Betty Turner

by Margaret Fahringer

On Thursday, June 21, Historic Germantown will celebrate three notable individuals from the German Township as it revives the Germantown Historical Society’s Hall of Fame. From 1994 to 2007, the GHS honored locals whose impact on the quality of life in our communities of the northwest has been significant.

From Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers, to musician Grover Washington Jr., to architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown, GHS has recognized the value of contemporary history. Historic Germantown is continuing that tradition this year by honoring Jim Duffin, distinguished historian and archivist; Betty Turner, revered community activist; and Ken Weinstein, well-known developer, preservationist, and restaurateur.

This is the second in our series highlighting one of the three Hall of Fame nominees, this time Betty Turner. Next week we will publish our interview with Jim Duffin. Betty Turner is an iconic Germantown figure known for promoting positive community interaction throughout the area. Here is what Betty had to say:

Q: How did your experiences lead you to start your consulting business, Turner Consulting and Community Services (TCCS)?

A: I am a longtime resident of Germantown and a retired educator. I have always been about service, helping people solve problems. Many years ago I saw a need for doctors to come into our community to see well babies. I found that the important people I needed to see had credentials, and to be effective, I needed credentials. So late in life I got a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree, which opened up lots of doors. As a professional, I could now think about writing grants, partnering with established agencies and not be seen as a novice.

Q: In 2008 you co-founded Germantown Community Connection (GCC), a nonprofit advocating for Germantown. Why did you think GCC was needed?

A: The City was preparing the 2035 Comprehensive Plan and conducting “visioning” sessions with various communities. At the first Germantown meeting, with 250 community people, the City said we needed a collective organization to bring the various groups together. Germantown tends to have a different group form around every issue. I have always been a volunteer with a capitol “V,” so I volunteered. It took a while to follow up, but then I was inspired to come up with the name, Germantown Community Connection. My co-founder, Nancy Muth, came up with the tag line, “We are stronger together than we are apart!”

Q: In 2009, GCC made the application to have Germantown named a “Classic Town”. What does the Classic Town designation do?

A: Someone at City Hall suggested that GCC apply to this new program, sponsored by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. This new initiative was to market various neighborhoods and towns, in and near Philadelphia, highlighting them as tourist destinations. For so long Germantown was considered an unsafe place and even the Visitor’s Center in Center City would not direct people to our historic sites. But in 2012 the Visitors Center did start recommending Germantown as a place to visit. The Classic Town website highlights Germantown as a great place to live, work and invest. (Note: there are now 22 Classic Towns, see www.classictowns.org)

Q: You teach a class on Community Relations at JumpStart Germantown. What is it like to share what you have learned?

A: We have a lot of creative people in Germantown and Ken Weinstein is making a difference with JumpStart Germantown, a program that helps minorities and women become developers. I asked Ken if I could do community relations with the students. Public relations and community relations are two different things. Developers must talk to the community, not after the fact, but before the fact. Subsequently, I helped the Philadelphia City Planning Institute put together a pamphlet called Neighbors Helping Neighbors. My part was helping developers understand how to talk to communities. It’s on the web site. www.citizensplanninginstitute.org.

Q: Your picture will be hanging on the wall of the Germantown Hall of Fame with many other inspiring local citizens. Who would you say inspired you most to serve your community?

A: I love Historic Germantown and many of the people engaged with historic sites in Germantown have been motivators to me. David Young, executive director of Cliveden, comes to mind. When GCC needed support, Historic Germantown was there. The family member who most inspired me was my grandmother. She taught me how to love my neighbor, to love diversity, how to see what problems there are, and to try to help. The 16 sites of Historic Germantown are coming together, and Philadelphia, The City of Neighborhoods, is coming together, around the stories of our history.

Q: What is an easy way others can contribute to the preservation of the communities of the Germantown Township with its diverse heritage?

A: Historic Germantown is not only an educational entity, but also an outreach entity. I think people should become members, delve into the historic properties, and understand the mission to make our communities stronger. With sixteen historic sites, people might find something they particularly like. On June 21, Historic Germantown will have its annual fundraiser with the Hall of Fame. People should come out. You can go to the website and buy a ticket or support them with any donation. Show your support for the preservation of our historic culture.

Historic Germantown is a consortium of 16 extraordinary historic houses, destinations and museums in northwest Philadelphia that have joined together to protect, preserve and share some of Philadelphia’s prized historical assets. The Hall of Fame event will take place in its green courtyard at 5501 Germantown Ave. at Market Square on Thursday, June 21, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, to sponsor the event in honor of one of the inductees, or to purchase tickets, call 215-844-1683 or visit www.freedomsbackyard.com.

Since retiring, Margaret Fahringer has volunteered for a number of organizations. She is a recent volunteer with Historic Germantown and is cataloging the hat collection of the Germantown Historical Society’s Clarkson-Watson costume Collection.

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