Recently, the announced plans to convert its 1927 calf barn, a nationally registered historic site, into The Broomfield Center for Leadership. The center will permanently house retired U.S. Rep. William S. Broomfield’s personal papers and artifacts from the Cold War years, as well as provide additional space for exhibits and other local history collections.
Not only will the center be a major resource for historical records related to the Cold War, but it will expand the museum’s educational and archival initiatives and create a leadership platform in southeast Michigan for discussions, meetings, presentations and guest speakers.
The center’s namesake is noteworthy not only for his years of public service, but for his deep roots in the community.
Broomfield a 'home-grown citizen'
Broomfield was born in Royal Oak on April 28, 1922. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and after returning home went into business for himself by owning and operating a service station on the corner of Woodward Avenue and Cambridge in Royal Oak.
According to Bill’s Super Service, written by Broomfield’s daughter, Nancy Broomfield Aiken, Broomfield turned the once-abandoned station and the surrounding area into a successful shopping center in just three years.
At age 26, Broomfield sold the stores and ventured into a career in politics. He went on to serve in the state House of Representatives from 1949-54, the state Senate from 1955-56 and the U.S. House of Representatives from 1957-93.
As a newly elected U.S. congressman and, later, a ranking member of the U.S. Foreign Affairs Committee, Broomfield had a virtual front-row seat to the Cold War era’s biggest conflicts – from the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and every major and minor struggle in between.
A conservative Republican, Broomfield garnered praise from both sides of the aisle during his political service. When he retired in 1993, he left a legacy of bipartisan fellowship and was praised for his ethics, honesty and statesmanship.
According to an article published March 12, 2010, in The Oakland Press, “Broomfield, whose district once covered all of Oakland County, and the Republicans of his era had to work with Democrats if they wanted to have any influence because during the years he served ... the GOP was always a minority party in the House.”
While many people living in this community and others throughout Oakland County may be familiar with Broomfield’s political life and career, it may surprise some to learn that in addition to his national service, Broomfield’s maternal ancestors founded one of our historic treasures: Stoney Creek Village.
Broomfield is a great-great-great-great-grandson of Lemuel Taylor, who, according to the Rochester Hills Museum, arrived in the Michigan territory in 1823 and purchased 120 acres of land on which he and his family built a log cabin community named Stoney Creek Village.
“Bill Broomfield was one of our homegrown citizens,” said Pat McKay, the museum's supervisor of interpretive services. “He came from this area, was educated and raised here, and then represented us on the world stage. He is honest, bipartisan, hardworking, and a true gentleman.
“Our community's success will always be based on good leadership,” McKay continued. “Bill set an example, and the Rochester Hills Museum wants to keep telling the leadership story."
Saving history, encouraging leadership
The leadership center’s significance to the museum and the surrounding community is twofold. First, construction of the center will save a historic barn and provide the museum with much-needed storage and archival space.
“The 1927 calf barn has been a distressed building for over 20 years and is fully exposed to the elements,” noted McKay. “The barn is a significant part of the community’s agricultural heritage and the world-class Holstein breeding operation (that took place) at the Van Hoosen Farm. It is one of the last agricultural buildings that can be saved in our community."
Second, the project allows the museum to accept Broomfield’s archival papers from “the era he represented,” said McKay. “The Cold War is a significant part of national history.”
Because the new center will also provide exhibit and library space for additional local history collections, “it really is a long-term solution for the museum to accept community archives,” said McKay.
Broomfield's family: 'He's happy!'
For the Broomfield family, the leadership center serves as a sort of homecoming, and they are grateful for the recognition. Broomfield, 88, lives in Kensington, MD.
“He and we as a family are honored that the museum would put his name on this extraordinary project,” said Aiken. “It was unexpected, and he is most appreciative. I know my dad has many fond memories of his childhood spent with his cousins at the farm, and he loves seeing how the museum is educating and expanding its outreach to the community and preserving this historic and beautiful gem of a property.”
Regarding the papers that will be archived at the center, Aiken said her family is glad to have the collection in Michigan.
“We wanted the papers someplace where students could see them and focus on the Cold War. ... To have his papers (at the museum) and know they are bringing leaders to the area and having this leadership focus ... and then put my father’s name on it?” Aiken’s exclaimed. “It’s more than my father ever expected. He’s happy!”
According to Aiken, the papers to be donated include volumes of books, letters, photographs and other documents related to Broomfield’s years in office, including his meetings with presidents, foreign heads of state and royalty.
“He’s met so many interesting people, and being on the Foreign Affairs Committee took him around the world,” said Aiken, who has written a soon-to-be-released update to Bill’s Super Service, originally published in 2009.
The collection will also include Christmas cards from U.S. presidents and even one from Elvis Presley.
What happens next?
Visit the museum today, and you might wonder why the calf barn looks so disheveled if it’s to house a newly announced leadership center. The project has three phases and may take years to complete. Construction during the first phase will stabilize the building and focus on the exterior by creating a roof, doors and windows.
“This will buy us 30 years to complete the rest of the project,” said McKay. “This strategy was used in the Dairy Barn and provided us with 10 years to raise the funds to complete the project.”
The second and third phases will focus on the building’s interior.
“Most of the interior animals' pens will be removed so the building can function as an exhibit and archival facility,” noted McKay. “We will have to add an elevator to storage areas on the second floor, and the building will be climate-controlled and fire-suppressed – which it never was originally."
But before all of that can be realized, the project requires major funding.
“We currently have $130,000 raised and need $300,000 for Phase 1,” said McKay. “The total project cost is $900,000, which also includes an endowment portion that will fund an archivist position and all utility and maintenance costs for this building.”
While this project shows the significant commitment the city of Rochester Hills has made to the museum, McKay believes it is important to reduce the museum’s reliance on taxpayer support in order to “ensure a more stable financial long-term future.”
“We have been successful so far with the Stoney Creek Schoolhouse preservation and want to be good financial stewards with the calf barn, too,” said McKay. “We are leaning on private donors to make a commitment to the museum.
"I think we have earned the community’s trust, and I strongly believe this project will be one of the most significant investments our community can make because of the building preservation effort and the saving of the community archives at the museum," he said.
“This whole project is a win-win proposition: Save a historic barn and create storage space for years to come, while telling the comprehensive story of local history.”
To learn more about The Broomfield Center for Leadership or to make a donation, contact the museum at 248-656-4663.
Writer's note: This story means a lot to me personally. I had the great fortune to work for Broomfield as a congressional intern in his office in Washington, DC, one summer several years ago. It’s a time in my life I will never forget. After listening to me describe my brief two-month internship, my husband said it sounded as though Broomfield was more than a politician, he was a statesman. I couldn’t agree more.
Still a teenager and soon-to-be college coed that summer, I was tremendously impressed with Broomfield’s character and personality. In a world filled with less-than-stellar public servants, he seemed to rise above all the nastiness and temptation that can ensnare a politician. Partisan politics aside, I believe the descriptions of him as honest and ethical are accurate. Broomfield showed great respect and admiration for his staff and fellow man. If only we had more like him.