Howard P. Johnson donates World War II letters

As the University Archivist, I frequently hear from loyal Iowa Staters from across the country who inquire about donating materials to the University Archives. Often people are trying to find an appreciative home for some Iowa State memorabilia or seeing if there is any interest in a future donation of materials. This past fall I received a call from an Iowa State alum and former ISU professor regarding a small collection of materials in his possession that he was ready to part with.

Portrait of Howard P. Johnson in his military uniform, 1943

Howard P. Johnson, 1943 (Box 8, Folder 95 of the Howard P. Johnson papers, RS 9/7/15)

Howard P. Johnson, three-time graduate of Iowa State University (we were just a College at the time he received his degrees) and former Professor and Head of ISU’s Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department, was contacting me regarding some World War II letters that he had. Dr. Johnson explained that he grew up on a farm near Odebolt, Iowa, and in 1943 was inducted into the military like many young men at that time. He served as a technician in the 69th Infantry Division and entered the war in Europe at the end of the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945. All during his military training and his service in Europe, young Pfc. Johnson wrote to his family back home in western Iowa–often several times a week–and his family wrote back. Howard would describe his daily routine, the duties he was assigned during training, and his experiences in Europe. His parents and siblings would respond with stories of family and community events, activities on the farm, and, of course, the weather.

Letter from Howard Johnson to his folks, June 12, 1944.

Letter from Johnson to his parents dated June 12, 1944. In this letter he writes home about some of his training experiences in Mississippi–including accidentally sleeping through a first aid training session. (Box 7, Folder 51 of the Howard P. Johnson papers, RS 9/7/15)

As Dr. Johnson was explaining this to me over the phone, he questioned whether anyone would be interested in this collection of letters–nearly 400 in total. Although I recognized that these letters would not hold the same meaning to others as they do to him, I assured Dr. Johnson that people will certainly be interested in reading these letters for generations to come.

Letter from Howard P. Johnson, May 20, 1945

This note, written on a piece of birch bark that Johnson found near his encampment on May 20, 1945, provides a brief description of his location.  (Box 8, Folder 43, Howard P. Johnson papers, RS 9/7/15)

It is not every day that I am privileged to speak with a World War II veteran, nor is it often that such a complete collection of letters with so many connections to Iowa State and rural life in Iowa are offered to the department, so I was thrilled to accept the donation. The Johnson family letters offer an intimate snapshot of one Iowa farm family’s experience during a major turning point in American history. Similar stories played out thousands of times across the state and the country, but relatively few of those stories are so well documented.

Today, as we mark the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day landings in France, it is important to reflect upon those men and women who bravely served in World War II. Some names, like Eisenhower and MacArthur, will forever be associated with  winning the war for the Allies. There are many more thousands of names, names like Howard P. Johnson, whose contributions are often overlooked. At least in this case his story will be preserved in the archives.

The Johnson family World War II letters are part of the Howard P. Johnson papers, RS 9/7/15, located in the Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives. The department is open to researchers from 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday. Part of our mission is to preserve the history of Iowa State University and the stories of its faculty, staff, and alumni. If you have questions about whether we are the right home for your Iowa State story, give us a call, we would love to hear from you.


Celebrating 100 Years: Iowa’s State Parks

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Thanks to the efforts of Iowa leaders over 100 years ago, including people here at Iowa State, state parks were established within the state of Iowa just a few years after legislation for national state parks was passed.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of Iowa’s General Assembly passing state park legislation. The Special Collections and University Archives is excited to announce a new reading room exhibition to celebrate this achievement:  “This movement for a more beautiful Iowa”: The Early Years of Iowa’s State Park System.” Iowa’s landscape of native prairie, forests, and wetlands was rapidly disappearing by the early part of the 20th century due to an expanding population and growing agricultural operations. Individuals from across Iowa advocated for the legislature to set aside land to conserve Iowa’s dwindling natural landscapes, resulting in the passage of Iowa’s state parks bill on April 12, 1917. Iowa State played a central role in establishing the state park system and the state of Iowa soon became a national leader in the state park movement.

Louis Pammel (far left), Iowa State botany professor and leader in Iowa’s state park movement, with students at Ledges State Park.

The exhibit highlights Iowa State’s role in the state park movement, and includes individuals such as botanists Louis Pammel and Ada Hayden, forester G. B. MacDonald, and landscape architect John Fitzsimmons. A brief history of the work to establish state parks in Iowa opens the exhibit, followed by background on Iowa’s first state parks. The exhibit concludes with examples on how Iowa State has used state parks throughout the years, up until the present day – including a current student’s field notebook.

Why was this exhibit theme chosen?  In addition to celebrating an anniversary, it was a great way to highlight the work of Iowa State individuals in ways they are not often mentioned.  In fact, I was surprised to learn that a number of Iowa State administrators were involved – in addition to faculty and staff in botany, forestry, and landscape architecture. The quote from the exhibit’s title is from May H. McNider’s article “Women Want Iowa Scenery Preserved,” published in the 1919 Report of the State Board of Conservation. MacNider, who would later become president of the Board of Conservation, was a civic leader in the town of Mason City, Iowa.

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The development of exhibitions involve a variety of components, including staff from throughout the library.  This one was no exception.  The primary areas of responsibility for the exhibition’s curators (Becky Jordan, Brad Kuennen, and myself – Laura Sullivan) were: developing the exhibition’s themes, researching their assigned areas, selecting exhibition items, writing the exhibition’s text, designing the case layouts, and installing the exhibition.  In addition to the three curators who developed the exhibition, the preservation department helped on a variety of levels including conducting a preservation assessment, digitizing, and building the labels and display supports. We also received support for communications and the window display panels.  Digital initiatives is currently designing an online exhibit, which will be ready in a few weeks.

General Plan for the Landscape Development of Backbone State Park (Iowa’s first state park), 1925 (RS 13/5/13, tube 73)

In conjunction with the exhibit Heidi H. Hohmann, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, will be giving a presentation on Tuesday, June 6th at 7 p.m. in the Farwell T. Brown Auditorium at the Ames Public Library. Hohmann’s lecture, “Designing State and National Parks,” will focus on Iowa State and the Department of Landscape Architecture’s influence and role in the development of national parks and Iowa’s state parks.

Whether you’re looking for summer excursion ideas, would like to immerse yourself in the history of state parks here in Iowa, or would like to take a look at the exhibit for any other reason – please visit us on the 4th floor of Parks Library. Most of the exhibit is located within the reading room, but if you’re only able to stop by after hours, the window displays and a few exhibit cases are available for viewing after the department is closed.  The exhibit will run through the end of 2017.

 

 

 

 


#TBT Living Mannequins

Ladies in cabinets-1926

University Photographs, 12/10/F, Box 1006, 1926

Today’s TBT photo was taken in 1926 as part of the coursework for the Department of Textiles and Clothing (now part of the Department of Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management). Two students are in cabinets, modeling design work. In between them are three dolls, also wearing student designs.  As you can see, they are wearing designs that greatly predate 1926, so perhaps the students were tasked with designing historical costumes.  To learn more, check out our history of costume collection or our files from the Department of Textiles and Clothing (12/10).



History of the Library, Pt. 2

This is the second in a series of posts about the history of the library at Iowa State.

When we left off in 1914, the library was in Beardshear Hall, and the collection was bursting at the seams.  As early as 1911, money was allocated by the legislature to build a library building.  However, the process was slow-going, especially when it was discovered that in order to build a building of adequate size, much more funding would be needed.

Finally in 1923, construction on the new library building was started, and the first cornerstone was laid on October 11.  Construction was complete in 1925, though not all books were moved until early 1926.  One of the major benefits of the new library was that the materials were consolidated into one space instead of being spread out between Central (Beardshear), Agriculture Hall, Chemistry Building, Engineering Hall, and the Veterinary Building.

SELibrary1925

Southeast view of the library, 1925, University Photograph box 313

The building had space to store 200,000 books.  At the time of opening, the library had “about 160,000 carefully selected volumes” (Catalogue, 1927-1928).

The library hours during regular sessions were:

Monday-Friday 7:50 am-6pm and 7-9:30pm
Saturday: 7:50am-2 and 1-6pm
Sunday: 2-5pm (no procrastinating until Sunday night!)

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South end of Periodical Room, 1927 University Photographs box 146

Periodical_Room_Main_Reading_Room_1925

Periodical Room (Main Reading Room), 1925, University Photographs box 170

In 1925/6, the library offered 4 courses; classes in library usage specifically for agriculture, home economics, and industrial science students, and a course in bibliographic research.    A 5th course in library methods had been added by the next year.  The dean of the library was Charles Harvey Brown. Brown served as dean of the library from 1922-1946.  In 1927, the library had 10 staff members and 12 assistants listed in the catalogue (compared to today’s 143 staff between librarians, support staff, and students).

The Alumnus had a rather interesting take on the new library building in their November 1924 issue:

“Officials say that the library will be ready for occupancy some time in January.  Some time early in the year, six libraries will be consolidated into one, and the amorous youth will no longer wend his away to Central, but to the new white structure beyond it, there to seek out his fair bibliophile and divert her affections to something more substantial than books.” (RS 4/8/4, box 12)

Sounds like the library staff had their hands full!

1925 Library Staff

Library Staff 1925, University Photographs box 2040

From 1925 to the present the library has been in the same location but has grown.  Join us for the next installments to see how the library has expanded in the last (nearly) century!




#TBT: Louis Armstrong at ISU and International Jazz Day 2017

 

Louis Armstrong with ISU mascot Cy in 1966

The incomparable Louis Armstrong with ISU mascot Cy in 1966. (University Photograph Collection, RS 22/7.)

Jazz legend Louis Armstrong visited Iowa State University twice. The 1950 Homecoming festivities included no less than four performances by Armstrong and his band: two dances, the “Pep Barbecue,” and a concert in the Memorial Union! This may seem remarkable because in 1950, Armstrong was an international star. But for decades, Armstrong played 300 or more live shows per year. Touring with a big band was no longer feasible for most bandleaders, but Armstrong — who first made a name for himself in the 1920s with small-group recordings — was not reliant on the big band format. In 1950, Louis Armstrong and His All Stars probably played ISU as a six-piece band featuring Arvell Shaw, bass; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Cozy Cole, drums; Earl “Fatha” Hines, piano; Jack Teagarden, trombone; and of course, Louis Armstrong on trumpet and vocals. Each of these musicians is numbered among the masters of traditional jazz (for lack of a better term).

As shown in the photograph above, Louis Armstrong returned to ISU in 1966, two years after his biggest-selling record (“Hello, Dolly!”) was released. In the late 1960s, Armstrong continued performing publicly in spite of health problems. He passed away in 1971 at his home in Queens, New York City.

International Jazz Day 2017 is April 30, and it’s a special one. This year, the host city is Havana, Cuba. As usual, the roster of artists is drawn from around the world, but this year the lineup includes quite a few Cubans; and, now that the travel ban is lifted, the audience will include Americans! So, this is a big deal on several levels. Cuban musicians are a big part of jazz history and of current practice. I’m looking forward to watching the webcast of the All-Star Global Concert on Sunday, April 30 at 8 PM Central.

 


#TBT Forestry

Forestry Student, 1916

Student with pine cones, presumably at Forestry Camp, 1916 RS 09/14, Box 718

Earth Day is coming this Saturday, and we are celebrating with some pictures from the Department of Forestry camp records.  Forestry is currently part of the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, but was part of the Department of Horticulture and Forestry at the time the photos were taken.

Forestry Summer Camp, 1916

Forestry Summer Camp, Glacier National Park, Montana, 1916 RS 9/14, Box 718

Pictures from the Forestry department are a perfect fit for Earth Day.  According to the Iowa State University Forestry website, “The forestry curriculum offers courses dealing with the management of forest ecosystems for multiple benefits including biodiversity, recreation, water, wilderness, wildlife, and wood and fiber. Conservation and preservation of natural resources are emphasized.”

To learn more about forestry camp, please visit this blog post.  Enjoy these photos from over 100 years ago, and have a Happy Earth Day!


#TBT Iowa’s State Parks: Marking 100 Years

13-05-A_Pammel_1026-002-002a

Carl Fritz Hemmings (left) with Louis Pammel (right) (from University Photograph Collection, box 1026)

Today’s Throw Back Thursday photograph is of Iowa State botany professor Louis Pammel with Ledges State Park custodian Carl Fritz Hemmings. This year marks the centennial of the passage of the first state parks act in Iowa, which was approved April 12, 1917. The Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives  plans a summer exhibition, “This movement for a more beautiful Iowa”: The Early Years of Iowa’s State Park System” which will open to the public on May 17.

Iowa’s landscape of native prairie, forests, and wetlands was rapidly disappearing by the early part of the 20th century due to an expanding population and growing agricultural operations. Individuals from across Iowa advocated for the legislature to set aside land to conserve Iowa’s dwindling natural landscapes resulting in the passage of Iowa’s state parks bill in 1917. Iowa State played a central role in establishing the state park system and the state of Iowa soon became a national leader in the state park movement. The exhibit highlights Iowa State’s role in the state park movement.