WWII Museum Getting
First Black Board Member

KEITH WHITCOMB JR., Staff Writer
 Article Launched: 11/17/2008 03:03:45 AM EST
Monday, November 17

POWNAL  A conversation about an old revolver has led to the Museum of Black World War II History getting its first African-American board member, Bruce Bird, the museum's director, said.  Bird said he first met Mabel Jorgensen, of Stamford, Conn., in July. She was on her way back home from a vacation in Stowe and had what she believed to be an Air Force revolver.  Jorgensen said she had heard about the museum from an article she read in the New York Times and wanted to donate the weapon to Bird's museum.

As it turned out, the revolver with the letters U.S. stamped on it was a civilian revolver, but the two began talking all the same, and Jorgensen learned there were no African-Americans on the museum's board of directors. She said Bird appointed her on the spot.

Jorgensen said she has a long history of organizing jazz concerts for fundraisers, and plans to use those skills to benefit the museum.  "I know a lot of people with money, and I'm very good at getting it," she said.  Her fundraisers are typically jazz concerts, which she began organizing while being treated for breast cancer at the Bennett Cancer Center at the Stamford Hospital in Connecticut. She said she was sitting in the center's atrium one day and thought it would make a nice venue for patients to hear music.

Jorgensen, a singer and lover of classical music, said she was introduced to jazz by her late husband Roy "RBJ" Jorgensen, a band manager who worked with the director of the Count Basie Orchestra. She said she knew a lot of jazz musicians through her husband and was a fan of classic jazz, which she said isn't heard as much anymore.

She said after her thought in the atrium, she called the hospital about hosting concerts there, but heard nothing back for a period of time. In November 1998, her husband passed away. After his death, the hospital called her back about the concerts but she said at first she didn't want to do them without her husband.  After thinking about it, she decided it was what her husband would have wanted, and went ahead organizing the concert. She would go on to work with First Night celebrations and other fundraisers, as well as serve on the board of the Oratorical Society of New York City.

Jorgensen said she doesn't talk about her age, but has two children, a son and a daughter. She said her son works in the school system and her daughter was a real estate broker. Jorgensen herself worked in the health industry as a doctor's assistant and now works part-time for AllState Insurance.

Her interest in black history began early in school, she said. She said black history was not discussed when she was being educated and only came up in passing or as a historical oddity while learning about wars. She said black history courses should be offered before the college level.

She said her interest in the Pownal museum was partly due to its resemblance to her house. She said when people entered her home, pictures of influential blacks adorned the walls, with African American females on one side, and males on the other.  Jorgensen said she wanted to help the museum because children, even black children, did not understand the role of African Americans in history.

Bird said he began the museum as a retirement project two years ago. He said the museum's largest expense is the heating bill. He said he typically has to purchase 2,000 gallons of heating oil per year, and the last quote he had for a price was $3.20 per gallon. Bird said the museum runs mainly on small donations and the difference between the bills and the museum's income comes out of his own finances.

While a venue and performers still have to be found, Bird said he hoped to hold the benefit concerts in May.

"(Mabel) knows what she's doing, and I have no knowledge in this area, so I'm letting her do it," Bird said.

Contact Keith Whitcomb at
kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com