Oberlin Heritage Center Blog

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Celebrating 20 Years of Community Service

Monday, April 27th, 2015

By Laurie Stein (Oberlin College 2006)

The Oberlin Heritage Center was delighted that former intern Laurie Stein was able to return to her alma mater to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Community Services Work-Study Program of Oberlin College, and also to present at the Annual Meeting of the Oberlin Heritage Center on April 1, 2015. The Oberlin Heritage Center has been a community partner since the inception of the work study program.  Here we reprint Laurie’s remarks on the impact community service at the Heritage Center had on her future career path. Laurie Stein is Curator of the Lake Forest – Lake Bluff Historical Society.

First of all I want to thank the staff at the Heritage Center and Tania Boster and Beth Blissman at Oberlin College for inviting me here this week. It’s wonderful to see a lot of familiar faces and see the many steps forward taken by this organization since my time here. It’s hard to believe that in 2016 it will be ten years since I graduated from Oberlin.

The reason I’m joining you today is to celebrate the 20-year partnership between the Oberlin Heritage Center and the college’s Community Services Work-Study Program, which has been absolutely wonderful. I give it all the credit in the world for allowing me to take my study of history and hone it into a passion for interpreting the past for a public audience.

I first became connected with the Oberlin Heritage Center through a Winter Term project in my second year. I conducted research for the Ohio Historic Inventory, surveying buildings and architecture and using archives to discover their former occupants.

At the end of the three-week winter term period, I recall thinking what a shame it was that my part in the project was ending. I was just starting to become familiar with the resources and with Oberlin’s built environment and there was so much more to do! But with double majoring, playing soccer, and working to help pay my tuition, I did not realistically see how I could continue as a volunteer, at least not on a regular basis.

So I was absolutely thrilled when Pat Murphy told me that as a work study student, I could apply to continue working there during the school year through the Community Services Work-Study Program, since the Oberlin Heritage Center was one of their community partners.

BBlissman+LStein+TBoster - blog

Beth Blissman, Director of the Bonner Center for Service and Learning, Laurie Stein, and Tania Boster, Director of the Community Services Work-Study Program

This was just terrific news, that I could work to defray the cost of my attendance at school in the field that I was interested in. I think I had an inkling even then that this wasn’t just a career-building opportunity; for me this might be the career-building opportunity.

And so I continued as an intern at the Heritage Center for the rest of my time at Oberlin, including over one summer, and then after I graduated, as a Museum Fellow for a year.

It was during this time that the Oberlin Heritage Center taught me what the “public” part of public historian really meant. At first I thought that for me it meant doing research that someone else would interpret – it was what I initially considered myself best at, being the most like “writing papers,” which I had already conquered as a history major. But after that first Winter Term, I was pushed out of my comfort zone, and I worked on not just the inventory, but on any number of other projects: giving tours, docent training, special events, stuffing envelopes for membership mailings, scanning photographs, summer camps, updating the website, taking photos of gravestones at the cemetery, copyediting the annual report, demonstrating the use of stilts on the lawn in front of the schoolhouse, and much more – all things, maybe except for the stilts, that I use regularly in my current job in Lake Forest.

This was a wonderful aspect of my intern experience at the OHC, that I wasn’t just buttonholed into one project. I really got a chance to see the inner workings of a small, active history museum – a museum that had become, thanks to Pat Murphy and Mary Anne Cunningham and all of you who are here tonight, a model for other history museums across the country, including mine in Lake Forest.

All of these experiences were invaluable when I applied to graduate school, and they were invaluable in signaling that I wanted to start my career at a museum like this one, where I would be able to work closely with our interns, our board, our volunteers – where I could get to know our museum members by name and say hello to them at events – where I could help develop innovative programs and provide services to the local community. The museum where I work now, the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society, is just starting a regular internship program with our local college, Lake Forest College, and I can only hope that eventually it has a similar impact to what I was lucky enough to experience here through the Heritage Center and the Community Services Work-Study Program. Thank you.

OHC Volunteering Experience

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

William Yin

My name is William Yin and I am a volunteer at OHC. I lived in Oberlin a few years during high school and have always had an interest in history. In 2014 I graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in History. Currently I am working on my commercial pilot license out of Lorain County Regional Airport.

I started volunteering for OHC in fall 2014. My first project was to write a feature article for the World War II Memorial Garden south of Finney Chapel. The project involved photographing the memorial and research. The Oberlin College Archives helped me with my research by providing correspondence letters and photographs. I was able to dig through the abundant information and write a brief history for the War Memorial. The final product, along with some photographs, was posted on the Oberlin Heritage Center website.  (Link to World War II Memorial Feature)

My second project was transforming an old database of photographs and descriptions from an internal server to pinterest.com. Most of the the photos are taken within Oberlin City limits, documenting people, architecture and events. I learned much about the city’s history through this project. It is fascinating to see how businesses and people transform with the passing of time. I came to the realization that we are all transient beings that are just a slowed down form of light, radiating energy to our surroundings. I take pride in documenting local history and making it more accessible to the public, so that more and more people could reach out for their common past.

Oral History: Christmas Traditions

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

(Part Three of a Three-Part Holiday blog series) by Melissa Clifford, 2014 Kent State MLIS graduate student


While scouring through the oral history transcripts, I have stumbled across quite a few stories about Christmas in Oberlin’s past. To me, Christmas has always been a two-part celebration. First there is the religious celebration/observation that occurs but there is also a celebration of family and the spirit of giving. Of course, I cannot forget the fabulous decorations either! I worked at a shopping mall for six years, and during that time my favorite time of year was always the Christmas holiday. I remember being amazed at the joy people obtained by finding that perfect gift for a loved one, although there was the occasional Scrooge who seemed to be dissatisfied with everything. More than anything, though, I loved the decorations that were put up in the mall. I must admit, however, that I am glad that some Christmas decorations have gone out of fashion, I’ll let Delores Carter explain why.

 My early Christmas trees you put candles on. I remember in one of my wild exuberant Christmas moments I flew down to get a package, I bent down and my hair caught on fire. I lost my hair, my eyebrows, and my eyelashes. I was lucky—I could have lost much more. But that was an exciting experience. I haven’t seen trees with candles clipped on in many years. I don’t care if I ever do. That was a bad experience.

speaker-clip-art1–Delores Carter, January 24, 1987

Another thing I fondly remember of my childhood Christmases was the way that my brother would snoop out every single one of his presents ahead of time. He was always able to find my parents’ latest hiding place, and even if the presents were wrapped he could still tell you what the package was. In fact, even at 26 years old my brother still has an uncanny ability to “see” through wrapping paper! It is such a problem that our family has to go to extra lengths to try to surprise him because he can guess all of his gifts before he opens them. While reading transcripts I learned that peaking at Christmas presents really isn’t a new tradition at all:

 One Christmas we were at my grandparents and the cousins were there, which meant there were three boys and I was the only girl. And the doors to the din-, to the living room would shut with sliding doors here and sliding doors over on this side and we couldn’t see anything. Mother took pity on us, she let us peek through that door. Oh, I saw the doll—the baby doll I still have upstairs—and I knew it was mine. And then she felt rather guilty and she said, “Well you know, it might just belong to somebody else.” [laughter] So I had to eat my breakfast all up before we could go in and really have things around the Christmas tree. speaker-clip-art1–Stella Dickerman, January 17, 1987

As some of the other oral history interviewees described in their interviews, sometimes the best part of opening gifts is not the gift itself but the process you go through opening it. In my house my brother and I always opened our presents side by side, and sometimes he would have a few very large gifts and I would have much more smaller gifts. My husband had a much different experience because his parents always made sure that each child had the exact same amount of presents. Some families try to match up number, while some match value. Some children open their gifts at the same time, and some take turns. I found a few very interesting stories about these types of traditions that I would like to share with you.

 Usually sometimes on Christmas Eve and sometimes on Christmas that we would just have all the gifts wrapped and under the tree. That we would have sort of a ritual. Our son Bill likes to give out the gifts and one at a time so it takes a very long time. That person opens his gift and everyone admires it before another one is passed out. Sometimes it actually gets pretty tiring by the end of several hours of opening a series of gifts. But the nice thing about it is everyone tries to get gifts that they feel have meaning or something this person would particularly want. As well as fun things, like maybe bubble pipes and little children’s games that everyone gets. It seems as though everyone enjoys everyone else’s Christmas so much. Because everyone is so aware of what everyone else gets. speaker-clip-art1–Millie Arthrell, February 21, 1985


Well, one time when we got up our stockings were hanging on the top post of the chair and my sister found money in theirs. I didn’t find any and I put my stocking on and shoes and oh my shoe hurt me! I took it off and there was money in there after all. We went to my grandmother’s for Christmas and here my great-aunt had given myself and my cousin that was my age a doll that would open and shut its eyes and had a bisque body and it was jointed so it would sit up or stand. I thought, oh a nice doll, and it fell off the chair and cracked down the neck! But they fixed it with glue and my sister who liked to sew made some new clothes for it so I thought that was a wonderful doll and now my sister has it for her grandchildren. speaker-clip-art1–Mabel Brown, April 17, 1984

Much like Thanksgiving, stories of Christmas are not complete without some descriptions of food. What I have found out about Christmas dinners is that they all seem to have one element in common (and it isn’t food): family. I was pretty lucky growing up, I spent Christmas Eve at my aunt and uncle’s house where we would open up presents and have a delicious dinner. On Christmas morning, my grandparents would typically come over and we’d have another huge dinner. I had two parties in two days for Christmas! Looking back, holidays were one of the few times that my family would sit down at eat dinner together. It was difficult to get everyone in one place at the same time because both of my parents worked.  Sitting down and having a big family meal was a treat. I found a story in our interview collection that I’d like to share because I feel like it truly explains the Christmas spirit, from the idea of family, celebration, and surprise.

 And I remember particularly one year, when my cousin Earl was a Santa Claus, and whether we really didn’t recognize him, or pretended that we didn’t, I’m not sure, but that afternoon we had been to his home and had our supper there and I think that that was the first time that I had ever had pressed grapes. Now, they were not raisins; they were like pressed grapes and his mother had served them in connection with the dinner and so this was to throw us off so that we wouldn’t know, you know, and then we came on home and he followed afterwards and did his part. Another thing that was followed all the days, I think, that as long as my grandmother lived, on Christmas Eve she would always be at our house for supper and we always knew what was going to happen. The plates would always be turned over, and when we sat down at the table, we had to lift our plates up to be served and under each plate there would be a silver dollar. And that was our surprise and we were all surprised, even though we knew what was going to happen. speaker-clip-art1–Mildred Haines, November 23, 1982



SPOILER ALERT: Do not continue reading if you are a believer in Jolly Old Santa Claus!

Finally, to end this blog post I have some new information to share with you. Recently we received information from Marianne Cochran who used to own and operate the Ben Franklin Store in downtown Oberlin. She shared with us the history of Santa in Oberlin. Did you know that since 1940 only 5 different people have portrayed Santa Claus in Oberlin’s Christmas festivities? It is true and here is a summary of those gentlemen.

1940-1941: John A. Cochrane

1942-1948: John Van Bloom who started the tradition of Santa arriving via train in Oberlin

1949-1969: John Maclaughlin who was also known as Mack the Birdman due to his talking parrot Polly who would call out for Mack while children were visiting Santa.

1970: John R. Cochrane

1971-1980: Art Salo

1989-Present: John Cole as Santa along with a Mrs. Claus portrayed by Patti Brubaker

Thus concludes my holiday Oral History blog series. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed researching and writing it! Happy holidays to you and your family from all of us here at the Oberlin Heritage Center.

Kelsey’s Photo Scanning Project: Do I Know You?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Here I am organizing photos  and putting them into binders.

This is Kelsey Voit’s first blog post.

Hello everyone! My name is Kelsey Voit and I am a volunteer at OHC. I have lived in northeast Ohio all my life and have always had a deep interest in history. I like to poke fun of the fact that I live in Elyria now, since Oberlin was founded because Elyria was considered a den of sin in the 1830s. In 2012 I graduated from Ohio University with a BA in Political Science and History. Currently I am a student at Kent State University working towards a Masters degree in Museum Studies through their Library and Information Sciences program. For those of you who have read the blog, it is the same program as the great oral history transcriber, Melissa Clifford. I started volunteering at OHC back in March 2014 and have been enjoying every minute of it.

The reason you may not know I exist is because I am a basement dweller, which is more exciting than it sounds. Here in the basement of the Monroe house I am surrounded by objects, pictures, files, and people that I learn from every Wednesday I come in. And I have learned quite a bit! Learning about the history of Oberlin has become a great past time of mine and I look forward to eventually becoming a docent. A large part of my volunteer hours are spent on organizational projects that the staff of OHC simply does not have the time to get to. My first project here was preserving the museum’s pictorial history. What started out as a box of hundreds of loose photographs became an organized system of binders that told the story of OHC’s past. I should explain the process. I started this project by looking through the binders that the museum already had and just getting a feel for the pictures. These binders were organized by year and event. For example, in the 1990s the museum would put together an elaborate gingerbread house contest and this event is represented throughout the binders. After I took a look at the pictures in the binders I started organizing the loose pictures by year. This was either found by the developed date on the back of the pictures, comparing the pictures with those already in the binders, or using context clues from the content of the picture. After they were grouped by year they were organized by event. When placed in the binder it would look like a calendar that the viewer could navigate through by event (events from January in the front, December in the back etc.) After that was all said and done then the fun part began. I started to digitize photographs that were pertinent to the historical preservation of the museum itself. This means good quality photographs of people at museum-sponsored events.

This was a perfect project for me because I really did not know much about OHC when I started volunteering. Through the photo project I learned not only the events that have shaped this organization, but I learned about the people who were contributing and leading those events. I have scanned in pictures of old board meetings, of the Little Red Schoolhouse being moved to where it sits now, living history tours, parades, family fun fairs, annual meetings, and renovation projects. I had the privilege to see how the organization was born, how it changed, and the steps that were taken to make it what we see today. I had the honor of getting to know some of the people that were not only involved with OHC but truly loved it. Some of them are no longer with us and I wish I could have met them because they seem like real characters. I feel I got to know those who I was scanning in on some level because I could eventually see a picture of a large table of people from an annual meeting and pick out those I have seen before. This project did make meeting some people a little awkward because I would lead with, “Nice to finally meet you. I have scanned so many pictures of you!” Not the best way to meet someone.

Oral History: Thanksgiving Traditions

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

(Part Two of a Three-Part Holiday blog series) by Melissa Clifford, 2014 Kent State MLIS Museum Studies graduate student

*Please note that all speaker-clip-art1 icons are actually links to sound files so that you can hear our Oral History interviewees tell their own stories!*

I’ve been working on oral history digitization for over a year now. In that time, I’ve been fascinated by the stories that are contained on our small plastic cassettes and I’ve been eager to share them with others. I grew up in an age where computers were fairly common in homes and grocery stores were sure to carry the things you needed for a new recipe. Through listening to people tell their stories of growing up in Oberlin, I have learned that it wasn’t too long ago that it was common to raise your own livestock and grow your own vegetables. Along this same investigation, I’ve been looking into how holidays have changed. I’ve learned that it was probably quicker to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner in the past than it now is. You didn’t have to thaw your turkey for days, and you probably didn’t have to go to the grocery store to pick up vegetables!

My first job after college was at a research lab, and I’ll never forget that our “holiday bonus” every year was getting a frozen turkey to take home for Thanksgiving. These turkeys were literally as hard as a rock and took at least a week to thaw out before they were useful. Because I’ve never had to raise my own turkey, I wasn’t too aware of just how difficult wrangling these large birds could be. Luckily for me, Oberlin’s Oral History Project has left us with a great story of the perils of farming poultry:

We had chicken and then when Mama started raising turkeys of course we had turkey.
BT: Tell me about the turkeys that you raised.
MC: It’s an odd thing about turkeys. They look strong but they are very delicate. Mama had to give each one of them a pill to keep them from having worms. She would hold their heads and slightly press in on their neck so they had to open their mouth to breathe and then she’d put this pill down their neck. They had to be brought in when it was raining. We would go out and drive them in the brooder house. She had to keep the temperature at a certain degree all the time and you couldn’t have chickens when you had turkeys because the chickens would give the turkeys diseases and they would die. They didn’t kill the chickens but they did the turkeys. That is how we finally paid off the mortgage on the farm, with turkeys. They were very demanding though—you had to be home all the time.

speaker-clip-art1–Magdalene Cox (as interviewed by Betty Thomas), November 24, 1982


Keep reading to find out why this bird was once frightening to the town of Oberlin!

Magdalene makes me very glad that I never had to raise my own turkeys! I do remember that my Grandma was always sure to make at least one thing that each of her grandchildren liked. For example, my cousin really liked a particular biscuit and I preferred jellied cranberry sauce from a can. After we all ate our feast, we then would sit around sharing stories but it wouldn’t take too long before the adults started becoming sleepy. My mom always blamed it on the tryptophan in the meat. As she began talking about tryptophan, my thoughts often drifted like the ideas that Marion Dudley’s cousin had:

We would have family gatherings. I remember my cousin after Thanksgiving day, we were all together at that home and after dinner she came into the living room, looked around and said, “I wish I didn’t have such a sleepy bunch of relatives.” Because here was this uncle there asleep and another uncle someplace else. My father always took a nap after dinner, 15 minutes. Then he was ready to go back to work. The rest of the family, more or less of that. 

speaker-clip-art1–Marion Dudley, January 23, 1987

Since my grandparents passed away, my Thanksgiving traditions have changed quite a bit. I’ve gotten married so I have in-laws to please, my parents have moved, and my uncle and cousins have also moved. While my new Thanksgiving plans aren’t the same as what I used to experience, it is still a very special time. I think this last oral history quote I am leaving you with is the best way to describe this holiday. Millie reminds us to look past the struggle of cooking a 20-lb turkey or making a roaster full of stuffing. She best describes the reason why Thanksgiving is such a popular holiday and will continue to be a favorite for years to come.

Our Thanksgivings are something like that. They’re smaller celebrations but it’s intimate family and it’s always the same Thanksgiving dinner with the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, squash, lima beans, things that certain people say, “Don’t forget.” Also rolls and pumpkin pie. To me Thanksgiving is almost the ideal holiday. It’s a beautiful time of the year. It’s the time of harvest or beyond harvest. There is lots of good fellowship and good food without the expense and the hassle of buying and wrapping lots of gifts. This is just a wonderful family time that is very relaxed and comfortable to be together.

speaker-clip-art1–Millie Arthrell, February 21, 1985

One last thing I’d like to leave you with is a more recent story of Oberlin’s past at Thanksgiving time. It was just twelve years ago that the quiet streets of Oberlin were terrorized by a ferocious turkey. Please enjoy the following news articles that include such headlines as “Foul-tempered turkey not meant for Thanksgiving feast” and “Large turkey tormenting town residents”. Happy Thanksgiving!