by Kendra Craighead
photography by Alexandra Arkley
Organizations have a past, a story, a problem—in the case of the La Verne Historical Society, it is finding a place to store, protect and preserve the treasured artifacts of their late and former president. Galen Beery, a prolific collector of all things La Verne, was greatly involved with the city of La Verne as it changed and grew, and he would often make himself present at estate sales, especially when La Verne’s historic citrus orchards, starting in the late 1970s, began to be pulled up in favor of home construction. Beery was an activist, too, and played an integral part during the mid-1980s in saving La Verne’s Miller Hall from imminent demolition. His protests worked and caused the University Trustees to back away from pursuing their demolition plans. Instead, the University renovated Miller Hall, the second University building in its history into a complex of offices and classrooms. (The 1927 razed Lordsburg Hotel was where the University got its start.) Tragically, both Galen and wife Doris were killed in a head-on traffic accident near Gallup, New Mexico, October 2016, while returning from a speaking engagement in Kentucky. The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, reported that the driver responsible was a Rancho Cucamonga resident. “My presidency existed for about a year before they both passed away,” Best says. “I learned a little bit from Doris, and I learned a little bit from Galen, so when we lost them from our lives, we were able to put their knowledge to good use.”
Galen Beery himself inherited the president office from former Historical Society president Inman Conety, who was also a collector of all items La Verne. Conety, too, had an eye toward creating a city of La Verne centered museum. He came close in identifying a suitable building but could not raise the needed purchase funds. Galen served as president for 25 years and also tried hard to establish a La Verne city museum. All the while, Doris and he collected city-related artifacts and stored them in their home and garage. They knew that if someone did not hold on to La Verne’s history, there would be no going back. Nevertheless, Galen was happy to hand over the president title to Best, a retired educator. She agreed to the leadership position only if Galen signed on as vice president. Now, the Beerys’ recent passing not only left behind a legacy of hard work, enthusiasm and dedication, but it also left behind a vast collection of artifacts that embody La Verne’s founding as a community of farmers in the late 1800s. “He would literally go up and down alleys and find things like old radios and various things like that, so he really perpetuated it, and he also wrote the articles for the newsletter, so he was very involved,” says Bill Lemon, Historical Society vice president. “Right now, we are working with the city of La Verne, especially Mayor Don Kendrick, to house artifacts from Galen’s collection with the goal of an eventual permanent location,” Best says.
Quinter and Harvey Beery, Galen’s brothers, along with their cousin Margaret Stover, are working with the Historical Society, Hillcrest and the city of La Verne in order to find locations where items from the collection can be stored, preserved and put on display. Quinter now lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Harvey lives in Placentia, California. The collection expands from within Galen’s home, crammed into several rooms, through the backyard and out into the space of two garages. Needless to say, there is plenty to go through and hardly enough time. “Where we are now, where we stand, is in the ‘locate and document’ stage. We are putting things into groups, deciding what is disposable, and what is not,” Quinter says. By using masking tape and markers to create labels, everything is getting sorted into categorized boxes, one item at a time. “At this point, what we have to do is get this stuff out,” Harvey Beery says. “But everything is so mixed up. It’s hard. I sometimes can’t remember where we’ve put things.”
For all of their time and effort in organization, some drawers and boxes have yet to be fully explored. “There is so much . . . . we’ve been wondering what to do with it all for so long,” Quinter Beery says. “Now the La Verne Historical Society is coming to pick up some things and take them to Hillcrest; also, they are taking more to the city’s provided storage facility.” The amount of saved artifacts is overwhelming, but luckily the city’s offering of a storage facility will allow the Beerys a place to store some of their late brother’s collection, at least for now. “Here is how I see it—there are two groups interested in what is here—ULV archives and the La Verne Historical Society—and we all want to try and keep things at local places,” Harvey Beery says.
The trouble with keeping the collection local is that there is no designated place for it. So far, there has only been talk of planning a location for a small museum in Old Town La Verne, but nothing official. “Doris and Galen were more interested in other peoples’ lives than their own,” Harvey Beery says. “There had been talk of creating a museum for the city, then the city realized—with the death of Galen and Doris—that they better get on the ball.” As Harvey and Quinter continue to make progress organizing and cataloging everything that they find in their late brother’s collection, determining where and how it will go is becoming not only a matter of preservation, but of honor. “We are slowly starting to get into the ‘now what’ stage, which is deciding what is the most appropriate thing to do, with the wishes of Galen and Doris, and what they would be happy with,” Quinter Beery says.
Richard Davis, a retired city of La Verne public works employee, and himself a collector of La Verne artifacts, served on the Historical Society’s board of directors from 2012 to 2016. He has been a member for more than 40 years. “Galen has smudge pots, books—he’s got all kinds of stuff out there—and they are just going through it now. His family and the La Verne Historical Society, they have just got to a point since he and his wife died where they are finally going through it,” Davis says. Beery’s collection is so vast that it is hard to account for every single artifact that he has saved. “He’s got old movies, pictures, but we really don’t know what all he’s got, but I hope one day we will find out,” he says. Perhaps that day has nearly come. “They are getting ready to take some of Galen’s collection and put it on display in the city, where it’s appropriate, and keep it out where people can see it,” Davis says.
Barbara Smythe, Hillcrest resident, and chair of the La Verne Cultural Arts Society, is working with the La Verne Historical Society toward preserving some of Galen Beery’s collection. “I found him to be a fascinating resource of local history; he was just a walking encyclopedia of La Verne and the Church of the Brethren—really friendly, warm, outgoing, kind, easy to work with and a knowledgeable person,” Smythe says. She, too, believes that the Beery collection is irreplaceable and represents the rural beginnings of the city of La Verne and its first families. “It could hardly be complete without his collection, and we are trying to cover the pre-1887 era in La Verne. His collection is rich in very early years,” Smythe says. “And while we can’t put all of those artifacts in one exhibit, I’m sure we will get a smudge pot.”
Beery was not just a president of the Historical Society but also an active participant in conserving the city’s past. “He just retrieved a lot of stuff, and apparently the city is now providing a place for them to store it and get it out of Galen’s garage,” Smythe says. She hopes that the exhibit will draw students from the local schools, and that through the exhibit more students can grow up learning the history of their city. “If we can do a small exhibit, this will aid in building community.”
Mayor Don Kendrick’s involvement with the Historical Society began with joining Saving Old La Verne’s Environment (SOLVE) in the 1980s, and continues today with his assistance toward preserving the Beery collection. The mayor says the city “plans to help preserve Galen Beery’s collection in a basement at the city yard, and eventually the goal of the city is to have a place for those articles to be displayed.” He says the Beery collection cannot be separated by “what goes” and “what stays,” but that all of it is valuable. “Galen has been collecting this stuff for decades, and we would love to have a place that we can have it out where people can enjoy it, and he’s got a fistful of it.”
What is clear is that the Historical Society, Hillcrest and the city want the collection displayed. “As long as it’s out where our kids and our residents have the opportunity to see it, it doesn’t matter where it’s at it; it matters that it’s available, and that it is out there for people to see,” Kendrick says. The end game for the Beery collection is still unclear when it comes to the details. “My goal is to have a place in the old town, to have some kind of a building or area in a building that would be for the Chamber of Commerce and the Historical Society. That could be a place for the Historical Society to have meetings, but also have an area where these artifacts can be stored and displayed,” Kendrick says.
For the La Verne Historical Society, La Verne’s past defines its future. It is their hope that by displaying the Beery collection, more of La Verne’s residents will learn the city’s history. For Quinter and Harvey Beery, preserving their brother’s collection is one way they can continue to tell his story.