Beginnings of a Journey for Chester Fritz

Last evening we had a presentation by Dan Rylance discussing Chester Fritz. This seemed like an appropriate time to blog about the early years of the man as well. Born in 1892, in Buxton, North Dakota, his family moved to Fargo, North Dakota, in 1898. Always living in poverty, his situation was exacerbated in 1902 when his father, Charles, was seriously injured in a threshing accident.

With the injury to his father, the family lost their main source of income. However, his mother was able to find work as a clerk and bookkeeper. As a result Chester Fritz was able to remain in school, and attended public school in Fargo from 1898 until 1905. It was during this time, in 1903, that the Fargo Carnegie Public Library opened and the young Fritz made daily visits, and consumed volumes of books. He was particularly enamored with Horatio Alger novels that gave the young man of no means hope for the future.

In 1905, when Chester Fritz was twelve years old, his mother apparently could no longer cope with the burdens of caring for a permanently handicapped husband and a young son. Anne Fritz disappeared in Februrary, 1905, and Chester Fritz never saw his mother again. As a result, he went to live in Lidgerwood, North Dakota, with his aunt and uncle, Katherine and Neil Macdonald. The change in his family status would change his life. The young Fritz excelled in Lidgerwood. He grew to become the high school football quarterback, and valedictorian of his graduating class.

Chester Fritz would go on to complete two years of higher education at the University of North Dakota, but he grew restless. Wanting to see more of the world he went west to Seattle, Washington. There he completed his baccalaureate degree in Commerce at the University of Washington. Shortly after he became employed by Fisher Flouring Mills, and it was while employed by that company that he began his journey to China. Selling flour in Hong Kong.

Want to hear Chester Fritz? Listen to a portion of his speech at our Omeka site from the original dedication ceremony in 1961:  Chester Fritz Library Dedication Speech Recording

To learn more about Chester Fritz, check out this video with Wilbur Stolt, Director of Libraries at the University of North Dakota:

The Secret Beginning of “The Fritz”

As many of us know the Chester Fritz Library first opened its doors in the fall of 1961. What many of us do not know is that before the dedication and the official opening of the library, many secrets were kept and packs made.  Chester Fritz did not simply donate his money to the school, he made sure the school, in particular the library system, was in need of his generosity.

In 1957 Chester Fritz first had the idea to donate his money to UND for a library, but he did not immediately send a letter to the University President or even the Head of Libraries on campus.  He instead contacted his aunt living in Illinois at the time, who would become an essential player in the final result of the donation money being given to UND, Kathrine Tiffany.  Tiffany’s role as the intermediary initially between Fritz and the head of libraries on campus, Jon R. Ashton, and then between Fritz and President Starcher, cannot be overstated in its importance.  Fritz’s initial letter to Tiffany outlined his ideas about the donation.

When Tiffany first contacted the university on Fritz’s behalf, she contacted only Jon Ashton. Fritz wanted an opinion on the condition of the current library from the head of libraries only, his unbridled opinion, Tiffany actually swore Ashton to secrecy so that only he was aware of the plot.  About one month after Tiffany contacted Ashton, she, on Fritz’s behalf, sent a letter to President Starcher regarding the possibility of a sizable donation from a former alum.  She did not tell Starcher who the donation would come from, but needless to say, Starcher was on the edge of seat for more information.

It would take a much closer inspection of President Starcher’s personal papers to gage his mood on being left out of the loop and strung along for those first months of communication between Fritz, Tiffany, and Ashton, but it would more than likely make for an interesting blog post, if such papers exist.

Chester Fritz sent Starcher the official donation letter from his villa in Rome on February 8, 1958, which finally named him as the donor and outlined the terms of his donation.  It is evident that Fritz had been planning the donation for a long while because only a little more than a week after he had mailed his donation letter to Starcher, most likely before Starcher even received the letter, he mailed a letter to Tiffany regarding a room in the Fritz that could be dedicated to some of his artifacts he had accumulated on his travels in Asia.

There were a few different ideas about where to place the library initially, here is one of the ideas that was not chosen, see if you can spot the library. Tiffany periodically checked in on the construction of the library to be able to send correspondence back to Fritz about the progress, an activity President Starcher regularly engaged in as well.  Finally on October 18, 1961, the library was dedicated with President Starcher’s speech.

For those of you who read this post, what would you like to see on the blog next?

As always make sure you’re following us on Twitter.

Also, our official website for the Fritz at 50.

A Library Dedicated Fifty Years Ago

Our local paper, The Grand Forks Herald provided a well-written article sharing with the public what we are working to commemorate, the fiftieth anniversary of the Chester Fritz Library. Their linking to our site is quite appreciated.

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the library. The University sent out many invitations to library staffs across the country inviting them to Grand Forks to share in our happiness and celebration of a new library facility. While most were unable to attend due to the distance to get to Grand Forks, they sent well wishes and some shared similar experiences of recent library constructions on their own campuses, which reflected the major changes coming to college and university campuses as they adjusted to different and expanding student populations both from veterans on the GI Bill to baby boomers entering adulthood.

Our library has changed much over the last fifty years. It has expanded in size, grown its collection, and incorporated new technologies to increase its accessibility to patrons, while changing how those patrons use it. It is the largest library in the state and is the heart of the UND campus. Chester Fritz’s donation of $1 million has certainly returned well in the thousands of students who have gained knowledge and their education through the library. Congratulations to the staff of the Chester Fritz Library on fifty wonderful years.

Check out the Fritz at 50 celebration at http://library.und.edu/fritz-at-50/

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And our Omeka page http://fritzat50.omeka.net/

Creating Video from an Oral Interview

In our previous blogs we have discussed how to upload documents, digitize photographs, and how we have used those sources to explore the history of the Chester Fritz library. More recently one of our colleagues conducted an interview with Wilbur Stolt, the Director of Libraries for the University of North Dakota, which provided an opportunity to illustrate the role of oral interviews in public history.

Oral history of course has been around a long time. Many societies have relied on oral tradition as a means of recording and preserving the past, particularly in the absence of written histories. The use of oral history developed in the United States in the nineteenth-century when anthropologists began collecting recordings on phonograph cylinders. Later, in the 1930s the Federal government paid interviewers through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to collect oral accounts from various groups, particularly Civil War survivors and former slaves. Today, oral history has developed into an accepted and useful discipline that provides information from different perspectives, especially when they cannot be found in written sources.

In our particular case, the interviewer was able to explore the changing role of the Chester Fritz library from the perspective of the person responsible for the overall operations of the library. Mr. Stolt’s perspective is one of management and general operations. He provides an overview of the major changes he has witnessed during his tenure. Here’s our video.  Later we hope to provide different perspectives as we interview others of the library staff. .

Of course one of the advantages of conducting oral interviews today is the way we incorporate various media formats into a single presentation. The interviewer may take notes of comments of interest for future reference, or for follow-up questions. However, at the same time the answers provided by the subject can be digitally recorded in both audio and video formats. There are several software applications for capturing, editing, and burning videos or slide shows. In our case we have elected to use Nero Vision, from Nero Multimedia Suite 10 Platinum HD. With this software we were able to overlay music in the introduction, insert titles, still photos, and edit separately the video and audio from the interview.

This raises an important issue regarding oral history. Because what you see is an edited video, it reflects the emphasis that we wished to portray. When conducting research it is always important to check the unedited primary source, rather than rely on secondary sources.