A Lesson from Thelma

Visits with Thelma

A photo of Thelma Babbitt.

Thelma Babbitt, one of the Harris Center’s very first trustees and de facto development director.

Thelma Babbitt was among the Harris Center’s very first trustees, and from her time on the board right up to the end of the century, she was also our de facto development director and chief fundraiser. I vividly remember — way before we entered the computer age — her little metal file box with blue cards, each with the record of a donor’s contributions over the years.

Perhaps the most notable card was the one labeled Austin Hubbard. It was likely back in the 1960s, when Thelma was still a professional fundraiser for the American Friends Service, that she first began making annual visits over to Walpole to visit Austin. He was one of the brothers who built Hubbard Farms into a world-renowned chicken rearing and research station.

By the early 1970s, when Thelma was now volunteering as a fund raiser for us, Austin was essentially homebound, taking care of his ailing wife. But that didn’t stop Thelma from religiously making those annual relationship-building visits to his house — only now her mission was to sing the praises of Harris Center programs and to explain our budget and financial needs. During the more than two decades that Thelma made annual visits, Austin never once came to the Harris Center or attended any of our programs, not even the yearly “Waterfowl Safari” that caravaned down the Connecticut River, passing close by Hubbard Farms.

So all of us, except perhaps Thelma, were astounded in 1994 when we received a significant gift to our endowment from Austin Hubbard’s estate. That was the Harris Center’s first major bequest and to this day, only two have been larger.

–Meade Cadot