Old Guard Project Seeks to Fill Gaps in W&J History

Created: April 10, 2014
Last Updated: January 17, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (Nov. 26, 2013)—In 1952 an unknown person—or more likely, a group of unknown people—parked a tractor inside the lobby of Old Main on the Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) campus.

It’s assumed that students were responsible, said College Archivist & Outreach Librarian Amy Welch. But there are still some questions about that situation and a few others in W&J’s student history that a new project might help clarify.

The Old Guard Oral History Project seeks to fill the gaps created when campus history went unrecorded by talking to the Old Guard members about their campus experiences. The Old Guard is comprised of alumni who graduated at least 50 years ago.

“We know there are records of student life that we don’t have, except for what is recorded in the Pandora [year book] or the Red & Black [newspaper] during that time,” Welch said. “We don’t have many first-person records, though. It’s during the 1950s and 1960s, and even earlier than that, where we’re missing some information.”

The program is run by Welch and the U. Grant Miller Library staff, who have been recording video or telephone interviews with members of the W&J Old Guard for the past year.

The interviews currently are available online at the U. Grant Miller Library Vimeo page. The library staff also is in the process of adding the videos, including transcripts of the interviews, to the library’s digital archives.

The college did not have a full-time, dedicated archivist between the mid-1950s and the early 2000s, and although photos and other material were being catalogued in W&J’s archives during that time, there are few first-person accounts of student life.

A part-time archivist was hired in 2003, and Welch was hired in 2011. Soon after, the library staff began working with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, and decided to branch off of that project and start interviewing older alumni about their college experiences.
Since 2012, 14 alumni have participated in the Old Guard Oral History Project. Most of those interviews are with members of the 1952 and 1963 classes, which recently gathered on campus for anniversary celebrations.

Welch said several other alums who no longer live in the area have contacted her about the project, and she is working on arrangements to interview them.

The interviews include questions about why the Old Guard members chose W&J, their first impressions of the college as freshmen, stories about their professors, and about their fraternities and the role those organizations played in campus life.

Many interviews reveal stories about quirky professors, the freshman rules and sock checks that have faded from campus life, and the once-traditional “dink,” a beanie hat freshmen were required to wear.

“We’ve interviewed a few gentlemen who were here on campus in the 1940s, just after World War II,” Welch said. “We’re very interested in what campus was like during those years. It’s another decade where we don’t have many first-person records of campus life, and it must have been a very different time here. World War II had a really devastating effect on the population of this campus.”

Some interviews have led alumni to remember people or events they might not have thought about for years, Welch said, and she hopes sitting down for an interview is a special experience for the Old Guard members, adding to their fond, funny and sometimes wild memories of W&J.

“I know there are some stories they’re not telling us. They are gentlemen,” Welch said. “They’ve alluded to some more wild antics they got into on campus, like the tractor incident in Old Main. That gentleman wasn’t totally forthcoming about the details, but it was a great story. We’re looking for more of those.”

The project is ongoing, and all Old Guard members are invited to participate. For those unable to travel to campus, Welch said alternate arrangements can be made for an interview. Those interested can contact Welch at 724-223-6048 or at awelch@washjeff.edu.

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