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Mendhi hands by Pushpa Jain. Photographer unknown. All rights reserved.Fish decoy. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Embroidered dress detail. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Cedar bird by Glen VanAntwerp. Photo by Al Kamuda. All rights reserved.
Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo by Al Kamuda

Photo by Al Kamuda

Daniel Rapelje
1992 awardee, Lansing (Ingham County), pigeon breeder, trainer, and flyer

The sport of racing pigeons is a popular in Michigan with more than 400 "flyers" statewide organized into local clubs and regional groups called combines. Pigeon racing requires expertise in raising the birds, knowing how to breed them, and training them to become good homing pigeons for races. "Old Bird" and "Young Bird" races take place in the spring and summer when clubs and combines release the birds from a location 100 to 500 miles to the south. Flyers wait back at their lofts for the birds to return, at which point the flyer "clocks" the birds by removing special race bands called "race rubbers" and inserting them in the racing clock. Winners are determined at the local clubhouse where the clock results are tallied by the club secretary. Distances in air miles between each flyer's loft and the race starting point are carefully calculated to ensure accuracy.

Daniel Rapelje, b. 1935, is a respected pigeon flyer in Michigan. He took up the sport in 1980 following his father's death when he inherited his father's pigeon loft, equipment, and birds. Daniel learned the tradition from his father when he was a boy and quickly became immersed in the sport. Now he has nearly 250 birds that he affectionately calls his "kids." (1) Daniel flies pigeons in four different mid-Michigan clubs: the Heart of Michigan Pigeon Club; the Lansing, Michigan Pigeon Club; the State 500 Pigeon Club; and the Central Michigan Combine. He also belongs to the American Racing Pigeon Union. He served as president of the Heart of Michigan Club and the State 500 Pigeon Club and as secretary-treasurer of the Central Michigan Combine. He goes out of his way to teach the tradition to young people at events such as the 4-H Pigeon Show. School groups often visit his backyard loft.

Daniel enjoyed demonstrating this traditional sport at the 1988 Festival of Michigan Folklife by holding races of small numbers of pigeons, allowing visitors to make predictions on which bird would win the race, then releasing the pigeons on the festival site.

(1) Rapelje, Daniel. Interview with LuAnne Kozma. 1987.

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