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Hidden Heroes - Marge Gibbs and Millie Lewis

Several years ago a museum volunteer remarked that every time she drives by our museum, it makes her proud to live in Union Springs. We hope you share that feeling as well. Our museum would not exist in our beautiful structure if it were not for the efforts of many but two women in particular - Marge Gibbs and Millie Lewis. It is fitting that we honor them in this article - the final of women's History Month.

First here is a little history of the structure taken from a program Marge gave at the Frontenac in 1991. When three Union Springs denominations (Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopalian) combined resources in 1970, they consolidated activities into one building, the Methodist Church which today is Trinity United Church of Christ. At that time, the Presbyterians wanted to divest themselves of their unused church. However, a stipulation in the original church deed dated 1839, in which the property was donated to the church by George Howland, mandated that, if the building was no longer used for religious purposes, the property would revert to Howland heirs. Enter Marge and Millie.

Marge Gibbs is known to be smart, meticulous and dedicated. She used these skills, as well as her interest in genealogy, and volunteered to trace the Howland heirs, the first step in clearing the title. This was no easy task as there were many! Marge first visited a direct descendant who lived in Massachusetts and was able to provide a complete list of the descendants of Matthew Howland. She contacted two area Howland descendants who provided her with the heirs of Augustus Howland. And finally, from the New England Historical and Genealogical Society, she received a copy of a Howland genealogy written in 1919 which enabled her to identify the heirs of our George Howland. Over a period of six months, Marge was able to locate 87 primary (oldest in their line) heirs of George and Susan Howland. With the legal assistance of Auburn lawyer, Charles Lynch, all eventually signed off on their claim and the title to the property formerly owned by the First Presbyterian Church of Springport was transferred to the Frontenac Historical Society in 1994. At that time Marge assumed the position of Treasurer of the Society.

Many students recall Marge first serving as their Middle School music teacher and then moving into the role of High School Guidance Counselor, retiring in 1986. Even though Marge is now living out of the area, she remains a very active supporter of the museum.

Meanwhile, on the "other side of the street," in the 1990's Millie Lewis was serving as the Clerk of Session of the Springport Presbyterian Church which was still viable following the combination of resources with the Methodist and Episcopalian denominations. Millie worked tirelessly with the Session and the parent church to secure the sale of the property to the historical society for $1.00. Millie had been in contact with Llewellyn Howland paving the way for Marge to start her research. Millie too is known for her meticulous attention to detail and procedures and an endless spirit of volunteerism. These traits served her well in dealing with the requirements and paperwork involved in the sale of the structure.

Millie has donated numerous items to the collection of the museum also serving as docent for many years. Her interest in history stems from many sources, including her mother's Mayflower ancestors. Many generations of students were taught by Millie, who began her Union Springs teaching career in the one-room Willow Brook School in Fleming in 1941 where she taught grades 1-8. In total, Millie devoted 24 years (plus more as a substitute following retirement) to teaching in our district. Her local volunteerism includes serving as the Red Cross Blood Services Coordinator for decades, giving it up only when she stopped driving at 95, volunteering at the local food bank, serving on every committee at her church, and driving local residents to appointments. She has also been a member of Leisure Hour Literary Club for well over 55 years.

Today we salute and thank both Marge and Millie as their dedication and persistence are directly responsible for the physical existence of the Frontenac Historical Society and the beautiful home of our treasured museum.


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