In 2012, The Muskegon Irish American Society announced its founding of the Michigan Irish American Hall of Fame, memorializing our state’s Irish American men and women who have had significant impact in the areas of Public Service, Philanthropy, Arts & Entertainment, Business & Industry, Religion, and Sports. Below is a listing of the members who have been inducted annually since 2012. Induction ceremonies are held annually in September at the Michigan Irish Music Festival at Heritage Landing in downtown Muskegon.
Public Service: Frank J. Kelley
Former Attorney General of Michigan.
An Irish-American from Detroit, Frank J. Kelley was the longest serving state Attorney General (AG) in the United States, having served from 1962–1999. His 37-year career was marked by an overriding priority to protect the citizens of the State of Michigan. He was the first Attorney General in the United States to establish a Consumer Protection Division and an Environmental Protection Division, and he fought continually for reasonable public utility rates for Michigan residents. After retirement as Michigan Attorney General, Mr. Kelley remains active in state political affairs.
Philanthropy: Thomas Hume
West Michigan lumberman of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Thomas Hume was the business partner of Muskegon lumberman Charles H. Hackley from 1881 to 1905. An Irish immigrant, Hume was a native of Belfast and immigrated to Muskegon as a young man in 1872 and began working as Hackley’s bookkeeper. After Hackley’s death, Hume, a major benefactor of Muskegon, was instrumental in transforming the city from a lumber town to a major manufacturing center.
Business and Industry: Henry Ford
Founder of the Ford Motor Company.
Henry Ford was an American industrialist whose parents were born in Ireland. He was the founder of the Ford Motor Company and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production. Ford developed and manufactured the first automobile that many ordinary Americans could afford to buy. He built a Ford plant in Ireland that was Ireland’s largest employer for many years. As owner of the Ford Motor Company, he became one of the wealthiest and best-known people in the world.
Arts and Entertainment: Cathie Ryan
Vocalist and composer of Irish Music.
Cathie Ryan is a songwriter and vocalist of Irish music. Early in her professional career she was the lead singer of the famous Irish music band “Cherish the Ladies.” In 1995 she began her solo career and is one of the most influential artists in Irish music today. She has been named Female Vocalist of the Decade by Live Ireland, and has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Irish Americans by Irish America magazine. She has released five albums and tours with her band both in the U.S. and abroad, as well as performing in radio and television productions.
Religion: Father Solanus Casey
Detroit Capuchin priest who is being considered for sainthood.
Venerable Bernard Francis Casey, born the 6th of 16 children of Irish Immigrant parents, was the first United States-born man formally to be declared “Venerable” by the Roman Catholic church. He is now a candidate for beatification. A Capuchin priest, Casey was known for his great faith, humility, and role as spiritual counselor and intercessor.
–Class of 2013–
Business & Industry: Bob “Sully” Sullivan
In the category of Business and Industry, the Hall of Fame has selected Bob “Sully” Sullivan of Grand Rapids. For several decades, Mr. Sullivan has been a prominent business leader, charitable benefactor, and community booster, including as owner of the renowned amateur national and international championship baseball team, the Grand Rapids Sullivans.
Public Service: Chris Murray
In the area of Public Service, the new member is Chris Murray of Detroit. Since the 1960’s, Mr. Murray, a native of Ireland, has tirelessly worked to preserve and promote Irish heritage and culture in the greater Detroit area and beyond. For many years he was President of the Gaelic League and Irish American Club. He brought Irish music and dance to Detroit, built up the Gaelic Football League, created an Irish radio show, started an Irish festival, introduced Irish language courses, and encouraged the development of an Irish library.
Sports: Jack Breslin
The Hall of Fame has chosen Jack Breslin (1920 – 1988) to be admitted posthumously in the Sports category. Mr. Breslin was a star athlete at Michigan State University in the 1940’s, and served as Executive Vice-President of the University for many years. He was known as “Mr. MSU,” and the Breslin Center at MSU is named in his honor. His son Brian Breslin, Vice-President of the Michigan State Board of Trustees, will represent his father for the induction into the Hall of Fame.
Arts & Entertainment: Al W. Purcell
Al W. Purcell (1929 – 2000) of Detroit is the new member in the field of Arts and Entertainment. While a lad in Dublin Mr. Purcell was introduced to one of the most difficult of all Irish music instruments, the uilleann pipes, and became a renowned master piper. He immigrated to Detroit as a young man, and instructed and inspired many of our country’s top musicians to play traditional Irish music. Mr. Purcell’s widow, Ann Purcell, will represent her deceased husband for induction into the Hall of Fame.
Religion: Sisters of Mercy
The Hall of Fame is honoring in the Religion category the Sisters of Mercy for their Christian service in health care, education, and charitable works for all of Michigan’s citizens. The Order of the Sisters of Mercy was founded by Sister Catherine McAuley in Ireland in 1827, and the Sisters have been in Michigan for over a century. The first Sisters emigrated from Ireland, and many of their successors are Irish Americans from Michigan.
–Class of 2014–
The Hall of Fame posthumously named Stan R. Tyler, Jr., of Muskegon as its 2014 member in the field of Philanthropy. Mr. Tyler was the long-time owner of Tyler Sales Co., Inc., one of Michigan’s most successful beverage distributorships. He was a major supporter of education and community causes during his lifetime in the Muskegon area and beyond.
In the category of Business and Industry, the Hall of Fame has selected Norman R. Byrne of Ada. Mr. Byrne is the founder of Byrne Electrical Specialists, Inc., in Rockford. For more than forty years, Mr. Byrne has been a prominent business leader and community benefactor in West Michigan.
In the area of Public Service, the new member is the Hon. James L. Ryan of Detroit. Judge Ryan is a former justice of the Michigan Supreme Court and retired judge of the United States 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Ryan also served as Military Judge in the U.S. Marine Corps and Naval Reserve for more than thirty years.
In the field of Education, the Hall of Fame will be admitting to membership Michael Flanagan of Lansing. Michael Flanagan has been the Superintendent of Education for the State of Michigan since 2005. He is the first Michigan Superintendent of Education to receive the distinguished service award from the National Association of State Boards of Education.
Catherine “Kitty” Heinzman of Detroit has been selected in the area of Arts and Entertainment. A native of Westport in County Mayo, Ireland, Kitty Heinzman was already an accomplished Irish dancer when she immigrated to Detroit in 1958. Since then, she has popularized Irish dancing in Michigan by instructing three generations of hundreds of young students. With her children, she founded the Ardan Academy of Irish Dance, one of Michigan’s prominent Irish dance schools.
–Class of 2015–
Education: Sister Alice Wittenbach, O.P.
For her many years of leadership and accomplishments in the category of Education, The Michigan Irish American Hall of Fame inducted Dominican Sister Alice Wittenbach, O.P. Sister Alice taught biology and humanities at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids from 1969-2004. While at Aquinas, she led the Tully Cross Ireland program, leading group studies to Tully Cross many times. Her deep ties to Ireland led to her being named “Spirit of Ireland” for the 2011 Ancient Order of Hiberian’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in Grand Rapids. Sister Alice’s ancestors came from Ireland in 1837, just before the great famine in l840.
Business & Industry: Michael L. Kelly
For his leadership in the category of Business & Industry, the Michigan Irish American Hall of Fame inducted Michael L. Kelly for 2015. Kelly is the President and Owner of Environmental Maintenance Engineers, Inc., which provides environmental remediation contracting services in Michigan and Ohio. He was born in Detroit, the oldest son of Joann and the late Lawrence M. Kelly (County Mayo Ireland) and grew up in Detroit. Kelly is on the Board of Directors for the Michigan Irish American Chamber of Commerce (MIACC) and was recognized as the 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year. He feels strongly that we need to promote and recognize all of the charitable contributions the United Irish Societies (UIS) and the entire Irish Community make in Detroit and throughout the State.
Arts & Entertainment: Patrick (Pat) Bonner
In the category of Arts & Entertainment, the Hall of Fame inducted legendary Beaver Island fiddler Patrick Bonner. Patrick (Pat) Bonner was born on Beaver Island November 7, 1882 and lived most of life there. He died October 26, 1973 at the age of 91. Legendary American folklorist Alan Lomax spent time on Beaver Island in 1938 recording Bonner’s music for the Library of Congress. Pat also wrote poems relating to Irish and Beaver Island heritage, some of which were also recorded by Lomax. Bonner made a living as a small farmer and worked at jobs that became available on Beaver Island. His first priority however was his fiddle and his Irish music. He was able to play until shortly before his death in 1973.
Public Service: Mayor Phil O’Dwyer
In the category of Public Service, the Michigan Irish American Hall of Fame inducts the Mayor of Berkley, Michigan, Mayor Phil O’Dwyer. In addition to his job as mayor, he works full time as Dr. of Psychology at a hospital in Garden City, Michigan. Dr. Phil began his education in Thurles, Tipperary. He received his Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Detroit and his Doctoral degree in Counseling from Wayne State University. He is a Certified Social Worker and a Certified Addictions Counselor. Dr. O’Dwyer is a man of great respect in the Irish Community.
Public Service: Hon. Michael F. Cavanagh
Also in the category of Public Service, The Hall of Fame has named Retired Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, the Honorable Michael F. Cavanagh, as one its 2015 inductees in the field of Public Service. Justice Cavanagh assumed the office of Justice in January of 1983. He was elected Chief Justice in January of 1991 and was reelected Chief Justice in January of 1993, and he served until January of 1995. Justice Cavanagh’s fourth eight-year term on the court started in January of 2007 and he retired from the Court in 2015. Over the years, Justice Cavanagh was very active with The Incorporated Society of Irish/American Lawyers.
–Class of 2016–
Former Gov. James J. Blanchard will be honored in the category of Public Service. Blanchard, a member of the U.S. Congress from 1975 – 1982, served as Governor of Michigan from 1983 – 1991. He was U.S. Ambassador to Canada from 1993 – 1996. He has been consistently active in Irish-American affairs, and has been Grand Marshall of the Detroit St. Patrick’s Day Parade. As Governor he hosted the Lord Mayor of Dublin in Michigan. In Congress he was a member of the Irish Caucus and championed the McBride Principles to fight discrimination in Northern Ireland. He is a member of the international law firm of DLA Piper, and remains active in state and national matters.
Arts & Entertainment:
Michael Patrick Shiels
Michael Patrick Shiels will be honored in the area of Arts and Entertainment. Shiels is the star of “Michigan’s Big Show,” a syndicated morning radio talk show. Named “Network Radio Personality of the Year” by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters on multiple occasions, Shiels hosts his show live from Ireland each St. Patrick’s Day and, as a travel writer and author, has written extensively about the Emerald Isle.
Kathleen Dewan O’Neill
Kathleen Dewan O’Neill, a special education teacher in the Detroit Public Schools for over thirty years, is President of the Gaelic League/Irish American Club of Detroit and host of a Sunday morning weekly Irish radio show on WNZK. Kathleen is a leading voice for many years in Michigan’s Irish community and co-authored a book on the history of the Irish in Detroit, making countless presentations at cultural institutions, schools, and community events about the impact of the Irish in Michigan and the United States.
Education: James J. O’Kelly
James J. O’Kelly has been actively involved with the Ancient Order of Hibernians for more than fifty years. He is a past President of the AOH of Michigan and past President its Stephan Walsh Division while currently serving as the National AOH Historian. He assisted in writing “Modern Journey,” the two volume history of the Irish in Detroit. O’Kelly participates in all the events of the United Irish Societies, the AOH, the Knights of Equity, and other Irish organizations, and is an adjunct professor at Schoolcraft College.
Education: Michael W. Kerwin
Michael W. Kerwin has participated in the Detroit Irish American Community for several decades, serving on the Executive Board of the Gaelic League and as Chairman of its Cultural Committee. Kerwin founded and was Chair of the Cultural Committee of the Detroit Ethnic Riverfront Festivals; Chair of the Tri-Centennial Committee of the United Irish Societies; and Chair of the Committee of The Archive of the Irish of Detroit and Michigan in the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library. He also was named honorary Chair of the Gaelic League’s 100th Anniversary of the Easter Uprising.
The Induction ceremony was held at Noon on Saturday, September 17th at the Michigan Irish Music Festival at Heritage Landing in downtown Muskegon. Below are some pictures from the Induction Ceremony.
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