Reading, PA -  Sixty-five years to the day after it was founded, the Animal Rescue League of Berks County paid tribute to its founder Friday in a program at the Berks History Center.

The late Mary Archer, a socialite, feminist and animal rights activist, founded the league on July 7, 1952.

Liz McCauley, executive director, said Archer's opposition to euthanizing animals remains a hallmark of the organization.

"She had a vision to save as many animals as possible," said McCauley. "We still carry on her mission today."

From 16 dog kennels and facilities for cats, ARL has grown to a $1.8 million operation with 25 staff members at its center along Route 724 in Cumru Township.

An open admissions facility, ARL handles some 6,000 animals yearly in a variety of programs, including adoption and foster care.

"We're one of the oldest and largest rescue facilities in the country," McCauley said.

About 100 supporters turned out for a wine and cheese gala, followed by tributes to Archer.

Ruth Shaffer, a researcher at the Henry Janssen Library, gave a detailed account of Archer's many and varied interests.

Born to wealth, Archer embraced missions ranging from politics and prison reform to Belgian Relief in World War I and assisting the homeless during the Great Depression.

She was the first woman to sit on the Democratic National Committee and the first chairwoman of the Democratic Women's Club of Berks County.

"She was the most loved, feared and hated woman in Berks County," Shaffer said. "She was known as Militant Mary."

At the same time, Shaffer noted, Archer was a crusader, humanitarian and activist who used her good fortune to help others.

Jane Jacoby, 98, ARL board member emeritus, shared details of her many years of working with Archer in the cause of animal rescue.

Archer would rap her cane on the floor to bring ARL board meetings to order, recalled Jacoby, who joined the board in 1954.

Though Archer ran meetings pretty much with an iron fist, Jacoby recalled them as being a lot of fun.

The group erupted in laughter when Jacoby described how Archer spiked her eggnog at Christmas time.

"Mary," Jacoby confided, "was no teetotaler."

Archer and her sister, Caroline, lived in a mansion in the Flying Hills section of Cumru Township. By the time of her death at age 82 in 1963, the mansion was in disrepair. At one time, the Archer estate covered 2,500 acres.

She had, Shaffer noted, given much of her fortune away.

Dr. Sergio and Penny Proscrpi bought the Archer mansion in 1964 and restored it. Dr. Proscrpi, a plastic surgeon, died in 2004.

Penny Proscrpi, who still lives in the mansion, recalled Archer's generosity to inmates at the Berks County Prison.

"When a prisoner was released, she gave them a suit of clothes, $150 and work on her farm," Proscrpi said. "It's wonderful that we can still honor that heritage."

In her 1998 book, "The Ladies of Readingtowne and Beyond," Barbara R. Goda said 200 people gathered to honor Archer on her 75th birthday at the Thomas Jefferson Tea Room in Reading.

She was lured to the surprise party on the pretext that it was a fundraiser for the Animal Rescue League, her favorite charity, Goda writes.

Archer was greeted with cries of "Happy Birthday, Miss Mary" and a cake decorated with dogs and cats.

"The best news," Goda writes, "was when Oliver C. Gift, league director, announced that her friends had contributed $600 to the League as a birthday gift."

ARL continues its celebration with a 65th Anniversary Adoption Day Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 58 Kennel Road, Cumru Township.

Contact Ron Devlin: 610-371-5030 or rdevlin@readingeagle.com.