Bess Sheehan

historian, preservationist
Born: April 16, 1882
Birthplace: near Jackson, Mich.

Sheehan was born Bess May Vrooman; she studied American history at the University of Michigan, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1904 and a master's in 1905. Afterwards she taught history, first at Big Rapids, Mich., and then at Gary High School in Gary, Ind. On Jan. 9, 1912, she married Frank J. Sheehan, who subsequently became a juvenile court judge.

Sheehan is mainly known for her leadership in the campaign to preserve the Indiana dunes, which are located in the northwest part of the state on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. She organized thousands of donations, from schoolchildren sending in their pennies to large businesses such as U.S. Steel and Sears, Roebuck and Company making big corporate donations. The area became a state park in 1923, and in 1966 Congress set aside an even larger tract of the lakeshore—some 15,000 acres all together, including the 2,182-acre state park—as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Today, it ranks among the top ten national parks in native plant diversity. Visitors enjoy hiking, camping, swimming, bird watching, and many other outdoor activities.

Throughout her life, Sheehan made many significant contributions to her community and her state by serving in various local, state, and national organizations. She also compiled a two-volume manuscript history of Gary during World War I.

Died: April 1968