Centro Hispano or the GVSU Kutsche Office of Local History at (616)331-8099 or

Members of the project team include: Annie Benefiel (GVSU), Penny Burillo (El Centro Hispano), Ken Fisher (El Centro Hispano), Nancy Richard (GVSU), Nora Salas (GVSU), Andy Schlewitz (GVSU), Matt Schultz (GVSU), Melanie Shell-Weiss (GVSU), Courtney Sherwood (GVSU), and Walter Urick (Oceana Historical Society). 


Project Partners at the 6th Annual Roundtable