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Every picture tells a story Harrisburg library's exhibit of unidentified portraits reconnects some residents with their memories

  • Mike Doerge sifts through some photos from the Harrisburg District Libray "mystery portrait" show. Doerge's father, Ron Doerge, was a portrait photographer in Harrisburg until 1986. After Ron's passing, several unidentified photos were discovered. Mike Doerge's sister Betsy Devillez thought a public showing at the library would allow local residents to identify some of the mystery images.

    Mike Doerge sifts through some photos from the Harrisburg District Libray "mystery portrait" show. Doerge's father, Ron Doerge, was a portrait photographer in Harrisburg until 1986. After Ron's passing, several unidentified photos were discovered. Mike Doerge's sister Betsy Devillez thought a public showing at the library would allow local residents to identify some of the mystery images.
    Travis DeNeal Photo

  • Jim Whyte of Eldorado holds a previously unidentified portrait of himself, on the right in the photo, and his three siblings made in 1960

    Jim Whyte of Eldorado holds a previously unidentified portrait of himself, on the right in the photo, and his three siblings made in 1960
    Travis DeNeal Photo

  • Joy Ann (Barton) Pyle hold a photo of her cousin Frances Davenport she found at the Harrisburg District Library's "mystery portrait" show.

    Joy Ann (Barton) Pyle hold a photo of her cousin Frances Davenport she found at the Harrisburg District Library's "mystery portrait" show.
    Travis DeNeal Photo

 
By Travis DeNeal tdeneal@dailyregister.com
Posted on 3/9/2018, 1:03 PM

HARRISBURG -- A visit to the Harrisburg District Library was a trip back in time for Jim Whyte of Eldorado.

Whyte was one of several local residents who got the unexpected chance to reconnect with their past thanks to a "mystery portrait" show.

The portrait show was a collection of unidentified portraits discovered by Betsy Devillez of Raleigh, along with her brother, Harrisburg attorney Mike Doerge.

Their father was Ron Doerge, who operated Ronnie's Studio from 1952 to 1986. Most of that time, the studio operated in Harrisburg.

Devillez said it would be difficult to estimate how many people had their portrait made at Ronnie's Studio during that time, but it was a large number.

Ron died in July 2017, and Devillez said while cleaning out their father's house, a large number of unidentified portraits were collected.

Because Ronnie's Studio operated mostly in Harrisburg, Devillez thought there was a good chance a public display might be able to identify and reconnect some people or their family members with some of those portraits.

"Otherwise, we'd probably have to just throw them away, and we thought there was a good chance some of the portraits could be identified," Devillez said.

Through the month of February into the first weekend of March, the portraits were on display in the basement of the library. When the show ended on Sunday, quite a few had names.

Whyte, the Eldorado resident, was one of them. Clutching a group portrait, White was all smiles as he told his story.

"This is myself along with my brothers and sister. One of my brothers was 8 years younger than me, and the other was 12 years younger. I was 19 at the time," Whyte said.

His brothers Myron and Gordon, along with his sister Carolyn, decided to have the portrait taken as a Christmas gift to their parents, he said.

"It was 1960, and I had just got done fighting forest fires in Oregon," he said. "When I was out there, my boss had a photo done like that to give his parents, and I thought that seemed like a good idea."

Whyte said he was pleasantly surprised with the discovery of the old photo.

"It's amazing what they've done here," he said.

Another local resident, Joy Ann (Barton) Pyle of Harrisburg, was leaving the library holding the portrait of a beautiful young woman. She said she felt fortunate to find the picture.

"That's Frances Davenport, and she was my cousin," Pyle said. "I'm the only relative in town that's living."

Those who could identify photos were allowed to take them at the show's end. Only a story behind the photo, if possible, was asked.

Devillez said she had spoken with some people who had very emotional reactions to finding the portraits.

"Those two young ladies hanging next to each other over there are sisters," she said, pointing to a pair of pictures. "We didn't know that when they were put up. It was just a coincidence. But, one of the sisters had passed away, and the surviving sister had lost her copies in a house fire. She was very excited."

Mike, her brother, said looking back at the small collection of their father's work on display reminded him of the artistry involved in the portrait business before the digital age.

"There was a lot of thought that went into each portrait," he said. "Most of the portraits he took were in black and white, but when you look at them it's easy to forget that they weren't in color."