May 30--Melba Hunt, best known for her passion and commitment to local history, died Wednesday at the age of 89 in Kettering. For 35 years, she served as president and curator of the Kettering-Moraine Museum and Historical Society, which operated from 1973 to 2009.
"Melba was the moving force in saving the Watervliet Shaker community's artifacts and buildings," said Nancy Horlacher, local history specialist for the Dayton Metro Library. "She moved buildings to the Kettering-Moraine Museum and Historical Society and kept the story alive by celebrating with an annual Ohio Shaker Festival in Moraine City."
Hunt also authored two books: "Summers at Watervliet," based on interviews she conducted, and "Cooking the Wright Way," which illuminated the lives of the Wright brothers through recipes, stories and photographs.
The Watervliet Shaker Building, which will be dedicated at 2 p.m. Sunday at Carillon Historical Park, was one of the historic buildings that Mrs. Hunt was responsible for rescuing.
"We owe a great deal to Melba for recognizing that these buildings would have gone the way of the wrecking ball," said Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History. He said the building being dedicated this weekend is the last building in existence from the Watervliet Shaker Community and the only Shaker building from any Shaker community to be open to the public on a regular basis in Ohio.
It was Mrs. Hunt who originally conceived of the idea for a combined museum for the cities of Kettering and Moraine and brought together elected officials from both communities to discuss the concept. The City of Kettering made available a former administration building and an adjacent seven acre parcel of land at 35 Moraine Circle South.
Over the years, Mrs. Hunt worked with a volunteer Board of Trustees and other community volunteers to save six additional historic structures, move them to the museum, and offer tours and educational programming for the general public. One of those structures was Deeds Barn, where Charles F. Kettering invented the starting, lighting and ignition systems for automobiles. She worked to ensure it would be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Former Kettering Mayor Marilou Smith said Mrs. Hunt was always hospitable when taking visitors through the museum.
"She was a lovely person who made people realize the significance of those buildings," Smith said.
Under Mrs. Hunt's direction, the museum also acquired thousands of artifacts that -- after her retirement in the early 2000's -- were eventually transferred to Dayton History for preservation and display.
Mrs. Hunt's son, Jim, said his mother's fascination with history may have been inspired by a visit to Colonial Williamsburg in the 1950s. Soon after that, he said, she became an antiques dealer. The family lived in an historic home built in 1867 by a civil war veteran.
"Everything about her was as special as you can get," Jim Hunt said. "She was the type of person who threw herself completely into anything she did."
Mrs. Hunt was preceded in death by her husband, Richard Ray Hunt. She is survived by two children, three grandchildren and a great-grandson.
Visitation will be from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, June 3 at the Newcomer Funeral Home (South Chapel) in Kettering. Mass of the Christian Burial is at 11 a.m. at Emmanuel Catholic Church, 149 Franklin St. in Dayton.
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