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Two Lebanon County men have been recognized for their dedication to the preservation of history in their communities by the national nonprofit Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
Donald R. Brown, a Myerstown resident, and Gerald A. Collins, a lifetime county resident, received the DAR Historic Preservation Medal at a ceremony held on Saturday, Dec. 12 at the Institute of American Deltiology in Myerstown.
The DAR website describes the medal as a “[recognition for] a person who has done extraordinary work over a long period of time in establishing a historic district, preserving a local landmark, restoring or preserving objects of historic cultural significance, or establishing or participating in oral history projects, youth leadership and education, as it pertains to historic preservation, at the regional, state, and/or national level.”
The DAR, founded in 1890, includes 185,000 members in 3,000 chapters around the country and abroad, and is dedicated to the preservation of history, the promotion of patriotism, and aiding education. Brown and Collins are 2 of only 23 recipients from around the country to be recognized in 2020.
Donald Brown is the founder of the Institute of American Deltiology (IAD), located inside the Seidel Building, 300 West Main Avenue in Myerstown. Deltiology, the study and collection of postcards, has been a passion for Brown for 77 years. He’s transformed the building into a repository for over 800,000 postcards since incorporating the IAD in 1993.
Brown began his collection with a box given to him by his aunt in 1943, and by the time he graduated from high school in Myerstown, he had already amassed some 20,000 postcards and had begun to network with other enthusiasts and collectors. He first shared his collection with the public at the 1947 Myerstown Community Fair.
Brown graduated with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in history from Ursinus College and the University of Illinois, respectively, as well as a master’s in library science from the University of Wisconsin. He assumed the role of Chief Reference Librarian of the Detroit Public Library, followed by positions at Western Michigan University and the State Library of Pennsylvania before his retirement.
Brown’s collection has spurred building preservation efforts, particularly in Harrisburg, where postcards of the PA State Capitol Building as it originally appeared in 1906 functioned as a “catalyst” for restoration efforts beginning in the 1980s.
Since purchasing the Seidel Building in 1982, itself historically notable, he has restored it to its 1820 appearance and organized a cross-referenced library of postcards by subject and location. Over 111,000 of these are specific to Pennsylvania. In 2019, he successfully arranged for his collection to be housed and accessible to the public in the University of Maryland’s library. At least 400,000 postcards have already made their way to the University already as research materials.
Gerald “Jerry” Collins is a graduate of Millersville University and Drexel University, where he received a degree in Social Studies and a master’s in Library Science, respectively. In 1967, Collins became one of the founding members of the Historic Preservation Trust in Lebanon County, and he has remained the organization’s treasurer since 1968. Among the properties the trust manages includes Light’s Fort, the Chestnut Street Log House, and the Lindley Murray School near Fort Indiantown Gap.
Thanks to his work, the Chestnut Street Log House, built around 1772, has received grants for restoration of its historical interior and exterior. Recently, there have been plans to excavate the site in hopes of finding artifacts from before the Revolutionary War.
Collins is the Director of Library Services for the Cocalico School District in Lancaster County. Furthermore, Collins is a charter member of the Mount Gretna Area Historical Society, to which he donated $5,000 to help restore the society’s headquarters; a member of the Historic Mount Lebanon Cemetery Board; and a historian of church records and consistory member at St. John’s United Church of Christ for 50 years.
Additionally, Collins has served in a number of volunteer roles over the years. At the Lebanon County Historical Society, he volunteered as a librarian from 1968 to 1978, where he oversaw the organization, packing, and installation of the society’s library at its current home on 924 Cumberland Street. Collins was also involved in the restoration project for the Isaac Meier Homestead in Myerstown.
The two men were nominated by the Lebanon chapter of the DAR earlier this year. Bonnie Loy, Lebanon Chapter Regent, Dr. Stephanie Zimmerer, PA State Chair of Historic Preservation, and Michelle Beck, Lebanon Chapter Historic Preservation Chair were at the Saturday ceremony to present the medals to the recipients.
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