And, Now for My Next Act...

Some people from Northern Minnesota stay here his or her entire life. Others venture out, whether for school, work or adventure. For most people from Grand Rapids, the strong roots of this community will always remain.

Supporting the Arts and Humanities

The Dede Emerson Scholarship was established for a Grand Rapids High School graduating senior enrolled in a two-year or four-year college, specifically pursuing a major in international business, veterinarian work or music. This scholarship is based on scholastic merit, and applications with a GPA of less than 3.0 are not considered. Students interested in studying other or additional areas in the humanities or liberal arts may be considered. “Dede is such a cool woman. She tries to come to Grand Rapids at least once a year,” notes Sarah Copeland, Director of Grants and Programs at the Community Foundation. “She always has such interesting stories!”

From jazz pianist to UN Development Officer to NYC photographer

Dede Emerson was born and raised in Northern Minnesota. She ventured to New York in the fifties to study jazz piano improvisation at Juilliard and never returned home preferring instead the stimulation of the New York scene. She enjoyed several years as a successful jazz pianist in the New York area, but pursuing her music career took a back seat after a 6-month trip around the world in 1963.

The impact of seeing poverty and misery in so many of the countries she visited brought her to the United Nations where Dede worked for 30 years to better the lives of people in third world countries. While at the United Nations, she went on over sixty missions and worked in its offices overseas. To date, she has been in 97 countries; the most recent was a trip to Cuba in 2013.

On April 24, 2005, Dede began the first of her walks that would result in her walking every single block, street, nook, and cranny of Manhattan. The result was her first book, "A Different Kind of Streetwalker…Manhattan by Foot, One Block at a Time" published by Booksurge and now available at or

“Although I had lived and worked in the city or suburbs for over 50 years, I never really paid attention to what was between point A and point B.”Dede Emerson

Walking all the streets of Manhattan was a personal Mt. Everest challenge.

On one of Dede’s first walks, she noticed plaques embedded in the sidewalk on East 41st Street near the New York Public Library. They had quotes from Shakespeare, Mark Twain, E.B. White and others on them. She had never noticed them before. At that moment, Dede had an epiphany and decided to walk every street in Manhattan.

Dede spoke about her walks, “As the weeks went by, I felt a real high when the weekend came as that's when I usually did most of my walking. In fact, what kept me going was that my adventure turned into an odyssey. I decided not to walk Manhattan in an orderly manner but, rather, to walk wherever I happened to be on a particular day or what appealed to me according my mood. If I felt like open spaces, I would walk the upper part of Manhattan. If I wanted streams of people milling around, it would be midtown or lower Manhattan. Furthermore, I didn't read up on any of the areas I was going to walk, because I wanted to be surprised by what I'd see. That was one of the allures of this odyssey.”

“People want to know what area I liked the best and I always have to dodge that question because I had no favorite,” - Dede Emerson

Dede described Manhattan like twelve different countries, “You appreciate each one for what you learn from it, whether it's the Latino influence in the north or the Chinese in the south. In many ways, I feel sad that I will probably never return to so many of the neighborhoods I walked.” But, as Dr. Seuss said, "Don't be sad it's over, be glad it happened."

Dede continued, “In looking back, I realize that the walking was mentally stimulating as it motivated me to get out of my comfort zone each week. Walking in Manhattan was like living in the moment… very spiritual on many levels as you were alone with the world without being alone. Also, determining what to photograph and how was creatively very stimulating.”

After 2 years, 9 months, and 2 days Dede finally finished walking every street, block, nook and cranny of Manhattan on January 26, 2008.

It was not Dede’s intention to write a book about her walking, but as she went along, the 2,200 photographs she took were so reflective of the everyday, yet offbeat side Manhattan, Dede wanted to share them.

A quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson best describes how Dede feels about having done it: "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Making Sense, Creating and Leaving a Legacy

How fitting that Dede wants to pass on the same adventurous opportunities, for which she is so grateful. The experience of the United Nations, Jazz piano, taking pictures of the extraordinary everyday life on the streets, and the desire to help others joins perfectly with the criteria of the Dede Emerson Scholarship.

We are so fortunate to have people who will take the experiences of their life and share the adventure of today and hope for tomorrow with us. How are you sharing your story today and tomorrow? If you want to read more about Dede Emerson, she has a new book entitled, And, For My Next Act…. You can visit her website at If you want to find out more about how to write your story and leave your legacy, contact Chris Fulton at the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation.

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