BY DEB AND TIM SMITH
Last week on Tuesday evening April 19th we had just finished dinner when it was time for us to head south to West Bloomfield to go to church. Are we members of a religious organization in our neighboring town that meets at odd hours? Nope, we were just headed out to the reopening of the West Bloomfield Historical Society. The WBHS has a beautiful facility located in the old St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Route 5 & 20, along the main drag of the commercial area of West Bloomfield. The charm of the old church is accentuated by the virtual museum of local history that adorns the multiple display showcases which fill every nook and cranny of the former place of worship that was built in 1834.
Just to frame this story up, one aspect regarding the Town of West Bloomfield that may be surprising to some Mendon, Honeoye Falls, and Lima folks is just how close we are to this town. If you were at the HF-L school district Middle School building on Quaker Meeting House Road, you’d only be about 100 yards from the West Bloomfield town line. If you head east out of Lima on 5 & 20, the first town you hit would be West Bloomfield. In our series on local hamlets, there are two located in West Bloomfield where the residents actually attend school at HF-L, those two hamlets being Ionia and North Bloomfield.
Returning to last week, this evening was a very special one for the West Bloomfield congregation as it was the first time the flock had gathered in almost 2½ years. They typically meet from April through December so, as fate would have it, when Covid came calling in the spring of 2020 they were just on the verge of coming out of their winter hiatus when everything shut down. There was a palpable sense of community reunion in the air this evening as old friends came together again for the first time in what seemed like so long.
After a half-hour period of camaraderie, the meeting was called to order by President Sue Washburn. As the approximately 40 attendees moved to assume their positions in one of the historic old church pews, everyone knew this meeting was to be a bit special. Not only was it the first in such a long time, there were some significant changes to be acknowledged, highlighted by the passing of a baton. After 12 years of service, Pat Talley was stepping down as Town Historian and outgoing historical society President Mike Borgeest was being acknowledged as the new historian.
Mike brings a rich historic background to the position. A long time member of the historical society, Mike spoke to us at length about his vintage 1803 house, (which is listed on both state and national historic registers as “The Watrous Peck” house). He is in the process of personally restoring the house and, about his efforts, Mike commented that, “I’m in the 10th year of a 5-year project.” If you’d like his secret on removing century-old wallpaper, his tried-and-true method is hot water and vinegar, very hot water and a lot of it. Mike’s deep love of history is further conveyed by his service as an interpreter at Genesee Country Village and Museum and he even came in costume to this event.
So while we salute Mike for his efforts past and future, the true star of this night’s story was out-going historian Pat Talley. During her speech of salutation Sue Washburn said, “History is deep in Pat’s roots.” Pat’s Great Aunt Rena Parrish was the Town’s first historian in the 1940’s and Pat even cut her teeth doing some typing for Aunt Rena back in the day. Sue also mentioned Pat’s efforts to help protect local landmarks like the North Bloomfield Chapel (which the Sentinel covered last year with the help of NB Historian Doreen Sensenbach Haller) and the Miller Barn in Ionia (which the Sentinel will be covering later this year). Sue thanked us during her presentation for the writing we had done on these two West Bloomfield hamlets.
Pat Talley also authored two books, one on historic recipes and another on the genealogy of the Paul family. Perhaps the most personal accolade Sue shared was Pat’s work in establishing the Dwight Talley Memorial Conservation Fund which honors Pat’s late husband “Butch” who faithfully supported all of Pat’s forays into history throughout the years.
After the meeting everyone got to enjoy time and fellowship with each other and Pat over coffee, cupcakes and a beautifully decorated cake in Pat’s honor. If you are a local history buff we would highly recommend a visit to the West Bloomfield Historical Society and you can check their website for hours. From our own personal experience, we guarantee that you will be both welcomed and entertained.