Sunday, May 22, 2011

Preserving and Presenting the Past

I know a guy who just spent all of his non-working hours for the past several months scanning and posting the pages of his high school's yearbooks. Why would anyone pursue such a possibly pointless activity? Was it for money? Community or professional recognition? Ego? A tribute to fellow classmates of yesteryear?

I'm guessing that several of those reasons are valid, at least in part. But I think that it's more likely that the main reason was because he thought it was worthwhile to guarantee that  the memories of all of those young people would be kept alive and that anyone who might be interested in looking for this boy or that girl would be rewarded for their efforts.

I appreciate his work partly because I'm involved in the results. He didn't scan my photo as he limited himself to seniors in each yearbook. But he did scan some pages of the yearbook that I was in when I was 13 years old. I attended 7th grade at Northfield High School and I still have a copy of the 1965 Norhian. It was the first yearbook that I ever saw and it evoked a quasi-sacred aura in my young mind. Since three of our four children attended NHS, they're included as well, 2001 and 2003.

Recently, I completed a project of similar length and complication that might also seem overdone to some folks. In 2009 I discovered a couple of shoeboxes filled with correspondence between my parents during the 18 months of courtship just prior to their marriage in 1950. During that time they graduated from St. Olaf College, my Mom taught school in Spirit Lake, Iowa and my Dad graduated from seminary. Their letters detailed not only the strong feelings that they had for each other, but the many arrangements that were necessary to allow them to meet each other as often as possible given the geographic challenges of their frequent separations.

I decided to prepare a book of their letters so that I could make copies and share them with family and friends. (Don't be alarmed: I removed a couple of letters that I felt were too intimate to publish. The rest are quite tame and often extremely funny.) I read all 150 letters three times and spent hours at a copier reproducing the letters and envelopes to get them ready to present to a printer for publication. The finished product was a smashing success in my opinion and my family responded favorably as well. My only disappointment was that there were two periods when I  had just one side of the conversation. The answering letters from the other party were missing. At any rate, I felt a deep satisfaction at having assured the survival of these priceless exchanges between my parents for the benefit and enjoyment of their descendants.

By the way, my friend's name is Tim Freeland and the fruits of his labors can be found on Facebook here: Norhian scans. Do yourself a favor and check it out. Oh yeah, and surprising personal postscript: last week I found my partents' missing letters! Not sure what, if anything, I'm going to do about it. Probably just read and enjoy them.


  1. I didn't know about your project, Dan. What a gift for your family members and for future generations! It's eerie how things turn up when you least expect it. I wish I had more letters - although, it's possible they will turn up in my dad's collection of Riggs family materials.

  2. Joy,
    I didn't know I had a project, that was part of the weirdness of the activity. I opened up the two boxes and all of this stuff tumbled out. I had many energetic discussions with my children and siblings about whether it was OK to publish the letters. I thought that it would be a great thing to do, I still do, and now, the rest of the family agrees with me. Whew!