As Maryville College prepares for its bicentennial celebration next year, quiet work behind the scenes is underway to preserve artifacts for future generations.
Those efforts received a significant boost last week, as they do every year during Kin Takahashi Week, when more than 100 alumni and others volunteer across campus in the spirit of the Japanese student from the 19th century whose efforts led to the construction of Bartlett Hall.
About a quarter of this year’s KT Week volunteers worked on archive projects in Fayerweather Hall, supplementing the efforts of volunteers who work throughout the year and the college’s new part-time archivist.
“What would take me a year to do they finish in a week,” said regular volunteer Martha Hess, an MC alumna and registrar of the college for 35 years.
Archivist on staff
For archivist Amy Lundell, a third-generation alumna, the history of Maryville College is personal. She can point, for example, to the place on the Thaw Hall steps where her parents got engaged in 1976.
She grew up in a family that loves history, and for a book report in first grade wrote about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy in 79 A.D.
Lundell recalls her first visit as a student to the college’s archives, then in the basement of Anderson Hall, when history professor Nancy Locklin-Sofer had them grab a box and clean up the contents.
Lundell earned her bachelor’s degree in history from Maryville College in 2006 and then her master’s degree in public history from Middle Tennessee State University, with an emphasis on archival management.
“I really want to be working with the items and have my hands on history,” she said.
Before joining MC, she was working under contract with the National Park Service in several locations, most recently in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
For her, becoming the archivist at Maryville College this March was like coming home in many ways, including the fact that she grew up knowing many of the women who regularly volunteer in the archives; some she sang with in the choir.
More than Maryville
While other KT Week volunteers can point to bridges they built or flowers planted, the work in the archives is much less visible, such as “rehousing” documents in archival folders so they don’t deteriorate further, removing artwork from frames, sorting typed class roster cards, scanning documents and comparing a dozen unlabeled photos of girls who look very much alike to the college annual to determine who they are.
Inside boxes and folders, the treasures can be personal to the volunteers, such as a 1930s photo of a college hiking group in which Margie Ribble recognized her father, Bob Stevenson, among others, including Lea Calloway, who became a Maryville mayor.
MC alumni Carl McDonald didn’t need any of his skills as an attorney for his job last week, freeing paper from bindings that release gases that damage the documents, but he did go home and return with tools to help, including pliers and screw drivers.
“The temptation I have is to read some of this stuff,” he said. One of the things he discovered was a photo of himself in a leading role during a production of “The King and I” on campus.
While many of the volunteers balance the impulse to stop and read with the desire to accomplish as much as they can, Charles Craven and Jim Howard must listen to oral histories they are converting to digital files, so when the subject changes they can create a new track. That will make it easier for later researchers to go right to the section of the recording they want.
The 90 tapes were recorded by students in Chad Berry’s History 203 course from 1997 to 2001. While eight of the interviews are of Maryville College graduates, faculty and staff, students also interviewed family members who lived far from Blount County.
Topics range from the Great Depression, World War II and the Persian Gulf War. They cover the civil rights era, NASA during the Vietnam War and even the impact on Elvis in America.
“Everybody has an interesting story,” Howard said.
Added Craven: “The students really did a good job of choosing people who had interesting stories to tell.”
Even records from professors include information of interest well beyond the college. For example, Lundell said, Dorothy Horn helped a student who was documenting local variations of the the ballad “Barbara Allen,” and her records include 17 versions.
President to president
Among last week’s volunteers was Gerald Gibson, Maryville College president emeritus and a co-chair of the college’s bicentennial committee. He was taking notes on the diaries of Samuel Tyndale Wilson, whose records range from his days as a student in the 1870s through his being a professor and the college’s president, from 1901 to 1930.
The diaries include Wilson’s thoughts when James Garfield was elected president of the United States in 1880 and assassinated within the year, and his observations on a 10-month trip with his son in 1909 that included the Middle East and British Isles.
Gibson read, for example, about a 1916 fire in the Carnegie Hall residence. “He heard the alarm at 8:20 in the morning,” Gibson said. Townspeople took in some students, some were temporarily housed in the gym and the Wilsons took eight students into their house.
The students organized a rally with singing and cheering to show their support for rebuilding. “You can sort of feel the spirit that was on campus,” Gibson said.
In another incident, however, a riot apparently broke out after the freshman class hung a banner using the colors of the sophomore class. The freshman class president and the student who hung the banner were suspended. “They put them on a train and sent them out of town,” Gibson said.
Into the future
Items in the Maryville College archives predate the school, going back as far as 1790, according to Lundell. Not everything is on paper. For example, the archives include World War II service flags that hung in the chapel and a sewing machine from the College Maid Shop, where students earned money by sewing garments.
“It’s good that we have all this stuff, but we need to make sure it’s preserved for future generations,” Lundell said.
While the work now is focused on the past, she also is looking at the future and how to preserve history in a digital world. For example, the college hasn’t produced an annual since 2013. “We don’t have much on the classes from 2014 to present,” she said, and documents created these days might never exist on paper because of the digital age.