The President's State of The Society Address

A year ago, The Society held its annual dinner and member meeting at the new Marriott Hotel in downtown DeLand. At that time, we were not familiar with the terms “Zoom”, “wear a face mask”, “keep social distancing” and “COVID-19”. We had no idea then how those words would affect the direction of the West Volusia Historical Society in 2020.

However, by mid-March, we were becoming more familiar with these terms and The Society began to temporarily close some museum facilities and postpone and cancel some programs and events.

In April, the Board held its first meeting via zoom and decided to close all facilities util June 1 in accordance with CDC guidelines and the Governor’s executive order. All in-person events and local history talks were cancelled, and bus tours suspended.

The Society began to shift to on-line communications through Facebook, YouTube, Zoom, digital newsletters and our website. Board members and volunteers stepped up, creating new and innovative ways of interacting with members. Executive Director, Sarah Thorncroft and our Marketing and Outreach Committee Chair, Linda Barnett spearheaded this effort. Linda’s committee members along with other volunteers researched and wrote postings and descriptions for local historical characters, events and artifacts. Board member Mary Lou Peffer added additional oral histories to West Volusia Historical Society’s YouTube Channel. A special thanks go out to all of them for their efforts.

Also in April and May, the Board began to monitor the impact closing and cancellations might have on our budget forecasts for the year. Closures and the economic downturn were beginning to impact small businesses and non-profit museums and historical societies across the country.

By June, the Board adopted a reopening strategy for the summer months and the Fall. The Conrad Center reopened to researchers two days a week and to small group workshops where health and safety precautions could be maintained. Our docents did not feel comfortable providing guided tours, as the number of COVID cases remained high – so museums remained closed.

By the beginning of Fall, the Board cancelled the Holiday Home Tour planned for December, deciding instead to hold two other fundraising events before the end of the year. The annual Historic Cemetery Walk and Christmas in Bloom – a new event to kick off the holiday season – were scheduled for November and could be held outdoors with necessary health and safety precautions. Special thanks to Deb McShane, Suze, Dan Friend and their volunteers for their work on the Cemetery Walk. Also, to Karen Tweedie and the Makers’ Guild, along with the many volunteers who helped plan and implement the Christmas in Bloom fundraising event.

Through the end of the year, all remaining local history programs were held via Zoom.

So how did these events affect our finances?

As a small non-profit with a relatively limited budget, The Society depends on member dues, contributions, small grants, tour admissions, gift shop sales, and a few special fundraising events each year to generate revenues.

The budget for 2020 projected revenues of approximately $66,000. Going through the year, postponements and cancellations resulted in declining revenues from our regular activities and events. The Board realized early on that cancellation of the Holiday Tour of Homes, our major fundraiser held only every other year, would be another red flag. As a result, expenses were carefully monitored, budget adjustments made, and other fundraising opportunities examined.

Fortunately, revenue from member dues held steady, our County and State grants came through, and The Society received a Payroll Protection Program Loan for $5,125 to partially cover the Executive Director’s salary. This loan was forgiven in December and became a welcome grant. Also, our two November fundraisers generated over $4,000.

In addition, our members stepped up to devote time and effort to the activities and events that we could still carry out during the remainder of the year. Members and Patrons also stepped up with generous financial contributions. I must thank one board member and Patron specifically. Thank you, Betty Johnson for your contributions this year. Betty has been a generous Patron of The Society for many years. Also, our year end giving campaign was a great success raising over $11,000, more than doubling 2019’s campaign.

Therefore, I am pleased to report that The Society ended 2020 with revenues of over $83,000 and expense of $53,000, showing a year-end surplus of over $30,000. The Society is now in a strong financial position as we go into 2021. Thanks to all our members and Patrons for supporting The Society during this challenging year.

Now, as we go forward, what challenges do we face as a Society?

We should keep in mind that as we move forward, 2020 will be remembered and analyzed for many reasons.

Certainly, it will be remembered for the pandemic and its associated economic downturn. Here at West Volusia Historical Society, we often refer to the 1917-18 pandemic that took place a little over 100 years ago. Docent tours at our museum facilities at the Stone Street Memorial Hospital and Burgess Pavilion describe the origins of the Hospital following that pandemic. At that time, DeLand had a small eight-bed hospital on West Rich Avenue that was completely overwhelmed by Spanish Flu cases. Following the pandemic, the community built a larger new hospital on Stone Street which opened in 1921. As a white-only hospital, it highlighted the lack of medical care available to the African American community. This resulted in the building of the Burgess Pavilion as a Black Medical facility, which opened 5 years later in 1926. However, true to the Jim Crow Era, if a patient needed surgery, they were carried into the White hospital after midnight and returned to the Black hospital to recover. The Burgess Pavilion did not solve the problem of racial injustice an equal access to medical care, but it was one small step. How will the 2020 pandemic and its impacts on the community be preserved ad remembered a hundred years from now?

2020 will also be remembered for continuing racial injustices, growing social and income inequalities, deep political divisions and growing mistrust in government institutions, and a growing awareness of the severity of climate change. How will our society and our community deal with these issues as we move forward and how will be remember them?

In June, following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protest marches that followed, the Board prepared a letter to the editor that appeared in the Daytona News Journal and the Beacon. The heading on the letter printed in the News Journal was “Honor History, Don’t repeat it”. In closing I would like to read a portion of the Board’s letter, because I think it helps reinforce our mission and helps define our path forward. Let me read:

We believe, like historian and Smithsonian Secretary Dr. Lonnie G. Bunch, that “History is a guide to a better future and demonstrates we can become a better society – but only if we collectively demand it from each other and from the Institutions responsible for administering justice.”

The letter from the Board continues. As a steward of West Volusia’s history, The Society must be an open source of information of information and support as we work together to build an informed path forward towards racial justice and equality. We must recommit to our mission of researching, exploring and sharing the diverse and important stories from West Volusia’s history: stories of free and enslaved people of African descent, stories of indigenous peoples who experienced settler colonization and removal, and stories of settlers who came here, from many different cultures and backgrounds, in search of a better life. West Volusia Historical Society will continually strive to be, for everyone, a safe, equitable, and thoughtful place to come together and learn from our shared history as we seek a more just and compassionate future.

With those thought in mind about our mission, that concludes my report on the State of the Historical Society. It has been my honor to have served as 2020 president. I want to thank everyone who has helped me lead the society through this once-in-a-lifetime year.

WVHS 2020 President Roger Wangsness

Annual General Membership Meeting, January 19, 2021