Students and Faculty Relish in the Preservation of Local History
Members of King’s Campion Society and students enrolled in Dr. Noreen O’Connor’s Intro to Professional Writing Class recently teamed up on an unusual and historic service project.
The King’s students lent a hand cataloging back-issues of The Dallas Post, a local newspaper. The team of volunteers was headed up by King’s Professor Jennifer Yonkoski, a former correspondent of the publication.
Yonkoski was enlisted to help by The Dallas Post’s former owner/operator and spearhead of the project, Mr. Ron Bartizek.
“It was exciting to be in my early twenties and work for Ron,” Yonkoski said. “He seemed to know everyone in Dallas, had an amazing instinct for news, and knew how to push his reporters to find a story.”
Bartizek is seeking to ultimately make these historical files more accessible to the public via the internet.
Bartizek explained that when he and his wife Charlotte bought The Dallas Post in 1988, they inherited decades of back-issues along with the business.
Over the years, Bartizek said he has had numerous requests from people wanting access to the old volumes because of their value as historical and genealogical resources. “We learned long ago that there was a huge demand,” Bartizek said.
The issues being catalogued cover Great Depression and World War II years. “An important time, when the Back Mountain transitioned from a rural farming community to a suburban community,” Bartizek said. In its current isolated and delicate state, however, the archives are unattainable to the many researchers. Bartizek commented, “It’s just inconvenient in its current form.”
These days, accessibility is easily attained through the internet. Bartizek said he hopes to cover the cost of digitizing the archives through grants and donations from entities such as The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, The Library of Congress and The National Archives and Records Administration.
Before any grant dollars can be applied for, however, there is the tedious task of assessing the volume and condition of the issues themselves. King’s students were happy to help the project take this crucial first step.
After arriving at The Back Mountain Memorial Library, students were escorted to a small room in the basement where issues of The Dallas Post dating back to 1929 are stored.
As a member of Campion Society, I stood among the other volunteers in a cramped room, heavily tinged with the scent of decaying newsprint, and awaited instructions on how to handle the delicate historical documents.
Bartizek explained the careful procedure we would follow while counting the issues held within each of the collection’s large, bound books. Wearing gloves, each student took charge of one of the books. Each contained one year’s worth of the weekly publication.
The year on the spine of my book read “1945.” Inside, I found the yellowed and worn pages were covered with pictures and stories of dead, wounded and missing World War II servicemen. The most interesting article among them included a letter sent from a German prison camp by a captured local infantryman.
“During wartime, the publisher, Harold Risley, sent a copy to local servicemen no matter where they were stationed in the world,” Bartizek said.
Dr. O’Connor also spoke about the content of the issues that she was archiving, saying that the issues she was working with contained stories about “local worker’s struggles to unionize, community theater productions, volunteer activities by women’s organizations, and Girl Scout events,” which, she added, “are given a voice in these pages.”
“In addition,” O’Connor continued, “the role of Back Mountain residents in national and international issues are documented here, including news about residents who served in World War II and the Vietnam War.”
“I know that those of us who are working with the paper have really enjoyed reading these issues,” O’Connor said. “I spent over an hour reading the weekly issues from 1941 on Thursday, and it felt like I took a time travelling machine back to that time. I learned so much local history, and had a wonderful time documenting the condition and content of the 1941 volume while I did it.”
Likewise, Yonkoski said of the experience, “As a lifelong resident of the Back Mountain and a former employee of The Dallas Post, I have a particular fondness for the weekly paper. I loved being able to share the experience with students. I remember seeing the binders in the Post Office years ago, but I never had the chance to look through them.”
Sharing the same sentiment as Dr. O’Connor toward the issues, Yonkoski continues, “I worked with Amy and Kayley in silence for more than an hour. I think we were just in awe. It was amazing to hold our area’s history in our hands.”
Students who participated on the project, such as mass communications major Kayley Carey, found their involvement to be a rewarding experience.
“I had a lot of fun,” Carey said. “I’m a huge fan of going through old new papers and literature.”
While counting pages of old newspapers might not sound like an enjoyable evening to most people, volunteers found themselves lost in the history of the Back Mountain area.
Professional writing major Jill Patton remarked, “It was really fascinating. I kept getting distracted because it was so interesting to see local history.”
Dr. O’Connor had one final thought to add of the overall experience, saying, “I am really proud of our King’s students who are volunteering to help prepare the paper to be digitized. I love it when students get the opportunity to work with archival materials because these original documents tell us so much.”
King’s students have already planned to return to the archives in order to help Bartizek with his mission to preserve this unique source of local history.