Campus News

On the Record

Oral history project helps preserve memories of the university’s past

Between UGA presidents Fred C. Davison and Charles B. Knapp, there was Henry King Stanford. Stanford was known as a friendly ambassador for UGA; he is much less known for the fact that on the day he was to be introduced as interim president, he rode to Athens from Americus by bus. His wife, Ruth, had a hair appointment, and they shared a car.

That little gem was revealed along with many others when Fran Lane, director of UGA’s Visitors Center, interviewed Stanford in Americus for the ongoing “Going Back: Remembering UGA” oral history project.

The idea for such a project occurred to Lane after witnessing a similar project that Georgia Tech has run for the past 10 years; talking with an elderly relative sealed the deal.

“I have a 101-year-old aunt who graduated here in the late 1920s, who only a few years ago could talk with great passion and joy about UGA,” said Lane. “She can’t do that anymore. It occurred to me that we’re losing a lot of history, because people can’t talk about it anymore.”

Lane’s own history with UGA runs deep. She grew up in Athens, and her parents were UGA graduates.

“The university has been a part of my life forever,” she said. “I grew up with the fight song being played on the piano.”

She earned both her bachelor’s degree in history and her master’s in counseling at UGA. She was very active during that time—“I jumped into campus life with both feet,” she said—and stayed to take her first post-­graduate job, director of orientation. After a break to raise her children, Lane returned to UGA in the mid-1980s to work as a counselor in the evening classes program, which was run through the Georgia Center for Continuing Education. In 1987, she was assistant to president Charles Knapp; the next year, she became director of research in the development office, and stayed in fundraising until she came to the Visitors Center in 1995. Last year, she was named external affairs’ Employee of the Year.

At the Visitors Center, “The goal is to provide a warm welcome to visitors, collect and provide accurate information and help people accomplish the task they’ve come to campus to do,” she said.

Working with the 36 student staffers is a highlight of the job, she said, as is “the super variety. You’ll never know what opportunity or challenge will present itself, or what interesting person will walk through the door.”

Such as football legend Charley Trippi, who came to the Visitors Center last December to be interviewed for the oral history project. Trippi also happens to be Lane’s neighbor, and before the interview—as project co-organizer Claude McBride, who works in alumni relations, looked at his notes and videographer Bill Evelyn busied himself with camera and lights—Lane and Trippi chatted amiably about Lane’s dogs and about how many interviews Trippi has given.

“How many of these have you done, a million?” asked Lane.

“When I was playing, yeah. Not so many now. I’m over the hill,” Trippi said.

“No you’re not!” said Lane. “Anyone who can clean the gutters. . . ”

The cameras were ready, and Lane shifted into proper interviewer mode, drawing out tales of Trippi’s youth during the Depression, growing up in a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania that he desperately wanted to leave. His fond memories of UGA yielded glimpses into campus life of yore: a time when a much smaller student population knew each other well and rarely left campus, except maybe to get a Coke at a drugstore.

“No one had any automobiles, and no one had any money, period,” he said. In fact, he only joined his fraternity because it paid for him to join.

So far, about 10 people have participated in the interviews since March; Louise McBee, retired legislator and former vice president for academic affairs, was the first. Lane said that the videos will be archived mid-year and available to viewers in UGA’s media archives, and perhaps online or on DVD. Suggestions for more interviewees are welcome, Lane said.

“I’d love to do it forever,” she said. “There’s a limitless pool of prospective interviewees. I think this could go on.”