A Society of Volunteers

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Originally published May 1987

In 1987, Carol Laun painted this vivid word picture of the Salmon Brook Historical Society’s Thursday morning volunteers.

Thirty-five years later, in 2022, Thursdays still find an enthusiastic number of volunteers gathered to accession donations, do research, repair buildings and sort and mark donations for the spring flea market—this year on May 21. They take a break at 10:30 a.m. for “snack.” A snack assignment sheet on the bulletin board ensures there will be special goodies, tea and coffee.

If the words “Historical Society” evoke an image of grim reverential silence and dull stodgy people—you have not visited the Salmon Brook Historical on a Thursday morning.

That morning has been designated as their workday, and volunteers show up faithfully, whatever the weather. They work at a variety of tasks with evident enjoyment. The sounds of laughter, conversation and activity echo through the old houses.

One Thursday in April found Russ working outside, replacing the rotted sills of the Cooley School outhouse. Merv arrived to take a newly donated (c. 1900) light fixture home to rewire and refurbish. He stayed to help fix the outhouse.

In the Weed-Enders Victorian parlor, George continued to strip peeling paint from the woodwork. Eventually the entire room and ceiling will be repainted, and the “new” light installed.

Then, volunteer woodworking expert Jim arrived to pick up an old walnut bookcase he is repairing and restoring. He borrowed the schoolhouse key so he could put a second coat of sealer on the school bookshelves he built last year. Seth, a man of many talents, from research to vacuuming, removed schoolbooks from the shelves and prepared them for finishing.

Art restoration genius David, another volunteer, dropped in to discuss several projects with the curator. He was followed by a visitor from Pennsylvania seeking genealogy assistance.

The south parlor of the Rowe house is filled with boxes and activity. Evelyn, Melba and Emily are cataloging and storing the Society’s extensive clothing collection. Gales of laughter erupt as someone tries on an excelsior-filled bustle or an elaborate 1890s bonnet. Sounds of admiration are heard for the fine quality workmanship of the past. The clothes are beautiful—trimmed with braid, jet, lace, velvet, tucks, ruffles and embroidery. Each new box discloses something interesting, as well as some puzzles: “How would you wear this, and what is it?”

All the workers gathered for coffee and lively conversation. Ideas are offered for future Society programs: a “fashion show” of the clothing being catalogued; programs featuring some of the many collections (fans, canes, purses, razors, parasols and more); a video of early needlework accompanied by an exhibit of examples owned by the Society. Carol shared the news and mail that deluges the curator: announcements of Connecticut Historical Society events, classes, shows, trips, seminars and books.

Then Dorothy joined the clothing workers and plans were made to clean the buildings the following Thursday. Dorothy is in charge of Open Houses. She has gathered a group of about 25 volunteer guides and arranged the schedule for Sundays, May through October. She also handles school tours and already had a kindergarten group scheduled.

Many other Historical Society volunteers work at home or on annual projects. Chuck does all the graphics work and signs very professionally. The ongoing project of copying old photographs is done by Paul. Ruth and Ronald handle membership and Society mailings. Other invaluable workers organize the Annual Dinner, Flea Market and Wassail Party.

On other Thursdays, workers have cut down a tree, scrubbed the school house floor, raked leaves, swept up 200 years of attic dirt dislodged by the new roof installation, sorted invoices from the old Loomis Store, weeded the herb garden and removed errant birds who foolishly came down chimneys.

Every Thursday is different. A researcher may appear at the door or someone may come to buy a book or a mug. Donors are often welcomed as they add more Granby artifacts to the collections.

The Historical Society volunteers are a very special group of people who would welcome others to join them. They work and learn and help the Society immeasurably. They occasionally have lunch together after a morning’s work and they remember with laughter the December coffee break when Evelyn insisted they all wear hats from the collection. That was a rare scene that finds mere words inadequate.

The Salmon Brook Historical Society, like most of the other groups in Granby, is an all-volunteer organization. The quality, capability and talent of the volunteers is the secret of its success.

April 2022: the veteran Thursday morning volunteers. From left, Patty Sansone, Jim Glenney, Jean Potetz, Sally Markey, Melba Griffin and Dave Laun. Photo by Sarah Langdon
November 2007: Carol Laun, at left, at the reception the Historical Society gave in Polly Hall’s honor. Hall had just donated a good part of her quilt collection to the Society.
April 2022: Howard Berg, SBHS volunteer, cleaning up after snack duty. Photo by Faith Tyldsley