Volunteers Doing: For The Love Of History

Passion is what drives many volunteers. For Ginny Reinhard, her love of history, particularly, the history of Orange, makes her a special VooDo (volunteers of Orange, do).

Ginny has been part of the Orange Historical Society since 1988 and its president for the past 15 years. She can rattle off historical facts of Orange like a musician singing their popular song.

“I love history and researching history. I am not financially motivated. A sense of achievement is what drives me,” Ginny explained. That drive is what brought the Orange Antique Show to town back in 1991. That was Ginny’s first big volunteer effort.

To try and bring more attention to “her houses”, as she refers to the three historic homes she oversees, Ginny began dressing in colonial attire and standing outside the 1830 Stone-Otis House on the corner of Orange Center Road and Tyler City Road. Ginny and her fellow OHS volunteers also take the show on the road. Each year they visit Turkey Hill School and teach them about Emily Prudden. In the 1800’s, Emily Prudden traveled to North Carolina using her own funds to build 15 schools.

“What makes a volunteer? Prudden was 70% deaf and riddled with arthritis yet traveled to North Carolina to build schools with her own money. That’s what a volunteer does. We look at others who volunteer and say ‘look what they did’, not so much what we do,” Ginny said.

Ginny said her proudest accomplishment is the Bryan-Andrew House on Old Tavern Road. “That was kind of dumped in my lap. A woman at the Senior Center asked me why the OHS didn’t want to buy the house. But the OHS said they couldn’t take it on so I went to then First Selectman Mitch Goldblatt and said the town needs to buy it. Mitch put me in charge of researching the market value and bringing the information back to the town. There are very few 1700 houses in this condition left in the State of Connecticut. It is the oldest house in Orange. Since then we have worked to restore it back to 1740.” Ginny added that she calls it her greatest achievement because “it was so hard to do. We have been fixing, doing, undoing to make it a 1740 showplace.” She added “my dream was made possible by everyone who helped. I steered the ship but there were a lot of people on that ship.”

In a reference to the original crest of Orange, Assistant Police Chief Anthony Cuozzo once called Ginny, “the jewel of the crown in the Town of Orange.” “It has to be a passion,” Ginny said of her hours spent on behalf of the historical society. There are only a few members but they are dedicated. Jan Clarke and Frances Vadney run the shop at the 1878 Academy one of ‘Ginny’s three houses’. “The Academy wouldn’t exist without them,” Ginny acknowledged. In the back of the Academy is a colonial classroom where Ginny used to teach a class when the kindergarteners from Mary L Tracy School would visit.

All the funds raised at the Academy are earmarked to the ongoing restoration project at the Bryan-Andrew House which amounts to about $3800 per year. They recently received a matching grant for $13,000 that will be used to plaster the interior walls. The next project will be to upgrade the kitchen which was an addition to the original house. Once that is done, they hope to do hearth cooking there. The Bryan–Andrew House is currently available for private parties and meetings.

The Orange Historical Society has been the beneficiary of most of Ginny’s years of volunteering. Ginny and Jan both remarked about what a unique offering we have here in Orange. “I am so proud of what we have accomplished with a very small group of volunteers,” Ginny added. “I am not alone. A volunteer is only as good as the staff they work with. I am very lucky,” she said.

Ginny has also been a member of the Lions Club having helped with the Taste of Amity and annual Easter Egg Hunt. She also helps with the Annual Chili Run on New Year’s Day.

While reminiscing about her volunteerism, Ginny remembered a time, as a 10 year old, when her yet unrealized love of history led to a neighborly volunteer gesture. Ginny and a friend, cleaned up the many archery trophies of an elderly neighbor. “My hands were black afterwards,” Ginny said with a satisfactory smile reminiscent of the one that10 year old girl probably wore after finishing the task.