by Joe Sheppard
With a little help from his friends...
Although Joe officially retired in June 2013, he remains active at LA, continuing as a contributing writer and editor for the Academy Journal. We trust you'll enjoy Shep's Place and check back often to read Joe's habitually witty, often poignant, and always insightful vignettes about life at Lawrence Academy.
What am I gonna do with all this STUFF?
Dick Jeffers sighs as he settles into his vintage swivel chair behind a vintage desk in his eponymous Heritage Center. His cohort, Paul Husted ’64, seated opposite him in matching luxe, nods in empathy. The room, in the Ansin Building, wouldn’t yet interest the producers of “Hoarders,” but it might in a couple of years.
“People just bring stuff and leave it,” Dick half-laments, standing beside a shelf full of studio-size reels of half-inch Ampex audio tape, apparently containing musical and sound-effects cues for several theatre productions—not LA’s. Where did they come from? Heads shake in tandem.
Clutter aside (though they are making progress), Dick and Paul are ideal guardians of Lawrence’s long heritage. Paul has an amazing mind for detail, as he demonstrated time and again during our recent conversations. And anyone acquainted with Dick knows that besides being an historian, he’s a collector. “I’ve always kept stuff,” he says. There’s that word again.
It has always amazed me that LA, old as it is, is only now, in the early twenty-first century, awakening to its own rich and colorful history. Pivotal to this new interest has been the establishment, in 2004, of the Whipple Archives, housed in the Jeffers Heritage Center in the Ansin building. At last the Academy has a place for everything from founders’ papers to yearbooks to one of the last surviving LA blazers.
The idea for an archive, according to Dick, was born in the early 1960s, when he and Bev lived in Bigelow Hall with Alan Whipple, then a bachelor, as the upstairs dorm master. Alan loved to talk about the school’s history, which fascinated Dick.
“I knew nothing about Lawrence Academy before I got here,” he said during a recent chat. “Things started clicking in my head when Alan mentioned that John Hancock had signed LA’s charter.”
From that moment on, as the Archive’s shelves as well as his own study at home will attest, he collected everything the school published: newspapers, alumni journals, yearbooks—“anything that came out.”
He learned the hard way never to lend his treasures to anyone, after a large collection of The Elms, the school paper for fifty years mid-century, disappeared with a colleague who had expressed an interest in reading them.
Fast-forward a few years to the early 1990s, when the Academy was preparing for its bicentennial celebration. Dick was on the committee that hired Doug Frank ’68 to write a new history of the school, a project that Alan Whipple had started but that was cut short by his sudden death in 1988. Suddenly the nascent archives had “a lot of stuff:” Monika Whipple gave all of her husband’s papers and research materials to Doug Frank and the committee. Dick, by then working in the alumni office, started researching alumni online and creating files.
“The school needs something,” he thought to himself, and he went about creating it. The archives lived a nomadic existence for several years, with Dick, Paul Husted and Larry Jaquith ’63 physically moving the files from one building to another. The wandering stopped when Ansin was built.
The Heritage Center operates on a modest budget, and has raised additional funds on its own for special projects such as the preservation of Dr. Samuel Green’s broadsides. Some of the collection has been digitized and can be viewed elsewhere on the LA website. There’s much to be done, however, and Dick and Paul can always use help.
“There are so many things that Paul and I can’t do because of time and physical constraints,” Dick explains. “For example, there is a glaring need for people to go through photographs.”
If you want to help, give Dick or Paul a call at 978-448-1596. They’re usually there on Tuesdays, but you can leave a message any time. And if you have any LA memorabilia hanging around, bring it in!
More next time, when we’ll dig around in the archives a bit. Meanwhile, if you’re in Groton on a Tuesday, stop by. There’s lots of stuff to see. And you might just be put to work!
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