Leaving Your Mark on History
An interview with Board Member, Joan Walters
By Brianna Kosowitz, Executive Director | July 31, 2020
This year posed unique challenges for the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum (BIHM) as we temporarily closed our doors to the public to ensure the health and safety of our visitors. Fortunately, the Museum was able to fully retain staff because of reserve funding made possible through legacy gifts from members and individuals over the years. These generous contributions have ensured the viability of the Museum and allowed us to continue to collect, interpret, and share history as it happens today.
Leaving a legacy gift can be a delicate and intimidating topic. It’s not necessarily something everyone has thought about. What motivates someone to acknowledge an organization in their will? In what way does a planned contribution make an impact that can last for generations? Museum Board Member, Joan Walters, recently joined our Legacy Society. I sat down with her to have a candid conversation and find out more.
Brianna Kosowitz and Joan Walters
BK : How are you associated with the Museum?
JW: I moved to Bainbridge four years ago to be closer to family. I walked down to the Historical Museum to volunteer and the rest is history! I became a Board Member in 2017 and served as Board President for three years, during which time we founded the Elnora Parfitt Legacy Society.
BK : Why are you interested in history and museums?
JW : I fell in love with history as a docent at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois and later had the opportunity to transcribe their collection of Lincoln Letters. Seeing history from the perspective of letters allows you to become better acquainted with historical figures, like Lincoln, in their most raw form. It’s different from history books, much more intimate. That really got me to love the idea of history. Honestly, I was never a history fan before that! Now, I’m so hooked—it’s all I read and all I think about.
BK : What role does BIHM play in our community?
JW: I just love the history of the Bainbridge Island. It encapsulates so many things—pioneer spirit, community building, Japanese American story, immigration, hard work—people seeking a better life and finding it here. It’s America in a microcosm. A stirring story and I can’t get enough of it.
BIHM serves four important audiences—our local community, Washington State residents (including Seattleites), guests from all over the America, and travelers from around the world. As a volunteer docent at the Museum, I find the unique perspectives of our visitors quite amazing. For instance, newer Island residents are shocked to find the history of Bainbridge so diverse. Many of them don’t know about the Japanese Exclusion because they grew up somewhere else where it wasn’t taught. I didn’t know much about it either and I’m 80 years old! BIHM is an invaluable resource and community hub from which we can celebrate our past, inform the present, and design a better future.
BK : The Legacy Society is named after Elnora Parfitt. Can you tell us a bit about her?
JW: Elnora was born in Washington State in 1902 and graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in education. At that time, she was among a scant number of women that were allowed to go to college! She became an elementary teacher and ended up serving here on Bainbridge Island.
Elnora Parfitt, Annie Hansen, Walberg Williams
Elnora was civic minded and had a strong interest in local history. She was an early member of the Bainbridge Island Historical Society and was elected its President in 1972—at age 70. She really engendered a lot of support for the Museum and was instrumental in leading the organization through substantial change. She helped the Museum evolve from storing boxes of material in people’s basements to the professional organization and Museum it is today. We decided to name the Legacy Society after her because her life and love of history encapsulates what our Museum is about.
If you’re on Bainbridge, you may notice that we also have Parfitt Avenue named for her and her family!
BK : How does planned giving impact an organization like ours?
JW: Most museums—whether they’re art, history, natural, etc.—aren’t held by municipal government in any substantial way. (The Lincoln Museum is a rare exception.) So, they really are the product of philanthropy. Legacy gifts ensure that a Museum will be around in the future and that the history they tell keeps building and being told and adding to the richness of our society.
BIHM has been fortunate enough to benefit from a number of legacy gifts over the years. We were unaware of many of the donations, so they came as a surprise. The thoughtfulness and generosity of these initial community members allowed the Museum to grow and expand. Helen Bucey, for instance, left a substantial gift in her will, which the organization used to add a temporary exhibit space on site. Even more recently, Marilyn Murphy left the Museum a legacy gift which is in our reserve fund right now. As it turns out, this may be our lifeline as we work through the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, the impact of estate planning can be immense.
BK: What motivated you to include BIHM in your will?
JW: I moved! When you move, you have to write a new will! In the course of that process, I defined a couple of beneficiaries outside of my children for when I die.
I feel so grateful that I’ve had a life where I’ve actually been able to retire and leave something to others. I never expected that, to be perfectly honest. Those of us that have a little resource to give—we should spread it around. It’s such a thrill to participate in a community in that way and it really warms my heart.
BK: If readers want to learn more about estate planning or ways they might be able to help, where should they start?
JW: You can make a change to your will noting an organization as a direct beneficiary or you can use your IRA. If you have IRA funds remaining when you die, you simply notify your IRA to direct that money to a particular organization, otherwise it reverts to your estate. You can split it up, or give it wholly to one. There are so many organizations on the island that are worthy of consideration. People shouldn’t have trouble finding something that resonates with them.
For more information with about our Legacy Society or how you can get involved, email Executive Director, Brianna Kosowitz at [email protected]. We will also be offering a free estate planning workshop later this fall. Check our website and emails for more information.