Red was the color of the evening at Raynham Hall’s annual Valentine’s Ball, with a few men even sporting red trousers. The fundraiser, which is always more like a large, classy party, was crowded this year, with many people anxious to support one of Oyster Bay’s treasures, the house museum on West Main Street where Robert Townsend, one of Gen. George Washington’s Revolutionary War spies, lived. Townsend’s efforts are considered by historians to have been instrumental in the Colonies’ triumph.
The museum held the event on Jan. 26 in an upstairs room at the Old Westbury Golf and Country Club, which, as Executive Director Harriet Gerard Clark later said, was “transformed into a sort of love palace.” Tables were filled with an array of silent auction items, but before perusing them, guests met Britteny Schruefer at the entryway, who encouraged them to select a glass of champagne from her dress.
Schruefer’s ensemble was unusual, but Raynham Hall’s Michael Goudket, who, during house tours, portrays Townsend, was there too, wearing a Revolutionary War uniform. His presence, as well as the warmth extended by Gerard Clark and staff members Jessica Pearl, Claire Bellerjeau and Theresa Skvarla are mainstays in the museum’s success. They exemplify what honoree Dr. Libby H. O’Connell said later, that Raynham Hall remains relevant but also never loses sight of its roots.
“While other nations’ schoolchildren have been taught their nations’ histories out of a sense that they should know the stories of their rulers,” Gerard Clark said, “our nation’s children, and eventually the children of other nations striving to be democracies, also needed to learn how to rule in a democracy — including the value of public service, beginning with the inestimable value of the single, educated vote.”
The Townsends, she said, risked their lives for their right to vote, and understood the value of public service. The goal of the museum, she stressed, is to encourage a love of the history of our nation.
O’Connell, the evening’s honoree, was introduced by Gerard Clark as an author, historian and preservationist. Currently serving as a member of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, O’Connell is also former president of Raynham Hall.
She said that her interactions at the museum taught her about the power of place and the importance of public history. “I learned about the importance of small-town community and intergenerational networks,” she said. “Raynham Hall has held a warm place in my heart for a long time.”
O’Connell, who developed educational resources for the museum in the 1980s, eventually became chairman of the board for a number of years. Gerard Clark said that after O’Connell worked as a preservationist and a history lecturer, she spent over 20 years at the History Channel, where she continues to serve as chief historian emeritus.
“Raynham Hall is grateful to O’Connell for her tireless and inspired service to education and history,” Gerard Clark said, “and for her support of our institution.”
She also thanked attendees who continue to support the museum, which Gerard Clark reiterated celebrates the love of history, and the exercise of educated civil and civic responsibility.