By Pilar Ulibarri de Rivera
City commissioners voted Nov. 2 to help the Delray Beach Historical Society supplement its operational costs, potentially keeping it from becoming history itself.
“We are having financial constraints,” said historical society President Tom Stanley. “And we’ve had to reduce our budget, like most charities in the county.”
Stanley told the commission he earned the title “The Slasher” during the process of trimming the annual budget from about $250,000 to less than $50,000. The society was still $17,000 short, which is where the city stepped in.
Longtime City Manager David Harden related that when he took his position, the city was helping the society get by. But its fundraising efforts helped it become self-sufficient and “they haven’t asked the city for support in 20 years.”
“People just aren’t giving the way the used to,” Stanley said.
Mayor Woodie McDuffie said it was sad that with all the talk in the community about “how much we treasure our history, we are here talking about how to keep it afloat.”
“It seems we’re not putting our money where our mouth is.” He said.
The society has reduced operational hours, eliminated events such as the Antiques Show and Sale and lost personnel, mainly its executive director. Also, its mission has been reduced “for the time being,” Stanley said.
The nonprofit organization, founded in 1964, was forced this year to seek help outside grants, private donations and fundraisers for a temporary source of funding.
A recent grant proposal to the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency was denied, because it “did not fall within the CRA’s mission,” said Elizabeth Butler, CRA marketing and grants coordinator.
“We couldn’t help them like they wanted but overall we are very supportive of the historical society and its mission,” she said. “It serves a need in the community.”
Co-founded by Ethel Sterling Williams, who arrived in Delray Beach (then the Linton Settlement) in 1896 with her family, the society has grown over the years to include a full-blown archive, museum and learning center.
Also, it has expanded on its mission “to preserve the city’s archives and historic sites, to educate the community about Delray’s heritage and to encourage public interest in the historic past of Delray Beach,” and acquired three buildings to do so.
Besides the 1988 acquisition of the Cason Cottage and 2002 addition of the 1926 Bungalow, the society added the 1908 Hunt House to the complex in 2007. It was later reopened as the Ethel Sterling Williams History Learning Center and Archives and houses the society’s archives in a steel and concrete facility.
“It’s a strain to maintain and insure three buildings,” Stanley said.
So, the organization’s priority has become the preservation of its prized archives, which includes biography files, photographs, real estate documents, maps, newspapers and memorabilia from local businesses and families, and to keep its archivist, Dorothy Patterson.