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Looking back at Montanti’s legacy

Here are my thoughts on Deborah Montanti, who will retire from her position as Heritage Alliance executive director this week.  I write this memo as the writer of a weekly genealogical or history article for the Herald & Tribune plus my experience as a former board member of the Heritage Alliance. — John Kiener

In my opinion, Deborah Montanti really is the founder of the concepts that currently put the Heritage Alliance as the keeper of the heritage, history and preservation movement in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Her strength has been the ability to get both paid and volunteer assistance to carry out a variety of activities that promote the three areas – heritage, history and preservation  – that the Alliance assumes as its leadership responsibilities. Even today, I have never been able to understand how this is accomplished given the limited financial resources on which she operates.   

A key component of Deborah’s success has been educational programming centered around Oak Hill School.  Her ability to continue the school  program while  recruiting volunteers is a unique feature of Alliance offerings. She has also enlisted year after year a number of East Tennessee State University students as program aids.  Her ability to obtain education and other grants has been phenomenal.

She has been selective and successful in recruiting paid staff who are talented.  Anne Mason is an example of this kind of staff person. Joe Spiker and Jacob Simpson, who recently left the Alliance, were first-rate in their museum work.

Deborah has been blessed with one exceptional strength – her ability to coordinate and cooperate with other Jonesborough town, state, county and private organizations. A couple of examples: the combined brochure detailing the services offered by the Washington County-Jonesborough Library; the Washington County Archives and the Heritage Alliance published jointly by the three groups and the management of the Chester Inn, now home to a museum; and a tour of a period in Jonesborough’s history while at the same time working with the International Storytelling Center sharing some space for administrative offices.

Likewise, the Heritage Alliance has storytellers use the Chester Inn space during the Storytelling Festival, moving its activities to other venues.

While the Herald & Tribune has not emphasized the activities involving Heritage preservation projects in recent months, the Alliance continues to maintain a warehouse that provides people remodeling historic houses with building materials. Annual preservation awards for projects throughout the area were awarded for a number of years.  The Christopher Taylor House next to the Chester Inn would not exists today in my opinion without the efforts to preserve the structure led by the work of Gordon Edwards, now the President of the Heritage Alliance.

If you visit Jonesborough, you can take a tour of the historic town, thanks to the Heritage Alliance. There are other tours involving the town’s cemetery and ghosts.

I begin my Christmas Season celebrations each year, as so many others, by attending the Progressive dinner – this year again scheduled for early December.

The writing and production of plays and the maintenance of an Archive has produced valuable genealogical and historical material for the public’s enjoyment throughout the years – thanks to Deborah’s work with the Alliance. With the experience of nearly 30 years in writing articles for the newspaper, I can candidly say that I have depended upon Deborah time and time again for assistance in two areas – photographs and research materials to support the article I was writing and,  most importantly, for ideas on subject matter for the weekly column.

I will miss those cold winter mornings or hot summer afternoons when I would stop by her office and ask and then discuss the answer to the questions, “What is going on in Jonesborough?” followed by “What kind of a story ideas can you give me for next week’s article?” Also involved would be a little “gossip” that never was published in the papers’s columns.

I will miss Deborah’s insight and explanation on what is going on in Tennessee’s oldest town and the part that the Alliance is playing in keeping the state’s oldest town on the map and in the news.  Deborah well deserves retirement – but hopefully she will not disappear from the scene. Jonesborough has needed her observations and wisdom in the past and will need them again in the future.