In 1995 I attended my first board meeting of the Newtown Square Historical Society, the youngest person in the room, surrounded by the people who made the community run. Today as I write this, I am one of the oldest in the room.
Board members at that time included Stan Short, Dick & Edie Carpenter, Sid & Jan Elston, Madaleen Ellis, Joe & Barbara Bullen, Jack Grant, Sam Coco, Dorothy Elicker, Ray & Fran Giuliani, Marianne Burt, Sharon Haslett and many others. Whenever something wonderful was happening here, a 4th of July parade, the Freight Station museum, school scholarships, library programs, Colonial Day, historic markers, the Bartram Bridge, the Paper Mill House and Museum, these people were involved. They gave back to the community, and made it a wonderful place to live.
Since then, I have learned much about what makes a community work. It is not the complainers, nor the simply inattentive or complacent. Not the people who don’t have time. A community works when there are people who have enough interest to get involved. They don’t have more time than the rest of us. But they make time.
After World War II, the suburbs were built and the people who filled those new houses, the Greatest Generation, also gave structure to the new communities that resulted. Most of those people are gone now. Jan and Sid Elston are alive and well, but now living in retirement in the South. The loss to the Historical Society and community has been huge. Jan grew up in the community, kept the high school alumni records and history, and is a treasure of oral history. Sid had taken care of our Paper Mill House since it was rescued from ruin in the 80’s. Jan and Sid were two of the original founders of the Society, and had at some point in the past 40 years taken on every job that needed to be done. They are missed.
There has been a decline in civic engagement in the generations since the Greatest Generation. The more residents we have, the fewer seem to participate in the events that make the Township an attractive place to live. More burden falls on fewer shoulders. And eventually, we wear out the few volunteers, and the organization falls by the wayside.
Imagine a community with no library, no PTA, no Little League champions, no parades, no theater group, no covered bridge, no historic preservation, just row after row of McMansions, filled with people who are strangers to each other. Is that the community you want to live in?
Your community will be what you make it. But it involves effort. Your effort. So find the time. Get involved. Pick a community organization that means something to you, and reach out to them and volunteer your time and talents to help them to continue to do what they do in the community. Your reward? A more livable community, and the joy in seeing a program or event that you helped bring to life because you cared enough to get involved. It’s a good feeling.
Doug Humes is a board member and former president of the Newtown Square Historical Society. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our website at www.nshistory.org