By Candace Perry.
We are sad to report that today marks Sarah Heffner’s last day with the Mennonite Heritage Center. After 19 years at the Center, she is moving to a position with Living Hope Farm, Harleysville.
Sarah will be greatly missed in our little Pennsylvania German museum community here in Montgomery County—she was the driving force behind so many projects that benefitted not only the Mennonite Heritage Center (MHC), but the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center (SLHC) and the Goschenhoppen Historians (GH) as well. This blog, for example, would not have come to fruition if it weren’t for Sarah emailing me just about a year ago, during the bleak shutdown, asking if a joint blog might be a good way of getting our stories out there when we can’t see our visitors in person.
And thus, the Pennsylvania Dutch At-Home Companion was born, with the help of Forrest Moyer, archivist at the Mennonite Heritage Center, managing the technical aspects, and Anne Grasberger of the Goschenhoppen Historians adding her creativity and flair to our graphics. Without Sarah’s forethought and motivation, however, we’d never have reached out to all of you, bringing you all our recipes, history, and how-tos on many aspects of Pennsylvania German life and culture. We’ll be continuing the blog, but we will sorely miss our leader!
And that’s not the only joint project that Sarah has spearheaded. Some of you, I hope, have visited the Christmas Market at all three of our organizations—and if not, perhaps you’ll come this year! It’s held the first weekend in December. That too came out of a phone call from Sarah to me many years ago. She was looking for a way to expand on their fine craft show, to serve more customers who were looking for certain types of Christmas decor and gifts. Then of course we asked Goschenhoppen to join.
At that time, our friend Abe Roan was still with us, and he and his dear wife Nancy were two of the movers and shakers who helped to get the Goschenhoppen market off the ground. Any of you who have been to Red Men’s Hall that first weekend in December know that it is probably one of the most successful holiday events in southeastern Pennsylvania. And it all came from a seed of an idea with Sarah Heffner (the two other Christmas Markets are no slouch either—it’s just that the Goschenhoppen event generates a huge amount of excitement!).
Sustainability is a key word in cultural organizations today, and to find a project that is both sustainable and captures grant funders’ attention is no small feat. Sarah was able to do just that, once again as a collaborative effort between MHC, SLHC, and GH, with a 2011 Digitizing Hidden Special Collections & Archives administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). This grant allowed us to hire a consultant who cataloged over 3500 textiles in the three organizations’ collections and make them accessible online in each group’s PastPerfect database.
This was a major step forward for the accessibility of information about Pennsylvania German textiles, from quilts and needlework to clothing and woven objects. In-house, this database is something I use almost daily, and frankly, I don’t know where we would be without it. Textiles and textile production were an essential aspect of Pennsylvania German life from the time our ancestors landed on these shores and our collections reflect that significance. In terms of sustainability, this was a project that is still serving us ten years later. And all due to the grant writing ability and organizational skills of Sarah Heffner, who kept us on track with a project with so many moving parts and personalities.
By now you can probably understand how much I value Sarah as a friend and colleague.
So, let’s hear from some other friends:
From the former Executive Director of SLHC, Dave Luz:
I very much enjoyed the times I worked with Sarah. We occasionally rode together to Rural History Confederation meetings and had interesting discussions about our respective sites. Sarah was a great person to bounce ideas off and always had thoughtful and concerned responses. She was very humble and modest regarding her accomplishments and always considered how her actions and the actions of the Heritage Center would impact the feelings of others. Sarah made a great partner to work with and we at the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center were always happy to work together on projects benefiting both institutions. We miss you already Sarah!!!
From Susan Cook of Goschenhoppen Historians:
During the last 10 or so years, I have bonded with Sarah over multiple batches of Ham and Green Bean Soup, Vegetable Soup, Chicken Pot Pie and last year Hokie House Stew.
Sarah is an inspiration. She is a joy to work with and to be in her company. I look forward to getting together for many years to come.
And from Bob Wood, of Goschenhoppen and a frequent blog contributor:
Tribute to Sarah—where to start! Sarah holds a wealth of skills and knowledge about Pennsylvania Dutch culture, especially foods, while her ground cherry pie is most coveted among pie aficionados. Over the years I have done programs, art shows and such at MHC and Sarah has always been so kind, helpful, and considerate…anyone who knows her knows what I mean. Now she is moving-on and will continue to be a valuable asset at her new employment as she has been at MHC. Best Wishes
Sarah, please know how much you will be missed in our little Pennsylvania Dutch corner of the world. Your leadership in helping to preserve what is so dear to so many of us will not be forgotten.