SOUTH PORTLAND – A crowd of more than 70 people turned out to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the South Portland Historical Society during a special event last week, which included a cake, highlights from the past 50 years and more, according to Kathryn DiPhilippo, the society’s executive director.

“We are so blessed in South Portland to have a large number of people who care about history and who are willing to donate their time and/or their financial support in making (the society) possible,” DiPhilippo said.

She said the members of the historical society are “a community, and that community is reflected in the wonderful historical society that we enjoy here in South Portland.” DiPhilippo said the group also has “many members who used to live here, but who have moved and yet their ties to South Portland remain strong and they have a desire to preserve our history, as well.”

In addition to celebrating its 50th anniversary at the society’s annual meeting on May 21, a new board of directors was elected and DiPhilippo, along with Hilary Bassett, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks, gave an illustrated lecture on the history and architecture of the Willard Neighborhood, which is the featured section of the city on exhibit at the Cushing’s Point Museum this summer.

The mission of the historical society is to collect, preserve and exhibit items of historical significance, while also providing local history educational programming to residents of all ages, as well as illustrating the significant role that South Portland has played within the broader context of Maine and American history, DiPhilippo said.

She said the society has more than 500 individual and business members. Members receive the historical society’s newsletters with updates on the group’s work and activities, free admission to all society-sponsored programs, “and the great feeling of being part of the success of the society in its work of preserving South Portland’s history, DiPhilippo said.

She said what people may not realize is that it costs money to preserve history. “Special acid-free materials are needed and we have building and utility costs and other overhead. Since we rely on donations for our existence, every dollar that is donated is treasured and makes a huge difference in what we are able to accomplish,” DiPhilippo added.

“Our organization is special because of the people who support it. It is our members who have stood behind us and supported the society every step of the way as we have grown dramatically,” she said. “Our members keep their eyes out for significant pieces of history and they help us to throw out a wide net to reach even beyond South Portland to find our history.”

DiPhilippo said there have been cases where the society has asked for help and “multiple calls and emails have been made by members who then find people who have moved to New York or Florida or California (and these) people have artifacts or photographs that end up coming back to South Portland to be preserved.”

She also said that the historical society’s museum is a special, unique place that many residents may not be aware of. “Success at preserving history is largely influenced by getting the word out – by letting people know that we exist and that we care about it,” DiPhilippo said.

“Our members are the reason why South Portland has a museum, which further helps to educate people about (the historical society’s) existence and our desire to preserve history,” she added.

DiPhilippo said she thinks the founders of the society “would be amazed at the progress that has happened. When they first formed the historical society, (all they had was) a room full of people who cared about South Portland’s history. There have been many times when the society had no permanent home, when members would take precious items into their homes to save until a new home could be found.”

She added, “I’m sure they would be absolutely thrilled to see that the society now has a permanent home with climate control, a museum to be proud of and such a thriving and active membership and volunteer network.”

In all, DiPhilippo said, “the second biggest challenge in historic preservation after fundraising, which is every nonprofit’s challenge, is to get the word out so that people know we exist and care about history. If people don’t know about an active historical society, the chance of history going into the Dumpster just soars.”


A CLOSER LOOK

The South Portland Historical Society elected a new slate of officers and others to its board of directors last week. John McCall is the president; Linda Eastman is vice president; Chuck Carbonneau is the treasurer; Leslie Barteaux is secretary; Bob Doan is the collection manager; and Denise Michaud is the group’s official historian.

In addition the following people were all appointed at large:

Mike Cahill, Ron Cantor, Sharyn Dawson, Chuck Igo, Charlie Miller, David Mishkin, Shirley Mooers, Susan Mooney and Andy Wallace. Visit www.sphistory.org for more information about the organization, which has preserved local history for the past 50 years.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.