Inside the Radnor Archiving Room

An+edition+of+the+Radnorite+from+1938

An edition of the Radnorite from 1938

Ellie Davis, Editor-in-Chief

In the library, nestled between the writing center and the conference room, exists a little-known enclave of Radnor history: the archive room. For the past three years, one of our librarians, Mrs. Richter, and the students of the archiving club have been sifting through the boxes of long-forgotten artifacts to turn the storage closet into a functional and accessible catalog of Radnor history. 

The project began in 2018 when Mr. Bechtold asked Mrs. Richter to scan a copy of a 1942 yearbook that he had borrowed from the Radnor Historical Society. Mrs. Richter exceeded Mr. Bechtold’s initial ask by making a professional, searchable pdf of the yearbook. “That got his wheels spinning on what we could do with this back storage room,” she said.  

The following year, student government got a grant of around $5,000 for initial supplies, and Mr. Bechtold and Mrs. Kevgas asked Mrs. Richter to take on the somewhat overwhelming project of revitalizing the archive room. At first, Mrs. Richter gathered interested students who wished to pursue archiving as an independent study, and since then the group has evolved to be more of a club of students passionate about history. 

Trophy case inside the archiving room

The room itself was previously a computer lab, with the narrow closet in the back housing all the archives. The archive room, however, quickly expanded to occupy the outer room as well. “Our first act of business was cleaning off the floor in that back room,” said Mrs. Richter. “Our initial meetings were really going through boxes and trying to make some sense of what was in there. Some of the boxes were water damaged, and a lot of debris was on the ground.” Cynthia Maz, a senior and one of the original members of the archiving club, along with Tessa Klimowicz, said “It was an absolute mess. I think it was only this year that we could see the floor.” A year later, after most of the grainy, maroon carpet was visible, the club got a scanner. Now, after starting at some point around the turn of the century, the team is up to scanning the 1965 yearbook, which Emilie Puopolo was going through page by page as Mrs. Richter and I spoke. 

The “Rules for Archives use” from the 1990s
The “Radnor High School: A century of spirit” book

The team is picking up work from past archivists who worked in the 1990s, led by Diane Dodds, who, according to a sign regulating the rules of the archive room, which has itself become an artifact, despised both staples and paper clips. Cynthia shares this hatred for metal paper-binding implements, because of how they rust over time and damage the paper. The previous archiving work, as far as Mrs. Richter can tell, culminated in the creation of the Century of Spirit book, which was made in ‘96 to celebrate 100 years of Radnor history. Sadly, this catchy title had to sacrifice the first three years of Radnor’s history from 1893 to 1896. 

The group’s hands-on work during weekly after-school meetings came to a halt with the pandemic in 2020. Despite this delay, “now at least we have an initial organization that’s enough so that if people want to see what sort of photos we have, what sort of trophies, we have we can offer them,” said Mrs. Richter. Currently, Mrs. Richter gets a fair number of outside questions from people investigating their genealogy or looking for information on their ancestors. Through sifting through the student registration cards, Mrs. Richter discovered that one curious community member’s father did not graduate when they suspected, but instead left high school to join the armed forces in the 1940s. 

A model for the spirit gallery, which is currently under construction

The group hopes to continue to make the records more accessible. Eventually, this may involve an outward facing website with all of the scanned yearbooks, but in the short term, “We’re going to be using a lot of the stuff in here for the spirit gallery,” said Mrs. Richter, which will be a new addition to the back entrance of the high school near the pool and gym. “That will be a great way to display some of the items we have in here.”

Mr. Pettiti, Radnor’s Director of Communications, has been leading this project alongside other Radnor community members who have been key actors behind the accessibility renovation project. The displays will house trophies and other memorabilia that the archiving club has been sorting. He envisions the spirit gallery “as a space where we can celebrate the past and be inspired by the future.”

Alongside trophy cases, they plan to include a wall dedicated to photos of Radnor swimmers, historical newspaper articles to offer historical context to Radnor’s athletic achievements, and screens with live broadcasts of athletic events, so that you don’t have to risk missing anything when the snack stand calls. “There’s a distinct passion for Radnor I know from our alumni, from our staff,” said Mr. Pettiti. “We’re really excited to give [the archives] its proper attention and take it and show it all off to the community.” 

The forward to the 1941 yearbook with an Alice in Wonderland theme

The history that deserves a spotlight, however, isn’t limited to athletics. When I asked our archivists if any specific items stood out to them, Mrs. Richter mentioned the 1941 yearbook, and Cynthia and Emilie’s faces lit up in agreement. This Alice in Wonderland-themed book included creative sketches and cutouts to build a quaint and playful mood. The co-art editor of the yearbook was Jan Grant, who later became Jan Berenstain, as in the Berenstain Bears. She’s currently in the Radnor hall of fame for her enduringly iconic children’s picture books.

Outside inquiries have also previously led Mrs. Richter down her own rabbit hole. One question came in regarding the Delaware County girls track team, and the inquirers said they thought a teacher who was at the high school was instrumental in starting the team. “There was a teacher here in the 1920s named Lena Lewis,” said Mrs. Richter. “She started a lot of the girls’ teams, the girls’ basketball team, the girls’ tennis team, and the track team. She was assistant Athletic Director.” Suddenly, in 1928, no materials mentioned her, so Mrs. Richter consulted some historical newspapers. From what Mrs. Richter can discern, Ms. Lewis was fired after an unwanted sexual advance from a principal. Though her time was short, she was instrumental in creating opportunities for women in sports half a century before the passing of Title IX. 

Cynthia also dove into the story of WWII veterans who, as part of a nationwide program, returned to finish their high school degrees after serving in the army, as chronicled in the 1947 yearbook. Because these veterans and seniors made up their own class of sorts, the yearbook dedicated an entire section to them, with their own superlatives, as Cynthia showed me. These students had a specialized advisor and basketball team, which played other groups of veterans similarly completing their degrees. Cynthia has utilized her knowledge of the Radnor records to bring in materials to some of her classes, such as past Radnorite editions that mentioned the rise of Hitler as her history classes are learning about WWII. 

“Any kind of history is important because we learn from history,” said Emilie Puopolo as the scanner whirled over a page in the 1965 yearbook. Thanks to their diligent and often tedious work, with permission from Mrs. Richter, anyone can explore and appreciate these valuable artifacts. With many of the members of the student club graduating, Mrs. Richter is looking for more students to take on the privilege and responsibility of working in the archive room. She invites anyone interested to come and see her. 

Both the money put towards the accessibility project, and the time that our archivists have spent sorting through our records, serve as an investment in Radnor. And through this investigation into the past communities of Radnor, the archiving club has built its own.