Remembering Barbara Van Orden

Many Westporters may not recognize the name Barbara Van Orden.

But without her, the Westport Historical Society might not be what — or where — it is today.

Barbara Van Orden

Barbara — who died on Sunday, age 88 — was a museum docent in several places where she and her husband Paul lived. After moving to Westport in 1977, she spent 26 years as a very knowledgeable and much-loved docent at the Yale Art Gallery.

She was also active in the Westport Garden Club and Saugatuck Congregational Church. But it was at the Historical Society that she made her most impressive local mark.

Barbara worked with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward to raise money to purchase Wheeler House, the handsome 1795 home in the heart of downtown.

Then, attending countless auctions, she led the drive to furnish the period parlor, kitchen and bedroom, to look as they did in 1865-70 when Morris and Mary Bradley lived there.

She was also the longtime head of WHS volunteers and collections.

Thanks in large part to Barbara’s untiring, loving work, the Westport Historical Society moved — literally as well as figuratively — into the modern era, while honoring the town’s rich heritage.

Thanks in large part to Barbara Van Orden, the Westport Historical Society owns this handsome home on Avery Place.

Barbara was born in Ohio, and graduated from Bowling Green State University. In addition to history and art, she loved traveling, gardening and her summer home on Nantucket.

Her family says, “throughout her life, Barbara provided a constant example of the value of personal strength, discipline and perseverance, even in the face of challenges. Her daughters and grandchildren have inherited her tenacity, openness to new ideas, a keen perspective on what is really important, and an appreciation for all the good things life has to offer.

She is survived by her husband of 67 years, Paul; her daughters Sharon Alexander and Lisa Berger, 4 grandchildren and 1 nephew.

A funeral service is set for this Sunday (July 8, 1 p.m., Saugatuck Congregational Church), followed by a reception at the church.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Westport Historical Society, Westport Garden Club or Saugatuck Congregational Church.

7 responses to “Remembering Barbara Van Orden

  1. It was my privilege to work with Barbara while I served on the WHS Board of Directors. She was simply a lovely, lovely lady, with a pleasant sense of humor and disposition. She will be missed. ~ Kristan Hamlin

  2. And we thank her for establishing WHS. The current show, African Americans in Westport, would not have been possible without her.

  3. K.F. Spearen

    I had the privilege to know her personally while I was in the Automotive business .. She was always a very pleasant lovey lady , who also had a wonderful sense of Humor .. She’ll be missed by many . Rip Barbara

  4. Barbara had a love for the Historical Society which left me with connection to her devotion.
    She was gentle, classy, bright and funny woman who loved her life and her family.
    I suspect the days in Nantucket were among the most special.
    I have missed her these last many days.
    A grand woman, a grand life.
    Rest well. Condolences to the family.

  5. Michaela MacColl

    I worked with Barbara for the last decade on the Board of the WHS. She was always gracious and giving of her time and good humor. I will miss her.

  6. Thank you, Barbara, for preserving Westport History!

  7. Wally Woods

    Barbara was the heart and soul of the Historical Society, a sweet dear lady always there to help with any event or exhibit. We shall all miss her tremendously.
    Wally Woods