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The Swainson and MAAK Awards

Recognize and Celebrate
Michiganders Sharing and Preserving Our History

The Michigan Historical Commission and the Michigan History Center sponsor two awards for individuals who have helped Michiganders develop the shared understanding of our state’s past that is vital to our creation of a shared vision for Michigan’s future:

  • The Governor John B. Swainson Award honors an ardent supporter of Michigan history and past commission member and chair who was also one of the few public officials to have served in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of Michigan state government.

    Multiple awards may be given to state, county and municipal employees who have contributed to Michigan history even though history is not part of their job responsibilities.
  • The MAAK Award honors four individuals - Governor William Milliken, Commissioner Elizabeth Adams, Secretary of State Richard Austin and Attorney General Frank Kelley - who contributed to the preservation and understanding of Michigan’s history over their lifetimes of service.

    One award is given annually to an individual who has shown exceptional leadership and vision in support of the state’s historic resources, programs and institutions.

Swainson and MAAK Awards nomination form (fillable PDF)

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is eligible?

  • Individual nominees should be residents of Michigan.
  • Posthumous nominations will not be considered.
  • Contributions honored may be a single project or on-going work.
  • Contributions honored may be at the local, state, or national level.
  • Applications and supporting documents must be submitted by the specified deadline.
  • Sitting Michigan Historical Commission members are not eligible.

How are nominations evaluated?

Commissioners and staff review the nominations in light of:

  • Alignment with the purpose of the proposed award
  • The overall significance and impact (state, local or national) of the nominee’s work in support of Michigan history
  • The strength of the nomination text, supporting materials and letters of support
  • The degree to which the nominee appears to have demonstrated genuine passion, commitment and effort in support of Michigan history

How do I submit a nomination?

  • Prepare a brief description (500 - 1500 words) of the nominee’s work or projects.
  • Prepare an explanation (500 – 1500 words) of how the nominee has advanced and impacted Michigan history awareness, stewardship, preservation, and inspiration.
  • Gather 2-5 supporting documents (for example, newspaper articles, pictures, programs, publication titles, website addresses).
  • Gather 2-3 letters of support.
  • Fill out a nomination form and submit it and all supporting documents and materials electronically to by December 31.

What is the awards schedule?

  • May 31: Nomination period opens
  • December 31: Nomination period closes
  • January 31: Nomination reviews have been completed
  • February: Michigan Historical Commission makes final awards decisions; awards recipients are contacted
  • March 15: Award recipients have provided a short personal biography and photograph
  • May: Award recipients are honored at a special ceremony in Lansing

The People the Awards Commemorate 

The Swainson Award

Head-and-shoulders photo portrait of John B Swainson

Gov. John B. Swainson (1925 - 1994)

Governor Swainson was born in Canada and grew up in Port Huron. After losing both legs in a land mine explosion in France during World War II, he used the GI Bill to complete his bachelor’s degree at Olivet College and his law degree at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A Democrat, he won election to the Michigan state senate in 1954, became lieutenant governor in 1958, and was elected governor in 1960. At age 35, he was the youngest Michigan governor in the 20th Century. He served on the Michigan Supreme Court from 1971 to 1975, making him one of the few people to serve in all three branches of state government. His commitment to Michigan and its history was evident in his service as president of the Michigan Historical Commission from 1985 until his death.

The MAAK Award

Photo portrait of Michigan Historical Commissioner Elizabeth Sparks Adams

Commissioner Elizabeth "Betty" Sparks Adams (1911 - 2007)

Commissioner Adams was born in Romeo. She earned her bachelor's degree from Eastern Michigan University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan, where she became the Bentley Historical Library’s first curator in 1938. In 1941, Governor Murray Van Wagoner appointed her to the Michigan Historical Commission, making her the first woman member. She was reappointed eight times by both Democrat and Republican governors, serving for 54 years. During that time, she helped create the Michigan Historical Marker Program, the Centennial Farm Program, and many publications. Her passion for Michigan and its history extended to state, county and local history organizations, her own family genealogy, and documenting the commission itself.

Photo portrait of Michigan Secretary of State Richard H. Austin

Secretary of State Richard H. Austin (1913 - 2001)

Secretary Austin was born in Alabama and moved to Detroit with his family after his father, a coal miner, died. He graduated first in his class from Cass Technical High School and earned his bachelor’s degree from the Detroit Institute of Technology. In 1941, he became the first Black certified public accountant in Michigan. His political career began as a delegate to Michigan’s 1961-62 Constitutional Convention. In 1970, he was elected to the office of Secretary of State - the first African American to hold that office in any state. He served in that position until 1995, successfully advocating for seat belts, child safety seats and the 1975 Michigan “Motor-Voter” law that allowed drivers to register to vote when buying or renewing their licenses. It was the first such law in the United States and a model for the 1993 national act. His office included the part of state government that is now the Michigan History Center, and he supported its growth and the construction of the Michigan Library and Historical Center.

Photo portrait of Michigan Attorney General Frank J. Kelley

Attorney General Frank J. Kelley (1924 - 2021)

Attorney General Kelley grew up in Detroit and began his law practice in Alpena, where he and John Swainson stood beside each other as they were sworn into the State Bar of Michigan. In 1961, Governor Swainson appointed him to fill out the term of Attorney General Paul Adams, whom he had just appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court. Kelley held that position through ten elections, retiring in 1999. He was at the time both the youngest and the oldest attorney general in Michigan history. Kelley was the first attorney general in the United States to establish consumer protection, criminal fraud and environmental protection divisions. He opposed highway billboards and advocated for Michigan’s open meetings law. His national stature was evident in his election as president of the National Association of Attorneys General. He was a student of history, especially biographies. He served on the Mackinac Island State Park Commission and transferred his papers to the Archives of Michigan upon his retirement.

Photo portrait of Governor William G. Milliken

Gov. William G. Milliken (1922 - 2019)

Governor Milliken grew up in Traverse City. After flying 50 combat missions as a waist-gunner in the army air corps during World War II, he finished his undergraduate degree at Yale and returned to Traverse City. There, he followed in his family’s footsteps - becoming president of their department store and entering politics. A Republican, he was a state senator from 1961 to 1964 and lieutenant governor from 1965 to 1969. When Governor George Romney resigned in 1969, Milliken became governor. He served three more terms, a total of 14 years, making him the longest serving governor of the state. He was a supporter of the environment, civil rights, arts and cultural heritage, and civility, saying, “To me, the measures of real leadership involve searching for common ground as we work to develop responsible public policy.”