New executive director Ann Bennett and her husband, Robert, plan to appear in black tie attire at the Laurel Historical Society’s “Greatest Show on Earth" — this year’s annual fundraising gala being held Saturday evening at the DoubleTree by Hilton.
Bennett, who lives in Russett, began work at the Laurel Museum the first of April, bringing decades of cultural resource management experience and a passion for artifacts and archeology to the Old Town landmark.
A University of Pittsburgh graduate who holds an MA in historical archaeology from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, she also teaches anthropology and sociology at Cecil College and is active in local and regional historical and cultural organizations.
Among Bennett’s interests are ballroom dancing, kayaking, genealogy, travel and living history interpretation.
Discovering the depth of Laurel’s history in the rich aura of the restored 1840s stone Laurel Museum has been a pleasure, she said, particularly on rainy days when you can hear the wind and rain echo through the former millworkers’ home.
“I’m sure that sound hasn’t changed over the last 150 years,” she said. “I am very excited to be here.”
Bennett said she loves the museum’s current exhibit, “We The People: How Civic Engagement Shaped Laurel,” because it speaks to everyone who comes to visit.
And she looks forward to working with the townspeople to translate the museum’s existing collections of books, photographs, tools, personal artifacts, textiles (a personal favorite) and oral histories into archeology programs.
“They’re so everyday, but special,” Bennett said. “The Diven’s Den [a historic kitchen and interactive STEM-inspired learning space] downstairs, I think, is great; it gives you that costuming and hands-on history.
“I wasn’t born in Laurel but I am connected to this place now because I live here; it’s this sense of place and community that draws us in,” she said.
(the annual fundraising gala)
Planning for “The Greatest Show on Earth” gala began last September, according to Laurel Historical Society executive board chairwoman Jhanna Levin.
In this second year of hosting the society’s premier fundraising event at the DoubleTree on Sweitzer Lane (prior galas were held at Laurel Park), Levin said the circus theme evolved from imagining the hotel atrium as a giant big-top tent, a concept that proved too costly to bring to reality.
But with professional assistance from Morgana Alba, owner of Circus Siren Entertainment (who happens to be an Old Town resident) and lovely red, white and cream draping, the evening promises to capture a charming antique circus atmosphere.
At the start of the April 28 festivities, a stilt-walker will greet gala guests as they arrive.
During the cocktail hour featuring the signature “pink elephant” cocktail, a living statue will entertain; followed by dinner, dancing, live and silent auctions, a game of chance and an aquatic performance by Alba (D.C.’s original mermaid) and the Circus Siren Pod.
As the emceeing “ringmaster” for the evening, Levin said she is “super excited” to formally introduce new executive director Bennett and announce the recipients of this (second) year’s Community Impact Awards: Robert Mignon (an individual), the Main Street Pharmacy (a business) and Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services, Inc. (a nonprofit organization).
Choosing the award recipients started with nominations by the Laurel Historical Society’s development and gala committees. Then, Levin said, the executive board weighed in with feedback and suggestions, and the gala committee cast the final votes.
Selecting the individual and business recipients was easy, she said, but whittling down the nonprofit candidates proved difficult.
“There are so many nonprofits in Laurel doing outstanding work; choosing just one was really excruciating,” Levin said.
Laurel Historical Society volunteer-of-the-year Karen Sullivan will also be honored.
(Award recipient Robert Mignon)
Long active in the Laurel Historical Society, the Laurel Business Network International and the Laurel Lions Club, Robert Mignon has lived in Laurel since 1992. He currently serves as president of the Laurel Board of Trade.
In April 2015, when he still owned Minuteman Press at 335 Main Street, Mignon installed the stunning black and white historic photos from the Laurel Historical Society’s archives that cover the storefront windows today.
He said his friend and beloved Laurelite Jim McCeney, who passed away two years ago, helped him choose the photos and that he was surprised to learn he would be honored at this year’s gala.
“I became a business owner in 1994, along with my wife, Jeanne,” Mignon wrote in an email. “We built a successful, community-oriented business and sold the business in 2017. This is the American dream, and I am thankful to be part of a community that helped it come true.”
(LHS continues to spread to Main Street)
Levin said she would love to see a little bit of old Laurel on every corner of Main Street because it shows “where we were and where we’ve come.”
And at the end of January, the Laurel Historical Society began showing where Laurel was a century ago in a mini storefront window exhibit at the former home of the PG Office Supply, 342 Main Street. The offsite display, which will run through November, includes a three-part series of excerpts from the museum’s recently closed exhibit, “Laurel’s WW1 From Here to Over There.”
Part 1, currently on display, features an overview of wartime Laurel and lists the soldiers from the area known to have served.
Part 2 will focus on Camp Laurel and the soldiers who trained in Laurel; Part 3 will likely highlight how the war’s end affected the town and list soldiers from the area who died in the 1918 Meuse-Argonne Battle.
Laurel Board of Trade director Joe Tredway (who owns the building and donated the space) and chairman Jim Cross built the peg-board display and prepared the window; the installation was completed by Laurel Historical Society board members Marlene Frazier and Karen Lubieniecki.
(upcoming annual meeting)
Following the Laurel Historical Society’s annual meeting at the Pool Club Room at 9th and Main Street on May 10, 7 p.m., Cross — who is an experienced local genealogist — will present “The (Family) Secrets in Your DNA : Learning the ABCs of DNA Research.”
The museum’s current exhibit, “We The People: How Civic Engagement Has Shaped Laurel,” continues through December at the Laurel Museum, 817 Main St. The museum is open Wednesdays and Fridays, 10 a.m.–2 p.m., and Sundays 1–4 p.m. Admission is free.
For more information about Laurel history, the museum, these and upcoming LHS events, go to laurelhistoricalsociety.org.