Concord voices make up oral history program at library

1 October 2011

Concord — Through the Concord Oral History Program, Renee Garrelick documented the thoughts and memories of Concord residents for 30 years. When she died in 2007, approximately 300 oral histories, most including photographs and audio, had been compiled.

Oral history interviewees include people representing every aspect of Concord life: business, education, government, religion, and the arts. Among them are farmers, teachers, small business owners, CEOs, writers, artists, musicians, historians, physicians, physicists, and those involved in town government. There are conservationists, environmentalists and naturalists, clergy, residents of Concord’s well-documented Conantum neighborhood, public safety officials, craftsmen, builders and developers. They include those who have spent a lifetime living and working within the confines of the town; others who lived in far-flung locations around the globe before settling in Concord.

A sampling of interviews include members of the Anderson and Wheeler families talking about early 20th century farming, Jean Bell and Di Clymer discussing prison outreach, Marion Thornton describing her work preserving the town’s open space, and Gordon Robinson on his life and times as the proprietor of the Willow Pond Kitchen.

Subjects are not necessarily confined to life in Concord. In 1986 Peter Benes and other immigrants to the United States described their reaction upon seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. A number of Concordians had life-altering experiences during World War II: Carola Domar, Elizabeth Dopazo, Sonia Weitz, Norman Beecher and Henry Wilayto among them. Lifelong resident Phebe Ham offers observations on education in China after traveling there twice to teach, while Joe Wheeler, his roots many generations deep in Concord history, talks about working for the U.S. government in the Middle East and Pakistan.

The depth and intensity of these experiences is tempered by lighter moments, as interviewees meander among youthful memories of West Concord baseball games, sledding on Nashawtuc Hill, and swimming in Lake Walden.

Taken together, the depth and breadth of the information contained in the words of these Concordians create a history of the town and the world beyond, colored by the feeling and emotion conveyed by memory and the human voice.

Transcripts, audiotapes, and photographs can be accessed at the Concord Free Public Library’s William Munroe Special Collections.

The Fowler branch is currently hosting an exhibit featuring the oral histories of a selection of West Concordians.

Since 2008, Concord Oral History Program has been managed by the Concord Free Public Library and interviews conducted by an outside contractor. The program has recently taken a digital turn as Special Collections staff works to digitize the materials and mount them on the oral history page of the library’s Website.

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