By Kevin McDonough (The Avenue News, 9/24/2015)
On a rainy Saturday morning in September, just inside the doorway of an old 1920s brick firehouse, which adorns the bustling commercial corridor of Eastern Boulevard in Essex, sits a woman shuffling through receipts and checks preparing fora trip to the bank to make a deposit for the upcoming Essex Day street fair in two weeks.
June Donovan is a busy woman. The 77 year old crosses off “bank deposit” on her to-do list and looks at the remainder of her list with angst. She is credited as being the glue that over the last few years has held together two longstanding community institutions for her Essex neighborhood and saved them both from the brink of extinction.
Although she is not an Essex native, she has lived in the area for more than 25 years and has become enthralled in the area’s history and goings on.
“When I entered this community, it became my community and I wanted to be a part of it,” Donovan said.
Donovan was approached a few years ago when the organizers of the Essex Day Festival were struggling to keep the neighborhood’s annual street fair afloat and needed new leadership to keep the decades old community tradition alive. Feeling a sense of desire to help out her community, she agreed and committed to be one of the major organizers of Essex Day, a street fair which occupies a one mile stretch of Eastern Boulevard and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
‘This is such a great festival,” she said, “How could I not do my part to help keep it going for years to come?”
Entertainment line-ups, carnival ride placement, security, vendors, and all the makings of a street fair are orchestrated under Donovan’s leadership and that of the small group of individuals that help to pull off the event each year.
Donovan is no stranger to community involvement and volunteering. While raising her two boys years ago, she was active in her church, boy scouts and served as PTA president.
“I thought it was important for me to give of my-self and my talents to help show my sons the importance of community involvement,” Donovan said.
While her two sons are all grown now, she still emphasizes the necessity to set an example for youth about the importance of giving back.
Aware of her success with Essex Day and commitment to helping her community, a member of the Heritage Society of Essex and Middle River and dear friend approached Donovan three years ago when the organization was struggling to stay solvent and keep open the doors of their community history museum.
The museum was floundering and needed an overhaul if it was going to stay in existence. I felt that the mission of this institution was too important to let fall to the wayside,” Donovan said.
Three years ago she reluctantly agreed to serve as the president and has worked tirelessly to bring the museum back to life.
“Welcome to the museum, Hon! It’s good to see your Donovan said as she looked over her glasses at a young man who walked through the front door of the firehouse and approached her table. The 1920s firehouse building is occupied by the Heritage Society of Essex and Middle River, which operates their local history museum out of the building and has done so for decades.
She motions to a man in the corner of the room, Randy Carr, and asks if Carr is able to provide the gentleman with a tour of the museum. She introduces the gentleman to
the person who she credits as being her chief supporter and the key to her successes.
“This is Randy. He’s my best friend, my better half, and I couldn’t do all of this without his help,” Donovan said with a smile.
Donovan devotes her Saturday mornings to being there to provide tours for anyone interested in learning more about local history.
“This museum is an anchor for the community. It’s important for me to be here and do whatever I can to make it accessible for those who want to learn,” Donovan said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t learn something new.”
The museum is home to an eclectic array of artifacts, historical photographs and newspaper artifacts. During her tenure there, Donovan has worked with the community to remodel exhibits, assist with historical re-search, and even serve as a mentor for youth in the neighborhood.
Tasia Darden is a senior at nearby Chesapeake High School and lives within walking distance from the museum and volunteers there to gain service hours for school. She admits that she was skeptical with volunteering there at first, because volunteering at a museum did not sound overly exciting. However, she has come to view the museum and those who support its mission as “a second family.”
“Ms. June has been like a grandmother to me, and has really taught me a lot. I look at her as someone who is inspirational to not only me but to the whole community because of her involvement and commitment to helping people,” Darden said.
Donovan enjoys her work in the community and is touched when she sees young people like Darden who are “hungry, interested and eager to learn more about local history after visiting the museum.” “That’s what makes it all worthwhile,” Donovan said.