SHEFFIELD — Sheffield has added another first in its nearly 300-year history.
Former first lady, Laura Bush, made a somewhat surprise visit Saturday evening to the Sheffield Historical Society's latest exhibit titled, "Where the Berkshires Began." The summer-long display at the Old Stone Store on Main Street touts how Sheffield was the first settlement to be incorporated into a town (1733) in what would become Berkshire County 28 years later.
Knowing Mrs. Bush was in South Berkshire visiting friends, the historical society extended an invite to the one-time teacher and librarian, but unsure if she could make it.
Near the end of the two-hour reception, Mrs. Bush arrived with friend Lois Betts, to view the display of documents and artifacts from the town's first 100 years. She took time to chat with other guests, posed for a patron's photograph, bought some items from the gift shop, signed the guest register and briefly spoke to an Eagle reporter before leaving.
Ever a student of history, Mrs. Bush lauded the exhibit organizers for their work.
"It's really important to know our history," she said.
Mrs. Bush noted she was most interested in the 18th century wooden canoe, dug out by a Native American, and being formally displayed for the first time since the society acquired it more than 40 years ago.
Kathy Tetro was elated Mrs. Bush stopped by.
"Are you kidding me? I'm not going to get over this," said one of the exhibits four organizers.
Gillian Hettinger found the former first lady very down-to-earth and accommodating about posing for a cell-phone picture.
"She agreed without missing a beat," she said. "She couldn't be have been nicer and more gracious — and I'm a Democrat,"
No stranger to the Berkshires, Mrs. Bush has visited the area several times in recent years, her latest sojourn centered around Friday's gala at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. She was on hand to help honor acclaimed children's book illustrator Jerry Pinkney with the museum's Artist Laureate Award
In December of 2001, Mrs. Bush called on Pinkney to provide illustrations for the "Home for the Holidays" display at the White House. The book has played an important role in the lives of children, according museum officials.
Mrs. Bush once remarked that "a love of books, of holding a book, turning its pages, looking at its pictures, and living its fascinating stories goes hand-in-hand with a love of learning."
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233