In October 2016, Bethel Park Historical Society embarked on some lofty aspirations for a capital campaign.
“Our goal was to raise a million dollars,” Tim Moury, society president, said. “When we initially talked about doing it, everybody kind of looked at us and said, ‘Yeah, good luck.’”
The monetary amount represented an approximation of what it would take to restore what has become known as the Schoolhouse Arts and History Center, the spacious red-brick building at Park Avenue and South Park Road that has origins dating back to 1905.
During the past four years, the Bethel Park community has stepped up with donations of money, supplies, equipment, historic memorabilia and, perhaps most importantly, time and effort.
Two evenings a week, volunteers report to the center to continue to perform the types of tasks that have transformed it from beloved, but rundown relic of the past, to a true source of local pride, now and into the future.
From a financial standpoint, COVID-19 has put a bit of a damper on fundraising by the historical society, which owns the building that at various times housed Bethel Township High School, Bethel Vocational School and Bethel Grade School.
But money still is coming in, as evidenced by the recent award of a $170,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Gaming Economic Development Tourism Fund, representing proceeds from the state’s foray into legalized gambling. The money will be used to install a heating and air-conditioning system for the center’s upper floor.
During a Sept. 27 historical society meeting, Moury said the group also is poised to receive a $140,000 reimbursement for work that was completed on the building’s roof.
Bill Haberthur, secretary of the society’s executive committee, said his organization also received a windfall from a successful 2020 Fantastic Four Golf Outing, a fundraiser that also benefits Bethel Park Community Foundation, Bethel Park Public Library and Bethel Education Foundation.
“Over the past three years, that little event that we participate in has generated $12,564.22 for us,” he said, adding that next year’s outing already is booked for Sept. 20 at Nemacolin Country Club in Beallsville.
Further fundraising includes a “Pave the Way” project, with pavers sold to fill in the semicircular governor’s drive on the South Park Road side of the Schoolhouse Arts and History Center.
As far as supplies are concerned, True Value Foundation donated 20 gallons of Easy Care Ultra-Premium Paint for the center through a grant obtained by Jim and Lisa Jenkins of Jim Jenkins Lawn and Garden Center.
In 1996, the historical society acquired the building from Bethel Park School District for $1 and set it up as the Schoolhouse Arts Center, making the organization’s headquarters there while renting space to artists, theater groups and others to help cover operational costs.
Since renamed to reflect the history aspect, the center now is home to an impressive collection of reminders of Bethel Park’s past. Among the recent donations are items from the estate of Carl Morovich, Bethel High School Class of 1951, and thanks to society member Joy Mahrer, a photograph from the late 1920s featuring her father, Donald Leake, in front of what then was the vocational school.
Just a cursory glance at the photo will reveal abundant farmland behind the school, quite different from the suburban scenario of the 21st century. In that regard, the image captures a prime component of the historical society’s motto:
“Preserving our past, protecting our future.”
For more information, visit facebook.com/BethelParkHistoricalSociety.