Big Crowd Rallies for Springs Library

New members step up to revive flailing society
Heather Anderson, outgoing president of the Springs Historical Society and de facto director, chief cook, and bottle-washer of the Springs Library, was all smiles on Sunday as would-be members of the society lined up to join. Irene Silverman

A crowd of over 100, concerned about losing their tiny library in the heart of Springs, thronged the Springs Presbyterian Church’s Parish Hall Sunday afternoon in a show of support that left the library’s board of governors surprised but highly gratified. 

At the end of the meeting there was a crush to sign up for membership in the Springs Historical Society, which oversees the library. “We ran out of signup sheets,” said Ethel Henn, a longtime library volunteer who was taking names. “I had four, and people wrote on the back of them.” The society gained at least 25 new members, with about 15 more calling Heather Anderson, its outgoing president, later that day and “coming in through Facebook” on Monday, she said. “People were throwing money at me,” said Ms. Henn. As of Sunday night, about $740 was raised. 

The library, located in the centuries-old Parsons House opposite Ashawagh Hall, is dependent upon the historical society for its very existence, but the society’s New York State charter has expired. A new one is needed lest both institutions lose their tax-deductible status, but without a quorum of board members — there should be seven, but some have died or moved away, and until Sunday there were only Ms. Anderson and Hugh King — obtaining a new charter seemed an impossible task. New blood was needed on the board, and Sunday’s meeting was called to get a transfusion.

“We thought of throwing the meeting open, but the bylaws state the board will present a slate with names,” Ms. Anderson explained, “and of course we’d do that, otherwise it would be a dictatorship.” So, the names of seven people, all of whom had agreed to serve, were submitted for a vote by members of the historical society (“On your honor, anyone who’s not a member, or doesn’t want to be, please don’t vote,” Ms. Anderson said) — including that of Richard Barons, the former executive director of the East Hampton Historical Society, now its chief curator and fount of institutional knowledge. Library volunteers said he was asked to join and agreed immediately.

“You just never know how I will get infiltrated,” Mr. Barons, who with his wife, Rosanne, has lived in Springs for 20 years, remarked cheerfully on Monday.  He is looking forward to his first board meeting, he said. “We will be exploring what Springs needs and how we can supply it by keeping the library and the society’s artifact collection, its archive of history, open.” The East Hampton Historical Society’s new director, Maria Vann, will not be on the board of directors but has also volunteered her expertise, Ms. Anderson said.

The new president of the board, Don Sussis, was asked to stand and say a few words. “I think of myself as an egghead,” said Mr. Sussis, who said he’d retired from Hunter College as a full professor. He grew up in the Bronx and Queens, he said, has lived in Springs for 25 years, and has “lots of experience on boards and with start-ups and the internet.” He added, to applause, that he wants “to keep things the same and make them better.”

Donna Potter, a dedicated volunteer and year-round resident, will be the society’s vice president. She was away at a wedding that afternoon. Ms. Anderson told the crowd that “she’s been active in church and in Heart of Springs. Her husband’s mother was a volunteer here.”

Ms. Henn, the new treasurer, retired as the assistant principal of Washington Irving High School in Manhattan and has lived in Springs full time since 2001; her parents, she said, bought a house in the hamlet in 1965. Born in Flushing, she is a longtime Springs Library volunteer and member of the historical society.

A more recent library volunteer, Jackie Wilson, will be secretary of the board. “My handwriting is good,” she told the amused crowd in an unmistakable English accent. A high school principal back home, Ms. Wilson has been living with her husband at their daughter’s house on Sandra Road, helping students here with their college essays “while waiting for the town to approve our own building plans,” she said.

Abby Abrams, an artist and a member of the society, was elected a director. “My qualifications are, I’m willing to volunteer,” she said, smiling, before sitting back down.

Mr. King, the director of Home, Sweet Home in East Hampton Village, is renowned for his stovepipe-hatted tours of village landmarks as the East Hampton town crier; he has offered to lead similar tours in Springs. He taught science at the Springs School for 31 years, and a number of his old students were among those cheering when his name was announced. He will succeed himself on the board of directors.

Asked to tally up the votes, Mr. King counted 92 hands raised for the proposed slate. Martin Drew of Springs had offered to run as well. For which post, Ms. Anderson asked him. “I would like to go for the top, thank you,” Mr. Drew responded. Receiving, it appeared, no votes, he was undismayed. “C’mon, Ma!” he exclaimed, to laughter.

Among those who contacted her after the meeting, Ms. Anderson said, were two former candidates for East Hampton Town supervisor, Manny Vilar (running at present for a town board seat) and Zachary Cohen, both offering to help. Ms. Anderson has been president and de facto treasurer of the society since 1985, running it and the library almost single-handed in recent years. She and her husband, Pete, hope to move to Wisconsin, where both their daughters live, in a year or two, but she had said before Sunday’s meeting that “I just cannot leave until we re-establish the historical society.” 

She called its reconstituted board of directors “the silver lining that comes out of what we saw as a dark cloud.”