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August 31, 2020 Julie Orvis

Celebrating our Ambassadors – An Interview with William Fennessey

Historic Deerfield is honoring our volunteers this year with a series of interviews we are calling “Celebrating our Ambassadors” that introduces a few of our volunteers to our friends and followers. Our Ambassadors give their time with a variety of special talents. In this blog interview, William (Bill, to us) Fennessey shares his thoughts and memories of his volunteer time. Bill became a volunteer in 2008. For the last 12 years, Bill has been the most consistent and steady volunteer for all manner of special events. He has helped with food and beverage set-ups and service, wayfinding, greeting patrons and guests, and hanging wreaths—just to name a few tasks that he has taken on. With a smile, he has a welcome greeting for visitors and behind the scenes has often provided great ideas for the most efficient methods to meet our goals.

Julie: What motivated you to contact Historic Deerfield and offer your time?

In his email archive, Bill found this email to Karen Dionne, the Development Coordinator at the time, in which he reached out to set up a volunteer relationship:


Dear Karen, I have recently become a member of Historic Deerfield which was long overdue.  Can you provide me with the contact person’s name or email who manages volunteers in Deerfield? I have been a REALTOR in the Valley for nearly 20 years and have a great passion for Antique homes and their histories. Thank you in advance for your assistance. Best.

Bill: My family also has a long history of volunteering in the local community and I found Historic Deerfield an ideal  opportunity for lifelong learning about the Street’s museums, architecture, furnishings, and the interesting lives of their past residents as well as the profound impact on the indigenous peoples who preceded them. I believe that giving of my time, in a small way, may help to preserve and support the ongoing mission statement in the care of these national treasures.

Julie: Pictured below are a few early memories with Bill. In the earliest volunteer picture with Bill and Julie – the Cider Days Cheese & Bread team at the Deerfield Community Center in 2009 and 2011.

With Laura Jordan in 2009
With Jeanne Sansbury Bell and Laura Jordan in 2011
And in the Hall Tavern Guides’ Lounge kitchen brewing coffee for the Deerfield/Wellesley Symposium, March 2011:
and serving up the wine at a local donors reception at the Dickinson House, May 2014.

Julie: What’s your favorite memory?

Bill: Many of the past events were presented inside the 18th century museum homes and I greatly appreciated just being able to spend time and experience past lives within these original and historic settings. Assisting with yearly academic forum presentations also gave me an opportunity to continue my education of the histories associated with various subjects relating to Historic Deerfield and the Pioneer Valley. Many other events I have enjoyed included Patriots’ Day, Free Fun Fridays, the Annual Christmas parties, the Volunteer Dinners, the Trustee and Asher Benjamin receptions, to name just a few.

On special visitor days – the Patriots’ Day Muster and Celebration (opening day) and Free Fun Friday (2014 to 2019).

And cold weather assistance – hanging wreaths in 2018 and 2019 when Bill always has a nail and hammer handy if needed:

Memories of Wreath Hanging

Bill: My first impression of the wreaths was the commitment of time and care given to each original work of art and how they complimented history of the museum homes and holiday decorations. I was pleased to assist at placing each unique wreath as a much anticipated holiday tradition on the Street. It was always a pleasure to spend time with you, my “boss” Julie, and your most competent systems for planning all the aspects of this holiday event as well as all the other programs during the past years. A place for everything and everything in its place.

Julie: You volunteer for several other organizations, what has it been like as a volunteer during the shutdown? How many of your regular events have been canceled including Historic Deerfield? What do you miss the most?

Bill: The concern for my family in this pandemic and my self-imposed stay-at-home choice has restricted my volunteer choices since March.  I would have averaged 2-3 nonprofit volunteer commitments per week. Yearly events would have included most HD events, many Academy of Music venues, WGBY fundraising events including their Asparagus Fest, Green River Music Fest, the Three County Fair, weekly volunteering at the Y and Senior Care outreach as a member of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. The RSVP work was also providing weekly contact to a senior in the community over the past four years. Sadly, care homes stopped all visits to the seniors in their care but thankfully my 94 year old friend has text and email skills. She is also an HD member and descendant of Eunice Mather Williams. Regardless, I do walk the Street several times each week to stay in touch but would miss the simple things like the hot cider and cider donuts at the store and the conversations with the kitchen and reception staff while warming by the Hall Tavern fireplace on a cold New England day.

Julie: What are you looking forward to?

Bill: I believe during the next few years, and until an effective vaccine is found, the reality of the life of a volunteer sadly will be severely restricted, especially for those senior volunteers who may be at high risk to attend certain group events now and in the future. Looking back to the last few years, in retrospect within the current environment, you can now appreciate what life was like before this terrible and preventable pandemic and the result of all the lives lost. Hope springs eternal.

Julie: In conclusion, we thank Bill for his warm and friendly energy that he brings to his volunteer time at Historic Deerfield. We can always count on his efficiency and the warm welcome that he provides to our visitors. THANK YOU, BILL!