Ypsilanti historian Heide Otto is on a mission to preserve a former rooming house at 108 Maple St. in Ypsi as a piece of World War II history.
Otto has been neighbors and friends with the house's owner, Glenn Sakcriska, for more than 30 years. But it wasn't until recently that she began to help him with his goal of making sure the property's history isn't lost.
Otto says she wrote a research paper on Ypsi Township's B-24 bomber plant for an Eastern Michigan University history class many years ago and gave a copy to Sakcriska. She forgot about the paper, but Sakcriska held onto a copy of it for 15 years. He then knocked on Otto's door one day to tell her he liked her writing and to tell her about his home's unique history.
"He's over 80 and he is thinking about his legacy," Otto says. "He was very focused on making sure the history of this property he owns isn't lost once he's no longer here to share the information."
At the beginning of World War II, Ypsi and other parts of Michigan served as key parts of President Roosevelt's "arsenal of democracy." The booming war industry caused a housing crisis, and Henry Ford asked local homeowners across southeast Michigan to turn their homes into boarding houses to accommodate the influx of workers. Otto says the housing crisis got so bad that some rooming houses instituted a "hot bed system," with workers renting a bed by the shift.
Otto says 108 Maple was one such rooming house for women. Remarkable for its day, it housed both white and black "Rosie the Riveters." Sleeping quarters were separate, but a dining room, living room, and kitchen were used communally by all the women.
"By today's standards, it doesn't seem like a big deal, and they were still segregated in different sleeping areas. But for the time period, when we had Jim Crow laws in place, (it was progressive)," Otto says. "Regardless of their race or background, all these women came together to support the war effort."
Currently, there isn't much evidence of the house's history aside from the tale handed down in Sakcriska's family. Some of the women wrote their names on a wall, Sakcriska says, but that has since been covered up. Still visible, though, are several names, including "Doris" and "Myrtle," and the date 1943 carved into a chimney in the back of the house.
Otto has talked to officials at the national and state level about preserving the house as a historic place, but her smaller, more immediate goal is to get it recognized by Washtenaw County with a historical marker.
Otto is seeking people who have stories about the location and its wartime residents, or any additional evidence that could bolster the case for it to be designated a place of historical significance.
Anyone with stories of the rooming house at 108 Maple is encouraged to share them with Otto at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at email@example.com.
Photo by Al Hudson.