Valentine's gift gladdens hearts at Bethel Historical Society
Thanks to the largest gift ever received from an individual, the Bethel Historical Society will likely break ground this spring on a long-planned building project.
BHS has received a $200,000 bequest from Mary Valentine, a retired librarian who volunteered at the society for more than 35 years.
The funds are expected to go toward a 1,600-square-foot addition to the society’s O’Neil Robinson House. The 1821 house is located on Broad Street next to the society’s other property, the Dr. Moses Mason House.
The addition will closely match an original ell that formerly connected the house to a barn (no longer standing) behind it. The society bought the Robinson House from the Bethel Inn in 1998.
“The new wing will do much to return the Robinson House to its 19th century appearance, while allowing for 21st century state-of-the-art museum design and technology inside,” said Randy Bennett, BHS executive director.
For the past several years, society volunteers have been sorting and inventorying more than 30,000 items collected through purchases and donations since the organization was established in 1966.
The new wing, said Bennett, will provide space “to properly store collections and provide an area for staff and volunteers to sort and catalog artifacts, and for scholars, students and visitors to examine them.”
While Valentine’s bequest will allow for substantial work on the wing, additional funds must be raised to complete it, he said.
“Some of the money raised for the project will go directly toward covering construction costs, while other funds will be invested to generate the income to maintain the new facility,” said Bennett. “We hope to begin construction this spring and have the structure ready for occupancy by the spring of 2014.”
The addition will be named for Valentine. A plaque to be displayed will read “Named in memory of Mary Emma Valentine (1925-2012), whose exemplary devotion to the Bethel Historical Society’s mission and outstanding support of its museum, library and archival collections will serve as an inspiration to future generations of researchers, scholars and visitors.”
The society offers a variety of “planned giving” options for those who would like to support the organization, Bennett said.
About Mary Valentine
Mary Valentine was not a Bethel native, but she was a descendant of one of Bethel’s earliest settlers – Deacon James Grover, after whom Grover Hill was named, Bennett said. Her father grew up in Bethel and graduated from Gould Academy.
Valentine was born and grew up in Pennsylvania, later earning a master’s degree in library science from Columbia University.
She worked as assistant library director at a library in Braintree, Mass. Her parents had in the meantime moved to Bethel, and with their declining health she also moved here to care for them. She never married.
Valentine began volunteering at BHS as a tour guide in the 1970s, and then became interested in genealogical research.
BHS Director Emeritus Stan Howe remembers that when he told her about the Mormon movement in the Bethel area – three of founder/prophet Joseph Smith’s wives came from this area, and Brigham Young once preached here – Valentine responded, “I should look into that.”
The result was years of research. Valentine compiled articles from old Bethel newspapers and also wrote her own account of Mormon activities in the area (now online at bethelhistorical.org).
Valentine also had a great interest in the society’s collections, an interest that makes the use of her gift particularly appropriate for the addition to the Robinson House, Bennett said.
“She was always interested in what we could learn from our resources,” he said.
In addition to her library research background, Valentine was also a talented organist/pianist, playing for area churches and at BHS events.
But, said Bennett, “She was very modest and very unassuming.”