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Starkweather Award

The Mary Starkweather Award honors an outstanding woman from the local community who advocates for social justice issues and demonstrates traits of generosity, selflessness, progressiveness and risk-taking. The Women's and Gender Studies Community Board administers the award and selects the awardee annually. 

This award in named in honor of Mary Starkweather (1819–1897). In 1841, she and her husband, John, moved to a 160-acre farm which is now the campus of EMU. The first American women's movement in the 19th century unleashed the talents of progressive women like Mary Starkweather. As an active women's club member, her Ypsilanti city home became the Ladies Library in 1890, and in 1897, she funded Starkweather Hall on the EMU campus, now on the National Historic Register.


Cheryl Farmer awards the Starkweather Award with vase and flower bouquet to Schmiedeke and Edmunds' granddaughter

2018 Starkweather Award Recipients

Nathalie "Nat" Edmunds and

Jane Bird Schmiedeke

Jane and Nat's collaboration on historical preservation grew out of a mutual love for antiques. They were appalled to discover that Ypsilanti's Master Plan in the '60s visualized the demolition of the original Fire Station at Huron and Cross, Depot Town for an industrial park, and an entire block of historic houses on the east side of N. Huron St. (including Mary Ann Starkweather's home at 130 N. Huron and the Ypsilanti Historical Museum) for a senior high rise. Nat called Jane and they swung into action.

Nat fought city hall by joining City Council where she served from 1970 to 1983, a time when there were very few women in politics. Her priority: change the city's Master Plan and define a historic district to preserve the buildings specifically marked for extinction and others that might be.

Armed with PA 169 of 1970 which enabled historic districts, Jane volunteered thousands of hours with local architect Ward Schwartz to photograph each historic building, determine its age, architecture and historical significance and prepare justifications for including each in a historic district. Jane then proposed a district to encompass as many historic buildings as possible. In 1972, Jane submitted the plan and Nat introduced the proposed ordinance to City Council. The district boundaries were approved. The ordinance was not.

Seeing the need for support of the district, Jane and Nat successfully recruited pro-preservation candidates for City Council. The ordinance defining the Ypsilanti Historic District - Michigan's second largest - passed in December 1978.

City Council established The Historic District Commission (HDC) as the city's legal arm for preservation and decisions on requests for changes to the exteriors of buildings in the new district. Jane chaired, Nat was vice-chair. The HDC's authority was promptly challenged in court when a permit to demolish the historic Towner House was denied. Despite opposition, the commission and city prevailed.

Together, Nat and Jane were unstoppable - Nat more the big picture strategist while Jane commanded the field. Their accomplishments preserved the built environment of our community and inspired several generations of preservationists.

Nat passed away at 93 in December 2017. Her granddaughter Christine accepted the Starkweather Award on Nat's behalf. Jane, still vigorous in her 90's, remains active with the Historic District Commission and the Heritage Foundation in addition to being a volunteer at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.


Kathy Fotjik-Stroud with commerative vase and flowers

2017 Starkweather Award Recipient

Kathleen Fojtik Stroud

Kathleen Fojtik-Stroud is the founder of Ann Arbor's Safehouse. In 1978, at great risk to herself and the providers, she helped create a network of private homes that provided safe shelter for women and children who were victims of domestic violence. This was at a time when many believed that violence was a private 'family affair' and looked away. In 1992, Safehouse was opened as the first publicly funded domestic shelter in the United States.

Kathleen has also been active with the National Organization for Women since its founding 50 years ago, serving in various capacities including president of the Ann Arbor chapter and board member of Michigan NOW. She is active in the local chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and has served as president. In addition, Fojtik-Stroud has been a Washtenaw County Commissioner, a precinct delegate for the Democratic party, and has generously supported progressive candidates and causes over the years. She is a 1972 graduate of EMU in occupational therapy.


2016 Starkweather Award Recipient       Senator Alma Wheeler Smith holding yellow flowers

Hon. Alma Wheeler Smith

Senator Alma Wheeler Smith served in the Michigan State Legislature for 14 years, sitting on the powerful Appropriations Committee. Her focus was consumer protection, public health, and equal rights. She authored a law that increased citizens' protection from lead in the environment, funded the first successful drug court program, and wrote the law protecting individual privacy on genetic testing from insurance companies and employers. She also wrote the law that provided funds for breast and cervical screening through the University of Michigan "Healthy Asian American" project, which she helped found.

Alma Wheeler Smith promoted human rights through her authorship of a law to divest Michigan retirement funds from Darfur, contributing to the pressure on the Sudanese government to end the genocide in Sudan during the 2000's. She promoted equality through the introduction of a constitutional amendment to bring Michigan into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and through a law that funded the first early childhood education program, among others.

Senator Smith has been a consistent advocate for Eastern Michigan University, and was the keynote speaker for the first Washtenaw County Women's Diversity Summit in 2007. She was the first African American to run for governor on Michigan's Democratic ticket in 2001, and was Congressman David Bonior's choice for Lieutenant Governor in his 2002 campaign for Governor.

Since her term-limit retirement from the Michigan State Legislature, Senator Wheeler Smith has been serving on the boards of University Bank, SOS Crisis Center, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the Legislative Retirement System, and the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority. Early in her career Senator Wheeler Smith served Washtenaw County as a Cable Casting Commissioner, a School Board Trustee, President, and County Commissioner.

Senator Smith has been recognized on both sides of the political aisle as one of the most knowledgeable and effective leaders in Lansing, and has earned numerous awards from health, social, legal, and human service organizations.