Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your life and your path from South Africa to Ridgefield, Connecticut?
A: I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and spent the first 25 years of my life there. I was one of a large and cheerful family, was educated at a convent high school, graduated with a BA from the University of the Witwatersrand and a Diploma in Library Science from the University of Cape Town. I worked as a Travelling Librarian (bookmobile) for the Johannesburg Public Library. Then the desire to see Europe sent me and a friend off on a journey.
Deirdre and I spent several months hitchhiking and youth hosteling from Oslo to Naples. At this point I needed to find a job and after some low points, dishwashing for example, I learned that the US Air Force was looking for librarians. I called the US Embassy in London and was hired as the base librarian for the 7532 Materiel Squadron.
That’s where I met Phil, married him, and after our first daughter was born returned with him to the States. From then on I worked in Libraries in Manchester and Ridgefield, CT while raising four children. While substituting at East Ridge Middle School Library, I earned an MA in Media from Fairfield University and was able to apply for a position at Ridgefield High School as a Library/ Media specialist and worked there for 22 years. It was the perfect job.
Q. How (and when and why) did you originally get involved with (what was to become) the Ridgefield Historical Society?
A: I was involved with several book clubs and Jeanne Timpanelli, a founder of the Historical Society, kept asking me to join her group of catalogers at the Scott House. “When are you going to retire?,” was a constant question. When I retired I joined her group. The next phone call was to ask me to join the Board. I said I thought I should join the Society first! I joined the Board in 2004, I think, with some title to do with computers. Fortunately for all at some point I became the Archivist, despite my telling the Board I was a librarian and had no training as a true archivist. (Touché!)
I have been associated with the incredible Archives Collection Committee ever since. For about 6 years I was part of Jeanne’s cataloging group, and after her sudden death I inherited the group. When the Collections Manager position was created I continued working with Betsy Reid as the leader of the Tuesday Group. I have served on various committees including the Collections Committee, the Trip Planning Committee, and the “Remember the Ladies” Book Committee.
Q: Do you have a favorite era of Ridgefield History?
A: Because of the research etc. involved in the preparation for Remember the Ladies, I became fascinated with the Suffragist movement in Ridgefield. As most of the members were also the grand dames of Ridgefield, I became interested in their place in Ridgefield society. Mary Olcott for example led the suffragist group, gave lectures at the Garden Club, cataloged the existing Library collection and bred poodles. Ridgefield in the early 20th century was a place of summer people but also of immigrant gardeners, masons and builders.
Q: Do you have any favorite Ridgefield Historical Society memories or stories to share?
A: I loved the field trips we organized. They had a real flair. We tried to have an historical connection. We are a community with strong immigrant connections so the Tenement Museum in New York was a favorite, we also enjoyed pastrami sandwiches at the famous Katz Deli. The summer people built mansions and gardens, so we arranged tours to mansions like Naumkeag and Lyndhurst Castle. Ridgefield has a tradition for art and architecture, so we visited Chesterwood, and the Florence Griswold Museum. With our historical background we visited the summer homes of two presidents, Hyde Park and Sagamore Hill, the last trip.
These are but a few of our trips, people liked them because of the planning that went into them: arranging for comfortable buses, finding good places to dine, providing suggestions for sites to see, and on the way home providing refreshments on the bus. I also have enjoyed our participation in various reenactments, particularly if they involved the Scott House. When we were the “doctor’s surgery” and Betsy [Reid] was covered in spots of a dreadful disease, when soldiers and their wives camped out behind the House and slept in tents and cooked out. I must admit they used the in-house loos. We had another event where a whitesmith demonstrated his craft, we had to get permission from the police to have a fire pit. I enjoyed seeing Keith Jones in full uniform lecturing about the battle. We were at St Stephen’s Church and half way through his talk a group of “British soldiers “burst into the hall shouting treason.
That was memorable!