Dublin mourns Museum Lady
Dublin lost its resident Museum Lady and community cheerleader on New Year’s Eve as Mary Yantis, 85, passed after a brief battle with cancer.
An avid fan of both history and the Dublin community, the success of the Dublin Historical Society and the town’s many museums can be traced to when she and her husband, Dick, returned to town after their retirement.
Dublin EDC executive director Karen Wright remembers the poor condition of the museum in 1995, when it was housed in the Lyon Prim building, which had a floor and roof in need of repairs.
The museum had closed its doors due to the significant weather damage and lifelong history fan Mary Yantis naturally assumed that everyone was eager for it to open again.
“The Lyon Museum had virtually no roof and no floor and she said, ‘We’ve got to have a building,’” Wright remembered.
The historical society had less than a dozen active members then, but she saw the current museum building (the former site of the Dublin Progress) up for sale and determined that it would be bought so the museum could move there.
Thus started a short and successful fundraiser led by Yantis and other like-minded volunteers that netted more than $35,000 in donations and membership dues and increased the historical society’s membership to 240 in a matter of months. The organization had grown to 600 members within half a year.
“Anyone that says we all did that, we only did it because Mary said we could,” Wright said, adding that she didn’t recall many people saying no to contributing to the cause.
The Knights of Pythias even agreed to pitch in $5,000 if the organizers could raise the other $20,000 necessary to buy the building by August of 1996. A last-minute banquet pushed it over the edge with then Historical Society president Steve Hightower presenting an oversized check for the purchase that night.
The fundraiser had only begun in May of that year. The more than $10,000 extra raised was used in moving the museums relics over and preparing the new location. Eventually, the Lyon Prim would act as an events center run by the Historical Society. Whenever the long-running negotiations for a Ben Hogan Museum finally started bearing fruit, Yantis and the museum would be able to open the new events center in the former St. Mary’s Catholic Church, redubbed “The Little Church on Grafton.” This opened the doors for the Hogan Museum to take up residence in the Lyon Prim.
Wright said Yantis was there for every step that led to the Hogan Museum’s opening, although her involvement was not widely publicized.
Wright remembers having to put the project on hiatus and feeling doubtful that it would ever happen. Mary, known for her boundless positivity, only said that it would have to be put aside ‘for now.’
“There were so many God-Winks in Mary’s story,” Wright said.
Fortune favors the bold though and her optimism meant Mary didn’t know the meaning of ‘can’t.’ She saw a division happening in Dublin in the mid-1980’s, which led her to aid in the foundation of the annual ‘Hearts Home’ Dublin Area Reunion which sees hundreds of Dublin High School students and neighbors gather at the school every June.
One of the biggest “God-winks” came in the decision for Mary and Dick to return to Dublin. Their daughter, Susan, reported that Dublin was on a short list of places they were looking to live after Dick stepped down from the Star-Telegram and Mary retired from teaching English and Social Studies in Arlington.
Susan said they decided quickly to return to Mary’s childhood home but had looked at other locations.
Even still, the couple remained supporters of Dublin even while living elsewhere.Theirsubscription to the Dublin Citizen would act as the catalyst to Wright’s relationship with the couple and their involvement in Dublin.
Wright traces back their relationship to an owl.
While working on the Aug. 20, 1992 paper, she received a letter and picture about a ‘wise owl’ with good taste, which stayed perched on the Yantis’ mailbox as their copy of the Citizen was delivered.
Wright said she couldn’t have imagined the strong relationships that were forged in that first correspondence.
After moving to Dublin, Dick marched down to the Citizen office one day with a misspelled word on the front page circled in green and said, ‘You need help,’ offering his service as proofreader. His payment was a pot of coffee every day.
Wright came to suspect he volunteered for this service to get some quiet time while Mary was working on her latest projects, endeavors that only intensified once she was made president of the Historical Society in 1996.
She also was a member of the Dublin Rotary Club, the Woman’s Thursday Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas as well as several others. Her work led to the reception of several awards from the Chamber of Commerce, the DAR Excellence in Community Service Award and a nominationfortheAmerican Institute for Public Service’s Jefferson Award.
Under her tenure, Yantis would make the effort to keep the museum open 363 days out of the year by recruiting hosts and hostesses wherever she found them.
Wright said one of the museum’s hostesses recently recalled how Mary could make every volunteer opportunity seem so appealing at first with her boundless excitement.
The museum would find promotion in her regular bi-weekly column Museum Matters in the pages of the Dublin Citizen, where she would often talk about new donations and the visitors from all over the country and even the world. Mary wouldfindeveryopportunity to invite anybody to see the museum and to become a member of the historical society.
This belief in Dublin stemmed back to her childhood in the town where her father, Sam and uncle, Rich were both respected businessmen. She got a firsthand view of a prosperous period in Dublin’s history and even took an active part by answering the phone for Cowan Electric.
Wright said Mary once believed her name was “Mary Helen Cowan Electric” because she answered so many phone calls that way.
Mary’s love of history went far wider than the city limits though as she loved America and wanted to explore every place and event. A ‘Meet Your Neighbor’ spotlight on Mary announced that her dream vacation was “to travel the entire United States, at leisure, with my husband.”
“She had a whole wall of history books,” Wright remembered. “She was all about red, white and blue.”
Mary would also write letters to the White House, offering up support and prayers.
Even in her hardest times, her faith never wavered and many may recall her service to First Baptist Church where her wedding and funeral were both held. She sought to share her faith as a Sunday School teacher and often invited others to Sunday services.
“Her faith was part of everything she did every day,” Wright said.
Her husband hoped that the Bible could inspire her to take a few moments to relax occasionally as he had Wright print a copy of Psalm 46:10: “Be Still and Know that I am God.”
“Dick laughed and said it could just say, ‘Be still,’” Wright said.
Although she was a devout follower of the Bible, she didn’t know the meaning of ‘still.’
When Dick had to be put in the nursing home, she would juggle duties to the town and museum while going to see him every chance she got.
Wright remembers Mary saying after his passing, “I miss talking to Dick about the news.”
Yantis spent her final days in a Fort Worth hospital where she invited every doctor and nurse to come to Dublin and see its fabulous museums- museums that wouldn’t be as stately if not for her and a town that benefitted from her boundless support.