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History as a Living Thing

1 Jun

Maeve Conran’s story about the Maria Rogers Oral HistoryProgram aired on KGNU on May 31, 2012. Conran, Co-Director of News for the Boulder public radio station begins her story like this: 

“The Carnegie Library in Boulder feels more like a museum. Housed in an historic building on Pine Street, there’s that hushed silence that harks back to libraries of days gone by…. The library says the archive preserves the community’s memory for future generations. It’s a fitting location for the home of the oral history program.”

Conran interviewed oral history program director Susan Becker last month. For this radio piece, she intercut Becker’s commentary–about the value of oral history in general and the specifics of how Boulder’s Maria Rogers Oral History Program serves its community–with a wide arrayof interview excerpts. The excerpts range from the topics of Rocky Flats to the Fourmile Canyon Fire, from the 1918 flu epidemic to political upheaval in 1970s Boulder and more.

(Thanks to interviewers Dorothy Ciarlo, Hannah Nordhaus, Marty Dick, Caitlin McKenna, Sally Bell, Wendy Hall, Tim Plass, and Anne Dyni, whose interviews are featured. And to our other interviewers, some of whose work also is mentioned, plus the videographers, transcribers, and archivists who help make all the interviews available.)

Maeve Conran told us she received a lot of positive listener comments about the program. If you missed it, you can hear it here:

Or visit to listen to the program, which aired May 31, 2012, on “Morning Magazine” and is available in the archives section of the KGNU web site.

The Hurt is in the Heart

10 Feb

By Emily Shuster

I CAME TO BOULDER six weeks ago as an intern for the Maria Rogers Oral History Program.

To the eyes and ears of a visitor to Boulder, one from the part of the country where an eight-hundred foot rise is designated a “peak,” many things seem different, and unexpected.

 To the eyes and ears of this visitor to Boulder—a college student from Vermont, originally hailing from the Boston area—other notable traits here are the personality of this community, and personalities in this community. The stories that Boulder residents tell seem to be not only rich with adventure, excitement and accomplishment, but they carry a uniquely noticeable interest in, and care for one another. 

Through my internship I have felt privileged to have the opportunity to listen to the stories of many fascinating Boulder residents who embody this characteristic. There seems to be something in the (dry!) air here that fosters the mindset of person-to-person civility and compassion.

 “…the hurt is not in the wallet, the hurt is in the heart”

So says Cindy Taylor, Director of the Consumer Affairs Division at the Boulder County Attorney General’s office.  Ms. Taylor was interviewed by Shirley Steele for the oral history program (the interview was filmed by Liz McCutcheon).  The whole interview is available on the Maria Rogers Oral History web site , but you can watch the short video above to learn about the essence of the Consumer Affairs Division’s work and hear about consumer protection resources available to those in need of help. Continue reading

The Man They Said They’d Never Free

13 Jan

By Brandon Springer

Bill Cohen and Naum Meiman, 1988

IN SEPTEMBER OF 1946, Soviet Jewish mathematician Naum Meiman was parted from his family. His daughter, Olga Plam; her husband, Misha; and their son were leaving the Soviet Union for the United States after spending a year as refuseniks, Soviet Jews who had applied for exit visas from the state and were denied repeatedly.

 Meiman would spend thirteen more years as a human rights activist fighting for his release and for the release of other Soviet Jews who desired and were denied the right to emigrate. He lived through severe repression from the Soviet state, isolation and loneliness. But through all of those years, his daughter, and later other Boulder residents who had formed the advocacy and resettlement organization Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry (BASJ), fought tirelessly on his behalf.

Listen to a podcast about “The Man They Said They’d Never Free.”

Continue reading

In Memoriam, 2010: Father James McKeown

3 Dec

THE MARIA ROGERS ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM has collected interviews with Boulder and Boulder County residents since 1976. Each year we add about 50 new interviews to our archive. And every year, some of the people that we interviewed finish their time here on earth, leaving behind loved ones and memories of a wide variety of experiences and accomplishments. Fifteen of the people who died in 2010 told of their experiences through oral history interviews.

The sanctuary at St. John's Episcopal Church in Boulder

One of those people, Father James McKeown, is featured in our latest podcast, produced by Heidi Pate. Father McKeown was born in 1921 and was a priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Boulder from 1965 to 1991.  In his oral history he spoke about his church’s response to the influx of young people to Boulder during the summers of the late 1960s, including many runaways who had heard about Boulder’s reputation as a “happening place.”

Father McKeown explained, “At that time the city and county had no facilities for runaways. They were put into the regular jail. Continue reading

Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry: The Beginning

9 Nov

By Brandon Springer

AS THE SOVIET UNION BEGAN TO CRUMBLE in the late 1980s, a group of Jews in Boulder organized to aid and resettle Soviet Jews who faced increasing discrimination from the Soviet state and refusal of their requests to emigrate (earning them the label of “refuseniks”). These Jewish Boulderites called themselves Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry.

Listen to the first in a series of podcasts about the history of Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry.

Over the past year, interns and students from the University of Colorado, along with volunteers from the Maria Rogers Oral History Program, collected interviews with volunteers and organizers for BASJ as well as with new Americans resettled by the organization. Nearly 20 interviews have been conducted with these individuals.

Judge Murray Richtel during a trip to the former Soviet Union

The interviews ranged from the original founders of BASJ—attorneys Bill and Sara-Jane Cohen and Judge Murray Richtel—to some of the first board members; from families that served as “anchor families” to Soviet émigrés (providing them with guidance and advice on adapting to American culture and life) to professional and volunteer ESL tutors who taught English to the new Americans. In addition, of course, many of the interviews documented the lives of the Soviet Jewish émigrés themselves. Continue reading

Back to the Basics: Frontier Schools

5 Oct

South Boulder Schoolhouse, Eldorado Springs, Colorado; 1880s. Photo by J.B. Sturtevant. Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

The first schoolhouse in Boulder, Colorado, was built in 1860. During the next hundred years, the people of Boulder County established sixty-six school districts. A district was established only after proof was provided that there were at least 10 children between the ages of five and twenty-one years of age living in the proposed area. The family with the most children often donated the land for the schoolhouse and took the teacher into its home to provide her or him a place to live.

In 1961, the remaining school districts were consolidated into the two we know today, the St. Vrain and Boulder Valley school districts. This move was not one that was embraced by everyone. In an oral history interview, Isabella Mayhoffer, a former county superintendent, commented that the two reorganized districts now spent more but accomplished no more with their special projects than the rural districts ever did. She remembered the rural school districts this way:

“The rural districts were a home-like situation where the teachers were extremely sincere and most of them very capable. They had a “tutor” attitude toward their children. It was a love affair. [The children] loved the school and the teacher loved them, and the community was back of them…sort of a family affair.”

The above information is taken from the beginning of Anne Dyni’s book, Back to the Basics: The Frontier Schools of Boulder County, Colorado, 1860­-1960. As part of her research for that book Anne Dyni conducted dozens of oral history interviews for the Maria Rogers Oral History Program. Those interviews and more have now been collected into the “Pioneer Schools of Boulder County Special Collection.” The collection is a work in progress, but you can hear our recently posted podcast in which teachers from one-room schoolhouses talk about their living situations and jobs, and you can listen to many of the interviews in their entirety by going to the special collection on our digital archive (click on the yellow “Special Collections” button and then on “Pioneer Schools of Boulder County” in the blue box.)

Back to the Basics: The Frontier Schools of Boulder County is full of fascinating facts and wonderful old photographs. It is available at all Boulder Library branches and can be purchased used from

Adopting a New Country

13 Jul

EARLIER THIS MONTH we celebrated Independence Day, which is symbolic of many things for American citizens: a hard war fought and won, freedom gained in the balance, inalienable human rights that determine the fabric of American society.  The day is one of remembrance for Americans born and raised on United States soil – but it also has special meaning to those who have come to our country as immigrants in search of promise.

One such immigrant was Boulder resident Clara Perez-Mendez.  Born in Mexico, she moved to the United States at the age of 23 with her husband and two children to allow her husband to pursue his engineering career.  At first, with much of her extended family back in Mexico, they were not sure how long they would remain in the United Sates. Even after they decided to stay, it took a long time before she felt ready to become a citizen.  In her interview for the Maria Rogers Oral History Program, she details part of the reason for her hesitation: “…becoming an American citizen for me was a big step that, Continue reading

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