Editorial, Letters to the Editor

Life Was a Splendid Torch

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To the editor

In Lorraine Hussey’s obituary, her son mentioned her commitment to the Hardwick Historical Society (HHS). I’d like to describe that commitment.

In 2004, she joined the team of volunteers organizing the collection that the town moved from the Memorial Building to the Depot. Neither she nor the other volunteers knew much about organizing and running museums and archives. They took workshops at the Vermont Historical Society so they could do it right.

Starting in 2006, she and other volunteers worked on the chaotic collection of pictures, papers and artifacts from founder Margaret Spier’s home. Just when they came close to finishing that collection, another came in. So, in 2009, they started on the 23 boxes of only-slightly-less-chaotic records from the Woodbury Granite Company. She once told me that she’d rather be reading obituaries, but she faithfully labeled folders and filed papers for the four summers it took to complete.

From the time the HHS opened the Depot to visitors, Lorraine allowed her name and phone number to be taped to its window as the person to call with questions or for a tour outside regular hours. So, she became the face of the society. She handled dozens of calls every year, answering questions or digging up information for people all over the country. She had an encyclopedic knowledge of Hardwick’s people. Give her a name, and she could give you a fairly complete genealogy back two, and occasionally three, generations.

Lorraine loved notebooks. Between 1980 and 2001, Hardwick’s French Heritage Festival honored one or more local French-Canadian families every year, and Lorraine compiled a notebook for each of the families honored, capturing genealogical and contextual history. She has compiled several dozen subject-based notebooks, including a multi-volume collection of obituaries of prominent men and women in Hardwick, several notebooks on Hardwick Academy (1860-1970) and Hazen Union (Lorraine knew when every student graduated from high school), separate notebooks on Hardwick floods, fires, celebrations, and other special events.

Lorraine instinctively understood that capturing history means capturing change over time, so she took pictures and documented building renovations, changes on the streets of the village, and major infrastructure projects. In 2004, she and Tom Dunn created four public lectures they called “A Stroll through Hardwick History.” Lorraine did the research and Tom did the computer work. Naturally, Lorraine put her research notes, the lecture text, and Tom’s images into notebooks.

Before the Hardwick Gazette gave the HHS its 40-year collection of pictures, Lorraine spent one day a week at the Gazette office transferring essential information from the published images onto the backs of the pictures. After the HHS received the collection, she led us all in that process for the entire collection of about 40,000 pictures.

In all the hundreds of hours I spent working with Lorraine, I never heard her gossip. She didn’t allow it in her store, and she didn’t indulge in it herself. She would speak factually and frankly about people who appeared in the picture or document at hand, and the worst thing I ever heard her say about anyone was that he or she was lazy. I knew she knew a lot more than she ever said, but she never shared any more than the conversation or question required.

I believe Lorraine intended to be thoroughly used up when she died. Life was a splendid torch for her, and she burned it as brightly as possible until it burned out. All of Hardwick, especially the HHS, benefited. Lorraine was the heart and soul of the organization. Not a day at the Depot went by without one of the volunteers taking the short-cut for finding information by just asking Lorraine. I wish now I had understood that if she was talking, we all should have been taking notes.

Elizabeth H. Dow

President of the Hardwick Historical Society

Hardwick
Elizabeth (Wiz) Dow is Northeast Kingdom Public Journalism’s executive director and board secretary.

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