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Oral History Project Surpasses Goal
Of 150 Stories for Sesquicentennial

Posted Tuesday, December 9, 1997

          HOLLAND -- The Joint Archives of Holland has
  surpassed the goal for its Sesquicentennial oral history
  project, "150 Stories for 150 Years," by so much that the
  city could even have been a decade older.
          The effort will have gathered more than 160
  stories by the end of 1997, according to Larry Wagenaar, who
  is the director of the Joint Archives and the project's
  coordinator.  The total meets the project's goal of
  gathering 150 accounts by the end of Holland's
  sesquicentennial year, but more importantly--Wagenaar
  believes--also represents a significant resource for the
  future.
          "I think it's one of the most important legacies
  we're leaving for the future out of the Sesquicentennial,"
  Wagenaar said.
          "Our goal has been to document life in Holland in
  the late 20th century," he said.  "I really think that this
  project is going to be a heavily-used resource in the
  somewhat distant future.  I often compare it to the Van
  Schelven papers."
          In 1897, in conjunction with the city's 50th
  anniversary celebration, local historian Gerrit Van Schelven
  gathered speeches and other writings featuring insights from
  the city's settlers and early residents.  It is a
  collection, Wagenaar said, that is drawn upon frequently.
          "Without the Van Schelven Collection, we would
  know much less about the first 50 years in Holland," he
  said.
          The "150 Stories for 150 Years" project has
  deliberately featured a diverse range of community
  residents, to assure that a variety of perspectives were
  chronicled, according to Wagenaar.  They range in age and
  experience from young college students to octogenarians.
  They include well-known community leaders, as well as those
  familiar only to family and friends.  There are newcomers to
  the city, and retirees who have been life-long area
  residents.  The project sought to maintain gender balance,
  and to reflect Holland's ethnic diversity.
          Each person was interviewed by either a trained
  volunteer or a member of the Joint Archives' professional or
  student staff.  The interview tapes are being transcribed--
  112 are complete so far--and the transcripts made available
  for public use.
          According to Wagenaar, each interview discussed a
  standard set of topics to provide some common points of
  reference.  Examples include first impressions of the city,
  involvement in the community, perceptions of local
  controversies and views of how the community has changed
  through the years.  Those interviewed were also asked
  questions related to their experiences specifically.
          The Joint Archives of Holland coordinates an oral
  history project every year, typically generating an average
  of about 20 transcripts annually.  The sesquicentennial
  project began in the spring of 1996, and at 160 interviews
  has weighed in at four times the usual two-year total of 40.
  Each transcript is 25 to 50 pages long.
          Many of the interviews were conducted by current
  Hope students or recent graduates retained by the Joint
  Archives to manage the project during the summers:  senior
  Tracy Bednarick of Cadillac in 1996, and 1997 graduate Ann
  Paeth of Columbus, Ohio, this past summer.  Ena Brooks, a
  junior from Kalamazoo, conducted interviews this fall, as
  did Wagenaar and collections archivist and assistant
  professor Geoffrey Reynolds.  Lori Trethewey, department
  secretary, handled many of the details throughout the
  project, including checking the completed transcripts for
  accuracy.
          About 25 percent of the interviews were conducted
  by a group of some 20 volunteers who were coordinated by
  Marie Zingle of Holland.  Volunteer John Maassen assisted
  the staff with transcription needs.
          "The volunteer component of this project has been
  very significant," Wagenaar said.  "It's important to me
  that we've had the community involved, not only from the
  perspective of being interviewed, but in doing the
  interviews--and helping transcribe them."
          With the massive Sesquicentennial Oral History
  Project still in its final stages, Wagenaar isn't quite
  ready to determine the oral history topic that the Joint
  Archives will coordinate during the forthcoming summer of
  1998.  He does, however, have some thoughts for 50 years
  hence.
          "With the Sesquicentennial project nearly
  complete, our collection of oral and written histories
  provides a solid look at the settlement from 1847 to the
  present day," Wagenaar said.  "I hope, when the city is
  celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2047, that they have
  the foresight to do a similar kind of thing."
  -30-
  


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