Rewarding Work with the Westmoreland Historical Society: Volunteer Spotlight

Rewarding Work with the Westmoreland Historical Society: Volunteer Spotlight

It’s when we have the school tours and I watch the buses pulling in, full of chattering, happy kids, that I realize I’m part of something special. Along with the other volunteers, there is the Westmoreland Historical Society staff and board members who manage the site, the County officials and maintenance crews who provide and maintain the site, and the donors who give generously to Hanna’s Town. Without all of these great people, those school buses would only take the kids from home to school and back, and miss out on something remarkable.

Dan Balzarini, volunteer at The Westmoreland Historical Society and Historic Hanna’s Town

It takes a village.

At all of Westmoreland County’s historic & cultural sites and organizations, volunteers work hard to complete vital jobs and projects. These volunteers are the lifeblood for numerous sites, and without them, many events, shows, and even buildings would simply not exist.

Volunteering, the giving of time, talent, or resources, is one of the best ways to get involved with the many historic and cultural organizations throughout Westmoreland County.

This month, we would like to shine the spotlight on the Westmoreland Historical Society, and in particular, three volunteers with an inspiring love for history and service.

“We have three volunteers who worked long and hard hours to reconstruct the new log house at Historic Hanna’s Town. They are Jim Clayton, our board’s vice chair, Tom Klingensmith, and Dan Balzarini. The last two are also members of Proctor’s militia, who encamp here and provide programs several times a year” comments Lisa Hays, Executive Director of the Westmoreland Historical Society.

These three gentlemen have all had their hands full with the LeFevre House construction, pictured below.

Logs being lifted onto the LeFevre House.

We were able to talk with Jim, Dan, and Tom to find out a little bit more about their experience volunteering at the Westmoreland Historical Society and Historic Hanna’s Town.

Jim Clayton, working on the LeFevre House.

Jim Clayton joined the Board of Directors for the Historical Society six years ago in 2014. One of his first projects involved putting together a raffle dinner to be held at Historic Hanna’s Town.

“By doing so, I was able to work with the staff and volunteers and get to know everyone. We all worked together to make that a really fantastic event.”

Jim has enjoyed getting involved beyond serving on the board, so much so that although he is not an official reenactor, he purchased a colonial outfit “just to fit in at Frontier Court Days.”

This past summer, the most challenging yet rewarding project came to Jim and many other volunteers with the reconstruction of the LeFevre House, a log cabin moved painstakingly log-by-log from an offsite location to the grounds of Historic Hanna’s Town.

“After the first day of working, I could barely move! Although the physical labor was grueling, one of the best parts of that project was folks who would stop while driving by the site. Some people would actually physically get out of their cars and come over to see what the construction was all about. We were able to talk with them about not only the LeFevre House, but the historical society and Hanna’s Town in general. One guy even asked if he could help out with the construction, and he came back the next day and put in a full day’s labor! It’s been truly amazing to get this level of interaction with the public, all simply through a very visible project that generates a lot of chance interest.”

As Jim says, that interaction and authentic passion from fellow volunteers are what makes volunteering and serving on the board such a worthwhile endeavor.

Dan Balzarini, pictured to the right, helping with measurements.

Dan Balzarini has been volunteering with the historical society for about three years. For many years before he began at Historic Hanna’s Town, he was a Blackpowder Safety Officer at Bushy Run Battlefield, which then led to reenacting as a Colonial Ranger for visitor tours.

Once Dan was accepted into Proctor’s militia, that was his gateway into Historic Hanna’s town.

“Over the years I was blessed in being mentored and encouraged by some really great reenactors, some of which sadly are no longer here. The reenactor community is more of a family than just a group,” adds Dan.

For him, the most rewarding part of volunteering at the historical society is reenacting for the visitor tours, especially the school tours.

“The kids are great, and we have a lot of fun while they are learning the history of the area.”

The most challenging part of his volunteer career?

“Rebuilding the log cabins [LeFevre House and a storehouse located inside the fort]. It was backbreaking work in the summer heat. But, it gives you a real appreciation of the early settlers and what they had to go through to establish a home.”

As to why others should volunteer their time and talent at the Westmoreland Historical Society and Historic Hanna’s Town, Dan simply states, “By volunteering, you join a group of special people who share a passion for history. It is so important that we keep history alive with the museum, the tours, and the special events throughout the year.”

Tom Klingensmith working on the roof.

Tom Klingensmith joined Proctor’s militia thirteen years ago in 2007. Since the beginning, Proctor’s militia was welcomed and involved in many of Historic Hanna’s Town’s events. Tom adds, “We are all honored to demonstrate our 18th century living history skills at this hallowed site.”

Tom’s personal connections to the Westmoreland Historical Society and Historic Hanna’s Town go back even further.

“I first heard about [Hanna’s Town] from my father. I was twelve, and he pointed the site out to me as we drove past. It was still a farm then. When the Klingensmith log house was relocated to Historic Hanna’s Town in 1983 by the extended Klingensmith family, they needed donations to offset the cost. My personal contribution at the time was to hand forge the door latches, door hinges, and shutter hinges.”

For Tom, the best parts of volunteering have been learning about the character of the everyday person who lived in the 18th-century, western Pennsylvania frontier. Tom emphasizes these everyday people were “superheroes by our standards today. For them, this was just every day frontier living.”

Additionally, Tom finds reward and satisfaction in his living history demonstrations.

“Most of the spectators are interested in what we are doing, but sometimes you will see a light turn on in a young person. It is the first spark of a passion to learn more about our history. Those moments make it all worth the effort.”

Reenacting frontier life brings true frontier challenges. For Tom, these real-world scenarios are all in a day’s work.

“It’s one thing to read about life in the 18th-century, but quite different to live it. We do our best to emulate our predecessors. So, regardless of the weather, we pitch out tents, light our way with candles, have a campfire for warmth and cooking. We light our fires with flint and steel. And, there’s nothing like wearing wool on a ninety-five degree day at Historic Hanna’s Town, or waking up in the morning to find the water frozen in your canteen.”

If living out frontier life sounds a little too hardcore for your volunteering plans, Tom assures us that many options exist at the historical society for anyone and everyone to enjoy.

“The people at Historic Hanna’s Town offer everyone a local source to learn of our past. You can volunteer outdoors on the walking trails, in the gardens, or with the log buildings that always need attention. There are also indoor options with the museum shop, the library, and the display room. You can also learn more about local history by becoming a tour guide for various programs.”

And of course, “becoming friends with so many of the volunteers and staff has made the work enjoyable for me. I would encourage everyone to take the time to visit and volunteer at our local historical sites. Our predecessors made extraordinary sacrifices so that we may enjoy our lives today. Those sacrifices deserve our attention and gratitude.”

Learning, building relationships, and having some fun along the way. Why not give it a try?

If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering at Historic Hanna’s Town and the Westmoreland Historical Society, please contact the Historical Society at 724-836-1800, or send them an email at