By Henri Gendreau
On Monday, Jan. 28, five people gathered in Tom Stamps living room for the first official meeting of the Gambier Historical Society.
Professor of Philosophy Juan De Pascuale had originally conceived the idea for a society in the hopes of keeping Gambiers past alive. The road to this first meeting began last December when De Pascuale contacted Stamp, College historian and keeper of Kenyonia and Mayor Kirk Emmert to see if such a body could be formed.
I thought maybe we need to intercede, or somebody needs to intercede, into the communal life of Gambier in order to try to create a sense of history and remember the past and keep it alive, so to speak, De Pascuale said.
Made up of Stamp, Emmert, De Pascuale, retired Professor of Psychology Chuck Rice and Faculty Grants and Fellowships Coordinator Jami Peelle, the Society hopes to kick off its first major project by the summer: to conduct oral histories of some of Gambiers elderly residents.
Weve had a number of deaths recently of older members of the community that we know had great storehouses of information about the Village in their heads, Stamp said. It would be nice to download as much of that as we can from anyone who is interested in telling us about life in Gambier in the past.
The group also discussed the Colleges proposal to demolish the Craft Center, the former home of John Crowe Ransom.
The importance of preserving history is nothing new to De Pascuale. As chair of the department of philosophy, he realized that few people knew its history, even though the department has produced and fostered famed professors and alumni including William Gass 47 and E.L. Doctorow 52. He decided to collect materials to highlight some of the departments notable figures and display the materials in Ascension Hall.
Ironically, it took a Hispanic from New York City to preserve the history of the Episcopal school, said De Pascuale, who was born in Argentina and raised in Brooklyn.
The idea of extending this project to the Village of Gambier came to De Pascuale in the midst of some winter blues. In particular during Christmas time is when I think about life and death and passage of time and all that kind of stuff, De Pascuale said. I was sitting at my desk and I started thinking that the history of Gambier and Kenyon is sort of disappearing.
De Pascuale hopes the Gambier Historical Society can not only revive that history, but keep alive the sense of community too. The idea is to try and sort of evoke the spirit of Gambier and make it alive and present and that this would have value in creating a deeper sense of community, he said. The oral history would function like a thread, connecting people, and places and things to each other.
Because Gambier has had active historical societies in the past, according to Stamp, members hope this one will have a lasting presence.
Its going to require interest on the part of people who might see the value of it, De Pascuale said. By being connected to some degree to the College there would be a greater chance of its longevity. And the College, I think, can only benefit from Gambier as a place taking on more prominence and greater visibility and greater depth in its appearance to people. So there is a mutual benefit here, obviously.
The Societys next meeting is planned for late this month, and while the date has not yet been set, the group plans on advertising the event on posters put up in the Post Office and the Village Market, as well as through an all-employee email. When asked if the Society was looking for student involvement, De Pascuale said, That would be fantastic. But I mean, getting students together is like, as they say, herding cats. He added, It would be invaluable to have student input. Youre deepening the meaning of your place. Youre contributing to the longevity and the development of the character of the place you called home for four years while you were here. I think that would interest students.
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