BETHEL — Members, donors and trustees of the Bethel Historical Society gathered outside of the O’Neil Robinson House at 11 a.m. Thursday morning for a ground-breaking ceremony to celebrate the start of construction on the upcoming Mary E. Valentine Collections Wing.

In February, the society received a $200,000 bequest from Mary E. Valentine. It was the society’s largest gift ever from an individual. Valentine passed away in 2012.

The money is being used towards the construction of a new collections wing that will be modeled after the former Robinson Wing, which was torn down years ago.

Executive Director Randall Bennett lauded the members and trustees of the society, as well as those who donated money before the ceremony began, adding that the fundraising goal for the new collections wing, including the $200,000 bequest, is $290,000.

“We owe all of this to the benevolence of Mary Valentine, a tireless volunteer and a longtime member of the society who left us the largest gift from a member that we’ve ever received,” Bennett said, speaking to a crowd of members, trustees, donors and board presidents past and present. “We are finally in the position to build a proper storage area.”

Former society president Marvin Ouwinga said that the new collections wing is a “wonderful” idea and that he looks forward to seeing the final product.

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“From what I’ve heard, the pattern of the new wing is going to match the Moses Mason house,” Ouwinga said. “I still remember the old wing. It was a well-built building and used to house workers from the Bethel Inn across the street. I think it’s going to be a very nice structure when it’s done.”

Bennett, along with Associate Director Stan Howe, board member Tineke Ouwinga and society member Danna Nickerson, followed up his speech by grabbing a shovel and sticking it into the ground, drawing applause from those watching.

Bennett predicted that the project should be done around the spring of 2014, if all goes according to plan.

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