Earlier this month, MANY Executive Director Erika Sanger spoke with Deryn Pomeroy, Trustee and Director of Strategic Initiatives at the William G. Pomeroy Foundation. The William G. Pomeroy Foundation is committed to supporting the celebration and preservation of community history, and working to improve the probability of finding appropriate donor matches or other life-saving treatments for blood cancer patients. Deryn does a lot of public facing work on the Foundation’s behalf, speaks to audiences about the Foundation’s grant work and attends programs and conferences. The William G. Pomeroy Foundation partnered with MANY to establish the Pomeroy Fund for NY History which distributed $297,808.72 to 103 museums in relief assistance during the pandemic. The Pomeroy Foundation recently awarded MANY a grant of $120,000 for its “Voices and Votes: A New Agora for NY" project that is helping twelve museums and their communities commemorate America250 and tell the story of their community’s role in the development of American Democracy.
Deryn Pomeroy, Trustee and Director of Strategic Initiative at the William G. Pomeroy Foundation speaks at the 2023 conference in Syracuse NY. Photo by Daylight Blue Media.
What types of programs do the Pomeroy Foundation typically fund in a given year?
The Historical Markers grant program is a big passion of the trustees and my father and I’m excited to say that we will be diving deeper in with more markers in the future. In addition to markers, we offer Special Interest grants that cover both the “For History” and “For Life” sides of our mission. On the “For Life” side, we primarily fund bone marrow registries or those organizations that set up bone marrow registry drives. Diversifying the bone marrow registry has been important to the Foundation since my dad received his stem cell transplant. For instance, if you are African American, you have a 25% chance of finding a match vs. an 80% chance for caucasians.
On the “For History” side of the foundation, we have been evolving the special interest grants. We are especially interested in smaller organizations with a history focus, those with a smaller budget or a smaller staff that may need a little extra assistance. More recently we have been focusing on digitization projects especially where digitization allows records to be publicly accessible without charge.
I’ve noticed that the Foundation’s grant-making has become more responsive and flexible in recent years, can you talk about that?
Flexibility is part of the Trustees’ overall thinking and the evolution of funding has been responsive and about public access. We are looking closely at smaller, more rural communities without a traditional funding base, or those communities with interest in preserving their collections and telling their stories who don’t have the expertise or the funding available. We learned during the pandemic that we had to adapt and respond quickly to needs in a way we have never seen before.
Is there a program that you funded in the past year that stands out in your mind where the foundation made a real difference?
On the “For Life” side, we have been funding “Be The Match” to recruit potential bone marrow donors on HBCU campuses. We are really proud that those programs have increased the number of diverse donors on the registry program. As a result of efforts like these, Pomeroy funded drives have produced at least 149 donor/patient matches. On the “For History” side, we recently funded a roof restoration project, which is not something we usually do, at a national historic register property in Western NY. The nonprofit Cracker Box Palace operating at Alasa Farms is now a sanctuary for neglected farm animals and other small animals. But they have a historic 600+ acre property and farm, an excellent application, and they have made a lot of progress keeping the farm true to its roots while bringing a new focus on animal care and bringing attention to animal abuse.
How has your historical marker program developed and grown nationally over the past three years?
The Historical Marker Program started in 2006 in Onondaga County. The program was well received because there was nothing like it in New York State, and my dad saw it as an excellent opportunity growing out of his entrepreneurial nature. It started in the town of Pompey, NY restoring some of their original 1930s NYS markers and it grew from there. We added the National Register program to provide public properties and historic districts on the Registry with markers and then added the “Legends & Lore” program. “Legends & Lore” was born out of the foundation receiving applications for the NYS marker program based on stories that were important to the communities, but didn’t fit the guidelines. We partnered with New York Folklore Society to create that program which is now in 13 states and we are trying to take it to all 50. “Hungry for History” markers are food history related and in 2023 we launched “Hometown Heritage,” a national marker program for historic people, places, things and events for places outside of NY state. “Hometown Heritage” is similar to the New York State Marker program, with a different look and template for the 49 other states.
Photo above Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, Executive Director and Chief Curator at the Eastville Community Historical Society with Amistad Commemoration sign at Culloden Point in Montauk, NY
Patriot Burial Marker
Why has the foundation invested in programs that support the America250 commemoration?
Our enthusiasm for the 250th has been of interest for a very long time.
It was always something we were looking forward to jumping into because of our direct and indirect ties to that history. It is the birthday of our nation and there are Pomeroy family ancestors who fought in the Revolution. George Washington tried to appoint Seth Pomeroy to Brigadier General, but he was an older man at that time and turned down the commission. He participated in a smaller role and passed away while bringing troops down to Washington, DC. Another relative, Daniel Pomeroy was killed at the Bloody Morning Scout, prior to the Battle of Lake George, my father could tell you much more about them!
What are the foundation’s goals for funding America250 programs? Are there specific outcomes that you would like to see?
Helping people celebrate and commemorate their history is part of our mission and this major milestone in our nation’s history falls in line with what we like to fund. We knew that we wanted to be involved and we have been surprised and disappointed with the disorganization and lack of support that we have seen at the federal level, and even at the state level. We had planned to jump on board with whatever that state and federal planning was going to be. We didn’t initially think we had to take such a proactive role in seeking out opportunities for funding.
We initiated our support for the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) after seeing their “Making History at 250” booklet. They were structuring a plan to help organizations, so we reached out to them to provide them with a grant to republish that booklet and make it available to organizations across the country. After that grant, they reached out to us to discuss the issues they were facing and the concerns of their members about the lack of direction coming from local, state, and federal governments. We were excited by their proposal, to bring another staff person onboard to build their capacity to better serve the museums and history organizations who needed that support. We were delighted to fund that proposal and they hired Madeline Rosenberg whose official title is Pomeroy Foundation Semiquincentennial Manager. She is going to have four years in that position to provide support to the field through 2026.
We are still trying to find ways that we can help both at the NYS level and the national level, and MANYs “Voices and Votes” was another great program that we saw could help organizations bring in people to connect with the idea of the 250th and talk about how they will be able to participate. We like the way “Voices and Votes” will help foster those conversations. We are still looking for other ways we can make a difference, there are pockets of people doing different things and we are looking where we can fit in.
How will the partnership with AASLH help museums and historic sites?
Madeline provides outreach and direction in a number of ways, with webinars and other types of assistance both in the office and out of the office. We are pleased and are excited to be going to the AASLH conference in Boise, Idaho this fall. It is great to see the dialog stimulated during the AASLH webinars, people from all over the country can come together virtually, people who have a real passion to commemorate the Semiquincentennial. The AASLH is showing how organizations can work together to reduce roadblocks, they offer peer support, have resources available, and help organizations to learn that they are not alone in trying to do this. I know there are a lot of organizations across the country who feel they have been left to their own devices and they may feel overwhelmed, especially those small organizations who might not be able to do anything. There is a lot to discuss and thoughtfully plan.
What comes after America250? How does the foundation sustain engagement and support to the field as we approach other critically important anniversaries?
Celebrating milestones is important to us. We put a lot into the “National Votes for Women'' trail that got shifted a bit during the pandemic, and we will be looking at future national and state priorities. Our next strategic plan will help us identify what might be important and we want to hear from the community about what is important to them. They should bring their ideas to the foundation so we can continue the responsive nature of the foundation. We want to see more ideas around the 250th.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us and our readers?
We are working on two other historical marker partnerships related to the Semiquincentennial.
One partnership is with the Sons of the American Revolution commemorating patriot burial sites. It was initially just in NY but it is now in 7 states and growing nationally. The second partnership is with the Daughters of the American Revolution. Called “Revolutionary America” it is a marker series designed to highlight stories of underrepresented populations, new Americans, women and Indigenous peoples, whose stories are part of the Revolution but have not been told.
We hope that our involvement with MANY and AASLH will spearhead more ideas and community conversations and hopefully, we will see participation from other private funders as well. That is something that we haven’t seen thus far. We have been told that the Pomeroy Foundation is the largest private funder for America250 and it would be great if we could help inspire other foundations similar to ours to step up, it is a big deal for our nation!
Learn more about the William G. Pomeroy Foundation: https://www.wgpfoundation.org/