I’m always impressed when I hear of people preserving history through voluntary efforts. In these times of shrinking budgets the monumental task of honoring and caring for our historical sites and records does not lessen. Just many archives, museums, and historic sites have volunteer programs and use unpaid college interns. Volunteers working under the guidance of paid history professionals have my appreciation and thanks for the donation of their time. But here I have some examples of groups and individuals who take on their chosen task without pay, training, or supervision.
The group we started in Seattle called the Friends of the Ballard Locks is still working hard. While they have points of contact with the Corps of Engineers, the operating agency for the Hiram Chittenden Locks and the Carl English Botanical Garden on the Seattle Ship Canal, there is no trained history or archive professional available to provide guidance and supervision. However, local people in the community saw the need for organizing archival materials and artifacts that have to do with the facility and have stepped up to donate their time and often their money for out of pocket expenses. When they are in need of professional opinion, they seek it through contacts at surrounding museums and archives. The FOBL does not have a budget, because they don’t need one. All they really need, and always welcome, is new volunteers. Read about how the FOBL is doing at their website and blog: www.friendsoftheballardlocks.org.
I saw an article recently in the local paper in Carlisle, Pennsylvania that the Molly Pitcher monument needed some work. Molly was a legendary figure here in the Cumberland Valley. The story goes that Molly got her nickname by carrying a pitcher of water to soldiers during the Battle of Monmouth on July 28, 1778. When her husband, who was part of a cannon crew, was wounded during heavy fighting, Molly stepped in to take his place. A statue and cannon are placed at her grave in the old Carlisle cemetery on South Street. For a number of years the Sunrise Rotary Club volunteers to landscape around the monument. And when the statue needed maintenance and the cannon needed a new coat of paint, that organization of local businessmen stepped up and raised the money to get it done.
I recently became aware of Jack Loveday’s website, www.hqco9thmarines.com. Jack is a marine veteran of Headquarters Company, 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division during Vietnam (also, Jack’s dad was a veteran of the 509th PIB during WWII). Jack put together this website that has brought together, in his estimation, about a hundred veterans from his unit. That is awesome on its own, but what impressed me the most was that the site is a treasure trove of pictures, videos, and primary sources like rosters and unit logs. The website has a professional look and straightforward navigation that makes these resources easy to find. If I was researching the 9th Marines in Vietnam, I would refer to this site. Well done, Jack.
So my suggestion is this: a large amount of government funding is not always required in a history project. Don’t wish that someone would do the thing that you plainly see needs to be done. Volunteer and get others to volunteer. Remember the old saying, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”