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An Article by Matt Vande Bunte | The Grand Rapids Press

Published Tuesday, August 10, 2010 | Original Article

WYOMING -- When the state's registers of deeds come to party, they really get down.


Like, 85 feet down.


That's how far underground a group of them went Monday to check on public records being stored underground in a former gypsum mine.


"I found ours," exclaimed Midland County's Chief Deputy Register Scott Haines, showing a few dozen drawers of microfilm to colleague Julie Atkinson, the mid-Michigan county's register of deeds.


Underground Security Co. has stored records in the mine at 1200 Judd Ave SW in Wyoming since 1971 and counts 70 percent of Michigan counties among its customers.


Monday, during the 96th annual Michigan Association of Registers of Deeds conference, being held in Grand Rapids for the first time in more than a decade, the company gave a tour of the vault where the microfilm is stored.


"It's less cave-like than I thought," said Atkinson, standing in a room of filing cabinets walled with concrete on one side and bare rock on the other.


More important than appearance, visiting registers said the mine provides rock-solid security of property documents including deeds, easements, tax liens, and mortgages.


The temperature, a comfortable 50 degrees in the mine with low humidity -- heated to 62 degrees in the vault -- helps protect the microfilm, they said.


"It's a controlled environment," said Lorie Sorensen-Smith, Wexford County register of deeds and president of the statewide association. "It's secured."

Underground Security leases space from Michigan Natural Storage, which owns the mine where a variety of items including sacks of flour and barrels of brandy are stored.


The company has more than 100,000 rolls of microfilm, said Jan Rush, one of three owners. Clients, which also include libraries, schools, businesses, the Catholic diocese, and a state agency, pay an annual fee per roll.


Her father, the late Gordon Gezon, was a microfilm salesman who started the business in 1971. Now, Rush and a sister own 20 percent of the company and their mother, Marge Gezon, owns 60 percent. Rush, who this year retired from teaching kindergarten at Jenison Public Schools, runs the business with one part-time employee.


"As he went around selling the microfilm, he found that all these registers of deeds were storing it in a back room of their facility," she said. "He started thinking there was a need for this. He said he was sitting in church (hearing about ancient scrolls preserved in caves) and it came to him."


Conference attendees include 94 registers, deputies and vendors who will be at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel through noon Wednesday.


Tuesday, Frank Abagnale, a former identity thief whose life was depicted by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie "Catch Me If You Can," was scheduled to speak about fraud and identity theft in a talk entitled "Art of the Steal."

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