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GR Stories is an ongoing series hosted by the Grand Rapids Public Museum showcasing authentic stories from within the community.

About GR Stories

Created to dive deeper into the local community, GR Stories takes us throughout the Greater Grand Rapids to hear from the people themselves, sharing their rich history and contributions to the area. With in person and virtual options, these programs are bridges being built to better understand one another. As part of these programs, the Museum is actively collecting the stories and artifacts of our diverse community in the Collections. Programs in 2021 included: The History of Grand Rapids in Black and Brown: A Conversation, Polish Halls, and The 49507 Project.

Upcoming GR Stories

GR Stories: The 14th Amendment:
Learning, Living, and Loving in Grand Rapids

Living in Grand Rapids

August 6, 6 p.m. at the Ford Museum

This event is part of the GR Stories Series, “The 14th Amendment: Learning, Living, and Loving in Grand Rapids”, and focuses on the Supreme Court decision in Shelley vs. Kraemer (1948) which held that private racially restrictive covenants could not be enforced by the state, and the Fair Housing Act (1968) which protects people from discrimination when they seek housing. Guests will hear a panel discussion of three unique stories: perspective from residents of Grand Rapids’ Auburn Hills neighborhood, President Gerald R. Ford’s childhood in Grand Rapids and his support of the Fair Housing Act, and finally the story of the founding of the Fair Housing Center.

Panelists include Beverly Grant, Cheryl Franks, Richard Norton Smith, Lee Weber, and Doretha Ardoin.

Moderated by Rev. Joe Jones.

Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

This event is free to the public. Registration required.

Partners for GR Stories: Living GR

GR Stories: The 14th Amendment Learning, Living and Loving in GR

Past GR Stories

Loving in Grand Rapids: A June Wedding in Grand Rapids; Celebrating the Humanity of Love

June 15, 2024

The Grand Rapids Public Museum celebrated Loving Day for the second year in a row in collaboration with Ebony Road Players and Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. Loving Day celebrates the landmark Supreme Court decision in Loving vs. Virginia (1967), which struck down all state laws against interracial marriage in the US.

A panel of prominent Grand Rapids families in relationships legally affirmed by Loving vs. Virginia (1967) shared their stories with the audience. Exploring challenges, acceptance, love, community, and how their unions have made Grand Rapids the city it is today.  Panelists included Juan and Mary Olivarez, Ruth and Carl Kelly, Edye Evans Hyde and Mike Hyde, and Arick Davis and Sarah Laman-Davis. Margie Derks Peterson, Chaplain at Fountain Street Church facilitated the conversation. 

Learning in Grand Rapids

December 12, 2023

At the the GRPM’s Meijer Theater we presented the first of a three-part series that considers the impact of the Constitution and the 14th Amendment here in Grand Rapids. The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment provided the legal rationale for key civil rights Supreme Court and legislative Decisions, including Brown v. Board of Education, Shelley v. Kraemer, The Fair Housing Act and Loving v. Virginia. The Constitution is a living document, and its relevance is best understood through its application in daily life. The impact on the lives and community of Grand Rapidians are explored in this series.

“Learning” explores the real-life impact of the Brown decision on the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the children that attended these schools. A 1966 study commissioned by the school board found that although there was no “de-jure” segregation in GRPS, the segregated housing patterns of the city had created a “de-facto” segregated system. The report concluded that non-white students were receiving an inferior education and that white students were missing out on the opportunities for interaction with a diverse community.

The GRPS board responded by creating a plan to integrate its schools by busing students from the predominantly South East Side of the city to schools that were located in the predominantly white districts on the West and North East sides of the city. It was determined politically difficult to bus white students to South High or other South East side schools. This was politically true despite South High’s tremendous legacy in the city, including alum that included President Gerald Ford and singer Al Green, among many others.

The panelists were the former children who carried the burden of this integration plan. Randal Jelks, author of African Americans in Furniture City, served as the moderator. Joining him were three 1968 South High graduates (the last class) Mel Atkins, Rick Bengelink, and Deborah Jones. Ed Kettle, represented Union High School’s Class of 1969. Edye Evans Hyde graduated from Creston High in 1975 as did Teresa Neal, in 1977.

All of these panelists went on to impact lives of children in significant ways. But the experiences explored in the panel were from the vantage point of the children and how this impacted them throughout their lives. Enter with us into this important GR Story.

The Women's City Club of Grand Rapids

 GR Stories – The Women’s City Club Presents Our First 100 Years

On March 14, 2024, the Grand Rapids Public Museum hosted the Women’s City Club of Grand Rapids’ celebration of their 100-year anniversary and the release of their book Our First One Hundred Years written by Women’s City Club members Carol Dodge and Marcie Wood.

The evening featured readings by the authors that took the attendees on a journey through the decades alongside musical performances by pianist Rebecca Sneller. Learn more about the Women’s City Club’s impact on the Grand Rapids community and watch the full event.


MexiRican Grand Rapids

GR Stories – Making the MexiRican City

This event brought together a diverse panel of experts for a compelling discussion and book signing with Dr. Delia Fernandez-Jones, author of ‘Making the MexiRican City: Mexican and Puerto Rican Migration, Activism, and Placemaking in Grand Rapids (Michigan University Press, 2023).’ The Meijer Theater served as the backdrop for this engaging conversation, with Guillermo Cisneros, Executive Director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, moderating the session. The panel featured esteemed individuals, including Margarita “Marti” Cotto Hernández, Second Ward City Commissioner Mindy Ysasi, Carlos Sanchez from Davenport University, and Christina Arnold, the former Executive Director and founder of the GRCC’s Bob and Alecia Woodrick Equity and Inclusion Center. Together, they explored the themes of migration, activism, and placemaking in Grand Rapids, offering valuable insights and fostering enriching dialogue.

An Interview with Lea Tobar

Grand Rapids, today, would be a less wonderful city if not for Lea Tobar. Lea has worked for and with Grand Rapids Public Schools for half a century. She represents one of the unsung heroes of the city. We begin her story here as she leaves her home in Puerto Rico to travel to Michigan for treatment of a rare tropical disease. While visiting her sister in Grand Rapids, she meets a young Mexican American pastor, Felipe Tobar. She falls in love, marries, settles in Grand Rapids, and begins a family that impacts generations of Grand Rapidians.

Together with her husband and children, they live within the heart of an emerging community of  Mexiricans, as Delia Fernandez speaks of in this GR Story and a book titled – “Making the Mexirican City.” Lea is joined in our discussion by her daughter Ruth and her former student Jessica Cruz. Both exemplify the long-term impact of Lea’s dedication to raising children of the community and teaching them to serve others. They represent numerous Grand Rapids leaders who sat in her classroom.
Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Dominicans, Central and South Americans, Cubans, and many others make up the diverse community of Latino/as in Grand Rapids today. Lea tells her story here, but it is also the story of many others and is shared by those that came from throughout the world to make this city our home.

Public Health History in Grand Rapids

 GR Stories – Public Health History in Grand Rapids 

Presented at the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s Overlook room on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, this program was free and open to the public thanks to the partnership between Grand Valley State University and grant support from Michigan Humanities. The program featured presentations from Grand Valley State University students Hannah Krebs, Callie Dzurisin, and Coltrane Bodbyl-Mast, who utilized the GRPM Collections and local archives for their research. Moderated by Grand Valley State University History Department Faculty Advisors Dr. Carolyn Shapiro-Shapin, Dr. Abigail Gautreau, and Dr. Matthew Daley, this panel aimed to spark meaningful discussion about the history of public health.


The Grand River Burial Mounds,
The Place Where Our Ancestors Rest

On March 25, 2023, the GRPM hosted a special program in the Meijer Theater featuring a presentation by Dr. Andrea Riley-Mukavetz and updates on the Grand River Burial Mounds Interpretation Initiative from Jannan Cotto. The program highlighted the partnership between GRPM, the City of Grand Rapids, and regional tribes to develop a consensus on caring for and interpreting the Grand River Burial Mounds. This important cultural site was constructed during the Middle Woodland period over 2,000 years ago and is listed on the Michigan State and National Register of Historic Places. The event provided insights into the ongoing efforts to preserve and interpret the site.

The History of Grand Rapids in Black and Brown:
A Conversation

The History of Grand Rapids in Black and Brown: A Conversation 

focused on the history of Grand Rapids from the perspective of Black and Brown. The presentation will feature three panelists, Dr. Randal Jelks, Dr. Todd Robinson, and Dr. Delia Fernandez. 

The 49507 Project

The 49507 Project is an artist and youth-led community celebration commissioning seven local Black and Brown artists for large scale murals on prominent buildings in majority Black and Brown neighborhoods. The Project begins with arts programming for young people, incorporates community listening sessions and summer programming, and concludes with a youth-organized community art unveiling. This is an anti-racist project by and for POC.

Polish Halls

Polish Halls have served as community gathering spaces and benevolent societies locally and nationally. This program featured a panel discussion led by Ed Sypniewski in honor of Pulaski Days to celebrate the history and heritage of the Polish community in Grand Rapids and West Michigan.

If you have stories or artifacts related to the history of Grand Rapids, we would love to know about them. Contact a GRPM Curator at

Late Opening Notice.

On Saturday, May 11, the Museum will open at 12 p.m. due to road closures for the Amway River Bank Run.

Early Closure Notice.

The Museum will close at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 1 for Museum Adventure After Dark. Tickets are still available!