Digging In

Two Alumni Archivists Serve as the Keepers of All Things Stonehill. by Kimberly Lawrence

When Nicole (Tourangeau) Casper ’95 found a shopping bag with an old piece of tile in it, she first thought it was garbage and nearly threw it out. “I had to think for a moment about where there is or was tile on campus,” recalls the College’s archivist. “I then realized it was a piece of the old pool that was covered over in what is now the Alumni Hall conference room.” That tile has become part of the Stonehill College Archives and Historical Collections, located on the top floor of the Martin Institute.

Being the College’s director of Archives and Historical Collections, Casper is the keeper of all things Stonehill, both new and old. “Every day, I have to think 20 years into the future if something right now might be important.” This means the Archives has ponchos that are currently handed out during rainy Admission tours, the College’s old mace, which was thrown away only to be resurrected and displayed prominently, a class ring donated by one of Stonehill’s first graduates as well as every Summit newspaper, ACRES yearbooks, diplomas, theater tickets, speeches, letters, posters, diaries, memorabilia—and the list goes on and on.

Luckily Casper isn’t alone in this task. Together with Assistant Archivist Jonathan Green ’10, the two spend their days capturing, preserving and sharing Stonehill life. As Green says, “When others forget, it’s our job to remember.”

The Un-Google

Although it might sound like it, the Archives is not a museum. While many historical items are displayed around campus, the Archives itself consists of more than 480 shelves stacked with 2,400-plus boxes of paper, photographs and artifacts—all organized, labeled and indexed. “When people request information, we dig,” says Casper, who has been in her role for 15 years.

She and Green, both history majors at Stonehill who started working in the Archives as students, field several hundred reference requests per year—from professors who are looking for historical documents to use as teaching tools to staff members trying to uncover past administrative decisions to alumni and the general public who are researching genealogy, writing historical books or gathering photos.

“A phone call or an email can send us on a hunt for something that can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 hours to two days to find,” says Casper.

“We aren’t Google, so when requests come in, we use finding aids to figure out where we can get the needed information,” she continues. “Often we have to just sit and think for a minute to make connections that lead us in the right direction.” But sometimes information has simply not made its way to the Archives. “I take it personally if I can’t find something,” Green admits. “It’s a bit of a letdown.”Casper and Green are naturally the two considered to be in the know on campus. “A lot of times when I go for a walk at lunch, someone will stop me and say, ‘Now that I see you, when did O’Hara go co-ed?’” says Casper. (For her, that’s easy: 1993.)In addition to the College Archives, Casper and Green also oversee the department’s 12 special collections, including the Tofias Collection (known to many as the “Ames Shovels”—all 783 of them), the Ames Family Papers, the Stanley Bauman Photograph Collection, the Joseph Martin Papers and the Michael Novak ’56 Collection. Recently, the Archives acquired the James “Lou” Gorman ’53 Collection, which includes many of Gorman’s artifacts, documents and photographs from his time at Stonehill, in the U.S. Navy and with the Boston Red Sox.

Storytelling

Part of the duo’s job is to present the College’s history to alumni at various events and to new employees during their orientation as well as to record oral histories with members of the Pillar Society—Stonehill’s 50-year club—at Reunion.

The Archives may have the official College records, but hearing the stories beyond the paper is what Casper really enjoys: “When I talk with alums, it often gives context to the records we have on file.” Most of those stories, she admits, stay in her head. And while Casper and Green claim they don’t know everything about the College, they certainly can engage an audience with a plethora of historical tidbits.

“A story that interests many employees and alumni is the runway on campus,” Casper says. When she gives walking tours, she’ll often tell of the airport—located by what later became the Sem—that actually had planes depart and land until it closed in 1955.

And to make sure her audience stays engaged during her presentations, Casper will also share a light anecdote such as the one about the College’s money issues in its early days. Then-president Rev. Francis Boland, C.S.C., would lock up the ice cream in the Donahue Hall kitchen. The priests would go downstairs at night, eat the ice cream and watch for Fr. Boland. “If he wasn’t so tight with the money, Stonehill wouldn’t have survived those first years,” she says.

The oral histories provide back stories that are rich with details and tell the mood of campus at a given time. Casper recounts listening to alumni when they brought up John F. Kennedy’s visit to campus in 1958. “Many didn’t even know he was speaking, but the College canceled classes to get people to show up. He was a senator at the time, not running for president,” Casper notes. “Today, we are always looking for ways to encourage students to attend lectures and presentations. It is interesting to see how things have changed but how some of the college experience has remained the same.”

Of course, Casper and Green are frequently asked to correct the legends that are passed on from class to class. Both confirm, for the record, that nobody died in the pool—the question that they are most often asked.

Sniffing Around

“Archivists have to be nosy to get the good stuff,” Casper admits. “We go to events and grab one of everything.” Green agrees that they are often “sniffing around.”

A challenge for them is technology. “Before, employees would clean out their offices and send boxes to the Archives. Now decisions on campus are made via email. We don’t get people’s email,” says Casper. They also don’t have a way to adequately capture social media, which often gives a sense of what is happening on campus. When a student posted a particularly stunning photo of a rainbow over campus on Instagram in 2013, for instance, Green reached out to her to see if he could get a copy for the Archives.

“We have to preserve things that happen, whether good or bad,” says Casper. Their goal is to create an electronic repository to help record the College’s website, social media and other electronic records.

Of all the interesting items they do have, Casper’s favorite is a journal called The Chronicles, a beautifully hand-scripted, daily log from 1934-1964 that tells the story of Stonehill—from when the Congregation of Holy Cross first moved to Easton until a restructuring of governance allowed laypeople to have a presence on the College’s Board of Trustees and in other high level roles.

Green’s favorite item is a clay pipe that was discovered during an archaeological dig and is now part of the Daily Homestead Collection, found within the College Archives. “The artifact is unique because most clay pipes, particularly the bowls, were broken after use,” says Green, who has a deep appreciation of Stonehill’s colonial history.

As for a wish list of items that they’d like to add to the Archives? For Casper it would be the first Ace the Skyhawk mascot costume, which is nowhere to be found. “I’d like to have him in the Archives,” she says. Green would like to reclaim the arrowheads that went missing after an amateur archaeological dig took place years ago.

Sprinkled around campus are several archival items and rotating exhibits such as framed athletic uniforms, photos, maps and papers. “This is important,” Casper says. “To save it and see it. It is great to have these things, but it is important for people on campus to see them.”

Future Archivists

Casper entered this field under the direction of longtime college archivist Louise Kenneally. She was an Archives volunteer for Kenneally and then, after graduation, obtained a master’s in library science from Simmons and held jobs in archives for the State of Rhode Island and Habitat for Humanity.

“In 2000, Louise sent me a Christmas card. She wrote that she was retiring and asked if I wanted to know more about the archivist position,” Casper recalls. The rest, no pun intended, is history. Just as Casper started under Kenneally, Green, who has been in his position for six years and is completing a master’s in history at UMass Boston, started under Casper as a work-study and intern. They both are fully committed to continuing this mentoring tradition.

“We want to help students who are interested in careers in history. Working here impacts them,” says Green of the department’s five work-studies and eight interns. Casper notes, “We’ve had students who have worked here come back and tell us how they got a job with a historical society, archives or a museum. Being able to have a student learn this field is one of the ways that we contribute to the educational mission of Stonehill.”

Taking it Personally

For Casper and Green, it is a privilege to maintain the College’s Archives, and they believe this stems from the fact that they were students here. “I was a commuter as a student, but I had such a great experience at Stonehill and interning and work-studying in the Archives,” explains Green.

Casper says that she has now spent almost half her life at Stonehill. “Because I was a student here, I have more of a connection than just being an archivist for a fun collection.”

A feeling of nostalgia also surfaces from time to time. “My application and essay to Stonehill came in recently to be filed,” says Green. “It was like finding a letter to my future self.”

When Casper was once preparing photos to display for Reunion, she pulled out pictures from 1995—her own class year—and found an image of her father in a graduation photo. “It was a great crowd shot, and there was my dad waiting for me to process down the stairs!” She’s also found documents with her name on them. “That wouldn’t happen at another job. Here, I’m actually part of the archival record.” That’s the thing, Casper says: “When you start digging, you never know what you are going to find.”