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HISTORY KEEPERS OF CSU
by Kate Hawthorne Jeracki
How do you keep the history of an evolving institution like Colorado State University alive? Through scholarship, according to James Hansen, professor emeritus of history.
His first book, published in 1977, had been planned to celebrate CSU’s centennial in 1970. But when Hansen arrived that year, he had no archives to work with.
“No one had ever collected any records documenting the history of the University,” he recalls.
So, before he could write about the first 100 years of CSU, Hansen had to collect it. Armed with a memo from President Ray Chamberlain, he went from college to department, filling cardboard boxes. By the time Hansen had enough material for his book, he had also established a firm foundation for the University Archives – and made the case for hiring a professional to oversee it.
Hansen retired from teaching in 2002, but the next year President Al Yates convinced him that Democracy’s College needed an update. Democracy’s University was published in 2007, 10 years after the deadly Spring Creek Flood washed away original one-of-a-kind materials stored in ground-floor offices.
“We learned some important lessons from the flood,” says Gordon “Hap” Hazard, who volunteers sorting and cataloging photographs. “We had just received a donation that allowed us to move the periodicals section and the Archives to the second floor. But if they had still been stored in the basement, they would have been gone too.”
Hazard draws on his more than 40 years at CSU – he started as a business student in 1974 – to identify images of campus. Hazard and Hansen are combining their expertise for a third volume of CSU history, to be published by the end of the year. CSU’s Sense of Place: A Campus History of Colorado’s Land-Grant University focuses on how the evolution from land-grant college to research institution can be traced through its buildings.
More than buildings, it’s people who shape history and culture. Bob Zimdahl, professor emeritus of agricultural sciences, has been capturing their stories through interviews with retired CSU faculty and staff – 51 are now on file.
Zimdahl was inspired to start collecting oral histories after a chance meeting in 2009 with George Splittgerber, professor emeritus of chemistry, who was then 90 years old.
“George had been at CSU since 1943, so I asked him, ‘Has anyone ever asked you to tell your story?’ He said no, and I thought, ‘That’s a shame, because here’s one of the people who created this institution.”
Although Zimdahl, now 81, has recently decided to retire again, the collecting will continue, with support from the Office of the President.