$1M donation will save Northumberland County records
SUNBURY - The Degenstein Foundation has pledged $1 million toward preserving Northumberland County records, a long-awaited solution for deteriorating historical documents that has been met with much applause.
The funding will provide a climate-controlled building on Market Street where the records can be moved to from the damp confines of the county courthouse basement.
"We're very thankful for the Degenstein Foundation. This will help us get to the solution and keep the records here in Sunbury," said Commissioner Rick Shoch, who has acted as a liaison between the county and the foundation.
Register and Recorder Mary Zimmerman said she wishes her predecessor, Frederick "Fritz" Reed, who served from 1973 to 2001, was alive to see this.
"He was a true genealogist and a lover of Northumberland County history," she said of the Shamokin native, who died in December 2011. "I'm sure he's in heaven dancing away."
Zimmerman said she is "thrilled" to get the records out of the basement and grateful for everyone who made it happen.
"It needed to be done so badly," she said.
A representative of the Degenstein Foundation could not be reached for comment, and county officials were unable to confirm the exact address of the building, which is believed to be the former Amato's Pizza building on Market Street.
"It will be a nice resource for people in the community and those coming in," Shoch said.
The courthouse basement is dark, damp and required a dehumidifier, and records from sheriff, commissioner, register and recorder and other offices that fill several rooms are deteriorating. The new location will provide shelves and locked boxes for more sensitive records, Shoch said.
He said he reached out to the Degenstein Foundation three weeks ago.
Solicitor Frank Garrigan followed up Tuesday after a meeting with Shoch, fellow commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy, planning director Pat Mack, grants manager Kathy Jeremiah and solicitor John Muncer, and secured the pledge, he said.
Clausi announced Thursday he formed an informal advisory committee to assist the commissioners in moving the records to the new location. President Judge William Wiest will chair it.
Clausi chose Wiest because of his "close association with the historical society and of the judges's own push to preserve and protect the historical records of the county."
Zimmerman, Deputy Prothonotary Geraldine Yagle and Assistant Solicitor John Muncer will also serve on the committee.
"Both Mary and Gerry have served the county for more than 30 years each and are familiar with all the documents in question, and it's a no-brainer to have them on the committee," Clausi said.
Muncer was selected due to his 30 years of county employment, his familiarity of the records and assistance with legal issues, he said.
Clausi said there is a lot of work ahead in moving the records, some of which are also in the courthouse attic and administration center's closets and storage rooms.
Linda Miller, who came to the county from Chester County to do genealogy work, implored the commissioners to change their records storage because of the deplorable conditions. She formed the Facebook group "Saving Northumberland County Historical Records" that attracted more than 450 "likes."
"It's been an amazing, overwhelming roller coaster ride," she said Friday. "I'm still in shock with not only Degenstein Foundation donating $1 million but also a building to house the records. This has left us all speechless and we really do not know where to begin to thank them."
She thanked the foundation for "making a dream come true" for her and countless people concerned with historical preservation.