Jeanne Browne, 75, a Long Beach native with a lifelong connection to the community, has an eye for history.
Browne wanted to spread that passion and interest among other residents, and assumed the role of president of the Long Beach Historical Society in May with a mission to ensure that the history of the city is not only preserved, but also celebrated and shared with all.
“I was born in Long Beach, and I’ve lived here all my life,” Browne said. “My family has been here since 1924. My parents also grew up in Long Beach.”
Browne is a retired middle school English instructor who taught in New York City for 10 years and in the Lawrence School District for 12 years. She has also traveled extensive as a member of Global Volunteers — an organization that helps with community-development programs around the world — exploring diverse cultures from Australia to China to Japan as well as in all 50 states.
Browne’s connection with the historical society dates back to its founding during the city’s rebuilding and restoration in the late 1970s, when the town faced economic challenges and was badly in need of revitalization.
“The first order of business is to assess what the community has, and what we had was a rich history and many significant architectural buildings and homes,” Browne explained. “Due to the efforts of many people, the Long Beach Historical and Preservation Society, under the leadership of Roberta Fiore, was founded in 1980. The society bought the building for the museum in 1997.” The organization’s offices, which include a museum, are at 226 W. Penn St.
Browne got involved in 2018, drawn to the society’s archival work. She recognized the importance of knowing the stories behind the names preserved in documents.
“I found that many people who did such hard work did not always have the background knowledge of the families in town,” Browne said. Taking the lead for the society, Browne identified the need for administrative change to modernize the organization and make it more accessible to a new generation.
“Our organization has reached out in many new ways,” she said. “We brought artists in to exhibit their works. We’ve established a presence on social media. We’ve updated and digitized our archives. We have hosted all fourth-grade students on field trips to the museum for the past few years. We have more community outreach, such as programs at (a) rehab center. We recently did a program with the Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations.”
It is difficult for Browne to narrow down what she likes best about being a part of the organization, but hearing newcomers express surprise with comments like “I had no idea this museum existed” is a source of joy. Seeing people enthusiastically engaged with history and the museum is truly fulfilling for her.
While acknowledging history’s traditional focus on the past, Browne emphasized its dynamic nature, including the present and the people who shape the community.
“History is not just buildings, but it’s the families, the people of the community that make up the fabric,” she said.
Looking ahead, Browne hopes to lead the historical society toward a brighter future. After 25 years in operation, she believes it needs an upgrade to make residents more aware of it. The organization has secured a state grant to establish a three-year strategic plan, which it is working on now. It also has a state grant for an architectural assessment for the renovation of the building, which is in need of repairs. Some of the renovation work has begun, thanks to yet another grant, this one from Nassau County.
The 114-year-old headquarters is in need of repairs of cracked floors, a deteriorating chimney and rotting exhibit room doors, and most of the windows need to be replace. The restoration project is estimated to cost a total $150,000, as previously reported in the Herald. The GoFundMe page for donations can be found on the organization’s website, LongBeachHistoricalSociety.org.
“I feel that the community should feel welcome to the museum,” Browne said. “It’s their museum. We would like everyone to feel that they’re part of Long Beach’s history. We hope we also reflect on the changes being made in society.”
Browne said she hopes to usher in a new era for the historical society, in which residents’ positive outlook on the city’s future is deepened by their understanding of its past.