by Ryan Guerrero
photography by Sara Flores
Where can you find a rare photograph of snow in La Verne, a sight so unusual that a photographer immortalized the sight as a postcard so tourists could mail it as a postcard to relatives across the country? Or how about a rare 19th century painting created by famed American marine painter William Bradford? The answer is found on the fourth floor of Wilson Library, and Ben Jenkins runs the show. Situated in an out-of-the-way location near the secret employee elevator, the University of La Verne Archives and Special Collections are home to historical material reaching into the past that document the history of the University of La Verne, city of La Verne and the Church of the Brethren. Documents, photographs and records are stacked neatly in cabinets and aisles. Beyond the perimeter fencing, students quietly study for their first round of semester exams. To the left, a clock ticks, announcing the next hour. With a burst of energy, the young Jenkins appears. “Hello,” he says in an ecstatic voice. Jenkins, a University of La Verne graduate with a history major, earned advanced degrees from the University of California, Riverside in public history. Hired fall 2016, he splits his time as the University archivist and as an assistant professor of history, teaching public history and California history. He says he has always adored the history of the institution, with its many quirky facts that pique his interest.
He is now tasked with the duties of organizing and categorizing artifacts, and training interns to digitize the University photo collection in an effort to make the archives accessible to students, faculty and the La Verne community. “We primarily aim to save stuff that’s produced at ULV for ULV, but we also have outside material as well—local newspapers that were published in the city or just Southern California in general,” he says. “Most importantly, we have documents that go all the way back to the founding of the University in 1891 when it was first known as Lordsburg College.”
Organized into more than 15 collections, the La Verne Archives tells the story of the community. “It’s such a gem to people,” says Jenkins. Photographs of the first classes and faculty, and the first Lordsburg Academy course catalog are part of the collection. Historical facts show the growth of the institution. The semester academic tuition price in 1891 was $13.50. Board was $35 a semester; dorm room rental rate was $3.50 a semester. Washing bed linens was $1.50 a semester, and fees for using the library and reading room was 50 cents. “The area that gets the most hits is our photo collection,” says Jenkins. “People really love to see what La Verne of yesteryear looked like. Miller Hall for instance, the oldest surviving building on campus, is currently going through its centennial this year.” The photograph collection can be viewed online through the archives digital collection website. “We have many photos of the original hotel building—Lordsburg College,” says Jenkins. “Those are really affecting photos—seeing how we all started under one roof. All the classes were there, all the dorms. Professors and students lived together; everything was in one place. Those are some of my favorite photographs.”
The photograph collection includes memorable moments, including campus appearances from both Cesar Chavez and Richard Nixon. “In 1990, Chavez came to speak at ULV. There’s a shot of him standing at the podium in Founders Hall Auditorium, now called Morgan Auditorium today. It’s a picture of Chavez speaking, and the podium has the ULV symbol on it, and it’s just really fascinating to me knowing that this symbol of the farm worker’s movement comes down from on high to speak at the University of La Verne,” he says. Chavez’s campus visit was widely praised by the community, and largely happened due in part because of the efforts of the ULV Latino Club.
Nixon’s visit, though, was the subject of scrutiny among school officials and the townsfolk. “We have a picture of Richard Nixon when he visited the campus in 1962,” says Jenkins.
“He was a character. Apparently, he came here to speak when he was trying to run for governor. Very quickly, after he gave his talk, he went to his car and cussed out La Verne, saying, ‘It’s a damn little town; get us the hell out of here’ to his driver. Years later, when he tried to start an institute for world affairs at La Verne, people remembered that. They said, ‘Nope, he said really bad things about La Verne,’ and he got shown the door—thanks, but no thanks.” Aside from the photograph collection, the archives boast a wide range of University materials, a Church of the Brethren collection, manuscript sources and a large collection of rare books, including historic bibles that date back to the 18th century. “We also have an impressive collection on Japanese internment during World War II,” says Jenkins. “It talks about La Verne students who were involved in trying to get Japanese-Americans out who were unjustly locked up by the American government.” These students, says Jenkins, were trying to get justice for the internees to prevent them from being imprisoned.
Another archives collection holds a series of very rare historical newspapers dating back to the 1890s. Some of these community based newspapers, like the Southern Californian and the Lordsburg Eagle, are not found elsewhere, making them La Verne exclusives. The archives also includes past issues of the Campus Times, La Verne Magazine and the now defunct University yearbook Lambda. “People are really surprised to know that La Verne ran a yearbook for almost 90 years,” Jenkins says. “It’s a great snapshot of what campus life looks like at any given time. You can see how new majors and programs evolved, what faculty looked like 30-40 years ago, and buildings as they were being built.” One volume of Lambda shows young men who attended La Verne and were called to serve in World War II. These students served across Europe and the Pacific and were celebrated for their bravery and service.
To further understand past life at ULV and in the city, Al Clark, professor of humanities, has curated the Alfred Clark Oral History Collection in the archives. The collection contains oral history interviews of students, alumni, faculty, staff and other individuals connected to the University.
“In history, there’s this thing called oral history, where we try to understand the past,” explains Jenkins, “not just by reading documents or memories by great men and women, or their biographies, but trying to sit down with people and understanding their everyday experiences. That’s what Al Clark is trying to accomplish. He’s trying to tell the history of the University through the lens of people who lived it.” Clark, who has been praised for his collection, speaks highly about his work, and why he is determined to complete it. “The collection itself is raw data,” says Clark, who has his faculty office located in the archives area. “[It is] raw historical data where I have gone out and interviewed many people. I’ve interviewed faculty, staff, administrators, trustees and people who had those roles in the past who either retired or went on to other places. I’ve also interviewed alumni with the intention of trying to get as many alumni in 10 year periods as possible so that I may have a breath of understanding at what the institution is all about.” Clark is not interested in finding about what date things occurred. Rather, he’s interested in developing an understanding of what it was like to be a student or faculty member during a particular time in history. “There’s a sense of genuineness to these interviews,” says Jenkins. They’re unedited. It’s just one man sitting down recording people’s thoughts. It’s not rehearsed, and they don’t have an idea about what’s going to be asked beforehand, or what they are going to say. That sense of genuineness really complements what we already have in the archives. It helps tell stories that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to save for future generations.”
The archives unofficially started in 1923 when Gladdys Muir, professor of Spanish, Latin and History, began collecting items for her research purposes. These items were located just under the steps of Founders Hall and would become the foundation for the modern archives. Muir began her teaching career in Latin and Spanish, but was a teacher of history from 1919 to 1948. She is the author of the “History of La Verne College,” later updated by her student, Herbert Hogan, who himself became an eminent professor of history. An archives letter that recommends Muir for the Distinguished Service Certificate of the Christian Education Commission of the Church of the Brethren General Brotherhood Board outlines her career as a “great teacher, indefatigable seeker for knowledge, provocative writer and contributor to the cause of peace.” Another key early archives contributor was E. Louise Larrick who worked as a librarian at ULV from 1935 to 1952. Critical to the founding of Hoover Library, Larrick was a hardworking woman who indexed by hand almost everything in the library and would later become an incredible asset to the archives.
The most significant leader of building the valuable archives came from Marlin Heckman, professor and librarian emeritus. Now working with the La Verne Historical Society, Heckman has a keen sense toward preserving history, and the archives flourished under his leadership. He even convinced Larrick to return as a volunteer, a post she held until 2003. “Louise went into the public education field after her stint as librarian ended in 1952,” says Heckman. “I came to the University in 1972 as librarian, and she came to volunteer with me in the ‘80s, although it did take me quite some time to convince her. At the time that she was a librarian, single women weren’t treated so well. She made roughly about $17,000 in total income from her duration as librarian. I was able to pay her $5,000 a year to work part time a couple of days a week. That really helped her social security, and she was very thankful for the opportunity.” The University Archives grew immensely during Heckman and Larrick’s time, as Heckman frequently obtained documents, artifacts and other rare materials, while Larrick indexed and sorted everything. “I just kept getting artifacts from all kinds of different places, and she would get it into the right boxes and index everything,” says Heckman. “Louise was a really big help. Even after she could not drive anymore, I would come over and pick her up to take her to the library.” Heckman and Larrick remained the best of friends until her death. It was a friendship that began when Heckman was just a small boy. “She had known my parents when they were in school,” he says. “We had a really good relationship. Between the two of us, add her 17 years to my 31, and you have quite a bit of ULV history.” Troubled times came to the archives with Heckman’s 2003 retirement. His original plan was to take a year’s leave, with the hopes of returning to the University as archivist. During Heckman’s year-long absence, the new head librarian terminated Larrick and her position. Heckman then found that his retirement plan to serve in the archives was not available. The disrupted plan was a loss for the University. Nevertheless, Heckman’s legacy at the University continues, with his being named in 2016 as one of the 125 most influential people at ULV.
“Marlin Heckman did a very fine job working in the archives,” says Clark. “Not only was he the University librarian, he also worked circulation, and on top of that collected material for the archives. He most certainly made the foundation of the archives that we have today. Many of the most important pieces were collected by him.” Heckman, described as a “fountain of wisdom” by Jenkins, gained most of the archives pieces due to his connections and his vast knowledge. “Every time we’re together, I learn something new about La Verne history,” explains Jenkins. “He also donates much, including church records that I recently picked up from his house. The University of La Verne was very lucky to have had someone as dedicated as he working in the library for more than 30 years.”
Heckman explains that many of the art artifacts located in the archives were given to him as gifts, primarily by a man in San Francisco during the 1950s. “He was from Pennsylvania originally and had bought Pennsylvania imprints at auctions and yard sales. A lot of the artifacts in the archives came from him.” Among the artifacts obtained by Heckman were the bibles that are currently on display in the library lobby. “Our collection on historic bibles is very impressive,” says Jenkins. “It’s not just the religious nature of these bibles that make them important. These bibles were used by families to record births, deaths, marriages and family history. They serve a purpose beyond religion. They allowed families to pass down information to future generations.” The archives allow 127 plus years of information to be passed down from generation to generation, something that resonates deeply in Heckman’s heart. “Stories can be told from these pages years from now,” says Heckman. “Someone will be glad to know about it.”
Heckman, a Hillcrest Homes resident, still frequently collaborates with Jenkins. “Ben has gone even further than what I could have ever imagined or hoped to do.” During Heckman’s years, it was difficult to gain access to the archives because of lack of staffing. Then, following Heckman’s retirement, they were closed for almost six years, apart from the helpful work provided by Catholic Sister Mary Dennis Peters during the mid-2000s. “Dr. Jenkins has not only made the archives professional but also publicly available,” says Clark. “He has made it his purpose to know what is there so that if a person who comes in seeking something can find it. He has scanned a lot of things, made things readily available online and has provided regular hours and services for people to come in. That’s all a part of the progression of the archives.”
Jenkins credits his success and passion to both his undergraduate studies at ULV and his internship at the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda. “I worked in the Nixon archives for a few years, and I just thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’” says Jenkins. “It put me in touch with history in a way that you just cannot gain inside the classroom. It got me thinking how history is all around us—in the buildings that we use, the books that we read, the television that we watch, and the products that we buy. I tried to see that at La Verne as well.” Says Clark, “Ben came in with an archives background. He had been trained in part as an archivist, and took these early materials obtained by Heckman, and at a very rapid pace created a very professional archive. I remember Ben in my honors class. He was a hard-working student at that time, and it was no surprise to me that he landed the archivist job that the University desperately sought. He really went on to distinguish himself at UCR in the field of public history to prepare him for work in archives and oral history. He has done a marvelous job as the University archivist.”
Alumni, faculty, students and town residents all make up the demographic for the daily and weekly visits, according to Jenkins. “It’s my job to try to make this stuff available as much as possible to the public. I’m here to service researchers, academics, students of the University and members of the faculty. Most of the time, I’ll get alumni—students who came here during the ‘50s and ‘60s—who like to see photos of themselves when they were in Miller Hall. They tend to share stories such as when they turned the stairs into a water slide and would go sliding down for fun,” chuckles Jenkins. “Alumni really like to come in and relive the good old days. I had an alumna come in earlier who donated some of her photos to the collection as well.”
Donations play a critical role in expanding the archives. “I try to reach out to people as much as possible,” says Jenkins. “My goal is to make people aware of what we have—to solicit donations not only of money, but also of historical records. I like to try to convince people that we have value—that this is worth supporting financially because our budget is limited so we truly have to stretch every cent.” Jenkins has received donations that have included rare, unique artifacts. “A few years ago, the Historical Society of Southern California donated a collection of books on the California Gold Rush. There’s a lot of journals and diaries in that collection that people kept when they were coming West to California. We were fortunate to acquire several of those, which are fascinating reads.”
The late Bill Neill, a five-time Emmy nominee and successful documentary filmmaker, donated a visual component. Neill taught in the ULV Communications Department and served as station manager for LVTV from 1988 until 1991. “Bill Neill shot footage of just about everything that occurred at La Verne including homecoming dances, alumni banquets, buildings being built, board of trustee meetings and sporting events,” says Jenkins.
“Just a few years ago, he came to me and said, ‘I want to make sure that my footage is preserved properly, and that it is available.’ He gave the archives about 80 hours of footage. He passed shortly thereafter, which was a really affecting experience. For someone to donate his life’s work, entrust that you’ll take good care of it and then to have them pass suddenly—it’s a very moving thing.” Neill’s videos are now the backbone of the archives YouTube channel.
Bill Lemon, vice president of the La Verne Historical Society, is often found on Wednesday mornings researching with Jenkins. Lemon is currently working on a timeline for all the buildings in town, which chronicles what or who occupied that space, then and now. “Who lived in the homes and who ran the businesses? We have quite a few pictures here in the archives that I’ve used to find out where some of the buildings were originally located, and what occupied that space in the past. Quite often, I’ll find documents in the archives that help me fill out the blanks,” Lemon says.
Entire classes visit the archives. “It’s very busy, especially during the first weeks of the semester,” says Jenkins. “I had a student who came in here and say to me, ‘Hey, Dr. Jenkins, I heard a rumor that Eldridge Cleaver [a leader in the Civil Rights movement] taught at La Verne for a few years.’ And he just wanted to learn more about this historic person who worked at La Verne—not for class, but for his own education.” For Jenkins, that is the goal of the archives. They allow students to dig deep through history and to help preserve the cultural relevance of the institution. “It’s the trail of history of the University,” says Heckman. “Everything since 1891 is there. You can’t tell the history without the records. More students are having access to the material, especially now with Ben’s classes. Students are learning how to properly use the archives, and what’s available to them.” Jenkins has introduced new teaching methods that encompass aspects of public history and archival studies. He hopes to guide students with a passion for history and archival studies. “I teach an archives course called Topics in Public History. It teaches students how to work with the archives, and how to take history beyond the classroom—to see it as something that we use to function in our daily lives.” He also teaches an internship course in public history, a course he deems as his most important. “The internship allows me to bring students into the archives and have them work on projects. I’ll have them make historic exhibits like the ones located downstairs in the library. I’ll also have them digitize collections to make them available online. My main goal is to give students a valuable experience, where they can get a feel of what kind of work you can accomplish with a history degree.”
Sitting quietly at his desk, Jenkins is reading an article in a Winter 1981 La Verne Magazine. Ironically, it’s a story by former student Joel Mariano that features Heckman telling about the ULV library archival treasures. Time will tell where Jenkins’ legacy will cement itself. Following in the footsteps of the great men and women of La Verne, Jenkins is bound for the history books. He has quickly become ULV’s erudite go-to person on the subject of public history and archival studies. Whatever project Jenkins decides to take on next in the archives, it is sure to be a success. He’s on the trail of history. ■