Donna Roper

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Interviewee: Donna Roper
Interviewer: Olivia Brown
Date: October 1, 2016
Accession #: PHP 023
Length of Recording: 66:20
Sound Recording

Donna Roper grew up in Piedmont, South Carolina. After attending the University of South Carolina for her undergraduate degree, where she studied history, she continued on as a Master’s student in Applied History. She began her graduate education in 1976 as part of the second class of UofSC’s Applied History Program. She entered the workforce after her internship budded into a full-time position with the Pendleton District Commission, but she had yet to complete her degree. She returned to USC to complete her thesis and degree in 1989. She spent 26 years working for the Pendleton District Commission, mostly as a curator, but also as a tour guide, creating exhibits, and writing grants. She retired in 2005 and lives in her old family home in Piedmont. Interview includes discussion of the early years of USC’s Applied History Program, the influence of faculty in the History Department, discussion of the early Applied (Public) History job market and frequency of job placement, career work in local history at the Pendleton District Commission, and improvements that could be made to the current Public History program.



Applied History | Pendleton District Commission | Piedmont, South Carolina | Curators | Grant Writing | Tour Guides



Donna Roper: And I’m sure Muffy will comment every once in a while, so I’ll have to smack her.

Olivia Brown: This is Olivia Brown, it is October 1, 2016. I am interviewing Donna Roper for USC’s Public History Program Archive and we’re conducting this interview at Ms. Roper’s home in Piedmont, South Carolina. (dog whines) and Muffy has commented already. So I wanted to get started by just getting a little of your personal background. Where are you from originally?

DR: Okay. I’m from Piedmont, this is where I grew up. This house is a mill house in the mill village because Piedmont’s address goes over like two or three counties, and people say they’re from Piedmont but they aren’t really—but I am. And this was my grandparents’ house, and they bought it for $2,500 in 1950 from the mill. So I have been—hush Muffy—I have enjoyed having this little house and you can see I have hard pine flooring and cool stuff like that, so I enjoy my house. My father is a big history buff. He’s the local historian fella. I say, “He didn’t go to college, and he’s been a more successful historian than I have,” so that’s why I was interested in history from—always, I guess.

OB: Where did you do your undergrad and how did that affect going to graduate school afterward?

DR: Well that’s very related to our program because Walter Edgar was my undergraduate advisor, and when I was a senior I was thinking, “Oh my Lord,” I changed majors three times and started out as an English major and then I ended up with just a regular history degree was what I was going to get, and I said, “I don’t want to teach!” I got out of education and I don’t know what to do with myself, and Dr. Edgar says, “I think you might be interested in this new program that I’ve just started,” and this was in 1975, and they were having the first class—the first year of what was then Applied History so I went straight, stayed down there, and went to graduate school and started graduate school in the fall of ‘76. (dog whine) Muffy!

OB: So, you were one of the first classes in the Applied History program?

DR: Yeah, if I had graduated when I should have, I would’ve been in the second class and I don’t know how much you’ve heard about the early years of the program, but I know it was Applied History at the time because there wasn’t really anything such as Public History. At the time too, the first I don’t know how many classes of us, we got jobs before we finished our degrees because nobody was trained specifically for the public history jobs. We had an internship as part of our program, and you still do don’t you?

OB: We do, yes.

DR: And just about the entire first several years got hired by who they interned with, including me. Since we were—you tell me this too, do they still want you to take comprehensive exams, intern full-time somewhere, and write your thesis in the same semester?

OB: We don’t as Master’s students take our comprehensive exams, that’s only for PhD students. But we still do have the internship and thesis, and we now have a portfolio as well—

DR: —Lord help us.

OB: —and that’s all before graduating.

DR: Well of the first class that graduated, one person graduated. The others had jobs, but no degree because it was very difficult to work full-time, usually away from Columbia, and study, and take your comps, and develop and write your thesis all in one semester. Then we got hired so that took all our time up working so hardly anyone—Julie Burr was the girl’s name—she was hyper, and she’s the only person of the first bunch that graduated when she was supposed to.

OB: So how long did it typically take people to finish their degrees?

DR: Oh years! Years. Some people never did, still worked in the field and it took—I don’t know if you realized that I was that old (laughter) because my degree is in ’89.

OB: But it should’ve started in ’76?

DR: It should’ve been ‘78, so it was 11 years later.

OB: So how did that long span of time work with your degree. Were you just working full-time, or do you want to talk a little about that?

DR: Well I interned for the Pendleton District Commission, and we still exist, and they hired me a few months after I got home, and I hadn’t finished my thesis yet. I had taken comps and finished all my work and done my internship but I hadn’t finished my thesis because the thesis that I was originally going to do didn’t work out, so I had to change it, so it put me behind, and then I got hired. I merrily went on my way working in the field like everybody else (laughter) from the early years of the program. My father was always upset with me because he sent to me to graduate school, and I didn’t finish. I decided, yeah. I don’t know if you ever knew Mary Edmonds — oh no you wouldn’t, you’re new. She retired two or three years ago from the archives, she was like second in command at the archives. Her husband Marion Edmonds he still works for PRT [South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism]—anyhow Mary and Marion were in my class, and Mary had just finished hers in like ‘87 or ’88, right then, and they didn’t give her a problem about it. Well, when I contacted and said, “I would like to finish because all I have left is my thesis and I just never finished it,” the Graduate Committee said, “No, I’d been out too long.”

Since Dr. Edgar is a perfectly wonderful human being, he went to bat for me and talked them into it. They made me take two courses that weren’t offered when I was—well the early years there was no track, you took a little bit of everything—and they made me take two courses—I can’t remember what one of them even was—and retake comps, and finish my thesis, and they gave me a year to do it, and I was working. So that was even worse than the one semester that I had suffered through before without getting out. My office was very nice about it, my boss said I could go to Columbia one day a week, other than the weekend, and take a class because I had to go to one of the classes, so they had those on the same day. One of them, I thought it was funny, I can’t remember the title of the class, but Connie Schultz taught it and it was about—it was like a basic class. I’d worked in the field since 1978 so I thought, “This is stupid, but I ought to make an A in it,” and I did (laughter). So I did all that stuff, and finished my thesis, and got my degree in December of ’89. Yahoo, you know (laughter).

OB: After working that many years still in the field already…

DR: Yeah and the worst part of it was retaking comps. And there was a fella that was a little bit younger than me, but was also behind, and he had to retake comps, and we had them the same day. So we were in there going, “Ahhhh!”

OB: Stressing out together, right?

DR: He’d worked at the archives all these years. But it was funny, that’s what happened to me, I spent my entire career with the same office. A lot of the people that I went to graduate school with also did. That was very common for the first few batches of us unless you wanted to move around. I always wanted to work in local history, so that worked out fine for me. I was somewhere where I enjoyed the work and we all knew we weren’t likely to get rich in this liberal arts history major unless we went to law school—a lot of the history majors did. It seemed like all the history majors that I knew as an undergraduate either went to work in a jewelry store, or they went to law school. I knew several people that clerked in jewelry stores after we got our undergraduate degrees, I thought that was peculiar—

OB: Interesting trend.

DR: Yeah, I don’t know what explained that, but it seemed to be true. And then I didn’t want to go—I believe a lawyer’s closest to the fire, so I wasn’t real wild about the idea of going to law school, so I was extremely glad that Dr. Edgar had that bright idea of the Applied History program. Have you met him?

OB: I have not, no.

DR: You know who he is, I’m sure.

OB: Yeah I do. So do you remember some of the classes that you took before this gap where you worked in the field? Some of the classes that you took in those first years of your program and maybe some that were memorable to you?

DR: Oh sure. One of the fun things was the Historic Preservation class that Dr. Edgar taught. We met in the dome of McKissick where the University Board used to meet, and we looked out on the Horseshoe from up there in class. That was neat, I liked to be in where the class was. Of course, Dr. Edgar was a really good professor too so I remember that class. I enjoyed Editing which George Rogers—Dr. Rogers, who’s passed away now—he was a really interesting professor, and he taught that. That was fun to read letters from back, I’d never done that until I was in graduate school.

I loved the Caroliniana, I thought it was my house (laughs) I was in there so much. They have such treasures of things, and Allen Stokes, who still volunteers there I think, he did—at least last year, he was still volunteering—he used to be Director of it, and Henry Fulmer that’s there now worked for Allen so I knew them, and the people in the Caroliniana were my friends and I loved them—I still do—and so I enjoyed going to the Caroliniana and doing research. The only thing was the upstairs was the books and published things, and the downstairs was the—they’re redoing it and I don’t know what it’s going to be like now—but the downstairs was the manuscripts division. I didn’t need to go to the upstairs nearly as much because to work with all the primary sources, but I did sometimes and I was scared of the people on the second floor, they were mean (laughter). Especially one lady whose name I can’t remember, which is probably fortunate since I’d probably say something about her. Well I will say something about her, she was mean. I didn’t like to have to ask her for anything, and I was so comfortable down in the manuscripts room with the people that worked in there, and Allen Stokes was the Manuscripts Librarian at that time, and not the Director. Then he was the Director and Henry was the Manuscripts Librarian, and now Henry’s the Director! They’re all wonderful people, but I didn’t like to go up to the publications part.

OB: Not unless you had to.

DR: Not unless I had to, yeah.

OB: You mentioned that you to switch thesis topics. Why did that happen?

DR: Well, when they sent you to intern, they usually ask whoever was in charge wherever you went if they had any projects they’d like you to do that would be simple for a thesis, and the fella that was the Director at Pendleton said that he did, and it turned out he didn’t (laughter). What he had was that he was a former newspaper reporter and columnist, and this was a fella that was this fella that he worked with way back that wrote a column all the time about local stuff and local history, and he had this notebook where he took notes that he used for his column. All it was was he read the old newspapers mostly, and it would have you know—you knew what newspaper it was because it was Anderson whatever—and then he’d the write the date and scribble in notes about what that article that he read, and it was entries like that.

What in the heck could you do with that? So it was editing the T. Franklin Acker notebook was what I was supposed to be doing for my thesis, but when I saw that I thought, “Whoopee, these are this man’s notes for ideas for his little columns,” and it’s interesting but all I think I can do with all these little one-paragraph notes is look them up in the original article in the newspaper on microfilm at the time and what would I do with it? It was so many little things it wouldn’t—anyhow, I talked about it with Dr. Edgar and it didn’t work.

So I ended up doing—oh and I actually changed twice because when I went back in ‘89 I was going to do a transcription of a journal that we had in our collection, but it was—it’s been published since then, but I didn’t do it. I did the original transcription, but anyhow that doesn’t matter, but it was the Anderson Mayor’s daughter from 1865, so there weren’t many upcountry things like that, so that turned out to be more than I could get done in my year with all the other stuff I was doing. I ended up doing a study of four farmer societies because Pendleton has one. I did two upcountry and two Lowcountry farmer societies and that was my—that study ended up being my thesis.


OB: Did most of your resources come from USC from the Caroliniana or did you do a lot of traveling?

DR: No, I didn’t do a lot of traveling, not then (laughter), you do a lot more now. No most of—well, Clemson and Pendleton, where I worked, and their collections, special collections at Clemson had some stuff and we had some stuff at Pendleton, and then the rest of it I got from the Caroliniana, so the two Lowcountry ones, farmer societies, agricultural clubs, whatever. That’s when I was reading the correspondence with James Henry Hammond and Thomas Jefferson that I was talking about a while ago [Mentioned in the pre-interview as a comment in response to interviewer’s previous job at Monticello.] No, we didn’t get to travel a whole lot.

One of the things that was very interesting and a lot of fun when I was in graduate school was we went to Old Salem and spent like two or three nights, and studied decorative arts and all that stuff, and of course ate good food and yahoo-ed at night and all this, it was fun. It was really fun because we were in like MESDA [Museum of Early South Decorative Arts in Old Salem, North Carolina] and how you go through stuff and you can’t go past the rope where the actual stuff—the actual artifacts and things. We got to roll around on the floor and look at marks underneath the tables and pick up the chairs and look under them. We got to actually handle stuff and study real things and all that, so that was a really interesting trip.

OB: Was that part of a class that you were taking?

DR: Yeah, but I can’t remember what class it was.

OB: So you went with other Applied History students?

DR: Yeah the whole—I think our entire—it was a bunch of us. We all went.

OB: That sounds fun! (laughter)

DR: It was. It was very interesting and a lot of fun, so that was a highlight of school—back in the Editing, and sitting in the Board Room in the dome of McKissick for class, and that kind of stuff. Then we had to have—I guess you still do—we had to have a field of study and a secondary to our Applied History classes, and mine was the middle period of American History, so some of those classes were—had interesting professors. One of them married one of my fellow students. He’s dead now, the rascal, but (laughter) she still, her name is Barbara Bellows. You ever heard of her?

OB: I haven’t.

DR: She writes stuff, she’s good. She’s really nice, she was way too nice for Dr. [Owen ] Connelly (laughter) let me see here saying bad things about people, but he was an interesting professor. I’ll never forget I took a Civil War and Reconstruction class, and the first day of class he’s going down the list and calling us by name so he can see who we are and he says, “Edmund Kirby Smith,” and everybody in the class said (laughter), “What?” and he looked up and said, “Really?” (laughter) and Kirby Smith says, “Yeah, great-grandson.” So I’m sure you know who that is, being from Virginia, so one of his descendants was in my class with—he was in the Applied History—not just in the Civil War and Reconstruction class.

OB: So he was taking the program with you—

DR: —he was in the program. He’s one of the ones I don’t think ever finished. He was a real character, but everybody called him Kirby Smith, not Ed, it was Kirby Smith. “Hey Kirby Smith!”, this kind of stuff. So that was interesting to be sitting in the Civil War and Reconstruction class, and have one of the general’s descendants be on the row, and Dr. Connelly thought it was pretty interesting too. He was an interesting professor and I enjoyed taking his classes, but he was not a fair professor. He was the professor that gave me my comprehensive exam questions for the secondary—for my secondary thing—my American history part. When I went to see him for advice about what to bone up on, he says “Now, I want you to realize that even though the only thing I taught you was Civil War and Reconstruction, that we’re going to have—that’s not going to be just what the questions I’m going to give you are about.” He said, “Like Jacksonian Democracy,” which I had never studied direct, you know in any kind of depth, and blah this and blah that. I panicked and checked out books on Jacksonian Democracy and read up and when I got to the exam, he gave you nine questions, pick three to answer, any three, and six of them were Civil War-related.

OB: So, you had a pretty good choice of the Civil War questions—

DR: —so he lied, you know. You could’ve not boned up on any of the other stuff, and there was no Jacksonian Democracy questions, and you could pick three Civil War questions, just like he said you weren’t going to be able to. So I didn’t think much of that, and then when I was in—later, after I was working, I heard that there was a student that I knew that was a really nice woman and he didn’t—and as the old people say, “He took against her.” He gave her unfair grades and almost got her flunked out of the program, which was basically just him, not her work, I’m positive. So you had professors that were wonky like that, even though he was very well-known, you know he wrote what, a biography or study of Robert E. Lee, and a whole bunch of other stuff, and I said he was an interesting lecturer, but he was crazy (laughs). I still don’t understand why Barbara married him (laughs) because she wasn’t crazy, she was real nice.

OB: Are there other professors that stick out to you that you remember?

DR: Dr. Rogers, George Rogers, he was very interesting. My mother has never gotten over (laughter) meeting him. He was very dapper, and Old South manners and all that stuff, and so smart. Anyhow, Mother and Daddy were visiting me and we ran—and Mother was with me in the Russell House doing something—and we ran into Dr. Rogers and stopped and I said, “This is my—” introduced Mother to him, and he took her hand and bent over and kissed her hand when he met her, and I thought Mother was just going to keel over (laughs). She always talked about that “nice Dr. Rogers” (laughs), so that was kind of funny. Then there was—I never had this professor for a class—Dr. Lumpkin, always tickled me if you ran into him in the hallway and stopped and said hello, he stopped dead still, put his heels together and bowed to you when he told you hello. So (laughs) that was funny too. I enjoyed John Bryan, he was in the—he taught the like 19th century architecture class—he’s more of an Art History professor and, I think he’s still around too. Not only are most of the professors either retired or dead, all of us that were in the first few years are retiring now. So (laughs) it’s kind of funny to think of.

Yeah what else about the classes? I remember the trip to Old Salem fondly because that was so interesting, and we got to do all of that hands-on stuff, and I like 19th century architecture that Dr. Bryan taught. That was fun. Did some work on the 19th century not just architecture as in houses but in like infrastructure for the waterworks, and things like that—that was interesting. And…I don’t know… Do you have another question?

OB: Yeah absolutely. You’ve mentioned how you got a job out of your internship. What was your internship doing with the Pendleton District Commission?

DR: They didn’t have a curator, they had like a secretary who was—and I don’t know what the other one’s title was, but she did stuff like tours and the festival—she started the festival they have, she did more tourism stuff. But they were developing a pretty good collection of papers and artifacts and things, and they had started a little agricultural museum and things like that, so I processed collections, basically. Worked up little exhibits for the downstairs of the building—it’s an old two-story 1850 General Store building—worked with our director on some stuff over at the agricultural museum, and kind of tried to get caught up a little bit with knowing what they had in their collections because some of the stuff I still don’t know to this day—and my successors don’t either—where this stuff came from because our director did not keep records. He should have, but he didn’t, so we don’t know who gave what and where it came from or anything about some of it, so that’s the kind of stuff I did. I did a little tourist-type thing too, but mostly trying to get a start on processing the collections and they really needed a curator so when the secretary quit, I was hired as the curator with the secretary’s minuscule salary. But, eh you know…

OB: So is that the job you stayed in after when they offered it to you?

DR: Yeah and I was—they changed my title every once in a while, but I basically was the curator for 26 and something, point whatever years. We developed a really good archives and local history collection, and I never got to do a whole lot with the ag museum. They’ve done a lot with that over there with this last curator that they have now. He has—he’s developed the ag museum with a volunteer and several new volunteers with a lady who was a retired school teacher who was really interested in it.

So I’m glad the ag museum finally got some love, but I enjoyed doing things like going to look at stuff people wanted to give us and see if we wanted it or not, and got to meet interesting people doing that and walk around on their property and some of the old houses and things like that and they give us, I worked—we had objects too but I worked more with paper things and that was—I’ve always liked to read over people’s letters (laughs), so that was fun. I like to make lists and organize, not that you can tell from my house, but I enjoyed getting family papers and going through and cataloguing them, and inventorying them, and putting them in our research room so people could actually use them and keeping an index of them before computers, and card filing, and stuff like that. I wish I had computer capabilities my entire career, it would’ve been better and easier and I would have better records than I do now.

OB: Do you remember when you started using computers to do that?

DR: I can’t remember when we first got one…No I really can’t. I like computers—

OB: —but it made your life easier, right?

DR: It made the newsletter a whole lot easier because I wrote the newsletter and put it out. So, you know, I used to have to type it and make it fit, and cut and paste it, literally—not cut and paste on the computer program—and then run the copies off on the copier. Lord—and that kind of thing. And I got to do quarterly or so exhibits out of our material, photos and different things on different local history topics and they would be in the—and I got to do—and they’d be in the downstairs of the building. The second floor was where the archive stuff was stored, and I did tour guiding of Historic Pendleton, like on buses and vans and on foot and walking tours and school tours and all that. I have to say though when I retired, I said my favorite thing about being retired was I never had to do anything with a school group again. (Laughter)

OB: Not your favorite part of the job?

DR: Not my favorite part of it (laughs). Some of them—the homeschool groups—were so polite and so well-behaved, but you got teachers that were just glad to be outside just as much as the students were and you’d have like three school buses full, running wildly through the ag museum or climbing on the stuff, and you were the only person there. Kind of like “Ahhhhhhh!” (laughs) so that was not all that much fun. Sometimes the walking tours were kind of fun, so I used to—that’s when like Nightmare on Elm Street was popular, the horror movie, and we had—I told them we had an Elm Street in Pendleton when we get down behind St. Paul’s Church and go down and I’d say, “Alright! We’re going to have History on Elm Street!” and this kind of thing. My favorite historic site is St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, so I was always glad to get to go in because we had a key at the time because we did so many tours. So did that, it was a small office. I think one of the best things about where I worked was that you got to do everything, even stuff you didn’t particularly want to do. But it was always interesting because you never—it was not boring—you didn’t sit and do one thing all day long.

OB: That’s nice.

DR: Yeah, that was. Small historical—and I always wanted to work in local history so I was glad to get hired somewhere that was mostly local. There’s Pickens, Oconee, and Anderson County, and I’m in the edge of Anderson County, so it was local history for me so that was good.

OB: Any of those exhibitions that you designed that were your favorites that you remember?

DR: Um, no, they all run together. I mean I did like three or four a year for 26 years. Sometimes we had a grant to do one. We got a lot of humanities grants, state-level humanities grants to do different programs, which was fun. We did one thing that was—which would also be so much easier now doing…what’s it called…. like slides on the computer?

OB: PowerPoint.

DR: PowerPoint! Thank you. Because we did coordinated slideshows (laughs) with like two slide projectors that were timed and one would fade in and one would fade out and you had to queue it all in and time it. Put the timing in and do it—you had to do it from scratch. And that was fun. One of those was local history, county history-level stuff that we did different slideshows on different topics like education through the years, you know, blah through the years, whatever, and we got a lot of people to come see those too when we presented them, so that was fun. We did a couple of black history projects that we got grant help with and had some—an outside scholar come in too, so I didn’t do all of that exhibit, and programs, and stuff by myself, but that was really interesting and we had a couple of really good exhibits. Have you ever heard of Jane Hunter?

OB: I have not.

DR: Jane E. Hunter was born at Woodburn in Pendleton and she started the Phyllis Wheatley Association and she went to Chicago. Anyhow, she’s a very interesting woman and she’s from Pendleton and there’s a lot of—she’s in like several halls of fame and stuff like that. She was always interesting and we did an exhibit about her, and those kind of exhibits too the school groups liked. We sent out a lot of information to schools and teachers, and senior citizens groups. Senior citizens’ groups are a-whole-nother category of doing programs and (laughs) for senior citizens groups was sometimes wilder than the elementary school children. I call the children “urchins,” I call all children “urchins”—I don’t have any children (laughs). Everybody knows I call them urchins, I don’t mean anything bad by it, but one of my coworkers referred to the senior citizens’ groups as “senior urchins” because they were (laughs) harder to make behave than the children were.

So like I said, it was always interesting. We might be over at so-and-so’s farm looking at a piece of farm equipment for the ag museum, or we might be at somebody’s house getting an oral history—we did several oral history projects which were also grant-supported and we still have—we have one particular one that was the—one particular interview from one of the projects that was—I’ve forgotten the name of the program—some national Smithsonian thing about American dialects—I don’t even know how they found us—has one of our tapes.

We had­—at the time, our office also owned Stumphouse Tunnel Park in Oconee County, and the ranger that runs the little park for us—that’s an old railroad project that didn’t make it—it tunneled through, part way through the mountain and it didn’t get finished so it’s like a great big tunnel that Clemson used to cure their bleu cheese in. Anyhow, I went there when I was a little girl. It’s fun when you go to the mouth of the great big tunnel, it’s like air conditioning coming out of it because we’d go up there in the summers for picnics, and if it was hot you just went up and stood in the tunnel because it’s 50 degrees year-round in the tunnel, which is why they cured bleu cheese in it—

OB: —it’s probably nice when it’s 100 degrees down here, right?

DR: —oh yeah it was wonderful. Anyhow, I know I had a point, what was it? About Stump – oh! Our ranger. One of our oral history interviews was of Mr. Ridley and he was from around Walhalla and he was an old mountain man, and he had this way of talking that was really old-fashioned dialect, mountain dialect. He’d never seen the ocean, never been more than 50 miles away from home. Real smart, very interesting, lots of fun to talk to, and he was one of the—and he used to moonshine. We have him on oral history tapes telling us step-by-step how you made moonshine. And his tape is in that Smithsonian American Dialect collection, which was cool.

OB: Were you part of these grant-writing proposals?

DR: Yeah.

OB: Do you want to talk a little about how you found these grants and what writing them was like, and that experience of working with state grants?

DR: Yeah. We had occasionally one like from the archives or somebody to do National Register nominations, that sort of thing. We did a few of those under a grant program, but the ones we had the most were—I think we had a AASLH [American Association for State and Local History] grant doing something one time, I can’t even remember what it was now. But we did most of our grant work through the South Carolina Humanities Office. My boss was real good at finding money, he was real good at spending it too (laughs), but he was real good at finding—looking for grant stuff. Of course, we learned that in graduate school too, you know, so I was aware that you could win grant writing and that sort of thing wee were taught in the graduate program, so that’s how we knew about it. The grant writing wasn’t as difficult as it is now because there was a lot more federal and state money available, you know? It’s hard to get.

They had the brick and mortar money from the archives which is not much now, but we usually did—and the humanities one always had a public presentation as part of—it had to be part of your grant, and that was good in getting the programs out to the public. It was interesting, all of the—when we had public programs which, we did a lot of public programming, not just the going to when people asked us to go to their club or their class or whatever and do a program on something or another local history—we also would have the ones where we just publicized it and whoever came, came. The most people that came were the transplants because up around Clemson and the lakes have a lot of people that aren’t from South Carolina and they’re always extremely interested in local history. The local people took it for granted more than the transplants did. So that was interesting to find out. What was the original question? Did I answer it?

OB: Oh yeah, you answered it don’t worry. So you talked about learning this grant-writing in your graduate school. What other skills did you learn that you found were really important to your career afterward?

DR: Being trained on how to catalogue and how to document historic buildings from the Historic Preservation class and because we had to do that when National Register nominations—we were in a National Register Historic District, there was more around the three-county area and all that kind of thing. How to do research correctly (laughs), even though I’d been a history major as an undergraduate. The importance of primary sources and the fun of primary sources. The difference in that and a secondary source, I don’t think a lot of kids know what that is now. I don’t mean in graduate school but you look it up in the encyclopedia and that’s your paper and, no… (laughs) I don’t know, some of that. Also…sort of public relations. How to talk to donors of stuff—not money necessarily—but how to behave with that sort of thing. So you’d be more likely to get the donation of whatever it is you’re wanting. How to tell them “no” nicely (laughs) if it was something that you didn’t want that they thought was wonderful, you know? That kind of thing. That was interesting.

OB: Did you ever get any valuable advice before you started graduate school that you can remember? Maybe from Dr. Edgar or someone else?

DR: I can’t think of any actual advice. Dr. Edgar gave me something to do besides teach (laughs), which I didn’t want to do. Or clerk in the jewelry store. But I really can’t remember—

OB: —maybe his advice was go into this program. (Laughter)

DR: Yeah I think it was. “I think I solved this problem for you, go into my new program,” which was wonderful. That was good advice. But no, I can’t remember, I really can’t remember any advice.

OB: Would you have any for any new graduate students?

DR: …I don’t know…I can’t think of any. I probably should have. (Laughter)

OB: That’s okay, no problem. What about some challenges that you faced while you were in the graduate program?

DR: Well, time—well, my roommates were Pharmacy majors as an undergraduate and we still all roomed together when I was in graduate school because they were like in Pharm D programs, so they were still there too so that was kind of interesting. At least our first year we were all still—of graduate school—we were still all together. They used to get mad at me because they would be sitting up in the middle of the night in the floor doing flash cards on Organic Chemistry stuff and I’d be slumbering peacefully because I was a liberal arts major and (laughter) they’d wake me up at one in the morning when they’re still up studying to tell me did I know my quilts were a Benzene ring pattern? They didn’t think I had to work near hard as they did, so when I got in graduate school, it was a step up from undergraduate studies and it was more studying and my roommates and I and suitemates thought that was just perfectly wonderful that I actually had to spend a lot of time working (laughter) on my graduate work because they didn’t think I had spent near enough time when I was an undergraduate, so I’m sure it was easier than what they were doing.

I don’t know any Organic Chemistry except about my quilt being a Benzene ring pattern. Anyhow, that quilt is still in there in the bedroom by the way—my grandmother made it—but the—but I adjusted to that pretty well. I enjoyed taking classes in anything (laughs) that’s interesting to me, which a lot of stuff is, so that was fine. The biggest thing I had was that last semester, like I said, where you were supposed to do all of that in one semester, when you weren’t even in Columbia or at home base or so to speak. And that proved to be difficult for me to do in one semester. Like I said, I didn’t feel too bad because everybody else—except for Julie Burr—had the same problem and none of us finished on time, but I guess that would be the biggest pressure—the two biggest things was having to adjust my work level upwards and trying to finish on time and not being able to.

OB: But you felt that the transition from undergraduate to graduate school was easy to take at certain parts, or was it pretty difficult?

DR: I don’t think it was difficult. It was noticeable. It was a noticeable difference in level of work. Does that make sense?

OB: Yeah absolutely. You could tell that you were doing more work when you went to graduate school.

DR: Definitely.

OB: Do you still keep in touch with anybody from the program? Any of the faculty or your fellow students?

DR: I still talk to Dr. Edgar every once in a blue moon. I’m trying to think (pause) I haven’t talked to any of the—I used to, when I worked I went to these two state-wide conferences every year, so all the time I worked I saw my colleagues from school. So when I quit doing that, I don’t stay in touch with them much anymore, but I used to see them and talk to them at the conferences and we’d compare notes on where we were working, which was usually wherever we had landed as an intern (laughter) and that kind of thing. It was interesting though—Mary Edmonds that was at the archives for a long, long time and then retired—she had taught elementary school before she went back to graduate school and then worked in the archives all those years. When she retired at the archives, she went back to teaching third grade, which I thought was interesting. I still stay in touch with a couple of colleagues that worked at different places, they weren’t necessarily in my graduate program, but I wouldn’t have known them if I hadn’t been in that graduate program, if you know what I mean.

OB: Yeah, so you met them through your work.

DR: Yeah I met them through work, or through when I was already a student they were already working somewhere, so I still keep in touch with two or three of those. We scattered.

OB: People moved all over the place.

DR: Yeah. We may have stayed in the same job but we weren’t all in the same county, or state, or even—

OB: How was the Applied History program viewed within the larger history department?

DR: At the time?

OB: Mmhmm.

DR: Uh-huh, I don’t really know what the professors thought, but we got grief from the regular history graduate students. They looked down on us.

OB: In what way?

DR: They said so! I would be in the graduate student lounge or something and they’d make snooty comments. I can’t remember—one guy that was just really sneery about the whole program because I remember we were talking—I can’t remember what we were talking about, some kind of something we were studying or working on or something—and he said, “Of course you’re an Applied History student, so you have no idea.” You know, this kind of thing, and I thought that was ridiculous. In my experience, in the earlier years, some of the regular history graduate students didn’t like us. I don’t know how that changed—do you have any idea? Is it—

OB: I think it has changed over the years—

DR: —I would think it has.

OB: —it seems a little more cohesive now.

DR: Well it’s more—there’s more programs like that. I mean there were no programs like that and that’s why we all got jobs so fast (laughter). There’s nobody training you to do this sort of thing at the time. And of course, it became a very successful program and that probably changed attitudes too.

OB: How did that division affect yours and your colleagues’ situation within the Applied History program?

DR: People I knew were happy to be in our program and I certainly enjoyed it and benefited from it. I don’t know. Some of the—I think they thought they were more academic than we were. After all, we would be working with the public, and they would be writing important papers for a journal that no one but the other students read (laughs). Know what I mean?

OB: I understand what you’re saying (laughs).

DR: I don’t know if they felt threatened since this was more public-oriented or if they just looked down their noses because they thought we weren’t intellectual and academic enough. Like it was the easier (long pause) choice than just going for straight Master’s degree and on for a PhD and all that kind of stuff. I don’t know, I thought that was stupid but that’s what I remember in the early years.

OB: What were some of your major takeaways from your Master’s education? I know it expanded over a number of years, but when you reflect back on that, what do you think of most?

DR: How much I enjoyed learning it. Learning. Being thankful I didn’t have to teach (laughs). I have great admiration for teachers but I don’t think I could’ve done it. I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve recommended it to a lot of people, some of them were in—went to the program. I had a better appreciation for how you can affect how the public perceives history.

OB: Mmhmm…That was something that you learned while you were in your graduate program?


DR: Mmhmm.

OB: Great. What motivated you to volunteer to be interviewed for this project that we’re doing?

DR: I just thought it sounded interesting and I’m not sure—wasn’t sure how many of us oldies you would get. Because I know, like I said, I didn’t know if you realized how old I was because you have my—graduation date down as ‘89, but it actually should’ve been ‘78, so that makes me a good bit older. I didn’t know, it just seemed like it would be interesting and kind of fun, and I wasn’t thinking I was going to say anything profound or anything, but just that it would be interesting to do. I still contribute to the program and I’m still interested, I still stay interested in it and usually if I get something in the—I’m on the ApplGrad email list, and that kind of stuff so I try to keep up.

OB: So this was a good way to do that?


DR: Yeah.

OB: To some extent. What kind of perspective do you think being from one of these first classes is able to offer?

DR: I don’t really know. I think it shows you how much the program has probably improved by diversifying—I guess would be a good word for it—because like I said, we didn’t have tracks when we started. I think that was a real good idea to, so you could concentrate more than if you wanted to work for a museum or work at the archives or a historic house museum, whatever you wanted to do, you could concentrate more on learning how to do that than just having it all thrown at you at once. Does that make sense?

OB: Yeah absolutely. Looking back at your graduate program, are there other improvements that you would have wished to be put in place over time? Things that—

DR: Not having to do everything in one semester to graduate (laughs). that was the biggest problem I knew of in the early years of it was nobody graduated. We all got jobs, so it was successful, but no one graduated on time. I’m not sure when that started to change. That would be—

OB: I’ll have to see based on some of the other interviews we get.

DR: Based on your interviews I would love to know when that started to change when you got more people graduating from the program on time or in a reasonable amount of time than you did with us. Like I said, some of us never graduated at all (laughs) and some did. Now I’m not sure how many people went on to get PhDs either, especially as opposed to regular academic—regular Master’s degree students.

OB: Was that a possibility while you were in graduate school to continue after the Master’s and go to the PhD at USC?

DR: Sure.

OB: Did people in your program do that?

DR: I’m not sure who did and who didn’t, that’s what I was saying. I have really not thought about that a lot, but I can’t think of very many people, especially from my age group that went on and got doctorates. I don’t think it was one of the—I don’t think it was available as one of the PhD fields of study at the time either.

OB: Interesting.

DR: I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure. I know it became one.

OB: It’s relatively popular now for some of our PhD students to take on a Master’s in Public History as one of their minor fields.

DR: Mmhmm. And I know you could—I like the idea of inter- I’ve lost my word—what do I mean? interdisciplinary?—where you could a Master’s of Library Science with—

OB: The dual program.

DR: Yeah the dual programs, that stuff. That’s a good idea.

OB: That seems to be more popular now—

DR: I’m sure it was. That would’ve been kind of—I think that I would kind of liked that. I don’t think you could do that when I was there, because I love libraries. That was interesting to learn too, that libraries in my mind are sacred temples of books, and this kind of thing, and I was kind of surprised to find out that they didn’t see it like—see things like the public history students did. They might get rid of a book that I wouldn’t get rid of. It was not a rare books section, but just a regular library, that it’s not the same emphasis.

OB: Interesting.

DR: Which was—didn’t fit in my brain. I know—I like to go to used book sales and used book dealers and all that kind of stuff, and I was at—I’m trying to think where I was—a friend of mine and I were at a used book sale and there were like two or three dozen of these books from like the—way old—and they were stamped, or not stamped, they had—anyhow, they were identified as coming from South Carolina College. I mean that’s old. That’s before it was the University of South Carolina. They had names written in them, it was really interesting to me and I thought, “What’re these doing in the used book sale? Wouldn’t the library want to keep the things that were that old that were like to have the encapsulated South Carolina College library?” All the books, because there wasn’t that many at the time, I wouldn’t think, that’s way back you know when it was, 1830 or 1840 or something? Wouldn’t you think—

OB: It became, or it was South Carolina College up until the Civil War. So a book with that stamp would’ve been pre-Civil War.

DR: They had book plates, not really stamps. Some interesting people—I can’t remember who now—names written in them in this kind of stuff and I thought, why would you get rid of these? Because I remember calling the Caroliniana and asking Allen if—I said, “Do you—they said the library got rid of them is why they were in this book sale, does that sound likely to you or do you think they could be stolen or?” and he checked for me, and no the Caroliniana didn’t get rid of them, these were like from (cough) the big library but it never made sense that they would get rid of those. So that was a different—I learned that librarians had a different way of looking at the treasures than I did. Anyhow, I’ve still got some of them. I bought some of them and kept them—

OB: Oh very cool. So why don’t we conclude a little by, how about when did you retire? (Coughs)

DR: Oh (Aside conversation amid interviewer coughing)

OB: Excuse me.

DR: Certainly, I would not have retired as early as I did…

OB: I’m sorry.

DR: That’s okay. I have a cough drop—do you what one?

OB: I’m okay.

DR: Or did you just swallow wrong?

OB: I’m getting over a cold. Sorry about that.

DR: That’s okay.

OB: Continue.

DR: Do you want a Kleenex?

OB: I’m okay, I’m okay. Thank you.

DR: I have Multiple Sclerosis and I got diagnosed in like 2000 and it’s gotten, it’s a progressive thing, and I retired at the end of 2005. I was fortunate enough—I was a state employee so you only had to have 28 years and I had like 26 point 3 or 4 years and I was fortunate enough to have—because I didn’t go out on disability, I was fortunate enough to have enough saved up to buy myself out and have my full retirement benefits. It had gotten too much for me to work five days a week in a row, all day long, every day. I looked up my finances and decided I could do this and live on my retirement (coughing), so I retired early.

OB: Are you enjoying your retired life?

DR: Of course! (laughs) They said when you retire, you have six Saturdays and one Sunday every week.

OB: Well that sounds nice. (Coughing)

DR: Up until like a year and a half ago or so, I still volunteered at my old office and their stuff is on the second floor and they don’t have an elevator so—

OB: That’s difficult for you.

DR: I’ve had a lot of trouble walking and I gave up. I can’t do that anymore, mostly because of where the stuff is. I also worked with the Anderson County Museum. It started as a division of our office in Pendleton and I was their first curator and coordinated the little volunteers. We had this little suite of three rooms in the basement of the old courthouse, and just kind of did the exhibits and coordinated the volunteers, and all that, and worked with the historical groups and that was—I’ve always been interested in that. And then about—let’s see—late ‘90s finally got the county to take responsibility for it and hire a real director and all this and they ended up doing—redoing the old library building when they built a new library and all this—anyhow, it’s a great museum, you should go. It’s all on one level, I still volunteer there.

OB: Oh great.

DR: Yeah. Their little research room is named for me—the Roper Research Room.

OB: That’s nice!

DR: Yeah I thought it was—it’s cool! I volunteer there once a month and I’m on their Advisory Board, but I work with them more than I do with my old—well, that’s sort of my old office too, like I said, my office was in charge of it before it got to be a good place, great place. If you ever get to go, you should go. It’s a really good history museum.

OB: Where is that?

DR: It’s in Downtown Anderson on Fant Street. They have just great exhibits. They’ve been fortunate to have good curators once they got a real—real, air quotes—museum going, because it was a struggle in the early years with the—I only went down there one afternoon a week and anything I did for exhibits, I had to fabricate at Pendleton and all that. It’s been really interesting over the years, like I said, I wished we had computers earlier and digital photographs and all that. We used to—we copied a lot of photos for the collections and we did it with photo light stand. Those lights were incredibly hot, you could only do it for so long at the time with the camera screwed into the thing and different lenses and then you had—I worked in the dark room and printed the pictures and that kind of stuff. Boy, is it a lot easier now. (Laughter) It’s easier to do everything with computers and digital and printers and all that stuff.

OB: Easier but they come with their own challenges.

DR: Yes, they do (laughter) but, I think I was fortunate that I got to work in a lot of different— with a lot of—over a period of years when a lot of things changed. The way you did it and the equipment you used, and what people were interested in, and just all of that changed over the years and I think I was extremely fortunate to get to work in a small place that had lots of different activity and not just work on one thing all the time. If it hadn’t been for the Applied History Public History program, I would never have gotten to do all this—so, yay!

OB: Well that’s great. I want to thank you so much for being willing to do this interview with us and I’ll be in touch with you anything that we create out of it afterward.

DR: Great.

OB: Thank you.

DR: Thank you.

End of Interview