When Donna White retired after more than four decades of teaching, she never imagined she would wind up spending her retirement as a historian. But that’s exactly what happened to this Treasure Island resident who spent 11 years as president of the Treasure Island Historical Society. Even though she retired her position this year, she is still actively working on categorizing many treasures from Treasure Island’s past.
Donna, a Pennsylvania native, moved to Florida in 1972 where she got a job teaching in Tampa and later moved to Madeira Beach and taught drama at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg. In 1980, she relocated to Treasure Island. After her retirement in 2005, a friend took her to a meeting of the Treasure Island Historical Society. Unbeknownst to Donna, they were look- ing for a president, and she was elected. “I was never very interested in history,” she admits, “but Sally Yoder gave me lessons on how to archive.” So Donna set about categorizing and cross-referencing tubs of material spanning from the 1930s to the present. To date, Donna has registered over 6,500 items including articles, photographs, maps and artifacts that document Treasure Island’s rich history. This July, Donna’s efforts were recognized with an Honorary Proclamation from Treasure Island Mayor Bob Minning.
The Treasure Island Historical Society (TIHS) is a 501 (c)3 non-profit corporation dedicated to capturing and preserving Treasure Island’s past and present to share with its residents and others interested in the history of the island. Their goal is to collect as much historic memorabilia as possible to add to their archive base, and they encourage any resident or visitor to donate any historical items to them for preservation. The society has also interviewed residents who were born and raised in Treasure Island to create “Tales of Treasure Island,” a series of DVDs with stories about the history of the area. (DVDs can be ordered through the TIHS Facebook page.) The group is seeking to get the word out about the TIHS at community events in order to encourage residents to become members.
The entire second floor of Donna’s house has become a workplace where she devotes her spare time to registering, archiving and cross-referencing items that are still stored there. “There’s some really unique material that goes through our hands,” she says. This includes countless old pho- tographs, aerial maps of the island before the dredging that created the “fingers” of land where houses were built, a book of Green Stamps from WWII, tokens from the old causeway bridge, an original oil painting of the Penguin Restaurant from the 1940s, menus from the old Kingfish Restaurant and a 40-pound brass plaque dated 1939 from the old John’s Pass bridge.
Donna hopes all these treasures will someday find a permanent home. “Treasure Island needs its own museum,” she says. “We’ve been looking for someone to donate space. We have plenty of stuff to put in it.” Donna believes in the importance of preserving the past. “Some people today don’t have a feeling for history,” she says. “But if you have something that belonged to your granddad, don’t throw it away. Give it to the Treasure Island Historical Society. These are pieces of history, and preserving history is a heavy responsibility. ”
For more information, go to www.facebook. com/treasureislandFLhistoricalsociety.