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
"I think it's one of the most important legacies
we're leaving for the future out of the Sesquicentennial,"
"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
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
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
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
"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."