Community gathers to celebrate 40th anniversary of library’s Heritage Room

By: Alex Tekip | Advertiser Times | Published April 14, 2016

 Suzanne Collins-Duprey, a frequent visitor of the library, examines some artifacts in the Heritage Room.

Suzanne Collins-Duprey, a frequent visitor of the library, examines some artifacts in the Heritage Room.

Photo by Donna Agusti

HARPER WOODS — On April 12, the Harper Woods Public Library celebrated its history and the history of the city as, in conjunction with National Library Week, the library commemorated the 40th anniversary of the founding of its Heritage Room.

Founded by Mary Duchon and Lorry Balchunas, the Heritage Room is a museum of sorts, with artifacts on display ranging from a library card catalog to an old-style piano to the house nameplate of Harper Woods’ first settler, Casper Salter.

“Our mission is to help Harper Woods residents thrive — succeed and thrive,” said library Adult Services Director Suzanne Kent. “One of the ways we do that is by recording the history of the area.”

“The Heritage Room is the only source of local history for the city of Harper Woods,” said Library Director B. Kristin Valyi-Hax.

Relatives of Duchon and Balchunas were in attendance for the celebration. Duchon passed away in 2005; Balchunas is 92 years old and lives Florida. Her son, Robert, who now resides in Howell, was on hand for the festivities.

Robert Balchunas, a former Harper Woods fire inspector, said he and his wife, Diane, would take their children to the Heritage Room when they were younger. The Heritage Room has moved since the library’s renovation 11 years ago, but it still brought back memories for him. 

“The kids would come here and we’d go through the whole thing,” said Robert Balchunas. “There used to be a military uniform here; the kids would try that on. They both played the piano; they’d be sitting there on the player piano, just pretending they were playing as it was playing.”

Harper Woods Mayor Kenneth Poynter knew Lorry Balchunas and Duchon personally. In his address to attendees at the celebration, Poynter said the two women’s passion for history was apparent in how they immersed themselves in the Heritage Room, often giving tours in turn-of-the-century clothing.

“They wanted to have fun doing it,” said Poynter. “Their way of having fun was to be interactive to so many diversified and interested people. Also, their idea of fun was giving tours of the Heritage Room in the old library, before it was renovated. They gave these tours to school groups and to other groups.”

“I know my mom enjoyed it so intensely,” said Robert Balchunas. “She just loved coming here, talking about it, finding out information about the history of Harper Woods and telling whoever was interested in hearing about it.”

The Heritage Room remains an educational experience today.

“We like teaching the kids about how things used to be,” said Valyi-Hax. “Tonight, I got to teach a 24-year-old how to put on an old record onto an actual player, because he’d never done that before.”

Poynter, a lifelong Harper Woods resident, is a former history educator with over 40 years of teaching experience in public schools. He said it’s important for the people of the city — especially students in the school district — to visit the Heritage Room to understand how Harper Woods has evolved.

“You have to know history in order to function in today’s world, I think,” said Poynter.

Valyi-Hax echoed Poynter in her speech at the celebration.

“Studying history has a variety of benefits,” she said. “It explains how societies and people have behaved. It tells the story of how we came to be and where we may go in the future, and it provides an identity for a family, social group, city or country based on its shared values and experiences.”

For all these reasons, Kent said the Heritage Room is a point of pride for Harper Woods.

“It is the city’s jewel,” she said.