‘Anything that needs to be done’: Heritage Village volunteer repairs buildings for 25 years

Tom Learmont, of Birch Run, spent the last 25 years repairing buildings at Montcalm Heritage Village.
Tom Learmont, of Birch Run, stands in front of the McBrides Depot, one of 28 structures in Montcalm Heritage Village.

By Samantha Gould

MCC Communications Assistant

Tom Learmont grew up learning carpentry from his dad and now uses those skills to build and repair buildings at Montcalm Heritage Village.

“Woodworking wasn’t anything I had done much of in years until I started volunteering at the village,” Learmont said.

Heritage Village was established in 1987 on Montcalm Community College’s Sidney campus and has grown to include 28 structures. Since most of the buildings in Montcalm Heritage Village were originally built and used during the turn of the 20th Century and later moved to the village, repairing and maintaining them is vital to keeping the village as a historical community resource.

Twenty-five years ago, Learmont retired from his engineering career and moved to Gowen with his wife, Ruth.

“I had to find something to do, so I visited Montcalm Community College, looking for a part-time teaching job,” he said. “Then I saw these old dilapidated buildings across the parking lot. I asked someone at the college about the buildings, and they told me about the Heritage Village Committee and gave me contact information.

“I’ve always enjoyed repairing buildings and fixing things,” he added. “I thought, ‘Gee, I can work on those buildings. I don’t want to work for money.’”

With a phone number and time, Learmont joined the Heritage Village Committee. He has helped repair and paint buildings at the village ever since.

“It’s a group effort maintaining the buildings,” he said. “I could not do it by myself. Nobody does things alone out there.

“Most projects normally require three or four of us to do the carpentry work,” he added. “Other committee members and volunteers are great at running programs and tours, especially during Heritage Festival, but I’m strictly a behind the scenes type of guy.”

Learmont’s wife helped at the village, too.

“Ruth totally supported me in helping the village and was involved in the village as well,” he said. “She baked for bake sales and helped paint buildings. It was kind of a family endeavor.”

Heritage Village Committee President Shannon Kilduff said Learmont has done more than building repairs over the years.

“Tom has had a hand in planning, building, painting, repairing and grant writing for large building renovations,” Kilduff said. “He’s a hands-on, hardworking member of the committee.”

Learmont has repaired and painted the Edmore Jail, Fire Barn, Gaffield School, McBride Depot and caboose, Pavilion, Print Shop, Rush Dairy, Shoen Log Cabin, Sidney General Store, Sidney Town Hall, three outhouses and the Village Church.

“My big project was the church,” he said. “I drafted the design plans and did a lot of the work building it, especially on the interior and painting the inside.”

Learmont said he continues to volunteer at Heritage Village because he believes in its mission: Montcalm Heritage Village is dedicated to promoting the preservation of the history of the Montcalm County area through reenactments, festivals, cultural events and exhibits.

“We are here to help educate children of the history of Montcalm County,” he said. “During Heritage Festival, the village is one of the good places where history is brought to life. Children can learn what their ancestors went through, their hardships and accomplishments. Educating young people about their heritage is very important.”

Learmont is also a member of the Frankenmuth Historical Society where he recently received the Volunteer of the Year Award as well as the Keweenaw County Historical Society in Eagle Harbor for which he is currently developing a PowerPoint presentation dealing with the history of the copper mining on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

“When I see a need, I step in to help,” he said. “I help with anything that needs to be done.”

Learmont resides in Birch Run. He has a daughter and two sons.

Montcalm Heritage Village celebrated its 32nd annual Heritage Festival Aug. 2-4. It featured historic displays, reenactments, Vintage Base Ball games, other events, refreshments and live musical entertainment.

For more information about Heritage Village, visit www.montcalm.edu/heritage-village. For more information about Heritage Festival, visit www.montcalm.edu/heritage-festival.