Board of Directors

Board of Directors

The Board of Directors are the founding members of MSRA, with the organization since its inception in 2001.

Valerie Olson van Heest is an underwater explorer, historian, and award-winning author who serves as a director of the nonprofit Michigan Shipwreck Research Association, spearheading the search for and documentation of lost ships. She is also partner in the exhibit design firm Lafferty van Heest & Associates.

Valerie has been involved in the discovery and archaeological documentation of numerous historic Great Lakes shipwrecks. Combining her passion for maritime history with her professional writing and design experience, Valerie shares her adventures through award-winning books, films, lectures and museum exhibits in ways to educate, entertain and inspire. She is an inductee in the Women Divers Hall of Fame, the recipient of the 2017 Award for Historical Interpretation from the Association for Great Lakes Maritime History, and the recipient of a Michigan State History Award for her work preserving and promoting the state’s submerged maritime history.

Her books include award-winning Fatal Crossing: the Mysterious Disappearance of Northwest Airlines Flight 2501 and the Quest for Answers, Buckets and Belts: Evolution of the Great Lakes Self-Unloaders, Lost on the Lady Elgin, Icebound, as well as Lost and Found: Legendary Lake Michigan Shipwrecks, and Unsolved Mysteries: The Shipwreck Thomas Hume. She has also written numerous magazine articles. Her work has been featured in the book, Voices of the Sweetwater Seas by Bill Keefe and Shipwreck Hunter by Gerry Volgenau as well as numerous news articles.

She has appeared on television news networks as well as the National Geographic, History, Science, and Travel Channels and is a regular presenter at MSRA’s annual spring film festival as well as at museums, libraries, and conferences sharing the dramatic stories of mysteries on the Great Lakes.

 Visit her personal web page or the Northwest Fight 2501 commemorative web page  Email Valerie.

Craig Rich diving - 2015Craig Rich is a veteran Great Lakes master SCUBA diver, historian, and author. His books, For Those in Peril: Shipwrecks of Ottawa County, Michigan, and Through Surf and Storm: Shipwrecks of Muskegon County, Michigan are available at bookstores across the state. Craig’s research on local shipwrecks, begun in the 1980s, formed the basis for the MSRA web page as it exists today. He continues to serve as the website designer. 

A former morning radio personality and newsman, Craig provides professional narration for MSRA and other documentary films, as well as radio and TV Commercials. He also emcees the annual “Evening Beneath the Inland seas” shipwreck show in Holland, MI. He is a regular speaker for local libraries, museums, and historical societies on the subjects of shipwrecks and local history.

An avid genealogist, Craig has traced his family history from the Mayflower  to Michigan, with pioneering ancestors in the state by 1838. 

Retired from a 33-year marketing and advertising career, he lives in Holland, Michigan with his wife of 46 years, Vickie. They are the proud parents of two grown daughters, one of whom made Craig and Vickie Grandparents in 2012. He also served the city of Holland for 28 years as an elected member of the city council – twenty of those years as Mayor Pro Tem. In addition to shipwrecks, Craig is an avid genealogist and volunteers for the annual Tulip Festival and memorial day Parade in Holland. He also volunteers for the Society of Mayflower Descendants in Michigan, The Sons of the American Revolution, and other organizations.  Email Craig.

jackJack van Heest, a mechanical engineer, manages the field operations for the annual search expedition and serves as captain of the research vessel. A diver since 1988 and a technical diver since 2007, Jack participates in the site work and shoots high-definition videos.

Jack also serves as editor for a number of MSRA’s documentary films and maintains the organization’s film archive. Jack has designed and maintains much of MSRA’s equipment including the group’s side-scan sonar. Jack also is developing a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) for use by the organization.  Email Jack.

Neel Zoss

Neel Zoss is the author of several books on Great Lakes whaleback vessels–specifically those of Alexander McDougall’s design. “McDougall’s Great lakes Whalebacks” was published in 2007 and “Whalebacks: Wrecked, Scrapped, Lost and Forgotten” in 2016.

A retired police officer and investigator, he is a regular part of the crew on MSRA’s search vessel. He and his wife Judy live in Holland, Michigan.

Affiliate Members

Brendon Baillod — Author, marine historian, researcher and collector of Great Lakes books.

William Lafferty PhD, a maritime historian and professor at Wright State University and partner in Lafferty van Heest and Associates.

David Trotter, side scan sonar operator and shipwreck hunter.

National Underwater Marine Agency, a non-profit organization founded by Clive Cussler.