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The Lasting Impact of Minna Anthony Common’s Work

May 23, 2019
by Molly Farrell

Please enjoy BeckyFerrigno.com’s first guest blog written by Molly Farrell! Molly is the person who introduced me to Minna Anthony Common. She is the reason the book exists at all.

The Lasting Impact of Minna Anthony Common’s Work

I come from an Irish American family that takes tremendous pride in its oral history.  As a child, I came to understand my family through the colorful stories told to me around my grandparents’ long dining room table. Through these stories, I learned where my family came from and the struggles/adventures past generations experienced on their journeys.  I learned who we were and why that mattered. At my grandmother’s feet, I developed a very strong sense of place and belonging that has guided my life. I truly believe to understand who you are, you must first explore where you come from.  

Unlike Minna Anthony Common, I did not spend my childhood summers exploring Wellesley Island.  So when I moved to Clayton to become the Director of the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center, I looked for people who could teach me about the history of Wellesley Island State Park and the life of Minna Anthony Common. To understand how best to lead the Nature Center, I felt I needed to know its story.  I needed to learn about how the Nature Center came to be, the people who shaped its formation, and, most importantly, the life of its namesake.

Learning Minna Anthony Common’s Story

When delving into local history, it is imperative that you seek out people with first-hand knowledge.  Once you find them, go and sit at their feet and listen intently to their stories. Ask them as many questions as you can.  There were a few people who were of great importance to me in my quest. The person who helped me the most was Vera Parmiter, Minna’s youngest daughter.  I was fortunate enough to travel to Perry, New York on two occasions to sit in Vera’s living room and listen to her stories.

Vera told me wild tales of childhood adventures – canoeing to Gananoque, Ontario, or to Clayton and Alexandria Bay with her friends and sisters as teenagers. Often they set out with nothing more than a clay jug and some lemons to make lemonade with river water. During our time together, Vera taught me the most important canoeing rule when adventuring in the Thousand Islands region. “Always take your paddle with you when you dock in town.” she said. 

I heard about the winter Minna allowed her son Bob to take all the windows out of his bedroom so he could fill the room with Christmas trees. Vera talked of the wool snowsuits Minna sewed for them so they could explore the woods on snowshoes without getting cold. How they would often run into their mother while she was out on an adventure of her own. Vera and her siblings spent their childhood exploring and developing a bond with the natural world. Vera continued to have that connection with the natural world until her death at the age of 98.  Even though Minna died when Vera was in her 30’s, she clearly had a profound impact on her daughter’s life.

Lessons Learned

Minna’s story reminded me that to be an expert in anything, one must consistently work at their trade. Minna sketched and painted constantly throughout her life and used her drawings to illustrate thousands of articles.  She diligently studied natural history and used her platform, the published word, to share her knowledge with the public. She stood up for what she believed in regardless of how many obstacles were put in front of her.  

Minna’s life story reminded me that one person can create ripples of change during her lifetime that continue to have an impact long after she exits this world. I doubt Minna ever considered that there would one day be a Nature Center named after her. I bet she would be proud to see the thousands of school children who visit each year to explore the woods, fields, and wetlands of Wellesley Island. Through them, her story continues.  Take inspiration from Minna’s life-get outside and begin writing your own story.

~Molly Farrell

Want to learn more about Minna Anthony Common? Purchased your signed copy of Blazing A Trail: The Minna Anthony Common Story through our pre-sale campaign! Pre-order your copy of Blazing A Trail now!

To learn more about Vera Common Parmiter check out: https://www.beckyferrigno.com/meet-minnas-daughter/

To learn more about Thousand Island Park check out: https://www.beckyferrigno.com/welcome-to-ti-park/


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