The best photograph of Ruth Kerr in the Westmont archives was preserved accidentally. Archivist Corey Thomas ’97 enjoys telling the story. Custodian Maria Ortega found the print in the trash in Clark A when she opened a bag to see why it was so heavy. She liked the image and kept it in her storage closet thinking other copies existed. When it fell out one day, a co-worker gave it to her supervisor who sent it to the archives. “It’s amazing the photograph ended up here,” Corey says. “Even though things have been lost or damaged over the years, we have an outstanding collection.”
Until the early 1990s, Westmont lacked a systematic way to preserve historical materials. Old yearbooks, scrapbooks, photos, catalogs and publications were piled haphazardly in the basement of the library in a room with the rare books. Doing research required sorting through the multiple, chaotic stacks.
After her 50th reunion, Thelma Bain Kramar ’41 gathered a group of alumni to tackle the archives. From 1992 to 1994 they traveled to campus to identify photos, organize information and donate their own memorabilia. In 1996, Professor Paul Wilt retired after teaching history for 36 years and became the first part-time archivist. He continued conducting oral histories of early faculty and administrators and began writing about each of the college’s founders, presidents and buildings. His careful work finally brought organization and access to the archives.
By 2005, Wilt was ready to retire again. At the same time, Corey fortuitously asked about working with the archives. She had returned to campus when her husband, Greg Thomas ’94, became resident director in Van Kampen Hall, and she was eager to use her experience with one of Wheaton’s archival collections. That summer, she filled the need for a part-time Westmont archivist.
In just a few years, Corey has transformed the room into a professional archive, with all materials inventoried, organized and stored safely in pale blue, acid-free storage boxes. Not only do these containers make information easy to access, but they can be removed quickly in case of a fire or other emergency.
An anthropology major at Westmont, Corey has always liked history. To pursue a career in Christian camping, she earned a master’s degree in educational ministry at Wheaton College. That’s where she met Greg, a fellow Westmont alumnus getting a master’s degree in evangelism and spiritual formation — and where she became an archivist. Working for a Wheaton professor writing a history of the YMCA gave her archival experience and led to her position helping colleagues care for the college’s famous Wade Collection.
Corey speaks passionately about her desire to acquire Westmont-related items with long-term value, preserve them and make them accessible to researchers and the college community. “It’s important to remember where we came from so we can understand where we’re going,” she says. Working only 12 hours a week limits what she can do, but the part-time position suits the mother of two small children. Student workers add another eight hours a week, and Paul and Doris Wilt spend every Tuesday morning there. Still, it’s not enough to do justice to the materials. “An archivist needs to be intimately involved in the life of the college to care for its history properly,” she says. “One day we’ll have a full-time archivist, but until then, we do our best to preserve yesterday for tomorrow.”
Interested in possibly donating Westmont memorabilia to the archives? Contact Corey at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.