Delray Historical Society collecting pandemic memories, mementoes

Faran Fagen
 |  Special to The Palm Beach Post

When the Delray Beach Historical Society announced its intention to document residents’ feelings and experiences about the COVID-19 pandemic, submissions poured in.

Since the start of April, Executive Director Winnie Edwards and her staff have recorded more than 100 poems, photos, essays, artwork and video diaries.

“This is an unprecedented time for all of us,” Edwards said. “Peoples lives have changed drastically, so we thought it would be extremely important to capture it.”

A flyer distributed by the Delray Beach Historical Society details the importance of the project: “There will be an interest and need to understand our shared experience during this time. Future researchers and visitors to the DBHS will have you to thank for sharing a part of your lives with them.”

One of the contributors is Kenya Spear, who lives with her husband on Swinton Avenue in Delray Beach’s historical district. They relocated from New York and purchased their home nine years ago.

“The COVID-19 Challenge has caused us, and others, to make important lifestyle changes,” Spear said. “I miss volunteering at The Arts Garage and at The Boca Raton Library Bookstore, tutoring children, helping with their reading and math, playing cards with friends, visiting The Norton Museum, walking in the park near Lake Ida Road, and attending church service.”

Spear used to swim about four times weekly and participate in yoga/mediation at the Delray Beach Library on Atlantic Avenue. Now, she mediates at home alone, and sometimes does yoga, “but it is not that same as being in a group.”

Submissions of loss and nostalgia like Spear’s streamed in. But then at the end of May, tragedy occurred with the death of George Floyd. In addition to the pandemic, the society documented the largest Civil Rights movement since the 1960s.

“We’ve had so many people calling us to research civil rights,” Edwards said. “Without our archives, we’d have no context to understand civil rights in Delray.”

The historical society is partnering with Spady Cultural Heritage Museum to open and review a 2004 project completed by the society and FAU on local race relations, diversity and community. It will be available online, and will include over 100 oral histories.

In a statement, the DBHS said: “We find ourselves facing an unprecedented intersection of pandemic health fears and justified civil unrest. We are expanding our call to the community to collect and preserve any and all expressions of protest and hope through our Delray Beach Documentary project.”

The Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce also submitted an essay about its efforts to help the city during the COVID-19 crisis

“During the early days of the crisis we were focused full-time on communications,” said Stephanie Immelman, CEO of Greater Delray Beach City of Commerce. “We continue to constantly update businesses on the ever-changing regulations, recommendations best practices and finally, re-opening strategies.”

Many Delray residents are submitting photos of signs around town. Some say, “please support local farmers” and some are protests. The entries are from all races and ages. Heather Kimbrell, 12, submitted her photo collection.

Edwards said her top priority is to collect documents for the future.

“In the middle of the virus, we have a civil rights movement and we have to document it all,” Edwards said. “The pictures in our cell phones won’t last forever; so that’s why we must document this time.”

As for Spear, she misses the social contact with her neighbors. However, she said she’s not lonely or bored.

“I have activities that keep me physically, emotionally and mentally occupied during this challenging time,” Spear said. “I read at least three books a week, and The New York Times Daily. I am cleaning out closets, collecting, and gathering items to donate when Goodwill reopens.”

But the biggest benefit for her has been rediscovering an old favorite passion, crocheting.

“It is tremendously relaxing and rewarding,” Spear said. “I look at my completed items and know that I am blessed. I have options. I am thankful. I am safe and alive.”

To participate, call the Delray Beach Historical Society at 561-274-9578 or upload your content by emailing

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