Vandalia’s underground railroad fame could make it national tourist destination

Published 4:32 am Tuesday, May 13, 2003

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
DOWAGIAC -- Vandalia a national tourist destination?
If that seems farfetched to Cass County residents, it doesn't to the former Dowagiac man who directs the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries (HAL).
Gov. Jennifer Granholm personally asked Dr. William Anderson, who returned to town Monday as a special guest of the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival, to assemble a five-day state bus tour starting June 1.
Anderson said a year and a half ago he was invited by the House Subcommittee on Travel and Tourism to share his department's vision for cultural tourism.
That's where Vandalia comes in.
Anderson said during the Engler administration there was a summit with Ontario which talked about trade relationships and "various opportunities we had. Because of my work, I met with all the tourism people. Ontario does it very well. Over and over, when we said what are the greatest opportunities we have to partner, number one on the list was the Underground Railroad. Where we stand in Cass County is going to be, I think, a major link along that Underground Railroad."
Anderson said his department's budget "hasn't suffered anything yet because the Legislature hasn't acted and the governor hasn't signed the appropriation bill," though arts funding is slated to be slashed by half. The rest of the department expects an 11-percent hit.
Thelda Mathews, chair of Dogwood Fine Arts Festival's Visual Arts Committee, welcomed back to Dowagiac Anderson, who was a member of Southwestern Michigan College's first faculty in 1966. His son, Dan, was born in Dowagiac, "so we have many, many, fond memories of our time here in your city. It's great to be back. We've maintained a tremendous relationship with (retired SMC president) Dave and Camille Briegel. We get back here and visit them and see them when they're vacationing in their cottage at Pentwater."
Anderson, of Ludington, headed several community colleges in Michigan and Illinois, most recently West Shore. He has written two books about the Civil War and another pair about the Detroit Tigers. His home contains a baseball museum.
Anderson was appointed by Gov. John Engler and retained by Gov. Jennifer Granholm. HAL, the Department of History, Arts and Libraries, was organized in August 2001, bringing together five agencies "strewn around state government."
They included the state library and law library, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, which lent financial support for Egyptian tomb painter Judi Barrowman's free talk at SMC Monday night, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, the Michigan Historical Center and the Michigan Film Office, "all brought together around a kind of common purpose," Anderson said. "When Gov. Engler created that department and now Gov. Granholm has continued it, that's really, really significant for all of us. So often when a government of one party creates something new, the new governor comes in quite often and changes things and reorganizes.
Combining five agencies "that have not been working intimately together" automatically creates "synergy," Anderson said. "Finally, the great advantage of the department is that it is a classic example that the whole is larger than the sum of the parts."
While attention he gets as a cabinet member can be "fulfilling," Anderson added, "Along the way, I am served some humble pie."
He was in the Ludington post office when someone congratulated him and asked if he would be able to cook when he got to Lansing.