CGP Community Stories

Wayne Wright, November 18, 2009

Title

Wayne Wright, November 18, 2009

Subject

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Cooperstown, NY
Oneonta, NY
New York State Historical Association
New York State Historical Association Library
State University of New York at Oneonta
State University of New York at Albany
History Museum Studies
American Folklife
Genealogy
Thornton Burgess
Family life
Childhood
Adulthood

Description

Wayne Wright is the Associate Director for the New York State Historical Association Library. He was born in Oneonta, New York and has lived there his entire life. Wayne grew up in a typical American family during the 1950s. During his childhood his mother introduced him to the public library and his love of books grew from there.
Attending the State University of New York at Oneonta he obtained a Bachelors Degree in English and later a Masters Degree in English. During his second Masters program in Library Science from the State University of New York at Albany he was drafted into the Vietnam War. After the war he obtained his second Masters Degree and a few years later he obtained a temporary job at the New York State Historical Association, which he later obtained a permanent position there.
For 32 years Wayne has worked with and helped with many NYSHA patrons from genealogy researchers to the Cooperstown Graduate Program students. In the interview Wayne talks about his various experiences at the NYSHA Library over the years. He also discusses his activities outside of the library as well as the places he enjoys visiting in the local area. Wayne enjoys his job at the NYSAH Library and this interview tells us why he loves the job.

Creator

John Lor

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2009-11-18

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mp3
27.5MB
audio/mp3
27.5MB
audio/mp3
19.1MB
image/jpeg
455x369 pixels

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

10-088

Coverage

Oneonta, NY
Upstate New York

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

John Lor

Interviewee

Wayne W. Wright

Location

NYSHA Library
Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

JL = John Lor
WW = Wayne W. Wright

[START OF TRACK 1, 00:00]
JL:
This is November 18, 2009 the interview of Wayne Wright by John Lor for the Cooperstown Graduate Program Research and Fieldwork course recorded at the NYSHA Library in the Conference Room.
Wayne, will you describe your childhood home?
WW:
I grew up in Oneonta, NY which is 35 minutes from here driving. I grew up in the 1950s, it was a great time to grow up, a lot of things have changed since then. Oneonta was just the right place, it is big enough to have things to do but small enough for a small town atmosphere. I always had friends to play with in the neighborhood, books to read, a library to go to, always having clubs, playing in the backyard, and things like that; I had a good childhood.
JL:
Do you have siblings who you grew up with?
WW:
I have one sister. Back then you had mothers as stay at home moms and fathers who worked. No dysfunctional families like there are now so it was a good growing up experience.
JL:
What did your father do for a living?
WW:
He worked for what we call now NYSEG which we called the Gas and Electric Heat. He could fix anything and so he was always fixing our toys and anything.
JL:
What were some important lessons that your parents taught you?
WW:
Honesty, self-confidence by experiencing lots of different things in stories, literature, art, making things, for a well rounded education so that there would be things to choose from. They were good at letting you figure out what you liked in yourself and then encouraged you in it.
JL:
What did you find you liked as a child?
WW:
I always liked books and stories. I remember my mother taking me to the library. The first time I checked out books on her library card and then I soon got my own so I and I was always checking out books. That’s probably where I got the idea that someday I would be a librarian. Although that was not my first idea. In school I was good at English and I thought that I would be an English teacher. I did go to college to become an English Teacher. I went to SUNY Oneonta. I got a Bachelors Degree and certification to teach High School English. I went on to get a Masters Degree in English also from SUNY Oneonta, which the program is not offered anymore.
JL:
How did you get to the NYSHA Library?
WW:
It seemed like it was a long circuitous route to get here. I was completing my Masters Degree in English at SUNY Oneonta during the Vietnam War Era. I had been drafted as soon as I completed my B.A. but I had a deferment to go to Graduate School not thinking that as soon as it was up they would want me to serve. I was scheduled to take the final exam for Masters Degree which was scheduled twice a year and it was to be that Fall as an all day test. All of a sudden I got this letter saying I was being drafted into the U.S. Army and that was before I was to take the exam so I had to forget it for two years while I was serving.
[TRACK 1, 04:56]
WW:
Not my favorite thing but I didn’t go to Vietnam but I went to Berlin, Germany. During that time I tried hard to continue the readings for the exam and when I got out I made it a full-time job studying for this thing because it was now two years since I completed my courses and I thought I would forget everything that I ever knew. I studied really hard and I did really well. And then, “where to find a job?” I did student teaching at Schenevus School (shows picture of self in front of school) in the school library. That was my first library job. When I was in the Army I managed to work in a library by the end. So I had some references to work in a library school. I used the G.I. Bill to go back to graduate school this time at SUNY Albany and got a Library Science degree thinking that I would be in a school library. I did end up in a school library but it was not the type of school that I thought. I thought that I would be in a public school. It took me several years after I got my degree before I got a position here. The man who lived next door to me worked for the employment office and he told me the New York State Historical Association has positions open. At the time they had a program called CETA (Comprehensive Education Training Act) that provided money for organizations to hire people who needed work experience. It was more for people who didn’t have funds or income. I wasn’t poor or destitute. They did not ask me how much money I had in the bank. I came up to NYSHA and applied and they hired me to work with the Cooperstown Graduate Program indexing student projects and thesis. I started working here as a temporary job. You were supposed to be looking for a permanent position while you were getting this training. I am the only one still at NYSHA, the only one to stay on when the program ended. I managed to get a permanent position. (Shows a picture of Evelyn Baron). She was at the front desk, she would be what JoAnn and Sarah are now. They asked her to become the secretary of the graduate program leaving the position at the desk open. The head of the library at the time, Wendell Tripp asked me to stay on permanently.
JL:
What is your current position at the library?
WW:
I am the Associate Director of the library dealing with public services. When I started I was the front desk person and then I did cataloging for many years. I do like working with the public, the graduate students, and the program that we do. It amazes me when I think about it that when I started college I didn’t know what in the world I was going to do to end up running a state-wide library with such great sources and in a great educational institution. I’m surprised (laughing) that it happened this way and I am very pleased of the way it has turned out.
[TRACK 1, 09:40]
JL:
How has being attached to CGP enhance your employment?
WW:
Of course it got me in here in the first place. When I started it was called the Cooperstown Graduate Programs, there were three programs. There was Art Conservation where students were learning to conserve works of art. There was American Folk Culture and History Museum Studies. The one I was involved with the most was American Folk Culture. I was indexing the folklore that they gathered in interviews like this interview and saved tapes and saved transcripts. They needed someone to index the material so I indexed it. I learned how to microfilm the written part. I would sit in a darkroom [laughter] all day microfilming paper which was kind of boring but I really got interested in the folklore. I thought that, that was a very interesting program. In some ways I wish it was still here because I thought it was intellectually challenging. It was something that I learned a lot about from working here. That program was headed by Dr. Bruce Buckley (shows a photograph of him) he was the head of the Cooperstown Graduate Programs, at least the History Museum Studies and the American Folk Culture, not the Art Conservation they had a separate faculty. Dr. Buckley’s main focus was American Folklore which was broader than what I thought folklore was. I thought folklore was stories about Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and things. But it was broader, it was anything that was handed down from one generation to another. It could be stories, song, sayings, crafts, how to make things which could be anything, could be fences, buildings, paintings. It was interesting. I enjoyed being around the students that were studying it and learning a lot about it. I did get the feeling from the beginning, though, that Dr. Buckley was worried that the program would be coming to an end. I think that he sort of helped fulfill his own fear. There weren’t necessarily jobs for folklorists. You know when you graduate from it what do you do? I mean there aren’t really that many folklore jobs. Some of the students would take some of the museum classes so that they have some credentials to work in museums. History Museum Studies people weren’t exactly happy with that because they would be taking some of the museum jobs. I think interest in folk culture was kind of the wanes of these things. They rise in popularity and then they go down. Eventually SUNY Oneonta cancelled the folklore program. That’s when Dr. Buckley left and Porter became head of the graduate program and Evelyn Barron became his secretary and that’s when the position opened up for me. So the cancellation of the program, although I was sorry to see it go, did help me to get in permanently. I certainly enjoyed working with the students throughout all of these years. I learned a lot from them. I like to see them all blossoming in their field and going on to careers in museum work and history work. So that has been a particularly rewarding part of this I think.
JL:
What year did the Folk Art program shut down?
WW:
1982 or 3. I was working for CGP indexing for maybe a couple of years and then I got in permanently. It was shortly after that, that the Art Conservation program moved away. It still exists in Buffalo but is not run in Cooperstown anymore. The program is now just History Museum Studies. When I started it was a one-year program. They had to learn everything that they could in one year. They were doing a lot of folklore stuff, interviews and a lot of things. There was a lot to learn in just a year. They would have a summer doing an internship and then it was done. I think that it has made it better when it became a two-year program. It kind of gradually became a two-year program. It went to a year and a half and students would leave at the end of December with an option of staying on a fourth semester if they wanted to finish their thesis but most of them didn’t.
[TRACK 1, 14:59]
WW:
It went from a one-year program to one and a half and then eventually students started staying on for a fourth semester and now they all do which is completely two years which I think s better. Although it must certainly cost more for each student but I think they are better prepared when they leave here. We get to know them better because they are here for two years.
JL:
Do you find that students being here longs helps enhance their thought processes when they go to do their research for their thesis?
WW:
I think so, we’ve commented about what the students are like when the come back after their summer internship and they always seem more professional. They always seem like they are ready to start a career. I think they have matured by the experiences there and the internship because the second year students are always at another level. It always amazes us how that happens, but it does.
JL:
Do you look forward to the second years coming back and the first years coming in every Fall?
WW:
Of course I dread it every Fall because I can’t take another new class because I like the other ones that left so how could I like the new one. But then the new one gets here and we always like them just as much as the ones that left. I do look forward to them coming back. For a library like this, which is really a historical association library, to have the added responsibility of running a college library as well it is a challenge. Although we like our students, we don’t like it when they go away we need the time in the Summer when they’re gone to catch up on doing all the things that we didn’t have the chance to do because we were too busy working with them. The breaks are needed for us but that makes us glad when we come back too.
JL:
Without the conservation and folklore program do you think CGP has grown since they are no longer part of this one?
WW:
I think it is an even better and more nationally known program. I think the students are prepared better because it is two years. In some ways we miss the folklore because I think that was a valid field of study. I’m glad the program is picking up on some of those techniques like this interview. I mean they are doing some of the folklore things again. I think the art conservation was so completely separate from the others that although it was a really great program that was needed and had a good reputation. We didn’t necessarily miss it as much. Those students didn’t fit into the life here because they were so connected to their Chemistry lab over at their building that we didn’t see them much. After they did their first semester’s reserve readings they would spend all the rest of their time in the lab and we didn’t see them. Even though it was an important program it wasn’t that noticed when it left. I am not sure the folk program - I just was really interested in it so in some was I miss it but I think that it is probably strengthen the whole thing to concentrate on one. I think one difficulty the program has now is that there are more programs offering museum courses to compete with. I think when it started it was the only one. So it has more competition but because it specializes in a more general field then some it still attracts very qualified candidates to the program. So we get some really good students. It’s impressive to see the credentials they have when they come here. I think in lots of ways the changes have been for the better.
JL:
Do you think incoming students seem to have a broader background or experience than students that came before them or is it about the same every year?
WW:
I think they have some very good experiences. I do think that some of the students that we get now are younger than they were before. It’s amazing how much experience that they have even though some of them are barely out of undergrad and somehow they managed to get experience in there before they came. They were not right out of college. More of them were people who had been in the field somehow and wanted the credential, the degree. I am impressed by the credentials that they come with even though they do not have as much experience as they use to have.
JL:
Does that affect the energy of CGP?
WW:
Youth always has energy, so I guess it does. When I started I felt that I was a contemporary of the students so I did more things with them, social things. Things that they were doing I would get involved with because I was more their age. Now I’m not as old as their grandparents yet but I certainly older or as old as their parents so in that way it’s changed for me. I do see a lot of energy in the youth of the students now.
JL:
Did you know any of the founders of CGP personally?
WW:
Yes, I knew the founder Louis C. Jones. It was his idea to work with some educational institution and have NYSHA partner with someone like State University of Oneonta to run the graduate program. It was his effort that got the program started. He was the director of the New York State Historical Association for decades. We look back to his period of the Golden Age of NYSHA, there is always a Golden Age in the background and his period was it. He brought a great deal to this organization because he ha interests of his own. He was very interested in folklore, folk art, he was very interested in folk art. He was interested in lots of things like murders, crime, and literature, all kinds of things and he brought that to the program, to NYSHA and kind of changed the direction in some ways. When it started NYSHA’s focus was the French and Indian War and it started in Upstate New York in Ticonderoga. That was their interest, colonial period. When he got here to Cooperstown and he became the director he took it in another direction and that has impacted the Fenimore Art Museum with it’s great art collections. It’s impacted the Farmers’ Musems with the Village Crossroads and all of the things that they do with showing the life in the 19th Century. I admired Louis Jones he was a very good person. he was teaching in the graduate program when I came. He was retired as director of the program but he was teaching folk art and he was still a big force in NYSHA and well respected. One of the things that I remember about Louis Jones in particular was how much he knew his staff. I remember finding out that he knew who I was even though I was just a temporary CETA employee. The story that I remember is that I had Great Aunt who was elderly and she was going to have to go into an assisted living home and we were planning to have her live at Woodside Hall which is an adult home here in Cooperstown. I was worried how she was going to make the transition. I must have expressed my concern somehow to someone. Louis Jones found out it and I was working over at the White House where the graduate headquarters was at the time in my little office, if you can call it that, was on the third floor in the hallway where I sat with my typewriter. I saw somebody coming up the stairs and it was Louis Jones and he came up particularity to see me because he heard about my concern and he wanted to tell me that he had an Aunt who lived at Woodside Hall and it was a very good place and he wouldn’t have his family member there if he didn’t think that it was good. So he didn’t think that I should be concerned. I thought, I didn’t even know Louis Jones knew who I was let alone what I was thinking about so I was impressed by Louis Jones. IN working with the NYSHA Archives later I’ve seen letters he wrote on behalf of staff members and ways that I think he cared about people. I think that is something that - because the size that NYSHA has come to be that I think we have lost some of the caring that we had then. That’s what I remember about Louis Jones. Another thing that I remember is that would like to go on these trips to learn about folk art and folklore in other countries. He took a trip to England and he knew I was interested in children’s book, in particular in rabbits in children’s books. He went to Beatrice Potter’s house, she wrote the story of Petter Rabbit, and he sent me a postcard from England and I remember “Gee does he send a postcard to all of his staff and how did he even know that I was even interested in children’s books with rabbits?” I just realized how much he paid attention to his staff. Maybe the staff was smaller and he could but there were certainly a lot of other staff members that he knew better than me and I was impressed. He would be the major figure that I would remember. People like [Minor Wine] Thomas who was the Director, Fred Rath, Virginia Partridge who was the head of spinning and weaving at the Farmer’s Museum and she was really an expert. Wendell Tripp who was the one who had hired me. He knew everything about history and he was the editor of our magazine, New York History, and he wanted that to be quality and he wasn’t satisfied unless the articles were pretty perfect that he published. To me people like that were what made the organization to be great because they wanted everything to be top notch. Some people seem to live on by reputation, people who were even gone before I got here. The librarian Dorothy Barck, i never knew Dorothy Barck but a lot of people talked about her and she seemed to be a great librarian here. I see the results of some of her work here and realize how she would with very little staff did a great deal to run the library. It’s great to know about people like that, they’re inspiration to you while you’re trying to do your work. There were some hardworking people like Bruce Reinholdt in the Education Department. Bruce MacLeish, Curator of Collections, they worked really hard with little staff. The staff is much bigger now than it was when I started here. These people did the work of what several people are doing now. It was just inspiring to work with all of these people.
JL:
You have mentioned that Louis Jones liked to go on trips. I heard that you like to go on a bike trip every year.
WW:
[Laughter] I do, do some things besides work here at the library. I do go on a bicycle trip. My church in Oneonta sponsors an annual trip, it’s mostly teenagers that go. I don’t know why I go, I guess - but they always want me to go so I’ve been doing that for - I’ve gone on 26 trips. We go to various places in the state and sometimes we even go to other states. Last Summer we went to Vermont. It’s a pretty big group. It’s about a hundred people and it’s well run, it has to be when you are taking that many people on a bicycle trip. The leaders have been doing it so long that the know what they’re doing they know to get campsites, how to keep people safe on roads, divide into small groups so that you don’t have a big string of bikes on roads, how to find roads that are not as well travelled. It certainly a very different thing than what I do. The main purpose besides a fun thing is it has a spiritual emphasis because it is a church run group so it tries to encourage kids there. It tries to just work with kids and help them to know that people care
[END OF TRACK 1, 30:00]
[START OF TRACK 2, 00:00]
WW:
...about them and to encourage them in their own growth. That’s another thing that I feel strongly about is helping young people grow into good adults. I have myself worked with a program of boys longer than I’ve worked here. Our church has a boys program that meets once a week and we have games and crafts and stories. I’ve got other men that work with me and it’s purpose is to just help boys grow into solid men. It certainly does have a religious aspect. I do believe in following Christian principles and that’s what we try to teach them. I do, do other things than besides work here at the library. All of which I have spent a lot of time doing. I was talking about my rabbits. The other thing that I have done for years was work on a bibliography of children’s author Thornton Burgess and I did this bibliography. This was my graduate thesis. A thesis can turn into something that has a life after a thesis because I had mine published and this is the second edition that was published in 2009 and I describe the works of Thornton Burgess who wrote animal stories. He was one of my favorite authors when I was a boy and I know everything about every edition of every book he ever wrote. Like how many pages it is and who drew the pictures and all those things. There’s lots of things to do in life. With that I found something that nobody else knew anything about and you can become the expert in it if you find something that nobody knows anything else about.
JL:
Was there a common theme in Thornton Burgess’ books?
WW:
He was very interested in teaching people about wildlife and he also put a little bit of moral values into each of the stories. He tried to teach each of his readers right and wrong through reading about animal characters who sometimes did wrong and how they learned from them. He tried to teach not only about wildlife but just how to be better citizens. I guess I always appreciated that. His books have been ones that I have read since I was really small. I have always liked all kinds of children’s books.
JL:
Do you have a collection of his books?
WW:
Yes, I certainly do, a huge collection. In describing his books for my bibliography I had to see them and so I would collect them. I did see some very good collections, State Library in Albany has a good collection, the Massachusetts Audubon Society has Burgess‘ own library that I looked that. I collected a lot of them so I have most the editions of them.
JL:
Have you published any other works?
WW:
Yes, I did a history of my church which was interesting. Another one where I became the expert because I delved into it when nobody else did. I’ve done two editions of that. I’ve done some articles on genealogical research because that’s another thing that I do a lot. I trace family histories and I started doing that in college because I thought that I was going to make a chart showing my family. I never did finish the chart because it just grew - I kept finding more and more. I’ve done all the years. Sometimes you can translate these hobbies into something useful and that skill of going and doing that research came in very handy in getting my job. I think Wendell Tripp saw that I knew how to do that and I think that is one of the things customers that come to this library are looking for. They are looking for their own family roots and it’s good to have somebody on the staff who knows how to do it and can help them. So that I think is something that I brought to the position is helping people with genealogical research.
JL:
What kinds of resources are available here at the NYSHA library for genealogical research?
WW:
We got a good collection of published family genealogies which are mostly New York State families. Lots of church records, tombstone inscriptions, newspapers. One of the collections that we worked hard at building is a census collection. We tried to get all of the census records available on Upstate New York from the first federal census of 1790 up to the most recent one released. New York State also took a census besides the federal government taking one. That was an interesting story of how we collected those. When New York State took a census they left the originals with each county so each County Clerk kept the originals. So they weren’t in one place where you could get a copy. They only one that had a copy of them was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that sent fieldworkers around to the county clerks and had microfilmed them. They said that they would sell copies of microfilm if you could get permission from the original record holder cause they felt that that it was only fair that the original record holder should say whether they could copy their record or not. We wrote to every county clerk in the State of New York to try to get permission so we could buy the microfilm. It took a long time to get every county clerk to respond with a yes but we finally did and we bought all the microfilm of New York State Census to add to what we had in the federal census. So we got a really good representation of census records in one place. There aren’t too many places that have it all in one place, especially the state census. It was funny, the only county that didn’t give us permission at first was our own county Otsego County. The County Clerk didn’t want to give permission because she thought that people would come to her to look at it and she would get money to make copies. We had to wait for her term in office to be up and then as soon as it was a new County Clerk we wrote that one and said “would you give permission?” and she said “yes” because if you have the film then people can go there and look at it and people won’t be wearing out the original record looking at it over here. You’re more setup to have visitors come and look at it and we don’t make that much of an income so it won’t be that much of a lost of income from it. So she gave permission and we got that. That was one of the last ones that we got but of course being located in Otsego County that’s the one that people will want to see the most. We were very glad to get that. That’s I think one of the collections that’s really good. Of course it’s used for lots more than family genealogies. Just studying any community, looking for people, information about communities, graduate students use census records all the time when they're trying find out something about a place.
JL:
How does NYSHA serve other counties on the far sides of New York State?
WW:
I think any historical society tends to have more on the place where they are and less the farther they get away. We probably have less on Buffalo, Erie County, Northern New York State, but we have the basic books on all of the counties. What we can do is to find out where things are if we don’t own them we have ways of finding out what libraries have what, where manuscripts are. So if we don’t have something we can find out where somebody should go in other counties. So we do try to cover all counties the best we can but we we’re better on our own area.
JL:
Do those other county historical societies work effectively with NYSHA?
WW:
We do pretty well with local ones. I’ve been working hard at trying to cement relationships between NYSHA and at least Otsego County Historical Societies. I’ve been trying to have meetings with the historical societies of topics that they’re interested in trying to get them here in the library. We do the same with the municipal historians. Little by little we’re trying to work with other counties and made some connections in Chenango County. We try to serve them all but we can serve locally better. Those are the kind of people who can actually get here. I think one of the ways NYSHA reaches out to the people who can’t come here is through publications. Publish New York State history so we can reach people with New York State history by publications. Putting things on the website would be another way. Which the library has not done a lot of but we have plans to put more in. Something that’s going to happen next year we’re going to try to work with the Farmer’s Museum to try to put more documents online that people will be able to access through the website.
JL:
You’ve lived in Oneonta your whole life.
WW:
Yes.
JL:
How has that experience been?
WW:
Hard to tell what it would have been like had I done something else because I didn’t do that. So I [laughter] don’t know. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like a lot of big changes like that. When I get something I stick to it which is why I’ve been at NYSHA 32 years and working with boys for 37 years and living in Oneonta my whole life. I like the community. I don’t have a big family but I’ve got friends there and I would just find it difficult to go somewhere else. Which is why I was very fortunate to find this career nearby. So I can have a really good career without having to up root myself and go somewhere else. I never wanted to move to Cooperstown because Oneonta’s a little bigger and my activities are there but I get to experience Cooperstown during the workday and then go to another city and spend the rest of my life there.
JL:
How has Oneonta changed in your lifetime?
WW:
Oneonta really grew as a railroad town in the first part of the 20th Century. People would come from rural areas to Oneonta to work on the railroads. Immigrants would come, there’s a big Italian population. Railroad was pretty important even when I was young. The big Round House that they had was already gone but Oneonta was a big railroad center. Trains were going through all the time. When I was quite young they gave up having passenger transportation through Oneonta. You couldn’t get to ride in a train to another place anymore. Trains are still important but over the decades that has dropped off a lot, so that’s one big change. The thing that keeps Oneonta an important place now is the two colleges that we have, Hartwick College and SUNY Oneonta. If it weren’t for those we wouldn’t have all of the educational and social things that we have. Those two colleges are important to that town. And important to me because of CGP and getting me in here.
JL:
You’ve done a lot of work with CGP students. Have you met any really exceptional or memorable CGP students?
WW:
Yes, I would say so. Who would I say? A lot of them have gone off to a lot of really good careers. Sometimes I don’t exactly know where the end up or what they’re dong. They go to one place and they go to another. Brian Richards graduated a couple of years ago and got a job at a new a big baseball museum and they hired him to start it. That’s I think is unusual for someone to start right out of the program to become the head of a museum and really establishing it. Usually you have to start a a lower level and work but he started right there. I think it was because of his interest in baseball and they were looking for someone probably young that could start with them and grow with them. The ones that have a topic of interest sometimes go into something like that. David Lewis would be another one. He was handicapped, he had a crutch but that never stopped David.
[TRACK 2, 15:00]
WW:
He was very funny, he was always laughing. When I first heard him at his interview he had a voice that I thought I can’t take this I can’t listen to this everyday and then I thought I hope he doesn’t get in but he did and he was funny and he was great. His big interest was firefighting and he got a job in a firefighting museum and very successful at it. I think the ones that have a winning personality sometimes have it easier of convincing somebody that they’re good. If they’re more shy like I was - I thought I would never get a job, I don’t think I would ever be able to convince anybody that I ever knew anything. I didn’t think I knew anything so I didn’t think I would ever get a position anywhere. It took a while but I think one you get some field of expertise then you are more marketable.
JL:
Do you find that and of the current students have winning personalities?
WW:
I must say and it’s not just because John’s doing this interview but this current class, they’re all that way. Usually there’s somebody that we say I can’t wait for that person to graduate or that this class is driving me nuts. The class we have right now, I can’t pick out anybody that isn’t really fun to have around. So I think they’re all going to go somewhere. Except I don’t want them to because I want them all to stay. It is hard every year when they get ready to leave because you’ve worked with them for two years. You get to know them, they’ve become your friends and it’s hard to have them leave. I always feel like crying sometimes because your friends are going off. You’re happy for them because they’re going to start their careers and you know there’s another group coming. Every year that another group cannot take the place of this one that is leaving but the do. I should know that by now but it still feels that way every year. I am glad that is a two year program so you get to stay around longer. But that also means that you get to know them better and then it’s harder when they leave. Anyway, I am not just saying that because you’re in this class but it really is a good class.
JL:
Do you keep in touch with former students that you worked with?
WW:
I wish I did better at that. I love it when they come back to see us. We do try to keep in touch but I must admit I got on Facebook last year and I’m no technology person but I was on a technology committee and the ladies in the Development Department said you’ve gotta know Facebook. I didn’t even start looking for friends. You have to pick a couple of things you’re interested and I put Cooperstown Graduate Program as one of my things. Immediately the alumni started sending in will you be my friend will you be my friend. I’ve made so many connections with alumni in the program I’ve got lots of them. And the current students too. I mean that’s the biggest thing on my Facebook is CGP students. That was a way to reconnect with a lot of them. One that I hope to reconnect with that I wish I had kept in touch with better was Jeff Gleemister. I thought he was a really good student when he was here and I thought a lot of him and I’m not just sure where he is. I hope I can make a reconnection and be able to tell him that I miss him here and wish he is doing well but I think he is. There are certainly others like that. John Pantangelo of a few years ago and I see he’s making a success of himself. I know they’re worried when they’re graduating are they going to find a job? Are they going to be a success? Most of them are.
JL:
What were some of the more interesting thesis's that you’ve come across?
WW:
I was just saying a little while ago that some thesis seem to have a lot of life after the student is finished with it and some don’t. Silvio Hallas thesis on the History of African Americans in Cooperstown. It’s got such good information that we use it all of the time. Then there’s one by Weiist, History of the Finny Publishing Company in Cooperstown. It has a list of all of the things that were published in Cooperstown. We use it all of the time. Salvatore Cilella’s thesis on the 121st Regiment in the Civil War, we use that all the time and he’s just published that as a book. Sometimes these thesis do go on to be books. Lee Jones did one on wall stenciling and she went around and got examples of wall stencils on all old buildings all around the state. Some of which are probably torn down and lost. She preserved the stencils and that one people request every once in a while. There are some that become very useful and some their use was to get the person the degree and they don’t have a big use afterward. Those I think are more like a case study or a study of some museum. It might be helpful to that museum but it doesn’t have that big of a use beyond that. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t good or that it’s important but some just seem to have more research value than others. I think the more history oriented ones. The museum oriented ones will be more interesting too. The museum that they’re about. Sometimes upcoming students will want to see what other students have already done on museums are they’re trying to figure out what they’re going to do. Sometimes things change so fast in the museum world that they could become dated soon too. I think the thesis of students were doing museum oriented ones when I came here are probably so outdated that they wouldn’t be used now. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t good at the time.
JL:
Are you finding that thesis done in the past few years are diverse and bring in new ideas?
WW:
I think they are diverse. It suprises me the different things that people decide to do a thesis about. There was a time when it seemed like people were picking topics for thesis that we didn’t have the resources here. Those students were harder to work with because we didn’t have the things to help them. We would have to do a lot of interlibrary loan. I remember some libraries being swamped with interlibrary loan requests because we were trying to get all of this stuff that wasn’t our focus. I think we do better when they pick something that we have the material. Then we can help them. Sometimes they pick topics where they can find sources elsewhere and they don’t need us so much. The ones that pick a topic and they need to do the research here, that makes it a little harder.
JL:
What were some of those topics?
WW:
The one I’m thinking of was an ethnic group, maybe Caribbean living in the Albany area. We didn’t have anything on ethnic groups like that here. She either had to travel a lot or ask us to do a lot of interlibrary loan. Some of those things just weren’t loanable in libraries which meant she probably ended up doing a lot of traveling to get the sources she wanted. That’s the one I remember in particular.
JL:
Have you enjoyed your experience with CGP and NYSHA?
WW:
Yes, any experience has its difficulties I think but overall yes, I’ve enjoyed it. I think about my first idea of becoming an English teacher or becoming a school librarian. Well I get to work in an educational institution here. I get to be a school librarian although it’s not the kind of school I thought it would be. I never dreamed that I would be a librarian for a graduate program. That I would have that stature of a position. But the things you learn from it - sometimes I think about whether I would like to stop working or retire but if I do I’ve got make sure I’ve got a real plan because now I’ve got something that I think is worthwhile that I’m doing. I don’t want to give it up and not have something worthwhile. So that’s one thing that keeps me going that I think what I’m doing is a worthwhile thing. It gives me pleasure and I think I’m helping other people. That keeps me going because I like it. There certainly are challenges. One of the bigger challenged I had was just this year when we had to move the whole graduate program into this building. I think that was one of the most hardest things we had to do. One, because this building is full of material. I had a hard time figuring where we’re going to put more material and then all of a sudden they said you have to bring the graduate program in. That was not easy. Everyone had different ideas of how it was going to be and which rooms they had to have. Trying to keep everyone happy wasn’t easy. Trying to do the physical labor of moving everything wasn’t easy. Trying to work with the facilities crew that had to do some of the moving. It was, I think, one of the hardest things that we had to do and I think we did it pretty well. I sometimes feel badly that the program is crowded I think. We don’t have as much seating for students to sit down and work. We don’t have as much quiet space because we had to put library materials in those spaces so we could empty those rooms for the offices. I’m hoping that the current students feel that this is a good experience because I think we’re in some ways not providing what I’d like to provide to the students. We seem to be making it work and everyone seems to be coping with it well. I think it was probably harder on the second year students because they had their own building before. They didn’t have a cramped library with no place to sit down. Whereas incoming students never experienced that so they didn’t ever know what they had [laughter] before or what they lost. So the second year students handled it pretty well I think too. It has been hard. We did get a few more library aids to help us. Which I thought was going to be good but there’s a lot of work that graduate students have to do. A lot of classes and field trips so that the workers don’t always get to come and work even though they want to. They can’t always get here. I remember taking a workshop on working with volunteers and student assistants years ago. The one thing that I got out of it was that the teachers said, now remember the graduate students you have working for you, their number one priority is not shelving books in your library, it’s doing their school work so you gotta remember that. And I try to remember that so when they don’t show up to work when I think that they’re going to I keep thinking of that lady, yep I know that they’re doing something that’s more important, that’s their school work. Although I still need to get the books shelved somehow I realize why they don’t show up. I’m glad I took that little workshop because it gives me a different outlook on the students and I know what they’re going through. Even this year I’ve noticed, every year it happens, mid-October the students start to get nervous and antsy and swamped with work. It happened again this year just about the same time. I could see them beginning to get frustrated because of all of the work that they had to do. So I understand the students. It’s an exhilarating time for students I think but it isn’t easy.
JL:
Having worked with graduate students for such a long time is there any advice that you would give to brand new students when they first start off in September?
WW:
I remember sometimes they’d get all worried about their reserve readings. They’d be fighting over copies.
[END OF TRACK 2, 30:00]
[START OF TRACK 3, 00:00]
WW:
Somebody’s got this copy, I’ve gotta have it right now and my advice is: you’re going to get your copy don’t worry about it. It’s all gonna work out don’t fret stuff like that. The professors here I think are - Well it’s a small enough school so that students have a good rapport with their professors. I think professors are understanding when circumstances prevent something from happening right when they thought it should and students always get reserves in the end. It’s not just the reserves but I think even I’ve learned over time that it’s all gonna work out even when you think it’s overwhelming. I’ve seen very few students that dropped out. I don’t know if anyone’s ever failed out. A few once in a while leave for personal reasons but people get through the program even though it is tough. They can get through and so I just tell them to keep plugging away and it’s gonna work out. You’re going to get a job and there’s life after CGP. When I see graduates come in and I see students sitting there I say, students look there’s life after CGP here’s a grad here and he’s got a job and he’s having a good time. So it’s going to happen to the rest of them too.
JL:
What are some key things or sites in this area that graduate students should be sure to see in their two years?
WW:
I think probably the graduate students get out more than I do they should tell me what I should be seeing. While they’re here in this area they should all probably go to Howe Caverns and see the underground caves there. That’s not that far away. I don’t know how much used it is or how much students care about it but there is a nice butterfly conservatory in Oneonta and I think that’s fun to go there and see butterflies flying around in a nice environment. I think that would be a good place that people should see. They should probably see the Baseball Hall of Fame even they’re not interested in baseball because it’s a major museum. It employs some CGP students. It’s got good exhibits. I’m not interested baseball but even I enjoy it when I go there. I think that they need to see that and they probably do because it’s right here in town but they shouldn’t forget I don’t think. There are small historical societies around I think it would be good for students to learn about some of them. They maybe the kind of place where they might be even working when they first leave here. Students I know have helped a lot of small historical societies in their time here. Sometimes they go to CGP and ask for help and they can do projects with them. So I think that’s important. Students doing things like that, helping the community I think is a good thing for students to do.
JL:
What are some of those historical societies in the area?
WW:
The Greater Oneonta Historical Society has improved a lot over time, that’s a good one. Town of Middlefield HIstorical Association; for small community for Middlefield I think that they have a good one room schoolhouse as their building. I think that’s a good one, well run. Herkimer Historical Society in Herkimer I think is well run for a county historical society. Hanford Mills Museum, that’s a place probably everybody should go. A well run museum and a graduate of the program runs it. Small but it has something that you don’t see everywhere; a working mill and I think the ice harvesting that they do in the Winter, that’s probably a good thing to see. So Hanford Mills is a place I think everybody should go while they’re here.
JL:
What do you think of the Petrified Creatures Museum?
WW:
I don’t know that I ever sent anyone to see the Petrified Creatures. It’s probably fun.
JL:
What about Hyde Hall?
WW:
Hyde Hall is another one that they should see. Hyde Hall I feel has a changed a lot since
[TRACK 3, 05:00]
WW:
I’ve worked here. Because when I first went up to Hyde Hall and went in; the inside was nothing, it was just bare walls. I mean there was nothing to see except the inside of an old ruined building. Now they’ve - well it’s been 30 years - but they worked very, very slowly at improving the place but it’s improved a great deal and they’ve got programing there and friends of Hyde Hall do a good job so they certainly should go there. Grad helped there, done thesis on it, some of them have even worked there and that’s certainly a place you should go to. A little known place I think, I don’t think.
JL:
Are there any events in Cooperstown that students should see or participate in?
WW:
I think the students pretty much find those pretty well on their own. Probably they get involved in Winter Carnival when it comes in February. The Antiquarian Book Fair at the Clark Gym in June - some of the students are gone by then but that’s a good event. Book dealers from all over the country come. It’s a big thing and if any students are in town in June I think they ought to go there, experience that.
JL:
Anything in Oneonta?
WW:
In Oneonta the colleges have museums. There’s the Ager Museum at Hartwick College. They’ve got great galleries at SUCO in the art galleries there. The students in this program have even even done exhibits there in the past but they have great exhibits there. The Foothills Performing Arts Center’s got a lot of programs and I certainly have not been to a lot of them, I’ve been to some. But that’s a major change for Oneonta. The street where Foothills Performing Arts Center was when I was young Market Street well just its name there were a lot of feed mills and farmers would go and feed for their cattle and so on and it was not a great street I wouldn’t call it. And now they’ve transformed it with this Foothills Performing Arts Center. A very nice building there and I think we’re going to see a lot of other things happening there in the future. It’s fairly new but I think a lot of things are going to happen.
JL:
Is there a certain part of Oneonta that students should visit in order to really experience true Oneonta?
WW:
I guess the most I could say about that is sometimes you - in your own community you don’t always know how to promote the things that you’ve got right at hand and I’m not sure I know what to say for a student looking for things in Oneonta because when I go home I go there to go home not to party or be social so I don’t know what I would say there. But I do think students in this program anyway the know how to find things and I think they can find things probably better than I can down there.
JL:
What’s your favorite restaurant in Oneonta?
WW:
What would that be? Let me think. I don’t know if it’s my favorite restaurant but an interesting one is The Depot Restaurant and the reason why I think it’s interesting is because it was once the railroad station. My grandfather worked in it, he was one of the people who left the farm and came into Oneonta to work for the railroad and he was the station manager. Now the place where he worked is now a restaurant and I do like their pizza so I think the Depot is nice.
[TRACK 3, 10:00]
WW:
I liked Cathedral Farms went it was there but it has become a baseball camp [laughter]. That’s another big change in both Cooperstown and Oneonta is the baseball camps that brought a lot of change to the area with all the families that come. It’s had a lot to do with rentals, people who are visiting town. I think it’s made a bigger impact on Cooperstown then Oneonta but we do have baseball camps there as well as here. It’s got a lot to do with the rental property and so on. So that would be another change.
JL:
Does Oneonta have a claim to fame? Anybody famous come out of Oneonta? Is it known for anything in particular?
WW:
The Delaware and Hudson Railroad Round House was the largest in the world which has now been torn down. It was the largest round house in the world at the time for a period of time in the early 20th Century. There wasn’t any bigger round house because a lot of train’s work on engines was done right there. Some of the important people in Oneonta have worked hard at getting what the call the railroad shops to be there. So they built this big round house and it was like the place where maintenance would be done on trains. It was halfway between Albany and Binghamton so it was a good place. That was one claim to fame. Carleton Emmons Watkins was a major artist of Western scenes and he came from Oneonta. Ned Buntline who wrote dime novels was from Stamford which isn’t too far away. Henry Huntington who has a large museum in California, Huntington Museum. Made his fortune in railroads but he came from Oneonta. The little public library in Oneonta is called the Huntington Library. Henry Huntington has a big museum now named for him in California. He would be somebody I think that would be well known and probably got big art collections there.
JL:
Thank you very much for your time.
WW:
It was fun, I hope that my comments have been helpful. Gave me a chance for me to [laughter] think about my own life and what I’m doing and the value of it so I appreciate that. It’s been fun to talk to you.
[Recorder turns off]
[Recorder turns back on]
WW:
One more little thing that I brought today to show you was this little article on Irving’s use a American Folklore in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and why that’s important is it was the reason why I came to NYSHA and the library in the first place. I was a student at SUCO and I was doing a paper on Irving’s sources and I found out about this pamphlet at the NYSHA Library. I never heard of the NYSHA Library so I came to Cooperstown to look at it. I remember seeing how neat the shelfs were and all this wonderful stuff here. I thought this was a wonderful place how come I’ve never heard of it? I also remember that day seeing - and this was when CGP had just started and there where CGP students in the lobby here talking and chit chatting. I remember feeling, I don’t belong here and this was their library and I’m kind of an outsider. So I always tell the students that every year, make sure that our customers coming in here don’t feel like outsiders that you’re not taking all the seats and talking and make them all feel welcome too. Because I remember my own experience and I thought this was a great library and I never dreamed that I’d be here spending my life here. Shelves aren’t as neat as they were then and they’re much more full. The library had just been setup and so in proper library manner they left a certain amount of space at then of every shelf for growth. By the time I got here, which was ten years later, some of the space was being used up. It was being used up in the years we collected the most so where we weren’t gathering material that’s where the space was and where we were gathering material that’s where the space was being used up. So I’d say a lot of the years that I’ve been here have been spent shifting things. Moving things, moving so we get the space where we need it to be. Now pretty much the space is gone but this little pamphlet is why I came. I remember my looking at my notes years later that I took that day and I wrote on he top of it New York Historical Society. I thought, oh no what have I been trying to tell people all these years, the name of this place is the New York State Historical Association and even I wrote it down because people get the name and this organization wrong all the time. New York Historical Society they confuse us with the New York Historical Society in New York. They think we’re a state-run organization because we have the word state in our name. I remember one time some man said I’m going to write the governor and tell him what good service I had here. I thought that’s nice but it’s not going to do me any good [laughter]. At one time someone was even going to complain to the governor but you can complain to him but he’s probably not gonna do anything since we’re not state-run at all. We try to collect material on the state’s history but we aren’t run b the state of New York. That’s a misconception that I don’t think we can get away from. People always felt that we were state-run. The only state money we get at all is the State University of Oneonta does provide a budget line for us to buy some books for the Cooperstown Graduate Program. So it’s really money for CGP, not necessarily for NYSHA but we can se it to buy books. That’s the only money we get and it’s sort of indirect it’s not like the state is giving us more because of what we are, we have to raise out own funds. I think that is another change in NYSHA over time is that we’ve had to put a lot more emphasis on fund raising. I didn’t go into library science to be a fundraiser. But you end up in today’s economics that you got to try to bring in a little bit of income to help out. Which is why we now have to charge people to come in here even. Not that we get a lot but we do get some people who do like to become members because they can come in for free. I think there’s more emphasis on trying to get people here to use what we have. When I first came here we didn’t worry whether people came here or not. Our goal was to collect the material and save it. If people used it, fine but we weren’t worried if they did or not. It was great if they did but we didn’t have public programing. We didn’t do things to try to encourage people to come but we didn’t need to. Because economic were okay we didn’t have to do that but now you have to work at it a little harder to try to keep an income to keep going. But times were different the and the Clark Foundation could take what your deficit was every year and say, here, and they’d write a check to cover it so that you didn’t have the problem but it’s just not the same anymore. They can’t just do it that way and so we do have to come up with a lot more money on our own which is why we have to have the Development Department and the Marketing Department to try to help with the income. I would say that’s one of the bigger changes in NYSHA. Of course we have more staff so it costs more to run it. It was a little more low key, a little more hometown, a little more - I wouldn’t call it a sleepy historical society but it certainly didn’t have all of the programing, everything that we have now to try to get people to come. You didn’t change exhibits all the time in the museum. You put out your good Folk Art collection and you expect people to come and look at it and the exhibits would stay the same always. You would always have the same things up. You can’t do that anymore, you have to keep changing the exhibits in order to get people to keep coming back and paying money to come again. Which in some ways is good because we’ve got a lot more things to offer. But it certainly a change that’s happened over time. Anyway, all that from this little pamphlet that brought me here in the first place.
JL:
When you looked into Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow did you discover any truths in his story? Because where I live in Columbia County the town of Kinderhook nearby and their school district is called the Ichabod Crane School District. The county historical society has a house there called the Lukyas Van Allen Homestead which is supposedly the home that inspired the Van Tassel home in the book.
WW:
I certainly don’t consider myself an Irving expert because we deal more with James Fenimore Cooper here. But next month, December 2009, is the 200th Anniversary of Irving’s History of New York by Diedrich Knickerbocker and I’ve been reading some excerpts from it and that is just as good and just as funny as it was when he wrote it I think. A lot of - especially humor gets dated but Irving is just as good as he ever was. His characters like Ichabod Crane; people still love Ichabod Crane, Rip Van Winkle, I just think Irving was just a really good author. His works have stood the test of time. Of course a lot of other authors have come along since so he might not be quite as up there as he once was because he’s got more competition but he’s still a pretty important figure in American Literature I think. Just reading the History of New York and the way he poked fun at the early Dutch, it was just - I just like it very much so I appreciate his works. I think he was a very interesting person himself. I mean some of these people you read about and you feel you know them and you like them. I think he was one of those very likable person that was just a - people were attracted to him because of his wit and his humor - just a fun person to be around. Certainly had his difficulties too like everybody but overall I think he was somebody that we’d all like to know.
JL:
Who are your other favorite authors?
WW:
Of course Thornton Burgess. Thornton Burgess wrote his animal stories for his son to begin with. He had a difficult time with his son, his son was - well Burgess’ wife died when the boy was very young - it’s hard for Burgess trying to bring up this boy by himself and have a career. The boy was strong willed and he didn’t get along with Burgess’ second wife who was his step mother. It was kind of sad to see that he wanted to have a relationship with his son he wrote the stories for and it was problematic for him for many years. He’s another one when you begin to research him you begin to feel like yo know him and I think Thornton Burgess was a very kindly man and a gentle man - somebody you’d like. He had feelings - I’d read his diaries and know about his heartaches but he overcame them all. He was very successful, he was very prolific and a very known author in the beginning of the 20th Century. He was very popular, everybody knew who he was. We don’t know who he was now necessarily although his books are all still in print. But you get to know these people when you delve into their lives. That’s the other thing I like to do about genealogical research. I’m so surprised about what you can learn about people that lived a long time ago that you probably never heard about before you get into it. You can learn about so many different things about people. It’s surprising how many records have been left behind that can tell you about things but there’s always something more you want to know. The more you find the more questions there are so you can never know everything that you want to know.
[TRACK 3, 15:00]
WW:
You can’t bring back the past. Even museum’s can’t quite do that. I know the Farmers’ Museum in their Village Crossroads - it can’t exactly be 1845 again, it can only give you the idea of it and try to give you the feel of it but it can’t be 1845 again it’s gone as much as they try. But museums do a good job at making us aware of what life was like and I feel sorry for kids who say, why should we learn history, history is boring, why should we learn it. I think you have to know about your heritage you have to know how you got to be where you are and what happened. It’s just part of being a good citizen I think to know something, you don’t have to be all a history major or read history everyday but I think you ned to know something your past and I think that’s why history’s important and why I think museums are important and that’s why the work at the Cooperstown Graduate Program is important because it’s producing people that are going to help others learn about their past.
JL:
Do you have any thoughts or ideas on how to make history more engaging to younger children?
WW:
I think history is a story. I think if it can be done - make it enjoyable, make it a story out of it instead of making it something boring that they have to slog through. The stories of people’s lives is very interesting. I think if we did a little more of that. Learning more about people and the things they felt and the things they went through. There’s all kinds of ways you can do it, dramas. But I think it’s basically a story that’s interesting - you just have to make it interesting for people.
JL:
Thank you again.
WW:
Thank you, thank you for listening.
[END OF TRACK 3, 20:53]

Duration

30:00
30:00
20:53

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Files

Citation

John Lor, “Wayne Wright, November 18, 2009,” CGP Community Stories, accessed September 19, 2018, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/40.