2018-08-22 / News

Making A Difference

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By Eddie Donoghue

When it comes to local history, Ray LaFever is a veritable treasure chest of knowledge, but perhaps more impressive are the ways in which he uses that knowledge to enrich his community.

LaFever has been Town Historian of Bovina since 2004, when he took over from his father Charlie. Charlie LaFever was a legendary Bovina figure who still has the record for longest tenure as Bovina Supervisor at 24 years. For the last few years of his life, he served as the town historian.

“My dad and I had that as a common interest fairly early on,” LaFever said, “I think I was interested in history very early.”

LaFever remembers an influential experience when he was researching his family history as a youth and asked the town historian at the time, Fletcher Davidson, for some help. Davidson gave him 10 pages of handwritten information that he still has to this day.

“It’s what got me started,” LaFever said.

The information led him to the cemetery where he continued his personal research.

“Once you know the name, you want to know more about the person. You can’t do genealogy without doing local history,” he said.

Changed career path

In college, LaFever studied to become a social studies teacher but while student teaching he realized it wasn’t the path for him. He eventually received a master’s degree in Library Sciences with a concentration on Archives and Records Management and for 20 years worked for the New York State Archives in Albany. Now retired from that position, LaFever stays busy and is involved in a number of groups and organizations. Since 2011, for two days a week, he works as the archivist for the Delaware County Historical Association in Delhi.

Just recently, the County Historical Association came across an old diary with no name attributed to it. It took LaFever only two hours before he proved that it was penned by a 13-yearold girl from Davenport— coincidentally with the last name Davenport.

LaFever notes that in New York, every town, city and county is supposed to appoint a historian, though there is no penalty for those that don’t. While he would like to see the rule followed, he is aware not every town has someone fit for the job. LaFever is also on the board of the Association of Public Historians of New York State, a group who advocates for public historians and even has a program dedicated to officially registering historians.

Shares his knowledge

The historian regularly holds educational programs on various local topics such as schools and farms. In 2015, he helped put together the 60th anniversary of a History Pageant, which was auspiciously hosted on the day of his birth in April of 1955. He recalls reading his grandmother’s diary where she wrote about him being born during the day and attending the pageant at night.

Part of what makes LaFever such a well respected and valued town historian is his passion for the search.

“I enjoy research. It’s kind of like a whole detective thing. I love when someone hits me with a little conundrum; I love trying to track down the information,” he said.

For 10 years, LaFever has been investigating a story he heard that Bovina-made butter was served at the White House. While he has not definitively proved the story true, he does find it plausible. He found a written reference to the story in the centennial history of Delaware County from 1897. Another piece of local history that has intrigued LaFever involves a West Point cadet who crashed his airplane on Bramley Mountain when he overshot his destination towards the end of WW1. Charlie LaFever was a boy fascinated by aviation at the time and found a piece of the crashed aircraft, which remains in the LaFever family to this day.

“Local history is really fun because I can go right to where something happened, right where something was done,” he said.

Historical markers

LaFever is to credit for three historical markers in Bovina: one for the Maynard School, one for the town’s library which used to be a school and one for St. James Church on Route 28, which many people, he says, forget is still Bovina. LaFever serves on several town boards, including the Cemetery and Library Boards in addition to the Historical Society Board where he is non-voting member. In the last few weeks, he was asked to join the board of the Cannon Library in Delhi, which he was happy to do.

“This is where I grew up so I love this community. I am watching it change quite a lot, and part of the history is to document where the town has been,” LaFever said. “I’m also interested in seeing where it’s going. The change doesn’t really bother me, I think change is healthy.”

The man who has dedicated so much of his life to history has his sights set on the future, particularly 2020 when Bovina will celebrate its bicentennial. LaFever plans to publish a book on the town’s history in 2019, which will be used as a fundraiser for the festivities the following year. With 2020 in mind, Bovina will soon launch a logo contest to come up with a special image for the bicentennial. The deadline will be late October as the town wants to have things in place to help promote the event in advance.

For such a small town, so much of Bovina’s history is well known—in no small part thanks to the LaFevers. Ray is quick to point out, however, that local history is everywhere, saying, “People say you have so much history, but every community has history.”

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