TOWNSEND -- Two longtime volunteers credited with reinvigorating the Townsend Historical Society 40 years ago were honored at a potluck meal and presentation.
Ed and Mary West joined the society at a low point in its history. The group was about to lose its home in the library basement and there were only about five active members.
The key role the Wests played in bringing the society back to life, finding it a new home and continuing to preserve the town's history was detailed by Jeannie Bartovics, the society's site administrator, during an audio-visual presentation following the meal.
Ed West attended his first meeting while the society was facing the "hydra-headed crisis" of moving its collection and finding a new home. By the end of the meeting, "Ed had been voted the new and very startled president," Bartovics said.
Under his leadership, the group became a legal nonprofit organization and found a permanent home. The society purchased the present headquarters, the Reed House, in 1972.
"The house needed work," Bartovics said, but was ideal for a historical group. The Rufus Porter murals on the wall date back to 1835 and it was owned for generations by the Reeds.
The Wests were key in expanding the society's collection. Mary West had an "artful way" of acquiring historical documents, Bartovics said.
In a 1979 interview filmed by the Wests with the Stewart sisters, who owned what is now Cliff's from 1922 to 1959, Mary obtained a menu and a meal punch card from the former restaurateurs. The ephemera, showing a three-digit phone number, is now a permanent part of the collection.
The couple also recorded an interview in 1989 with Miss Pearl Russell, a beloved teacher at the Spaulding School and later at North Middlesex Regional School. During a clip of the film, audience members sang along to the school song under their breaths.
Ed West photographed events in town. These photographs documenting one-time events like the flood at the South Street bridge that encircled the cooperage and the last freight train to roll through town are now part of the society's collection.
The Wests also purchased real estate for the society -- a small family cooperage shop and the land the West Townsend Railroad Depot once occupied beside the Harbor Church.
The Harbor Church was given to the society by the members of the church about the same time the Society for the Preservation of New England Activities donated the Grist Mill.
The society's holdings and membership have increased and fundraising continues to be important. The Wests began a tradition that still brings money into the coffers. In 1981, they began the annual Arts and Crafts Fair held on the common.
During the fair, Ed West still sells the lead-free tin soldiers he makes to benefit the society.
Former Townsend resident Deb Jones spoke after the presentation. "So many aspects of my adult life I owe to you," she said to the couple.
When she bought her first sheep from them, he suggested she join the society. Thirty years later, she has moved out of town but still raises sheep and still volunteers at special events at the society.
The Wests have also been involved in town government over the years. Jones was talked into being on the zoning board.
Gene Rauhala, former president of the society, also spoke. He met the couple when he was a child at school and through Boy Scouts. They are still a part of his life, especially as he goes about his duties as town moderator, a position West once held.
"In Townsend, that's what we all strive to be like -- Ed West as moderator," he said.
The couple, he said, are the face, heart and soul of Townsend.