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Renfrew Museum looking for a few good members

November 25, 1998

Renfrew curatorBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




WAYNESBORO, Pa. - William and Annie Baker were on the second floor of the main house at Renfrew Museum and Park Tuesday afternoon putting ornaments on an artificial Christmas tree.

The Bakers, of Shippensburg, Pa., have amassed a collection of more than 6,000 Christmas artifacts. The collection is so vast that they can never display all of it at one time.

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"It's just not practical," William Baker said.

The museum is setting up its annual gingerbread house contest and is launching its first membership drive in 20 years. Curator Jeffrey E. Bliemester wants to double the membership and net thousands of dollars in new dues money.

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Meanwhile, the Bakers agreed to loan a small part of their collection to decorate a half-dozen rooms and halls at Renfrew for the museum's Christmas season.

"Visiting Renfrew at Christmas is a tradition for many area families," said Shirley Baker, director of visitor services for the museum at 10120 E. Main St. Baker, who is not related to the Bakers of Shippensburg, said nearly 2,000 people visit the museum at Christmas.

This year's program runs Dec. 5 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Dec. 6 from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

William Baker, 62, said his earliest Christmas memories go back to his boyhood during the Depression, when he decorated the tree in his father's small restaurant in Illinois.

Those memories were joggled in 1964 when he was stationed with the U.S. Army in Germany and saw how the German people held to their Yule traditions.

It happened again in 1975 when Baker was stationed at Site R. He saw an ornament in a Waynesboro flea market that reminded him of one he put on the restaurant tree.

"That ornament awakened memories that had long been dormant. It changed to a near obsession, a desire to experience them once more," he said.

Today their collection has 150 nativity scenes, 100 Santas, 300 sets of lights, untold numbers of Nutcracker soldiers, prints, plates, folk art and at least eight Christmas trees.

The Bakers belong to a collectors' organization called the Golden Glow of Christmas.

"We'd like some nonprofit group or organization to take it over and display it every year," Baker said. "We would even be willing to give it away. It would be a shame to have it broken up at some auction."

Rules for the gingerbread house contest require the confections to be made from scratch, Shirley Baker said.

Three local chefs will judge the contest on Dec. 3, and the houses will be on display at the museum from Dec. 3 through Dec. 13.

Bliemester said Friends of the Renfrew Museum and Park, the museum's support group, has 250 members. He hopes the membership drive brings in 250 more.

Their are eight membership levels from $5 for students up to $1,000 for life members. Bliemester is hoping that the 100 slots for Bell Society memberships, the second-highest level at $350 for two years, become the most popular.

Everyone who signs on at that level will receive a reproduction John Bell vase made by Lester Breininger, a well-known Pennsylvania Potter from Robesonia, Bliemester said.

The museum has the largest public collection of John Bell and Bell family pottery in the country, Bliemester said. The Bells were potters in the Cumberland and Shenandoah valleys in the 19th century, Bliemester said.

The museum runs on an annual budget of $170,000. An endowment left by Emma Geiser Nicodemus, the last private owner of the 107-acre estate, pays for its basic operating costs.

Nicodemus left the property to the borough to be used as a public museum and park. Nicodemus combined her assets with those of her sister, Hazel Geiser, to leave an operating endowment to the museum.

"We're not in poverty," Bliemester said. "It's a good endowment, but we need money to restore the Fahnestock House, the last unrestored building on the grounds, and to enhance and protect our collections."

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