Norris honored for her role in preserving rural history

May 08, 2007|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note: There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like...

Dorry Norris

Age: 77

Hometown: Suffern, N.Y.

Where would you see Norris? The Washington County Rural Heritage Museum depends on the talents of many volunteers, including Dorry Norris. She said she began volunteering there about six years ago, the second year the museum was open.

For her efforts, Norris received the Hunter-Burley Award at the annual conference of the Small Museum Association in February in Ocean City, Md., in February. The honor is awarded to an individual whose has contributed to the advancement of public access and professional growth for an individual institution.

It's an award that embarrasses Norris, who feels there are others more deserving.

"I felt like someone who walked into a house people had built and furnished. And I came in with a bouquet of flowers and everyone said 'That's grand,'" Norris said.


Norris is member of the museum's friends committee and chairs the exhibits display committee. She helps work in the museum's gardens, sets up displays and has helped create and lead the annual Washington County Museum Ramble, which was held last weekend.

It is her thirst for knowledge and insatiable curiosity that led her to volunteer with the rural heritage museum in the first place.

"I just love learning about stuff. I love projects. I always have since I was a kid," Norris said. "If you keep learning and discovering, it's wonderful. The greatest thing my parents gave me was a sense of curiosity."

The mother of five brings strong gardening skills to the museum. When she and her husband of 25 years divorced, Norris said she had to come up with a plan for herself.

After a year's search, she found an 1855 Gothic Revival home in Trumansburg, N.Y., that she had restored and turned into a bed and breakfast. She put in an herb garden, started a quarterly newsletter on herbs called "Sage Advice" and began teaching classes on using herbs.

A book publisher saw her newsletter and asked her to write a book, which led to the creation of "Sage Cottage Herb Garden Cookbook."

After New York, where she met her significant other, Roy Thaler, Norris lived in Tennessee for six years. In 1999, the couple moved to Washington County, which has easy access to major airports for visiting their children, who are scattered across the globe.

"It was a great choice," said Norris, who lives in Hagerstown's North End Thaler also volunteers at the museum, which is on Sharpsburg Pike at the Agricultural Education Center. The museum is centered around a country store on loan from the Washington County Historical Society.

It's set up to show what rural life was like before 1940, Norris said.

An early Conestoga wagon, buggies, sleighs, farm equipment and plows, as well as furnished rooms are on display. Kid-friendly activities are available, as well as short-term exhibits.

The newest exhibit is on honey and sorghum. There are plans for a display on cookbooks published by county organizations, as well as a display of aprons - from those of children to housewives to undertakers.

Norris is excited about a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution - "Key Ingredients: America by Food" - that will open at the Rural Heritage Museum in June for six weeks. Washington County will be the first of six stops in Maryland, before it continues it's journey across the country.

"It is an extraordinary place to be. There are wonderful people here," Norris said of the museum, its volunteers and the only paid staff member, a 20-hour-a-week administrator.

Hobbies: "I guess the museum is my hobby at the moment," said Norris, whose other passion is gardening.

She said she also looks forward to the arthritis swim class that she attends three times a week at the domed pool at Oak Ridge Apartments.

What does Norris like best about Washington County? "It's beautiful. Every time I come from Baltimore, come over the mountain and look down. No matter what kind of day, I think 'Look how beautiful,'" Norris said.

She said she goes to the City Farmers Market just about every Saturday, where she enjoys the wonderful people as much as the wonderful food.

Norris moved to Hagerstown hoping to avoid the development boom in Frederick, but similar building began here about three years after her move here. She said she's never lived anywhere with such a strong German heritage and appreciates the Civil War history here.

"Each new place has given me a new perspective," Norris said.

If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, contact Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024 or e-mail

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