CGP Community Stories

Jim Havener, November 6, 2017


Jim Havener, November 6, 2017


Assumption, Illinois
County Tipperary, Ireland
Political history
Cooperstown, New York
Boston, Massachusetts
Cultural Education
Small business
Oneonta, New York
Human Places


Jim Havener is a well-known and respected member of the Cooperstown, Milford, and Oneonta communities. Jim was born in Assumption, Illinois where he lived until attending college in Decatur, Illinois in the 1970s. Jim’s mother was born and raised in Ireland, and Jim had the opportunity to experience Irish culture throughout his young life. With an interest in history and some experience working in museums, Jim decided to apply to the Cooperstown Graduate Program in the 1980s and was accepted as a student. After living in Boston for a time, Jim and his family decided to move back to the Cooperstown area and have lived in Milford, New York ever since.
Jim has worked as a museum professional, but also stepped outside of the field of museum work to establish his own furniture restoration business, The Furniture Doctor. Jim operated this local business in Milford, New York for thirty years, at which time he purchased The Green Toad Bookstore in Oneonta, New York. Jim is very involved in his community, and continues to provide his services as a museum professional on a part-time basis at the Milford Historical Society and The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown. A small business owner, Jim understands the importance of community and his bookstore provides a place for the Oneonta community to gather together.
Jim reminisces about his childhood experiences in Ireland, his time at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, and his life as a community member and small business owner. Jim is particularly concerned with community as an intimate organism and expresses, toward the end of his interview, the importance of his role as a small business owner in the community of Oneonta – Jim is really trying to provide a setting that will foster a sense of community and togetherness.
Jim had a very distinct pattern of speech, and often ends his thoughts with phrases like “and that there,” “in those regards,” and “and that type of thing.” Jim is conversational in his speech, and so liberties have been taken regarding punctuation and word choice for readability. To fully experience the colloquialisms of Jim’s speech, please refer to the audio recording.


Mary Kate Kenney


Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta




Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY


72 in








Upstate New York
Milford, NY


Mary Kate Kenney


Jim Havener


110 East Main Street
Milford, NY 13807


Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2017

JH = Jim Havener
MK = Mary Kate Kenney

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]
This is Mary Kate Kenney interviewing Jim Havener for the CGP Community Stories Project on November 6th, 2017 in Jim's home, we're in his living room. Jim, talk to me about where you were born.
I was born in Assumption, Illinois, which is in central Illinois. Assumption is a small farm community of about 1,400 people and is a very typical Midwestern farming town. My dad was from that town; he met my mother at a USO dance outside London, in the early 1950s. He was in the Air Force. My mom was born and raised in Ireland in County Tipperary, and went to nursing school in Dublin and then went to work in England, after she got out of nursing school. My father went to high school and then it was right around the time of the Korean War and he was in the air force. He didn’t see really any combat, he was a mechanic and was in the air force for I believe a couple of years. They met there, and then dad got transferred to Greenland and then on to Kansas. My mom had an opportunity to be a nanny for an Air Force colonel’s two children, and he would pay her way to America. She came over on the Queen Mary, to Long Island, and was a nanny for a year, and my dad and her corresponded. I think dad came east once or twice and then my mom went out to this air base in Celinas, Kansas, I can’t remember the name of it, but they got married there and they came back to live in Assumption where I was born. It was a great place to grow up. It was a farm town, I went to school there, grade school, high school, and after that point in time I went to college at Miliken University which is a private university in Decatur, Illinois. That’s about 45 miles away from where I grew up, and that’s where I went to college.
[TRACK 1, 2:58]
Great. And what led to your interest in museums?
Well, I think my interest in museums came from my upbringing. I don’t have any brothers or sisters and my mother is very, very attached to her homeland Ireland. At the age of two she took me back to Ireland and we stayed for the whole summer, for June and July and August and my father would come. He worked for the phone company, West Electric actually, which used to install Bell Telephone systems, and he would get a couple week’s vacation and come over in August, and then we would all fly back together, so some of my earliest memories of life [TRACK 1, 3:48], my first memories of life, is being at my grandparents’ house in Ireland. They lived in a town called Emly in County Tipperary; it was a very, very small rural village there. We would go back about every three, four years, we would go back and spend the summers. I remember the second time I was over there, I was probably about six, and mom took me out to a friend of hers that she’d grown up with, they lived on a farm. Their son Michael Kiley and I were the same age, and we went out and we played in the castle that was out in the pasture on the farm - the castle was a Norman period three-story stone structure. In Ireland there were just multiple layers of history and structures, and I felt like I really got a sense of history there. [TRACK 1, 4:57] Then of course I live with this large Irish family there and got to know their storytelling, and the past was very present in their lives. My parents also too in Illinois would take me to a lot of Lincoln sites. There was New Salem, Lincoln’s house in Springfield, numerous places like that, so both from the American side and the Irish side I was around a lot of older things, or older places. Also, my parents, they got into going to country auctions and buying furniture, antiques and using them in their house. Then when I was probably about middle school, my dad bought a building on the Main Street in Assumption and he started a part-time, kind of used furniture antique shop, and it was only open on Fridays and Saturday afternoons. It was a mixture of everything [chuckles]. I was old enough to kind of help out and do things that my dad would kind of fix up pieces, kind of clean them up a little bit, and so I started being around objects, older objects. Then around about that time I started collecting, I started collecting different things and from a very early age I was collecting. [TRACK 1, 6:42] Whether or not it was matchbox cars or, I remember my grandfather buying me these small plastic soldiers. They were something that you found in Ireland and in England. They were of different time periods of English history. They did have some on American [history], like, Confederates and Yankees from our Civil War, but they were very, very precise, and I remember collecting them and it was something my grandfather would do with me, but I started collecting. I do remember my first collections. In Illinois, or Assumption, there was a coal mine that had been closed up. There had been a mining disaster there in the nineteen teens, and on the edge of town there were these two what they called mountains there, but really they were probably about three or four hundred feet hills, and they were the slag that came out of the mine. There was a disaster at the mine, there was an explosion and dozens of men were killed, and they closed the mine up. But these two slag piles were there. Now at this point they had trees growing on them and bushes and stuff like that, but there were all these rocks with fossils in them. I would go over to this place and, with a wagon, I think I was probably about first or second grade, and I would fill the wagon up full of these rocks with these fossils in them. I would bring them back to my house and I would keep them in my room. I would actually, you know, set them up, and put them in order, starting to curate the collection and [chuckle], and I actually fill[ed] a dresser drawer full of them and it blew out the bottom of the dresser drawer and fell into the other drawers because it had so much weight in it. We had to take the back of the dresser off to get the drawer open. That was my first collections management disaster [chuckle]. [TRACK 1, 9:02] From an early age I collected and collecting became part of being around the past and thinking about the past. I do remember from a very early age being involved in the past. It’s kind of interesting, I bought the Green Toad Bookstore about four years ago, and I had an antique restoration business for thirty years before that, and I was going to tell my parents, “I’m going to buy this book store.” It’s a change in your life, and you’re changing your profession, and then mom and dad, they’re the kind of people that you work in a job all your life, then you retire and you die. So, I know I thought, “Aw they’re going to be kind of, you know, they’ll be concerned about this,” and so when I told them I was going do this, they thought it was wonderful and they really surprised me. They thought it was really wonderful. Mom tells the story about, we’d went to a Lincoln site and I was mad to get a three-volume paperback version of Carl Sandburg’s History of Lincoln, and I still have it actually, and she said that she bought this thing for me and, I think I was probably about eight or nine, and she said that I sat down and I read that thing, completely, each volume. And then I wouldn’t shut up about Lincoln for months. From a very early age reading, collecting, and being around in another culture that had many layers of history besides our own really got me interested, I think, in museums.
[TRACK 1, 10:59]
Absolutely. So, how do you feel your academic experiences sort of, matched up with these life experiences as you went through high school and then into your undergrad?
I think what it did was that it really pushed me to read beyond my level and really search and be curious about things. I think it was not only the travel of being from two different cultures, because I really feel Irish in many ways, I’m truly an Irish American, you know, and I really would become really immersed in this Irish culture. I would be living daily life within this Irish culture and they were two agricultural communities, so you were going from one place to the other, but very similar in their geographic and their population framework. From that experience and then reading I really found myself by the time I got to high school, I was really reading [pause] - I was very, very curious and I became actually kind of a somewhat political [TRACK 1, 12:16] and really started reading things about political history and the politics of the time. Of course, it was the end of the sixties, [the] Vietnam [War] was just ending and it was the early 70s. The war was on TV every night, and I really remember the tumult that was going on in our own political landscape. [It] kind of really prompted me to really kind of look at this - what’s going on, and become curious about it. So, when I got into undergrad, I really kind of was interested in why we act the way we do in contemporary society and I really would look, was really curious about how we came to that state, so looking at the past was really a creative, curious thing for me. When I went to undergrad I didn’t think I’d major in history, I didn’t really have a major, and what really turned me on is I had a professor Dr. Proven. It was a European history class, so I’d been in Europe, so okay, I take this class and he was just really truly kind of one of these professors that was so dynamic in his lectures that it was really difficult to actually take notes. He was very erudite and very scholarly but still at the same time mesmerizing in his presentation and how he presented the modern European history and I really became enthralled by that [TRACK 1, 14:00]. I remember the first test I took with him and it was a blue book test - you had these blue books and you’d write answered in them - and I got the test back and I think I had a, like a C+. I was devastated, because in high school you got really good grades, in history you always got As and I thought “Oh my gosh, I got a C+, this is terrible.” When he handed the blue book to me he says, “I’d like to talk to you after class” and I said, “fine.” So anyway, I went to his office and he said, “You know,” he says, “you know you didn’t really write very well here in your answers, but I can tell that you’ve got a really good mind, and I’d like to really work with you in developing your communication skills, [chuckle], your writing skills” [TRACK 1, 15:03] and he really kind of took me under his wing, and so then I decided [at] the end of my sophomore, or freshman year, I would major in European history. Under him I really kind of specialized on the Tudor/Stewart Ireland, the 16th century and Ireland, which was really kind of a real change in Irish history in that particular time. I found that time period to be very, very fascinating. When I finished college, I met my soon-to-be wife and she was in nursing school, she was a year behind me. When I graduated, and she had another year to go, and at that point in time I got a job working at Spectre Freight which meant you drove forklifts around from the Chicago truck over to the San Francisco truck with pallets of Hershey bars and different things like this. You could call in first thing in the morning on a Friday morning and you could get shifts on the weekend, and you weren’t part of the union. I think I was making like, $15 an hour, and you might work a Saturday night, each night of the weekend. It was enough to live on but it was really of course, unsatisfying work, and I thought, “Boy I’d really like to go on to school” but I was in love with this woman, and she was still in school and was doing really well in the nursing program. [TRACK 1, 16:41] My mom called up and said “Oh, I read this article in the local paper” – we were living in Decatur which is a city of about 100,000 people – “the county historical society is opening up a new museum, maybe you could go out there and get a job in dealing with history.” So, one day I just kind of walked out there cold and this county historical society had purchased a school. Well, I think they got an NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities] grant, a very large NEH grant, for capital development and they had taken over an elementary school that had been closed in consolidation, and they were going to develop this local history museum there. The woman who was in charge of this was out of the Hagley Program, she was just fresh out of grad school, and said, “We’re looking for someone to work, we need an education coordinator.” I had taken some education classes in undergrad and I had this history degree so I got a job there. I think I made, I don’t know, $10,000 a year. It was very low pay, but it was great work. This woman, her name was Corolla Rupert, she was fresh out of grad school and a couple of the people who worked there were probably in their thirties, so it was a very young staff. Then everybody in the historical society was very elderly, and they were really nice people to be around. I worked there for about two and a half years. This director, she wanted to move on, and so she was applying for jobs on the West coast and she really encouraged me to look at graduate schools. I was interested in going on to graduate, I was actually very interested in going on to graduate school in history and getting a doctorate in history, and teaching history. [TRACK 1, 19:02] I never really thought about museums as a quote unquote profession. This was a great job, beginning job. At that time she told me about her program and then she told me about Cooperstown Graduate Program, and there was Winterthur, and then there was a historical administration program at William and Mary at the time. I applied to the Hagley Program, William and Mary and Cooperstown, and I got on a wait list at William and Mary, and then I got this letter saying that Cooperstown would like for you to come up for an interview. So, I got a Trailways, at the time you could get a Trailways bus pass and travel anywhere in America for a month for two hundred dollars. I took a bus up to Chicago, and then it took the straight trip from Chicago to New York, and I spent a day in New York. I’d flown in and out of New York going to Europe but I never had been in New York, so I went to the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art] and a couple different places there. Then I got a Trailways bus and came up to Cooperstown for interview weekend, as you all well know [chuckle].
[TRACK 1, 20:29]
Were you and your wife married at this time?
No, we weren’t - we were going to get married, this was of course I think March when the interview was, and we were going to get married that August. Interview weekend was pretty interesting to me. I’d never really been in the eastern part of the country at all, so I was really pretty fascinated taking this Trailways bus which stopped at every white spot in the road from Port Authority in Manhattan to Cooperstown. At the time, you got let off at what was called "Clancy’s Deli," I think it’s New York Pizzeria now, and it had a pay phone out front of it. You got dropped off there, I think the bus still drops off there, but anyway I get out and you had this phone number and you called this number and then the director of the program, a guy by the name of Dan Porter, came over and picked you up. And there was another guy on the bus that had come up from New Jersey, Dave Mahaley, who actually eventually became one of my classmates, a very close friend, and we’re still very good friends. He was on that bus as well [TRACK 1, 21:47]. So, this Dan Porter comes over, drives over, and he picks Dave and I up, and he takes us over to the campus and what was called the White House at the time was where the program’s headquarters was. We walk in the door and at this time I had a backpack on, and I had hiking boots and a flannel shirt and jeans, but I had brought a suit to wear for the interview because the director of the Macon County Historical Society talked about these really big-name people in Cooperstown - Lou Jones [Louis C. Jones], and these different people, you know, big names in the museum profession. My mom had bought me a nice suit and I had the suit in a suit bag, and I kept it not wrinkled all the way on this twenty-four-hour trip from Chicago to New York and up here to Cooperstown. We walk into the White House, we walk in and Dan Porter introduces us to Evelyn Barron, the secretary. Evelyn Barron was a wonderful woman, she was probably in her late sixties at the time. She had this kind of blue beehive hairdo, she was sitting there at a desk and she was smoking a cigarette. [We] come in and we’re introduced to her and she gets her list out and looks and she kind of says to me, "Well I see that we have an opening” - this was a Friday, and my interview was scheduled for Saturday - and she said, "You know, we have an opening, someone’s not going, if you would like to interview in ten minutes." And I said to myself, “Yea sure, I’ll do the interview and go get it done with,” and I said to her, "Well you know, is there someplace I can change? I brought this suit." I still remember this to this day, she kind of pushed back from the desk and she reached over and grabbed her cigarette, she took a big, long pull on it, she blew the smoke out, and she says "Aw, hell honey" she says, "they’ve seen a lot worse than you, go in there and knock them dead." She says "yea the bathrooms down the hall." And so [laughs], so I thought to myself at the time, “what kind of place is this?” This is supposed to be a place that has a lot of prestige, and this program’s really well known, and these people are just really regular, kind of genuine people, but this is a totally different concept than I had developed in my mind what this place was going to be. I thought I was going to go to this university actually [laughs], and here I was in this little town, [laughs] in upstate New York, which I’d never been in at all - the environment was very, very different than I’d ever been in. I went and changed into my suit, and went over to the library and you walked in to the board room and there sat Lou Jones and Gib Vincent, and Dr. Lanny Wright [Langdon G. Wright], and Miner White Thomas, who was the director of the [New York State] Historical Association at the time. They all looked pretty forbidding, and I sat down and they were very friendly, and they asked, started asking some questions and especially Lou Jones, he really kind of led the dis- I felt it was a discussion more than a question and answer thing. Within about five minutes of that interview I felt like, I really like these people, I think I got a good chance of getting in here. I mean, I just felt really very comfortable and intrigued by them as well. Then of course, the rest of the interview weekend you go do the other festivities with the other students. I remember that evening, though, I stayed with this one guy that was in the class before me, a real nice guy, Wayne Wakefield - but he was a little different in many ways. I was introduced to him, the people that introduced me to him kind of chuckled. So anyway, I went over, he lived on Chestnut Street in an apartment, we went over there, he was very friendly, he’s very excited about being in the program and by this time it was about three o’clock in the afternoon, three thirty, and he asks me if I was hungry, and I said “sure.” I really hadn’t eaten all day long, and so I said “sure.” He says, “Do you like spaghetti?” and I says, “Fine.” He goes and he gets some, a jar of spaghetti sauce and he gets a fry pan out. He pours the spaghetti in this fry pan and then he reaches up and gets the bottle of pasta after he’s kind of heated the stuff up a little bit, and he takes the pasta out of the box and he breaks it open and he puts it in the fry pan. [chuckle] So anyway [chuckle throughout] he makes this goopy mess of stuff and he puts it on a plate and he sets the table, and I’m looking at this and I’m going, “Who would make something like this, who would think of trying to eat something like this?” I kind of toy around with it, take a couple bites of it and he says to me, he says, “What’s the matter, don’t you like it?” and I go - I kind of realized you had to make an impression, you’re staying with a student - I said, “I’m really nervous, you know, I’m not really that hungry after all” and that type of a thing. He was very excited, he was taking an architectural history class with Gib Vincent and all of this great architecture in Cooperstown, when I was driving through I saw it was a really interesting looking place. He says, “Well you wanna go out and look at some of the buildings?” and I says, “Yea sure.” [chuckles] I thought maybe we’d go by a restaurant, and I could get a bite to eat [laughing]. We go out, we walk and it’s the end of March. Now in Illinois where I was from, the corn and the soybeans were already starting to come up in the fields, and it’s about, I think, 25 degrees and it’s grey, and the lights [are] kind of going down, it’s getting to be dusk, you know, it’s 4:30 in the afternoon [chuckle], and there’s flakes of snow kind of falling. We walked all around Cooperstown, the downtown area, we walk all around and he’s pointing out this Queen Anne house and this Greek Revival house, and he’s pointing out features and, it becomes dark and you really can’t see anything. Eventually we end up in the graveyard in the Episcopal church, he’s going to show me where James Fenimore Cooper is buried. So, he goes over to the gravestone and he brushes the snow off of it and he starts tracing out the letters, and by this point in time I’m freezing. I’m really starting to - I’m really cold, and I still haven’t eaten anything at all [laughing] and so I said to him, "Wayne,” I says, “when I was in the library this afternoon” I said, “some of the second year students had said that they were gonna go to this place called The Pit,” and I realized it was a bar, they were going to go to this bar and I says, “I say what I’m really cold,” I says, “I think I’m gonna go over to that place called The Pit.” He said, “Well listen, I wanna show you a couple more graves.” I go, “Wayne,” I says, “I tell ya what, I’m really cold.” At this point I realize Wayne was a little different from most people that I [laugh] had met before, and I said, “I’m gonna go there” and he says, “Well, you don’t know where it’s at.” I go, “Wayne,” I says, “this is a one light town” [laughing], I says, “I [START OF TRACK 2, 0:00] think I’m gonna be able to find The Pit downtown [laughing] alright.” So, I actually started walking there and he kind of comes along with me, and we go to The Pit. I don’t know if you’ve been there but anyway, it’s a basement where there’s a bar and the graduate students used to go there. You could get a pitcher of beer for two dollars or something like that [Mary Kate chuckles] at the time. [TRACK 2, 0:23] I went there and it was nice and warm, and you could get yourself a sandwich, and there was a bunch of graduate students there, and the people that were staying with them, and we had a great evening. It was wonderful, so that was my first day and night in Cooperstown [laughing].
[TRACK 2, 0:42]
So, you were obviously accepted [laughing] to the Cooperstown Graduate Program [JH: right], talk to me about your time there.
Well, it was a real, it was a really amazing time for me because first of all after that, Gene [Jean?] and I, we got married that summer, we actually got married about two weeks before school started. We went on a honey moon on a camping trip in Nova Scotia for ten days, and then we literally drove from Nova Scotia, or from the Bar Harbor, from the ferry, to Cooperstown. I remember coming in and it was just really gorgeous, physically gorgeous, it was a bright, sunny day and driving along Lake Otsego, and to me it was a real eye opener. [TRACK 2, 1:30] I mean, I really had an opportunity to really look at museums, these two really interesting museums and a very fascinating group of teachers, and really kind of start really looking at collections and objects really, in a way that I kind of touched upon a little bit in Illinois, but really hadn’t done. I thought what was really fascinating was a real combination of scholarship with hands-on aspect, and I was really kind of amazed by that because I was pretty much of a hands-on person anyway. I just thought that that was a very, that intuitively that was a very good way for me to learn, I really took to it really well. I think the smallness of the program made it a very intimate thing, I mean you got to know people really well, whether you wanted to or not [laughing]. You felt very, very close, it was more of a familial type of a situation I thought, then what I had experienced before going to university, and I found the people in the town very, very nice. My wife Jeanne was a brand-new RN - she got a job at Bassett [Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital], so we rented a little cabin out at Five Mile Point on Lake Otsego. So here we were in this beautiful little cabin and living on Lake Otsego, and working at these two places, and what was really kind of interesting to me is that there’s these really fascinating, kind of deep, interesting museums in this little tiny town. It was a lot of fun, but it was challenging too. I mean, I felt really challenged at it to really learn museums from [the] inside out. [TRACK 2, 3:36] Also too, what was really great about it was you really got to travel and see places. At the time, we went to Boston for a week, and you got to see places that you’d heard about - Plimoth Plantation, Sturbridge Village, you know, a number of different places like that. I found it fascinating, we actually went to Roger Child’s gallery in the Back Bay in Boston, and it really kind of really seemed an art gallery, really in depth. That was all very new to me, I never had ever experienced that before - I visited museums but they were primarily historic site museums. I really remember Gib Vincent’s classes a lot. He came from a very formal background, he went to Harvard and prep school, but still at the same time he was very involved. For example, his architectural history class, you actually got in the car and you drove and saw incredible examples of historic places. Many of them weren’t museums, they were people’s private homes, so it was a very intimate study of American culture. I think that that was probably the most dominant thing that I really kind of gained from it. You got to know your classmates very well, and got to learn a lot from them. They were from many different places in the country - I thought that was really, really quite good. I think also the opportunity to really do internships in interesting places, get your feet wet right away. [TRACK 2, 5:33] One thing I kind of thought was interesting about Cooperstown is that once you arrive there, and start going to school there - [pause] yes, you were in the roll as a student but then I also really immediately [felt] like I was already a museum professional by being there. Being able to have the opportunity to really study with these people and at these places and these collections - for example, dealing with material culture. I was always interested in furniture, but to really kind of be able to go in the collections, and I became really fascinated by furniture that was painted, the painted surface. Being able to see it in so many different ways, and so much depth. I was able to gain at least a good first step into a deep understanding of something. At the same time, the other aspect of Cooperstown I think was really interesting is that kind of, this is something that the Irish do – you’re really in this top place and you’re studying with this really top collection with top people, but still at the same time you can’t get too big in your own britches, you know what I mean? There’s this kind of aspect to it which the Irish really do, [TRACK 2, 7:16] you can’t get too full of yourself. This is real life, and so I thought not only did you get to learn intellectually, in depth about museums and material culture, but you really got to learn a lot about people, and personalities. I felt that that was really kind of an aspect of it. Also too, is that you got to meet other people that have been in the program twenty years before that, or five years before that. I remember meeting Gretchen [Sullivan Sorin], she was in, I think she was three or four years ahead of me. She had done some interesting work down in New York and then she was doing consulting work, and just being around people that had been through there before you and just seeing how they had already started growing into the profession, and that was really an opportunity to really see what you could do. It was a motivating aspect of the program.

[TRACK 2, 8:21]
So, what did you do after graduation?
Well, I interviewed for jobs from California - I actually went out and interviewed at a county historical museum in Bakersfield, California where the person I worked for in Illinois went to. And Bakersfield was horrible. It was this big, flat, dry, flat land and it was so physically different than Cooperstown or even Illinois, that I interviewed for this job and had a chance to get a job as an assistant director at this museum, that [laugh] I don’t think I want to be, really want to be in this place. I interviewed in places around New York state, and then eventually what I did was I took a job as Director of Interpretation at the Paul Revere House in Boston. I was there for two and a half years, and it was a great place to work. It was a young staff, pre-Revolutionary Boston - that’s the place Revere lived in before the Revolution and after, or during the Revolution - it was a really great, fascinating history. Then still at the same time, since Jeanne had worked at Bassett and we, besides getting to know the people in the program, through her and her work there, we got to know people in the community. At that time, it was 1983 through ‘86, museums weren’t paying really well. When I was working at the Revere House I think I was making like, twelve five a year or something like that. I thought to myself, “You know when I was in Illinois, and here I have this graduate degree from this great program, and I was making ten thousand dollars a year,” [laughing] I started really kind of questioning about what I was really doing. [TRACK 2, 10:34] There was part of me [that] wanted to break out on my own and start my own business. I’d met a couple people that were involved in the antiques business when I was here going to graduate school. Actually, one of the things about Cooperstown [that] was really kind of interesting was that we really went out and went to auctions and went to sales and went to people’s private collections, and a group of us really kind of went around and looked at things in the private market, compared to what was in the public market. The work I’d done when I was with my dad, of restoring antiques was kind of something that was there. Actually, the year that I was out of undergrad and I started working at this museum, I kind of did some antique restoration for a number of people. I met some people who were involved in the antique business here in Cooperstown, and a couple cabinet makers. Jeanne and I would come back to visit people since we were only four hours away, we’d come back about every three months and spend a long weekend, and we really liked the area, you know, being here. We were living in Boston in the suburbs in an apartment complex that was larger than twice the size, the population of Cooperstown. You got on the Red Line every morning at seven fifteen to go to work, and living in the suburbs, I never had lived in the suburbs before, and I found it very dull. Boston was great - I wish, maybe it had been a different story if we’d moved right downtown Boston and lived in Boston, and been part of the city [TRACK 2, 12:32], but living in the suburbs, it was just kind of deadening. We started a family, we had a daughter, our daughter Aiden, and we would come back here and visit, and we kind of eventually made a decision to move back here. We could buy a nice old house, that we could afford, and I started an antique restoration business called The Furniture Doctor. At the same time, I didn’t really give up my museum career. I started this restoration business, and I’ve had it for 30 years, and it was very, very successful, but still at the same time I would do some curation of exhibits. I worked with Arts Councils and exhibition development. I became the director of the Milford Historical Society and did that for many years, and developed Sayer House and the Susquehanna Cultural Center for the [Milford] Historical Association, so I kept my hand in it, in museum work. I kind of liked being my own boss and striking out on my own. That’s what I did after I left Cooperstown. I think it was kind of a combinations thing, I think it was combination [of] where I was living and really kind of salary, kind of really pushed me into thinking, “Well, maybe I could do something on my own.” I always kind of figured, “Well, if the restoration work didn’t really pan out, I could always get another low paying museum job somewhere.” [laughing] At the time, and maybe the profession’s changed, I don’t know what the status level of salaries are, but at the time, everyone wanted to be in the Northeast in history museums, and so pay was actually really down. If you could, you could get a job in Alabama for twice the wage, but I didn’t want to live in Alabama, and I’d been in Alabama before so I definitely knew I didn’t want to move there. That’s kind of how my course of my career went.
[TRACK 2, 14:57]
Did you feel that you learned some things at the Cooperstown Graduate Program that made you decide to go into restoration? Like, where did that interest come from for you?
Well, I kind of had dabbled in it before I came to Cooperstown, but when I came to Cooperstown I really, I really seriously started studying furniture and became very, very interested in it and was really curious about it. I wasn’t really interested in starting a business where you kind of just mass produce refinished pieces. I was really kind of more interested, even though you did do that to some pieces, I was really kind of interested in conservation. At the time in Cooperstown, too, the conservation wing of the program was there. I got to know many of those people there and hung out where the graduate program is now, is where the conservation strand was, and I was pretty fascinated by the work that they did do, and maybe if I had approached it again I might have really gone into conservation more so than administration or interpretation. But then I really love that aspect of being able to take material culture and interpret it, and I really kind of did that a lot here on the local level [TRACK 2, 16:19] at the Milford Historical Association, because it was a local historical association that didn’t have any professionalism behind it at all. I was asked to come over and help them with a problem they had with their historic house museum, that they had mold starting to grow on artifacts. That really kind of prompted me to go over there and use what I had learned in Cooperstown to help them solve that problem. They were a nice group of local people, and invited me to come on the board. [TRACK 2, 16:59] I said, “Okay sure, that’d be fine, I’d love to do that.” Basically, that was a conservation problem that kind of drew me into that organization. Then the Sayer House is such a really pure historic house, it has a great family history, and it was in the early nineteenth century which is a period of the antebellum period in history, of American history I really love to study and have studied deeply. That historic house worked there, and what was really fascinating about the place, that I was really drawn to too, it was a house and a store, so it was a public-private kind of place, and they had really great primary sources too. They had account books, they had yearly inventories, a lot of original materials that you could really do really, really good interpretation in that place, develop a really good interpretation. Eventually, as I was running that place, I would have interns from CGP come work, so it was really kind of a fun thing to be able to take the place and be a learning lab for the graduate students as well as for local people who lived here in the community. Working on individual pieces of furniture I found to be kind of fascinating both intellectually to know how that piece came to be, and then also physically, how to really deal with conservation problems with what was going on with that piece. I say many times I have probably saved more pieces of furniture than a lot of curators have. There would be really, I remember dozens of times people would ask me to destroy original finish pieces and I would not do that. Even though I could make money doing that, I would not do that, and you really would use it as an opportunity to really educate people about what they actually had. I guess I kind of followed a very different path - I mean, I did work in the profession full time, but still at the same time I worked on the side of it and worked along with it.
[TRACK 2, 19:42]
Were a lot of your customers, when you were working as The Furniture Doctor, were they local [JH: Oh yes] or did you draw people from sort of all different places?
Well, you drew people from about a four or five county area, and I mean, you really kind of became known on certain things that you could really do. There were some things I really didn’t know anything about really at all, and really kind of taught myself and really kind of studied like faux finishes - graining, marbling, and different aspects of the painted surface. I never really got involved in the antique trade, I mean I wasn’t really doing things for antique dealers or things like that. There were primarily local people, yes, I would say, primarily people from Otsego or Chenango or Delaware County or Schoharie County. There are also too, that you really came upon really, wonderful pieces. For example, Lou and Aggie Jones, they were going to move out of their home in Cooperstown and they were going to move into an assisted living place. They asked me to come over to their house, they had this incredible bedroom furniture that was from Jamaica from the 1790s and someone had painted the room of their house and spattered paint all over it. I think they rolled paint in the room without adequately covering the furniture so you had this gorgeous 1790s furniture with speckles of paint all over it. You got to work on a wide variety of things, it was almost like an encyclopedic museum. Also, another aspect too is, I really specialized in arts and craft furniture, or mission furnitures, a lot of people talk about, which is something that was a passion of mine that I collected as well. So yes, there were certain specialties, but it was primarily local people, helping local people out with their things. I wasn’t a prima donna - if someone wanted to bring me their oak t-back chairs that you know, there’s millions of them made, and people wanted to pay me to glue them back together, I’d glue them back together for them. And actually, that’s what kind of led to the bookstore. [TRACK 2, 22:28] In the 1980s, and in the 1990s, there was a really amazing furniture that was still here. As the antique business changed, and as the number of interesting pieces, historically, moved out of the area or were not around here anymore for people to purchase or collect, my business became more and more intellectually not as interesting. That’s how I kind of came into the bookstore. This bookstore was started in Oneonta, it was an independent bookstore started in 2008, and I thought that was wonderful. We hadn’t had a bookstore around. There was a little chain bookstore out at the, as my kids used to call the little mall there in Oneonta, “the small,” Walden Books [laughs], and it became a Borders Express eventually - it was really a horrible bookstore. This woman started this independent bookstore out of the blue, it kind of grew up like a mushroom in Downtown Oneonta. It was a nice place and I was a big customer, [and] as the interesting pieces became less and less interesting I – well, I had customers in Cooperstown that have a great collection of painted furniture. From the 18th century all through the 19th century. One day, they brought me this little three drawer chest, and the next day I went to go look at it and it was made of particle board and photo finish, and I just really kind of thought, “What the heck?” These people have really got great furniture, got a great eye, and they’re bringing me something that looked like you could buy it at IKEA, you know what I mean? I was really kind of disgusted and I went to the bookstore, and I was talking to the owner, and she was asking me something about business and I said, “I don’t know what’s going on, my business is just becoming really,” I told her about the story about this piece that had come in, and I says, “There’s just not that many interesting pieces up there that intrigue you and want you to work on it.” [TRACK 2, 25:03] I kind of ended the conversation with “You know, I think there’s part of me that always wanted to have a store, have a business like that.” Maybe a couple of times I kind of thought, “Well, maybe I’ll have an antique store, but not just antiques, maybe it’d be a mixture of things.” I kind of ended the conversation with her: “Well, you know Michelle, I wish I was doing what you’re doing but you beat me to it.” I felt like the bookstore was really kind of quite fascinating but then still, at that time to me, didn’t have a lot of depth in many areas. Like for example, their history section was woeful. Many times, I’d have to special order things, like the book that you bought the other day, The Nature of God, you wouldn’t have found that book in the store at that time. I was very involved in books - I read about books, I see what’s being published and I have a personal library of a couple thousand volumes. I said this to Michelle, and about two weeks later she calls me up and says she wants to get together with me for lunch and she says, “You know, I’ve got some changes in my life and I’m really, I want to move on from the book store, and you’ve been a customer, and I really think this is important for the community, and I think you could really do some really great things here, and I want to know if you’d be interested in buying it from me.” She didn’t advertise that her bookstore was for sale, she almost, in a way, personally kind of selected me to see if I would be interested in buying it. I spent probably, she wasn’t in a rush, I spent probably about six months researching independent bookstores and I really saw there was an opportunity there, and I decided to buy the store and take that leap off the cliff again - that kind of feeling of free fall, of being in a brand-new enterprise, starting a new collection. [TRACK 2, 27:19] I really kind of see the store as a collection. It’s a collection of things that are being published, which I think’s good and important, and I want to turn people on to, and I see the bookstore as very much similar as it is to an exhibition. You put a number of things together and you arrange them and you light them, and you create atmosphere and you design how your store’s going to look. You’re trying to help people interpret all these different ideas, people, subject matter, all these things out there. You don’t really use exhibition labels as much as you would in a real exhibition, but still at the same time I really see there’s really many similarities to it. I think really kind of the real core of a lot of museum work is how you can really take that three dimensionality of taking objects, putting them into a place, and really trying to turn people on to really try and understand something that they really might be curious about or really don’t know anything about and become curious about it. That to me is where the rubber hits the road in museums, is that you really can create this idea of culturally educating people, whether or not it’s kumquat pickers or it’s the current political situation in the country, or social history issues, or an issue that deals with a problem that we have in our country like race, or class, or those different types of things. I think it’s really an opportunity to do that. You could do that in film, or you could do that in writing yourself, but I think you have more capability and more broad appeal to be able to do it through museums. I really kind of see the bookstore as really another extension of that.
[TRACK 2, 29:35]
So as a business owner, how are you involved in the revitalization that’s going on with Main Street Oneonta?
Well, I think first of all, I think I’m very involved in it. I think actually I’ve created an atmosphere, I’ve created an enterprise upon the foundations of what this previous owner’s done, and I’ve created a place [START OF TRACK 3, 0:00] that’s become a real focal point for the downtown. There’s a business next to me that’s a coffee shop - it’s a place where people come and get coffee and get a bite to eat and they meet, or they work, they’re working on their laptop, they see somebody that they know, they meet new people, it’s a pretty thriving place. Opening that up to the bookstore as well, I think is really kind of combining a place that gathers people together to socialize, have some nourishment, and at the same time they have an opportunity to create some intellectual nourishment there. It’s a place that’s gone beyond just superficial commercial enterprise. It’s a place to get people to discover things that they normally would not discover, buying books at BJs or buying books at Walmart. I see it’s a place where people get together and meet people they haven’t seen for a while, or it’s a place that they meet new people. It’s a place that they feel comfortable, and then at the same time I see it’s an opportunity to be able to work with other enterprises. For example, some of the programming we’re trying to do, we’re trying to do with other commercial entities that are there on that Main Street. [TRACK 3, 1:33] I think a real goal, a really important goal of a downtown revitalization in any community, let alone Oneonta, is that you have a group of small enterprises like the bookstore, like the coffee shop or like Roots Brew Pub across the street, or like the Autumn Cafe that’s reopening. I think you see people that have small enterprises that can be diverse and interesting to a really wide audience and the more that you have of that, I think you create more energy. Where if you have your big box stores, and you drive to them, you’re driving to these places individually. You’re in your car, you drive to the parking lot, you get out, you walk into the store. It’s massive, it has everything in there that the next place has. I mean, you can go into any Walmart and you can see the same stuff you see in Target, and you can see a lot of the same stuff you see in Dick’s Sporting Goods, or you see the same stuff you see in Bed, Bath, and Beyond. There’s that similarity to it, there isn’t an individuality to it. It’s a corporate presentation of, what’s the most things we can put into this place and put them at the cheapest price. [TRACK 3, 3:00] I don’t think that you see a human-ness in that. I think what you see in small businesses like the bookstore or the places that you can see that people start, the small businesses, that you can see a human being. You can see what that person’s brought into the place. I think people really want to feel that in many ways. Now, we can wax nostalgically and say, well, Oneonta thirty or forty years ago had all these small businesses and all these people were together, and yes that was part of that, because there were many different people, and there were many types of places there. You could feel like, that when you went into that store, you kind of knew who ran that store. [TRACK 3, 3:49] I think that that human touch is there, because we can live a life alone very easily. I mean, we could sit in our places where we live, and we can open our laptops, and supposedly we’re in touch with the world but really, we’re just in touch with ourselves looking at that screen. Yes, you can type, you can type in something in an email, but you’re really not there. You’re not seeing that person talking, you’re not seeing what their facial gestures are, you’re not hearing the sighs, you’re not hearing the laugh, you know, you don’t have that personal touch. That’s fine to be able to do that in many ways, and answers many things, but still, I think really people want to reach out and be part of each other. [TRACK 3, 4:46] I think that’s what you see in museums, and I think that’s what you see the change in museums since I came into the profession in the 1980s, until today. To me, museums have become more human places. They’re not just a place where you see a lot of paintings sitting around in a really large room, albeit there are places like that still, but what do museums do to really make the place, really be able to communicate and touch the people who come to visit them? So, I think in regard to downtown revitalization, one of the things I do now is I work with The Farmers’ Museum on their Plowline Collection. I travel all around the state looking for images, photographic images, for that collection. I’ve actually been in a lot of different places in New York state, more so than I ever have in my life, in the past six or seven years, and the places I see that are really alive and thriving in small cities and small communities are places that have a wide diversity of enterprises going on in their community. That attracts people to go see them, and then that attracts people to be together. I think that’s really kind of what we probably really try to strive for, is to try that opportunity to be able to be together with other people. It might be a complete different stranger that’s in the bookstore, you know, standing next to you, but still you’re kind of sharing an experience. You might communicate by talking, or you might communicate by not talking, but being physically there you actually are sharing an experience, and I think that’s a real important thing that happens when you have a lot of interesting places to go to, and have a wide variety. There was a gentleman today that came into the bookstore that hardly ever reads a book. He was waiting on his wife who had an appointment at the clinic, Bassett’s clinic in Downtown Oneonta, and he didn’t really want to sit in the waiting room so he got up and he was walking down Main Street. He walked into the bookstore - I don’t know if he’d ever been in a bookstore before, but he’s a friendly person and I struck up a conversation with him. I asked him what he likes to read and he says, “Oh, I don’t really hardly read” and he tells me the story he’s waiting on his wife, and he’s just kind of killing time. We have a conversation, and we share something for about five minutes. He’s not a reader and I don’t know if he’ll ever really come back and buy a book, but still at the same time he and I have touched each other by being there, and I think he probably feels better about [laughs] what he’s doing because he was friendly and we had this nice conversation. We shared an experience with each other, and I think that that’s a real important thing in life to do, and I think that’s real important for those places to be able to go and do that.
[TRACK 3, 8:06]
Well thank you so much Jim, for your time this evening.
You’re welcome.


30:00 - Track 1
30:00 - Track 2
8:12 - Track 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Time Summary

Track 1, 02:58 - Upbringing
Track 1, 09:02 - Collecting
Track 1, 14:00 - College
Track 1, 16:41 - First Museum Job
Track 1, 20:29 - Cooperstown Graduate Program
Track 2, 08:21 - Professional Life
Track 2, 22:28 - Bookstore (The Green Toad)
Track 2, 29:35 - Community



Mary Kate Kenney , “Jim Havener, November 6, 2017,” CGP Community Stories, accessed February 19, 2019,