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Passion for the past

Historic Madison Inc. honors
volunteers at annual reception

Docent Sarah Vest honored for her decades of service

By Michele Turner
Contributing Writer

(January 2007) – “You have to be on your toes,” says Sarah Vest. That’s just what she has done for the past 35 years in her volunteer work for the nonprofit preservation organanization, Historic Madison Inc.

Sarah Vest

Photo by Michele Turner

Sarah Vest moved to
Madison from her native
West Virginia and has
fallen in love with
its history.

Vest was honored for more than 2,000 hours of service at the annual Docent Recognition Tea on Dec. 5 at the St. Michael the Archangel Church. “We count and tally hours and give awards to mark milestones, such as 50 hours, 100 hours. Sarah’s 2,000 hours is unheard of,” said Heidi Valco, Director of Programs at HMI.
When her youngest son left for college in West Virginia in 1971, Vest says she felt lost. “I missed him terribly, so my neighbor, Mary Heaton, thought I needed a distraction.” Heaton suggested that she become a docent for HMI. “I thought you had to be more educated to do something like that, but I looked into it,” said Vest.
She found she could do it and has been for decades. “I love meeting all the people, and I learn so much from them. I always ask them what I should see if I go to their town,” explained Vest.
Preserving Madison’s history is important to Vest. She and her husband, Bill, moved here from West Virginia more than 52 years ago. Her husband worked for Appalachian Electric Co. and was offered a transfer. They had driven through Madison a few years earlier and jumped at the chance to relocate here. She certainly has no regrets: “In all our travels we never found a better place.”
Her love for history was inspired by her father, who was a teacher for awhile. “We would take long drives and he would stop at every historical marker and make us read it to improve our reading skills. But we also learned to love history,” explains Vest.
Vest believes passionately in preserving Madison’s history. She disappointedly explains how her hometown, St. Albans, W.Va., has lost its Main Street. “Everyone has moved to the malls. They didn’t catch onto their history. They wanted to be modern and industrial.”
Preserving and sharing Madison’s history is what volunteers do for HMI. Docent Associates is a group of volunteers consisting of local men and women organized for the purpose of providing guide service at the Jeremiah Sullivan House, Dr. William Hutchings’ Office and Hospital, the Francis Costigan House, the Schroeder Saddletree Factory Museum and at special events such as the Nights Before Christmas Candlelight Tour.
There is also the Weavers’ Guild, which produces woven items on a loom in the Sullivan House that are available for purchase. Finally, there is the Garden Guild, which contributes many hours annually to plant and maintain the appearance of the Talbott-Hyatt Garden. The garden contains many early plantings, a reconstructed well and carriage house.
HMI is seeking more volunteers. In addition to the properties already open to the public, the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church is scheduled to open next year. The A.M.E. Church served as a community-gathering place and church for 70 years and an informational source for those involved in the Underground Railroad. All of HMI’s properties require volunteers to give tours and share information with visitors.
“When someone comes in, they have the opportunity to choose what they would like to do,” said Valco. The properties are open to the public from mid-April through mid-October.
“There is no minimum time commitment and if there are certain months where someone will be out of town, that’s fine,” added Valco.
There are trainers at every site to work with new volunteers. In addition to the docent and guild programs, volunteers may also work on various research projects. “We’re happy with whatever help we are offered,” said Valco.
As for Vest, who proudly says she’ll turn 87 years old on Feb. 1, “I’ve slowed down finally.”
Don’t believe her!

• For more information about volunteering at Historic Madison Inc. call Heidi Valco at (812) 265-2967.

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