Group of antiquers 41 years strong

Published Aug 22, 2018 at 3:00pm

WESTMORELAND — Members of the Westmoreland Questers recently gathered at the Town Green to dedicate the new “Welcome to Historic Westmoreland” sign the group raised money to replace.

Eight of the James Dean Chapter of Questers gathered in front of the sign to showcase the town’s historic seal surrounded by Westmoreland’s famed colors of white and green, which was made by Terry Signs in Hamilton. There are about 16 members in all.

“The group does a great job,” said Supervisor Kenneth Eisnor during his remarks to the Questers following the sign dedication. “I want to thank them for this and for all their volunteer work.”

Founded by eight members in October 1977 under Theresa McFadden, the group was started after the Village of Clinton had formed a chapter. Besides the two chapters in Oneida County, there is one in Manlius, Onondaga County, and one in New York City, which makes up the entire membership representing New York state.

“My sister, Joyce Nester, was in the Clinton Questers, so I wanted to start my own chapter here, where I Iived,” McFadden said.

Questers, Inc. was started in 1944 in Philadelphia, Pa. Preservation and restoration are twin tenets of the Questers Organization. Projects, selected by the chapters, are to preserve historical buildings, sites and artifacts for the community and the future. Awards are made every other year.

At the 2016 International Questers Convention, 25 chapters were presented with grant awards totaling $77,857.52 for their preservation and restoration projects, according to the organization’s website. The winning chapters were from 14 states and two Canadian provinces. The projects were very diverse, including restoration of the decking in the First Engineers room on the Liberty Ship SS John W. Brown, acquisition of 1860s clothing and the restoration of concrete Gate #2 at Fonthill Castle.  

The Questers was founded by Jessie Elizabeth Bardens, an avid antiques collector, “who collected enough where she wanted to start sharing her collections with people,” explained James Dean Chapter Programming Chairman Sandy Rolewicz.

“There are about 1,000 chapters now, and we even go into Canada,” Rolewicz said.

According to the group’s bylaws, the purpose of The Questers is to educate by the research and study of antiques and to donate funds for preservation and restoration of artifacts, memorials and historic landmarks. James Dean Chapter meets once a month, on the third Thursday, in members’ homes, from September through June.

“A different member hosts the meeting each month and another member brings refreshments,” Rolewicz said. “We have programs of all kinds. Three years ago we did a program on feed bags. You see, chicken or pig feed used to come in plain bags, but all of a sudden, women, after they used the bags, would wash them and make things from them. So companies started making the fabric so they could be used for dresses and aprons.”

She said, “We’ve also had programs on dolls and quilts. This year I’ve got someone coming to show us his collection of flow blue butter pats and another on shaving items from 1790 to 1970.”

Every May the James Dean Chapter tries to organize a special tour of a museum or historic landmark. Once a year, the chapter also hosts an antiques sale just within the group, and money raised goes into its checking account to be saved for future local preservation projects.

“We have even given for educational purposes. Once we donated toward students at Columbia University, for example, who were studying for work in a museum,” Rolewicz said. “We don’t do that all the time, but we have in the past.”

Being program chairman for the chapter, Rolewicz said she has also been inspired to create programs of her own.

“National Apron Day happens to be in November, and someone sent me a story once about ‘grandma’s apron,’ so I made a program out of it,” she said. “I have an antique shop so I had some old aprons — fancy ones used for serving, half and whole aprons, and I ended with grandma’s apron, which was soiled because of so much use. When I looked up the day, I found that it’s tradition that you make an apron and take it to your neighbor, and make a loaf of bread to take to them as well. So I made a loaf of bread and apron for everyone, and the program ended up being a huge hit.”

In the 2018-19 season, James Dean Chapter will host a trunk show on wearable art as part of its programming, Rolewicz said. And in March, one of the members will host a program on town founder James Dean, she said.

James Dean Chapter Questers is comprised of several antiques dealers. There’s representation from the Westmoreland Antique Center on Route 233 that his home to 60 dealers. McFadden is a dealer, and Rolewicz owns a shop on Route 5 in Lairdsville.

“Antiquing and selling antiques is part of what we do,” Rolewicz said.

With a motto like, “It’s fun to search and a joy to find,” McFadden said members have a passion for old things.

“You never know, the things we have today could be tomorrow’s treasures,” she said.