7/27/20 4 p.m. Correction: This article has been updated to correct details in the biographical section, and a misunderstanding about the organization’s rebranding. It has always been a nonprofit.
Finding a New Home in History
Linda Selig Blonsley, a member of Bolton Street Synagogue, is eager to get to know the local Jewish community, especially in her new position. The California native was appointed the Catonsville Historical Society’s first executive director July 6.
The Catonsville Historical Society, a nearly 50-year-old organization, exists to preserve Catonsville’s historical artifacts. Until recently, the organization had always been run entirely by volunteers. However, the organization faced its share of economic challenges, such as the floods that severely damaged the society’s building in 2016 and 2018. To make its existence more cost effective, as well as gain more prominence in the community, the society changed its volunteer-based system to hire a nonprofit professional last month. This change will offer the Catonsville Historical Society grant opportunities and potential for partnerships.
The organization has not closed while it repurposes itself, but it has paused activities in order to reorganize.
Blonsley’s role is an important part of this reorganization, she explained. It will include her efforts to partner with community organizations to display artifacts, collect histories and educate. She hopes that with more collaboration, the society can enrich its collection of history and strengthen community bonds.
Welcome to Catonsville
Blonsley grew up in Sacramento; moved to Southern California for college and then Sacramento again. Then she moved to Park City, Utah with her husband, where she was president of a Temple Har Shalom; and then back to the West Coast. “I’ve never lived in a large Jewish community before,” she said.
When she moved to Utah, her friend suggested she join a nonprofit to establish community connections. So she was hired by the Utah chapter of the American Cancer Society for planned giving. Afterward, she started to do more nonprofit work in consulting and fundraising. Blonsley became the executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association. “I had experience on both sides of the nonprofit world and as a volunteer,” she said.
Then, Blonsley’s husband died in 2018.
Because her nephew had married a Baltimorean with longstanding ties to the community and moved to Mt. Washington, she decided to move to Baltimore, too, to be closer to their family.
She is pleasantly surprised by the new community. “I am really impressed by its diversity and the amount of services and events and cultural offerings,” she said. Some of her family are members of Beth Tfiloh Congregation and others to Chizuk Amuno Congregation, so she sees a lot of community mixing. “The other thing I’m finding is there is a strong Jewish influence in other organizations. For example, I’m also a member of Baltimore’s Women’s Giving Circle and a significant number of the women are Jewish even though it is not a Jewish nonprofit.”
Having this Jewish support system is important to her because of its wide array of ways to participate in society. “[Judaism] for me is a long cultural background as well as a strong ethical framework,” she said. “This is what attracted me to Bolton Street.”
Documenting a History
Though Blonsley is still learning the history of Catonsville herself, she is eager to capture and share it during this era of rebranding.
“Our board is excited to launch new programs, initiatives and partnerships and is confident that Linda’s extensive change management, business development and nonprofit experience will strengthen the work of the past and prepare us for the work of the future,” CHS Board President Sharon Rossi said in a press release.
Blonsley said the society, once fully reestablished, will create partnerships and collect artifacts to display. She personally would love to dip into education, too.
“I can’t say when, but one of my goals is to reach out to various educational institutions, and provide learning segments to be incorporated into curriculum and then getting something back from students that we can archive as well,” she said.
Another goal of hers, after Blonsley is done with the “nuts and bolts” of administrative work, will be to collect oral histories of longtime and multigenerational residents.
“It gives the community an appreciation of what it has gone through and what it could go through,” she said. “I am not a historian so I can’t be philosophical, but I believe it’s one way communities are brought together.”