Preserving OU History
Posted by cservaes on March 12, 2013 in Alumni, "Current Students", Faculty/Staff, "The College"
A little known fact about Ottawa University is that it housed a museum for approximately 40 years, from 1887 through the 1930s, with collections such as scientific artifacts, rocks, whale bones, photographs, dolls, and various oddities. Some of the collections were from people associated with the University; most were not. One, the Yu’pik Alaskan collection of John Henry Kilbuck, was donated to the University in 1911 and is now estimated to be worth more than $1 million. The Kilbuck collection is housed in the Myers library on The College campus, along with tens of thousands of documents, objects, photos, scrapbooks, and records of OU history. Not wanting to lose the University’s past to decay, theft, fire, or natural disaster, these artifacts are all in the process of being digitized, when possible, for both preservation and accessibility. It is a tedious task, with only 10 percent of the historical collection being archived over the past seven years. Because of the project’s roots in history, Associate Professor of History Dr. Steven Foulke saw an opportunity at its inception for his students to assist with the project by completing internships with OU Librarian Gloria Creed-Dikeogu, who is managing the labor-intensive task. During the 2012- 13 academic year, six history majors have been involved. For each 30 internship hours, students earned one academic credit hour, up to 120 hours and three credits. For his internship, Chase Dippel, a senior, is working on the collection of former OU First Lady Ellen Ann Wheaton, scanning notes from various campus and presidential events, entering metadata to describe the scope of the documents and creating naming conventions for searchability in the Past Perfect software system. He has also worked on transcribing a book of OU museum records from 1887. “It really interests me to see where Ottawa has come from, where the school started and how it has evolved,” said Dippel. “During the project, I have run across information on people that I’ve heard about, like Bill Frear, or people that buildings were named for, so it helps me connect some of the dots of OU history.” Senior Alisha Dunn completed her 120- hour internship early in the semester. Her role in the project was to transcribe a 100-page book of faculty meeting minutes from 1887-1891 and 300 pages of board meeting minutes from 1909-1956. “Sifting through all of the documents was like putting together a mini-puzzle every day,” said Dunn. “And it may sound strange, but I became attached to some of the professors and board members through the project. It was interesting to read that many of the problems that the school dealt with back then are some of the same problems they face today, like ‘student delinquency’ and budget concerns. “The project also gave me a better understanding of OU’s rich history and brought a sense of humanity to it. For example, I learned that during the Depression, the University was almost sold due to debt and employees’ salaries were deeply cut. One custodian even worked for OU throughout the Depression without being paid simply because he loved the University so much.” Some of the collections still to be archived include those of names many recognize – Dr. Ronnie Averyt, Ron Yingling, George Myers, Rev. Roger Fredrikson, Dr. Andrew B. Martin, Jotham and Eleanor Meeker, and many others. The collections include everything from recipes, music scores, presentations, photographs, scrapbooks, and letters, to calendars, athletic memorabilia, slides, and art. Creed-Dikeogu is passionate about archiving the many collections in her care and is excited about the work that is being done. “It is so important that we preserve the many pieces of OU history that are housed in the library,” she said. “I look forward to the day when we can properly showcase the many artifacts that we own and allow people to access the wealth of documents that bring OU’s history to life.” “Our archives were once in woeful shape,” said Foulke, “but now our past is being properly preserved due to the hard work of History students and Gloria’s purposeful leadership.” Proper preservation of the collections’ and museum’s physical artifacts poses a greater challenge for Creed-Dikeogu than do the documents, which can be digitized. Because OU’s facilities do not provide the proper climate-controlled environment to house them, she hopes that a benefactor will come forward to provide funds for such a facility or pay to house the items at another location. To expand the scope of the archiving project, Creed-Dikeogu is working with the Franklin County Historical Society to share information and documents so that those searching the Society’s site can view OU’s archives and vice versa. She is also exploring the possibility of partnering with Pi Kappa Delta, of which OU is an Alpha Chapter, to serve as its archive host and to incorporate our archives with theirs. In the future, Creed-Dikeogu hopes to launch an audio history project whereby alumni and past faculty are interviewed to record their knowledge of OU history for posterity.