March is Women’s History Month, for Traverse City Tourism it seems a perfect time to pay homage to three women who are charged with preserving the rich history of northern Michigan. 

Ginger Schultz is the Mission Point Lighthouse Manager, Jennifer VanderRoest is a co-owner of The Flats at Front + Union located in the historic Masonic building downtown Traverse City, and Kim Kelderhouse is the Executive Director of the Leelanau Historical Society. All three share one thing in common, they have accepted the added responsibility to accurately showcase how the history of the Traverse City region built what is currently one of the premier travel destinations in the Midwest.

Leelanau Historical Society

Kim Kelderhouse is the sixth generation in her family to call Leelanau County home. It started with her great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Kelderhouse who was a wood merchant, ship owner, logger, and farmer. “I was always exposed to family history,” Kelderhouse said. Now in the tiny town of Leland Kim leads a team that tells the tale of the entire county. “It takes a village to tell that story. History is for everyone,” she adds.

That story is being told in a museum run by the Leelanau Historical Society. It includes exhibits of Leelanau lighthouses, shipwrecks along the Manitou Passage, a permanent exhibit of indigenous Anishinaabek basketry, and a soon-to-be-introduced exhibit of the Sugar Loaf Resort.

Kelderhouse speaks about their work. “You look at a place and you learn about yourself. You get a sense of how we ended up where we are today.”

Flats at Front and Union

Jen VanderRoest is sinking her passion for the past into one unique building in downtown Traverse City. She and her partners became the third owners of the historic Masonic Building at the corner of Front and Union. Built-in 1890, the four-story building has been home to a hardware store, bank, pharmacy, and what is believed to be the oldest barber shop in Michigan, Robertson’s has been cutting hair since 1903.

VanderRoest has converted much of the upper levels of the building to boutique accommodations for short-term stays, called The Flats at Front + Union. The building renovations have a delicate balance of preserving history, yet creating a modern welcoming environment for guests who want to stay in the heart of downtown. They are working to preserve woodwork, uncover and display original bricks, and even show some of the scars from a fire that ravaged the building in 1987.

“There is a wonderful energy to this building,” said VanderRoest. “We have a greater responsibility since we are only the third owners of the building. Our intention is to respect and honor the history while moving the building into its next chapter. Restoring the beauty is very important to us.”

Developing new uses for a historic building is like uncovering multiple layers of a cake. Each layer can be a treasure. VanderRoest has uncovered wood she would salvage with hopes of using it in the building. She uncovered hidden fireplaces with hopes of once again making them functional. Sometimes their plans worked and sometimes they didn’t. “Tearing the building down was not an option for us. We had to figure out how to uncover history, utilize the space effectively, and make the building shine.”

Mission point lighthouse

Ginger Schultz knows a little about making a historic structure shine. She has been responsible for making the Mission Point Lighthouse shine. And that means making sure the lighthouse’s Fresnel lens is as clean as the day it was used to warn ships about impending hazards in Grand Traverse Bay.

For eight years Schultz has been the lighthouse manager. It’s a popular travel destination at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula that is estimated to attract 80,000 to 100,000 visitors through the thick of the summer season. This is where you go to splash in the shallow sand bar off the peninsula, the place to drop to your knee and propose to a loved one, and to take the lighthouse tour and view Grand Traverse Bay from the perch designed as an important navigation aid.

Here historical accuracy becomes critical “Every decision you make to the grounds you have to consider the historical significance,” said Schultz. “There is an added weight because you do want to respect the history of the lighthouse.”

Schultz is supported by a strong group of volunteers who share her passion for the historic landmark. That includes volunteers who spend a week at a time in the “Keeper Program.” People who run the gift shop, keep the grounds clean, and at the end of the day sleep in the comfortable living quarters that at one time housed the original lighthouse keepers.

Schultz speaks with tremendous admiration for all her volunteers. “They are talented and offer their time to support the lighthouse. When people give, they get back ” But she also sings the praises of those who visit and tour the building. “They get the history and the uniqueness of the area. They are happy to see and appreciate this place.”


Their place in history. All three women know the history of the region needs to be preserved and appreciated. It’s not something you just read about in stuffy old books. It’s a guidepost to what lies ahead. “I hope people get excited about history,” Kelderhouse concludes. Kelderhouse, VanderRoest, and Schultz will maintain their vigilance in preserving and telling the history of the Traverse City region.