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Local history supporters remember a stalwart

By Mike Genet

Until last year, for the weeks leading up to Christmas, Mary Ann Potter joked, she became a Vaile widow.

Her husband Ron would spend hours helping decorate the Vaile Victorian Mansion in the period Christmas style, then leading the public tours of the preserved 1880s structure in northern Independence.

Ron Potter locks the front door of the Vaile Victorian Mansion in Independence, following the last Christmas decorations tour in December 2019.

A retired elementary school teacher in Blue Springs and longtime devout volunteer with the Vaile Victorian Society, Blue Springs Historical Society and Friends of the Chicago & Alton Depot, Ron Potter died unexpectedly last month at the age of 80.

“He always thought it was a beautiful mansion, and he was volunteering as a tour guide, and a friend talked him into being on the board,” Mary Ann said, “and before we knew it, he was elected president.”

“Almost every room in our house has a picture of the Vaile.”

Sandy Dougherty, president of the Vaile Victorian Society, said that after hearing of Potter’s death she wondered, “What are we going to do without him?”

After the last tours in December 2019, the last time the Vaile has been open to the general public due to the pandemic, Potter was the one who locked the door.

“He did so much, particularly with the Strawberry Festival,” Dougherty said. “He was there every day, and he didn’t have to be, but he was. He’d done that throughout the years.”

“He ended up with a butler’s uniform, in the Victorian style, and when we would have parties there, he would greet people.”

For years Potter kept a collection of Santa Claus figures – more than 1,200, his wife said – and sometimes offered tours of that with donations going to charities. A longtime fan of antiques along with his wife, he maintained a small side business appraising antiques. Potter was also one of the first members of the Blue Springs Historical Society. Group president Theresa Welsh remembers that he always had a cheerful smile.

“He was always willing to help with anything; he wore many hats and worked on many things,” she said. “Anytime we needed him, he was always there. It’s still hard to believe that he’s gone.”

Welsh noted that Potter would recruit Blue Springs Historical Society members to help out with the annual Strawberry Festival, the Vaile’s largest fundraiser, and in turn he recruited members there to volunteer at Taste of Blue Springs, which benefits the Historical Society.

“His love for history and saving the buildings and the history was definitely important to him,” she said.

Not only for the Strawberry Festival, but Potter handled publicity for just about any event at the Vaile Mansion, Jerry Kacheroski said.

“Because of that,” he said, “the Vaile has gotten into so many books about travel.”