Why Berks History Matters to Me: A Letter from a Former Intern

 

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Dear Fellow Members and Friends of the Berks History Center,

Admiration. Curiosity. Gratitude. These are the feelings that capture the essence of my experience with the Berks History Center. In the fall of 2016, I had the pleasure of working alongside seasoned museum professionals at the Berks History Center (BHC) museum. As a junior at Albright College, I interned at the BHC and helped with their collections management initiative, which involved inventorying more than 28,000 items in the collection. From textiles to furniture, to posters and machinery, my eyes were exposed to more curiosities than I ever could have imagined. Some days I felt like Abigail Chase from the film National Treasure, holding the Declaration of Independence and eager to uncover the detailed history woven into its fabrication.

Despite being a South Jersey native, I developed a sincere admiration for the Berks County artifacts we inventoried. Each had a place in the museum and I wanted to know how and why all of these items were collected, and how they contributed to preserving the legacy of Berks County.

On one of my first days at the museum, I learned about the mystery of the Chippendale chairs. There was a rumor that the chairs belonged to the former Pennsylvania governor, Joseph Hiester. My supervisor, BHC Curator Brad Smith, said that he wanted to find out if the legend was true. So we began our quest with several visits to the BHC Research Library and the Berks County Courthouse.

It was from those visits that we discovered the legend was true!

Thanks to the curiosity of our team, we located the original acquisition documentation for the chairs, which traced the lineage to the former governor. I felt like a museum detective and only wanted to explore more mysteries!

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Photo: Mackenzie inventorying items in the BHC Museum Collection.

After getting a taste of curatorial research, my admiration for Berks County history grew exponentially. I wanted to know things like: why the collection held so many fire company artifacts; how a Conestoga wagon got into the basement; and how so many valuable things had been acquired.

I discovered the answers to these questions and more through persistent research and constant support from the BHC’s talented and supportive staff.

As more information was uncovered, I realized that I was beginning to help preserve the legacy of Berks County. It wasn’t until my last few weeks at the BHC that I noticed how much gratitude I felt for the collection, its keepers and its scholars.

In the winter of 2017, Brad asked me and fellow intern, Erin Benz, to present our findings at a community event at the BHC. Through this experience I understood that I had the potential to grow as a museum professional.

After presenting some of my favorite paintings from the collection, I was told by an attendee that one of the works was improperly labeled. I was grateful to this community member because I learned that historical organizations like the BHC rely on input from the local community to accurately preserve and interpret local history.

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Photo: (left to right) BHC Intern, Erin Benz; BHC Curator, Brad Smith, BHC Intern, Mackenzie Tansey; Executive Director, Sime Bertolet

When I left my internship at the BHC, I knew it wouldn’t be a final farewell.

The BHC is a place I admire for both its collection of artifacts and its dedicated staff and volunteers. It’s also a place where curiosity is welcomed and shared among scholars and a place I’m grateful for because it’s where I discovered my passion for collections management.

The BHC has the power to ignite a fire of curiosity in community members of all ages and backgrounds. That fire found its way into the heart of this Albright Lion from New Jersey and I believe it can touch the hearts and minds of many more to come!

This year I’m giving back to the place that supported me by making a $100 donation.

Please join me today and share your gratitude to the BHC by donating any amount you can to support this vital community treasure. Click here to donate online or you can mail your support to 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA 19601.

The BHC continues to find innovative ways to preserve history while educating and inspiring the citizens of Berks County and beyond. Your strong financial support is vital to ensuring that it can continue to do just that. Thank you for your help.

With gratitude,

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Mackenzie Tansey
2016 Berks History Center Intern

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Thank You! A Message from the Director

 

Dear BHC Members, Friends and Berks County History Enthusiasts,

Happy Holiday! I derive no greater sense of satisfaction than when I get to say thank you; that is my most rewarding duty as the director of the Berks History Center (BHC). When I am afforded that opportunity it’s generally because someone or some organization has supported the BHC, allowing us to continue to fulfill our mission to preserve your #BerksHistory. For that reason, I am devoting this special blog article to thanking all those who have supported the BHC in so many ways.

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Lori J. Johnston from Thompkins VIST Bank presenting us with EITC support for the Berks History Center’s Educational programs.

I will begin by thanking those companies that support the BHC through the Pennsylvania Commonwealth’s 2017 Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, otherwise known as EITC. With the funds provided through the EITC program the BHC installed new exhibits, developed new educational programs, as well as provided transportation for approximately 6,000-7,000 school children from the Reading Area School District, and other districts around Berks County, to visit our museum and learn about the rich cultural heritage of their community. The kind of support necessary to bring those students to the BHC wouldn’t be possible without the EITC support we receive. With that said, I wish to thank East Penn Manufacturing, Tompkins Financial, M&T Bank and BB&T Bank for the EITC Grants they have made available to the BHC!

You may have noticed that my column in the fall issue of The Historical Review was devoted to the BHC’s Annual Report, and therefore, I was not able to personally thank those individuals and organizations that supported our two major fundraisers; the 2017 Magical History Tour Pt. V and 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour. Like previous years, both were fun events that drew large crowds and demonstrated the strong community bonds the BHC engenders.

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A crowd of nearly 1200 enjoying the 5th Annual Magical History Tour concert!

The 2017 Magical History Tour Pt. V took place on August 19th and this year’s concert was the best attended to date with approximately 1,200 participating! There were eight great bands that played from 2:30p-10p making for an amazing happening! Keep in mind that the musicians in these bands practice countless hours, in addition to playing at the concert itself! All their time is donated and they receive no monetary compensation. That’s a big gift to our organization and all of us at the BHC are very appreciative. After all, without the musicians, what would MHT be? So, a big thank you “shout-out” to all the bands and musicians that played at MHT Pt. V; and an especially big thank you to Dave Kline who not only played at the concert, but also organized the entire music lineup which included:

  • Hot Ice
  • Dave Kline and the Review
  • MaKooch
  • Gary Melton & the Rock ‘N Soul Revival
  • Thunder
  • Pawnshop Bound
  • The John King Band
  • Judd Burkert

Musicians were not the only “rock stars” at MHT. There were many other organizations behind the scenes that helped make MHT a great fundraiser. I would like to identify them now and thank them for their support. Our MHT sponsors included:

  • Reading Eagle
  • WEEU
  • Pretzel City Productions
  • M&T Bank
  • Reinsel Kuntz Lesher LLP
  • White Star Tours
  • Penn Avenue Music
  • Fraser Advanced Information Systems
  • The Poore Group/Morgan Stanley
  • Land Displays
  • T102

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Now, we move on to the 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour. It’s hard to believe, but 2017 was the BHC’s 12th year as steward of the annual 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour. This year’s tour was held on October 7 and featured the historical architecture of Muhlenberg Township. There were eight lovely properties and I thank all the homeowners and volunteers, without whom the tour couldn’t take place. I’d also like to thank all the tour-goers for supporting the mission of the BHC by coming out to enjoy the tour. As this is a real BHC team effort, I want to recognize all the BHC staff members and board volunteers for the great job they did and especially to Vicky Heffner for coordinating the homeowners, volunteers and pre-tour breakfast, as well as Alexis Campbell for the work she did marketing the event. I will also add that the BHC is very appreciative of the financial support from our 4 Centuries sponsors. We are highly reliant on our sponsors to make this event a successful fundraiser, so we can continue to carry out our mission to preserve Berks County’s history. I want to extend a sincere thank you to this year’s tour sponsors. Included in these ranks are our long time Signature Sponsor;

  • M&T Bank

and our Patron Sponsors;

  • Enersys
  • Herbein + Co.
  • The Highlands of Wyomissing
  • Kautter & Kelly Architects
  • Penske
  • William G. Koch & Assoc.
  • Xfinity

I also wish to thank Land Display for the in-kind work they provided for advertising the tour.

In conclusion, I must add that while we love hosting the Magical History Tour and the 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour, I feel I must make you aware that the largest portion of public support that the BHC receives, is from its Annual Giving Appeal which goes out every year in October and again in mid-March. This October 2017 Annual Giving Appeal letter was written by Phyllis Kelly (thank you Phyllis!!) and is generally responsible for bringing in over $46,000 a year as it did in Fiscal Year ended June 30, 2017. Gifts to the Annual Giving Appeal are above and beyond individual and family memberships to our organization and are extra gifts given by members and benefactors that truly believe in the mission of the BHC and its importance to the community. To all who have given, thank you, we couldn’t survive without your support. To those of you who have not yet given, I ask and encourage you to dig down into that pile of mail you’ve been meaning to go through and find the BHC’s Annual Giving Appeal letter and make your contribution. Or you can click here to support the Berks History Center this year. All gifts are important and very much appreciated no matter what their size. Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

Sime Bertolet, Executive Director