I WAS HOOKED and “THE REST IS HISTORY”
April is National Volunteer Month. To mark the occasion, we are sharing posts by some of the Virginia Historical Society’s dedicated Volunteer Guild. This week we hear from Jack Kelzer who has been putting his expertise to work with our Collections Division since February 2007.
The Reynolds Family Foundation provided funds to the Virginia Historical Society to start a Virginia Business History Collection and made an initial gift of the Reynolds Metals Company business files of R. S. Reynolds, Sr., and those of the Reynolds brothers, Richard S., Jr., J. Louis, William G., and David P. Reynolds.
The decision was made as the initial project to put together an oral history of Reynolds Metals Company. Over some period of time, approximately130 former Reynolds employees were interviewed, and the interviews were transcribed. I was selected and requested to be an interviewee. This was my first contact with the VHS and where I met some of the people in manuscripts and archives.
So, how did I become a VHS volunteer?
One day several months after I did the oral history interview I received a call from the person responsible for the work on the oral history project. They had a problem: part of the tapes were not understandable. The person doing the transcripts had no idea about aluminum terminology or the names of people and places mentioned on the tapes, therefore some things in the transcripts did not make sense, and the names and locations were in many instances not correct. Someone suggested that with my knowledge of the company I could probably help and asked if I would be willing to come in to discuss this issue. After reviewing what was involved I agreed to volunteer and edit the tapes. This project took more than a year, but I found it very interesting and saw a perspective and perception of the company from a lot of different angles.
So I was hooked, and as they say “the rest is history.”
I then began working with some of the small collections donated by a few of the former Reynolds employees. This involved getting this material organized chronologically in folders, with folders identified by content. A folder and item list was entered into the computer by series and box number.
The Reynolds business donation is huge, some 550 file boxes of material from R. S. Reynolds, Sr., and the four sons. I have worked on the collections of J. Louis, William G., R. S., Jr., David, and now on R. S., Sr. The objective here is to identify what is in the collection by organizing the folders by year and general content title, transfer the contents to acid free folders and boxes, compile a list of the titled folder by box and year, and enter this information into the VHS archive database. With this accomplished, we will know what is in the Reynolds collection and where it is located so as much of the collection as possible can be available to researchers in the shortest period of time.
Sometime in the future these collections will have to be revisited by the manuscript professional staff to provide more structure and detail of the contents in the collection.
So why do I volunteer at VHS?
I believe volunteering should be in areas different than what you did in your regular career—something you have an interest in, something that adds value, benefits others, and provides satisfaction in what is accomplished. For me, volunteering at the VHS meets these criteria. Knowing that we will have at least a usable, if not a perfect, Reynolds business collection at the society, which because of financial and staffing constraints probably would not have been a reality for a number of years, is the driver for my continued volunteering.
I have always been interested in history. My reading has focused a lot on biographies, history, and historical novels from the Roman and Egyptian era to today. Volunteering at the VHS on the Reynolds papers dating from the 1920s to the ’90s brings this piece of history to life. This was part of my history for twenty-eight years. Volunteering here has been fun, I have learned a lot, and I work with very helpful, dedicated, and interesting people.
There are many interesting activities to be involved in at the VHS. Look into volunteering, your life will be richer for it. Mine is.
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