FAIRBORN — As they pored over scrapbook after scrapbook of newspaper clippings on the Dayton Gems hockey team and photos of holiday displays in the former Rike’s department store in downtown Dayton, memories from childhood and adolescence rushed through the minds of Rob and Ann Weisgarber.
Ann remembered getting dressed up in her finest holiday attire, taking the bus downtown, meeting Santa Claus at Rike’s and having lunch in the department store’s restaurant.
“It brought that all back,” she said. “With that, comes great pride for the community. It’s people’s lives that have been preserved here. It’s very touching to come here.”
Visiting Santa at Rike’s and cheering on the Dayton Gems are among the millions of memories and stories that live on in Wright State University’s Special Collections and Archives.
Tucked away in a corner on the top floor of the Paul Laurence Dunbar Library, Special Collections and Archives houses more than 1,000 local and regional history collections that celebrate the lives of the men, women and families that shaped the Miami Valley. It is a hidden gem that many have yet to discover. Even the Weisgarbers — ever the proud Wright State graduates — only recently learned of the treasures on the library’s fourth floor.
“I really didn’t know it existed until we were on the campaign cabinet for Rise. Shine. The Campaign for Wright State University,” she said. “That was really the first time I knew it was here.”
While Ann may not be intimately acquainted with the archives at her alma mater, she is well versed on the invaluable services that an archive provides.
An award-winning novelist of historical fiction, the Galveston, Texas, resident has utilized the resources of archives around the country.
“Those of us (fiction writers) who are really serious about getting the details right — we all work in archives,” said Ann.
From the archives of a weather bureau to the collections of Badlands National Park, Ann reads diaries, listens to oral histories and examines old photographs as part of her quest to find accurate, historical information.
When the Weisgarbers first learned about Wright State’s archives, they assumed that all of the collections focused on aviation. While the university’s Wright Brothers Collection draws historians and aviation experts from around the globe, the Weisgarbers soon discovered that there was a whole other world to explore.
“Most people think it’s the Wright brothers and that’s it,” said Rob. “The foundation was the Wright brothers, but it’s a national aviation collection that is internationally known. There is also a significant part that is not aviation related — local history, prominent families.”
While the Weisgarbers were amazed at the depth and breadth of the collections, they were alarmed at how the timeless treasures and priceless stories of the past have been crammed into such a small, constricting space.
“It’s so crowded that you lose sight of what’s here,” said Rob.
“I don’t know how they work in this space,” said Ann. “It’s way too small.”
In the not-too-distant future, Special Collections and Archives may finally have the space it so desperately needs. And the Weisgarbers are helping to make sure that it happens.
Bringing history to life
On October 4, 2017, the university launched a $6.5 million fundraising campaign to create the Wright State University Archives Center.
Discover Your Story: The Campaign for the Wright State University Archives Center will transform the former corporate headquarters of the Wright-Patt Credit Union at 2455 Presidential Dr. into the new home of Special Collections and Archives.
The Archives Center would almost triple the space for the university’s world-renowned collections — from 12,000 square feet scattered across two buildings to nearly 30,000 square feet in one central location.
The Weisgarbers are among the first donors to support the Discover Your Story campaign. They are excited about the potential and possibilities that a new Archives Center would provide.
“It doesn’t shine here (in the library), the way it could shine,” said Ann. “It will be in its own standalone building, which makes it so less intimidating for people to come in.”
Located directly across Colonel Glenn Highway from Wright State’s Dayton Campus, the proposed Archives Center will offer a reading room, exhibit gallery, oral history lab and preservation lab, along with a conference room for lectures and special events and a classroom for visiting school groups and students from Wright State’s Public History Graduate Program. The facility will also provide the proper light, temperature and humidity control to preserve historic materials for generations to come.
“Having a bigger facility — and a stand-alone facility — provides more visibility,” Rob said. “It will have the room for not just researchers and scholars to come in, but the space for the general public to come in as well.”
Rob hopes that everyone will come explore the treasures and stories within Special Collections and Archives — now and when the new Archives Center opens in the future.
“You don’t need to be part of the university to use it,” said Rob. “You don’t have to be alumni or faculty to be associated with the archives. The archives are something that is important to the entire community.”
Once people visit Special Collections and Archives, Rob feels confident they will want to make the dream of an Archives Center a reality.
“If you come and see it, you’ll get excited about it and you’ll want to get involved,” he said. “If you get involved, you will find that it will touch you in a lot of ways. And you will see a lot of ways that the archives have a connection to your life. It’s a way to bring history to life.”
For Ann, the success of the Discover Your Story campaign has personal significance. She freely admits that her novels would have never been written without the help of archivists and historical collections across the country.
“All three of my books have been research based,” she said. “Almost every chapter is the result of discovering something in an archive. I can write an entire scene around the tiniest thing I found in an archive. Something in a display will just hit me that just triggers a whole chapter in a book.”
She also understands the important role that archives play in guarding and preserving history for generations to come.
“When the archives expand, they’ll be taking collections 50 years from now, 100 years from now, way past our lifetimes,” she said. “That’s what Wright State does. Wright State impacts generation after generation.”