Valerie van Heest

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Valerie van Heest
BornValerie Olson
Wilmette, Illinois, U.S.
OccupationAuthor, Explorer, Museum Exhibit Designer
GenreNarrative nonfiction
Notable worksFatal Crossing, Lost on the Lady Elgin, Buckets and Belts

Valerie Olson van Heest is an American author, explorer, and museum exhibit designer. She is co-founder of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association.

Early life[edit]

Valerie was born in Wilmette, Illinois. She graduated from New Trier East High School. Her father, Robert V. Olson, was the son a of Swedish immigrant, who volunteered at 17 to join the U.S. Navy at the outbreak of WW II. Robert was a Boatswain's mate and Underwater Demolition Team diver in the Pacific Theater. After the war, he encouraged his long time friend and neighbor Sam Davison to start the Davison Corporation to manufacture scuba gear.[1] At 16 Valerie began working at the Dacor factory making scuba gear and became a certified scuba diver through the company's training program. She attended Harrington College of Design in Chicago and Loyola University and graduated with a B.A. in Interior Design. She worked at several architectural firms as a designer and project manager in Chicago.


In Chicago, she joined the Chicago Maritime Museum "dive group" and with others co-founded an offshoot organization, the Underwater Archaeological Society of Chicago[2] where she served as its president for 8 years. During that time, she led investigations of over a dozen shipwrecks, and testified in the Lady Elgin case, The People of the State of Illinois ex rel. Illinois Historic Preservation Agency et al., Appellees, v. Harry Zych, d/b/a American Diving & Salvage Company, et al., Appellants,[3] regarding her observations conducting an investigation of three sites of Lady Elgin wreckage strewn on the lake bottom.  

During that time, she co-authored reports on the shipwrecks Lady Elgin, Goshawk, and Wells Burt,[4] and created archaeological site drawings on over a dozen shipwrecks.

After relocating to Holland, Michigan, she joined the Committee to establish the Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve. In 2000, the state of Michigan approved Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve as 10th underwater preserve.[5]

Soon thereafter, van Heest, her husband Jack, Craig Rich, Geoffrey Reynolds, and others founded the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association specifically to research, explore, document, and interpret shipwrecks of Lake Michigan.  She is a co-director of that organization currently.[6]

In 2006 Valerie was inducted into Women Divers Hall of Fame[7] for her years of preserving and interpreting Great Lakes shipwrecks.

In 2007 the Historical Society of Michigan awarded van Heest the State History Award for distinguished volunteer service in promoting Michigan's submerged maritime heritage.

After the collaboration on Buckets and Belts in 2009,[8] the co-author, William Lafferty and van Heest formed the museum exhibit design firm Lafferty van Heest and Associates.[9][10]

At its annual event in Bowling Green, Ohio, International Legends of Diving added Van Heest to its Honor role in 2010[11]

In 2017 van Heest received the Joyce S. Hayward Award for Historic Interpretation from the Association for Great Lakes Maritime History.[12]

Literary career[edit]

Valerie van Heest has written numerous articles for several magazines and historical journals. including Michigan History, Wreck Diving Magazine, The Great Laker, Inland Seas, among others.[13]

Van Heest began writing her first book in 2005. The recent MSRA discovery of the S.S. Michigan inspired her to find a way to share this story with her daughters by writing a young reader's book. Van Heest used her graphic art talents to create them herself.[14]

After receiving an award from the Historical Society of Michigan for her first book, Icebound! The Adventures of Young George Sheldon and the SS Michigan, van Heest continued in a new direction by writing non-fiction books about Great Lakes shipwrecks and other historical topics.

While working with NUMA's Clive Cussler during the search for NWA Flight 2501, in 2006 Cussler encouraged her to write a book about that aircraft tragedy. That book, Fatal Crossing, was published in 2013. He wrote a "blurb" about the book that appears on the cover.[15]

Michigan Shipwreck Research Association[edit]

Van Heest is a co-founder of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates , a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. Its mission is to preserve and interpret Michigan's submerged maritime history. The organization conducts side-scan sonar expeditions in search of shipwrecks and aircraft wrecks in Lake Michigan. Board members do research and documentation of submerged cultural resources and create educational resources including its website, and newsletter, documentary films, informative articles, books, and museum exhibits. Its Board of Directors make presentations to organizations of all kinds. Since 1998, MSRA hosts an annual public symposium to showcase its projects and those of other Great Lakes explorers.

Van Heest has been a leading member in the annual search expeditions in lower Lake Michigan resulting in the discovery of numerous shipwrecks, such as the H.C. Akeley, SS Michigan, Hennepin, John V. Moran.

Personal life[edit]

Valerie has been married to Jack van Heest since 1995. The couple has two daughters, both certified scuba divers. They live in Holland, Michigan.[16]


 #  Title Publication Date Award
1 ICEBOUND! The Adventures of Young George Sheldon and the SS Michigan 2008 2009 Michigan State History Award[17]
2 BUCKETS AND BELTS: Evolution of the Great Lakes Self-Unloader* 2009 2009 Michigan State History Award[18]
3 LOST ON THE LADY ELGIN[19] 2010 1st Place INDIE New Generation Award[20]
4 UNSOLVED MYSTERIES: The Shipwreck Thomas Hume 2011
5 LOST & FOUND: Legendary Lake Michigan Shipwrecks 2012
6 FATAL CROSSING: The Mysterious Disappearance of NWA Flight 2501and the Quest for Answers (2013) 2013 2014 IPPY AWARD[21]

(*) indicates book co-authored with William Lafferty.

Selected documentaries[edit]

On behalf of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association, van Heest wrote or co-wrote and contributed to the production of the following shipwreck documentaries that she also presented at MSRA's annual Mysteries & Histories Beneath the Inland Seas in Holland, Michigan.[22]

 #  Title Publication Date
1 The Verano: A Porthole to the Past 1999
2 A Glimpse into the Past: The discovery of the H.C. Akeley 2002
3 The Disappearance of Flight 2501 2004
4 Icebound Found: The Ordeal of the S. S. Michigan 2005
5 Planes, Trains, and Ships 2007
6 She died a Hard death: The sinking of the Hennepin 2007
7 Freshwater Monsoon 2008
8 Raising the Alvin Clark; Forty years of Perspective 2009
9 A Tale of Two Schooners 2010
10 Lost on the Lady Elgin 2011
11 Unsolved Mysteries: The shipwreck Thomas Hume 2012

These programs were also presented at various annual underwater film festivals all around the Great Lakes including:

Our World Underwater Chicago, Illinois[23]

Ford Seahorses' Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival Ann Arbor, Michigan[24]

Great Lakes Shipwreck Research Foundation's Ghost Ships Festival Milwaukee, Wisconsin[25]

Bay Area Diver's Shipwreck and Scuba, Sandusky, Ohio[26]

The Niagara Divers' Association Annual Shipwrecks Symposium, "Shipwrecks + current year " Welland, Ontario[27][28]

Lake Superior Marine Museum Association's Gales of November, Duluth, Minnesota

National media appearances[edit]

Valerie van Heest appeared in the following programs:[29]

 #  Program Title Host 1st Air Date
1 MISSING REWARD Wells Burt artifact theft Stacy Keach Summer 1989
2 CITIES OF THE UNDERWORLD (History Channel) Season 2 Episode: Mob Underground (Wells Burt) Don Wildman March 17, 2008
3 MYSTERIES AT THE MUSEUM (Travel Channel) Episode: The Michigan Triangle (Northwest Flight 2501) Don Wildman

September 2014

4 THE STRANGE TRUTH (National Geographic) Episode: Shipwrecks Spotted From Air January 17, 2016
5 SECRETS OF THE UNDERGROUND (Science Channel) Episode: The Michigan Triangle (Thomas Hume) Rob Nelson March, 2017
6 A CITY AT WAR: CHICAGO A film produced by John Davies Debut: October 2017
7 TOP TEN WORST WINTER STORMS (Weather Channel) #1 Storm of 1899 (John V Moran) January 2019
8 EXPEDITION UNKNOWN (Discovery Channel) Episode: Ghost Ship of the Great Lakes (Le Griffon) Josh Gates May 8, 2019
9 EXPEDITION UNKNOWN (Discovery Channel)[30] Episode: The Vanished Airliner (Northwest Flight 2501) Josh Gates February 12, 2020

Valerie van Heest has also appeared or been interviewed on numerous newscasts and TV programs such as ABC news, Al Jazeera, CBS news, Fox news, NBC news, & MLive about her knowledge of shipwrecks and plane wrecks.[31]


  1. ^ "The True Origins of Dacor Corporation". International Legends of Retrieved 2020-02-08.
  2. ^ "UASC List of Officers". Underwater Archeological Society of Chicago. Retrieved 2020-02-08.
  4. ^ "Shipwreck Reports". Underwater Archeological Society of Chicago. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  5. ^ "SWMUP history". Southwest Michigan Underwater Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  6. ^ "MSRA Board of Directors". Michigan Shipwreck Research Association. MSRA. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  7. ^ "WDHOF 2006 Roster". Women Divers Hall of Fame. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  8. ^ "Writers wake history of the shipwrecks that sleep in Lake Michigan's waters". 30 April 2009. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  9. ^ "Valerie Van Heest is keynote speaker for Mason County Historical Society annual meeting". Ludington Daily News. Shoreline Media. 7 December 2015. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  10. ^ "Pumphouse Museum -past exhibits". Historic Ottawa Beach 11 September 2016. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  11. ^ "Shipwreck Explorer & Historian of the Great Lakes". International Legends of Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  12. ^ "2017 Joyce S. Hayward Award". Association for Great Lakes Maritime History. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  13. ^ "The New Tech-Diving Mecca of the Great Lakes". Advanced Diver Advanced Diver Magazine.
  14. ^ "Author Valerie van Heest Interview". Oakland County Lisa LaGrou. 16 May 2012. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  15. ^ "Meest the authors at the Michigan Maritime Museum". Holland Holland Sentinel. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  16. ^ "Sunday Profile Shipwreck Lover". MLIVE. 23 November 2008. Retrieved 2020-02-08.
  17. ^ "Shipwreck lover Valerie Van Heest". 23 November 2008. Retrieved 2020-02-09.
  18. ^ "2009 State History Awards Presented on Mackinac Island - Books: Private Printing". Historical Society of Historical Society of Michigan. Archived from the original on 2016-06-24. Retrieved 2016-06-24.
  19. ^ "'Lost on the Lady Elgin': A new account emerges". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. USA Today Network. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  20. ^ "2011 Winners list - Historical Non-fiction". Indie book Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  21. ^ "Great Lakes – Best Regional Non-Fiction 2014 medalists". Independent Publisher Book Awards. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  22. ^ "Archive of Past Programs". Retrieved 2020-02-09.
  23. ^ "OWU show announces 2013 film festival schedule". Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  24. ^ "Speakers announced for 32nd Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival". Dons Diver Don Gardner. 30 January 2013. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  25. ^ "2006 Ghost Ships Presenters". Great Lakes Shipwreck Research Foundation, Inc. Archived from the original on 2006-06-15. Retrieved 2006-06-15.
  26. ^ "van Heest Bio". Bay Area Divers. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  27. ^ "Shipwrecks 2011-Valerie Bio". Niagara Divers.
  28. ^ "shipwrecks 2016 - Vanheest Bio". Niagara Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  29. ^ "Valerie van Heest Filmography". Retrieved 2020-02-09.
  30. ^ "van Heest teams up with Josh Gates for Expedition". Holland Gannett Co., Inc. Archived from the original on 2020-02-09.
  31. ^ "Valerie in the media". Valerie van Valerie van Heest. Archived from the original on 2016-07-03. Retrieved 9 February 2020.

External links[edit]