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Bassett Historical Center collections are in demand
Pat Ross, executive director of the Bassett Historical Center, holds shoes and a handbag that go with an outfit displayed at the center that belonged to former Virginia first lady Anne Bassett Stanley. Her outfit is on display beside an outfit worn by her husband, Gov. Thomas B. Stanley. Demand for the center’s collections is up, according to Ross (Bulletin photos)
The Bassett Historical Center has reinvented itself after a 2012 split with the Blue Ridge Regional Library System.
Now, as it continues to craft a budget and other administrative procedures, the demand for its services and donations of collections have grown.
“We need more hours in the day. We are still alive and we are still growing in leaps and bounds,” said Pat Ross, executive director of the center. “We are thriving and receiving more donations of collections and museum items than ever before.”
For instance, one new collection is from Anne Bassett Stanley Chatham (Mrs. Hugh Hill Chatham, Sr.). “This is a three generational collection, as there are papers, records, photos, portraits and items of the J.D. Bassett, Sr. family (Chatham’s grandparents), the Thomas B. Stanley, Sr. family (Chatham’s parents), and the Chatham family. Each and every item points to a lesson in the history of our community, and we thank the Chatham family for this wonderful donation that is certainly a welcome addition to our center,” Ross said.
The increased collections, and foot traffic — “we are (more) busy with patrons and with different projects than ever before — follows the split between the library system and the Bassett Public Library Association (which owned the building that was leased by the library system to house the historical center) came after the library board learned its lease would not be renewed. The association board now oversees operations and overall management of the center.
“We have been in the process of putting a budget together, and we are still working on a budget,” Ross said. Information about revenues, expenses and other financial data was not available, she said.
Betty Scott, who acts as interim president of the center’s board of directors in R. Phil Dalton’s absence, also said information about the center’s budget and finances was not available.
However, Ross said the center tapped a $50,000 donation from Henry County for operations in fiscal 2013, which ends for the county on June 30. That marked the first year the center received funds directly from the county, she said. Before, those funds were funneled through the library system.
The center also receives donations and contributions from private individuals and businesses, Ross said.
“We have had success so far with these because people who have donated and supported us all these years are still donating to the center. We also hold an annual fundraiser, and that helps tremendously,” she said.
Currently, the center has three paid, part-time employees, along with Ross, who serves as a volunteer executive director.
“At present, we also have six volunteers who are very faithful to this center and help us so much,” Ross said. “We couldn’t do without our volunteers.”
Even with that team, Ross said, “there is always something to do. We are still preserving and promoting family and local histories. We have people from around here to visit, and we still have patrons from all across the U.S. and a foreign country or city thrown in every so often.”
Also, “a lot of our patrons have come back to the center to do research,” Ross said of some who had stopped visiting the center in the final months of its association with the library system.
In calendar 2013, Ross said, 1,910 visitors came to the center from other states, counties and countries. Data from 2012 was not available.
“For some, it’s a hobby, or they want to find out more about their families. They may come to find their family’s medical information or to research their families who live or have lived here. We had one grandson who had just found out about a murder case that he had never heard of before and didn’t know his grandfather was involved. He came here to research that murder, to find out why there was a murder and who in his family was involved,” Ross said.
Others “come to find family members — long lost cousins, so to speak — and people who want to find relatives” who may agree to genetic testing for a bone marrow transplant or to determine other medical histories, she said.
“In the bone marrow cases, they need a person to be tested to see if they could be a donor. In the event a person comes in and wants to know medical history, they are trying to find out if certain illnesses or diseases were in their family’s makeup,” she added.
New services also have been added at the center, Ross said.
One is aimed at helping patrons who live in other areas but are unable to visit. “We will still help if they email, call or write” the center, she said. “We will help that patron even if they can’t come here. They want to find mainly the same things that patrons here want to find.”
“We also work with different businesses, industries, educators and police departments,” Ross said.
Law enforcement officers may ask for next-of-kin contacts, according to Ross, who added that she does not ask why the information is needed.
“We’ve also helped the military, too. We help them find family members of a person who was missing in action or a POW from World War II or the Korean War,” Ross said. In those cases, family members also are sought for DNA tests “to make sure that service member is their family member.”
“Quite a few published authors come here to research,” according to Ross, who is researching information for a PBS (Public Broadcast System) show later this fall. “We’ve also worked with TV stations before, some periodicals, and I think we are having more programs and more workshops for the public. We try to have at least one or two events each month.”
Events may range from a series of genealogy workshops to authors and/or experts in areas of interest, including quilting and appraisals.
The classes and other events generally are free, Ross said, and noted that the center also has new exhibits, including one that showcases cameras.
“Whether it’s an organization, a business or a patron just wanting information,” Ross said, “we try to be helpful and hopeful that we can find what they need. We learn a lot” in the process.