Part One, The Discovery:
On October 7, 2009 an interesting discovery was made in the attic of the Old Honors House during the preparation to move to the New Honors House the next day. This discovery was a wondrous addition to a year of change in the Honors Program at Southeast Missouri State University. I should know. I made the discovery.
To begin with some background, the 2009-2010 academic year at Southeast began for the Honors Program in July when we received the news we had been granted a new, larger location on campus. Previously, we had been on the second floor of a smaller house; a location with four small rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The new house was a former mansion and we had the entire house minus the basement. This meant we now had eleven spacious rooms, a foyer, a kitchen, and four bathrooms. Gained were office space, student space, a computer lab, classroom, and a library. The location was central campus, in an old mansion once owned by Harry I. Himmelberger, President of Himmelberger-Harrison Lumber Co. in Cape Girardeau, and his wife Dorothy. As we prepared to move, we packed, planned, and decided what would come with us. As part of this move, I decided to see what we had in the attic of the old house and this led to a great discovery. To coincide with the move, a Grand Opening Ribbon Cutting Ceremony was planned for October 10, 2009 during Homecoming. In December, the Honors Program name was changed from the University Honors Program to the Jane Stephens Honors Program in honor of the past program director and retiring provost, Jane Stephens. All of these changes placed the Honors Program at the center of campus attention and helped to spearhead a new publicity campaign the next year that used images of the 2009-2010 year.
Curiosity has been piqued, has it not? What was the discovery in the attic? Alongside Christmas and luau decorations and large coolers I found approximately twenty boxes of books that belonged to the late Judge Rush Hudson Limbaugh, Sr.* Judge Limbaugh was a former student at Southeast, then called Southeast Normal School, and the University of Missouri School of Law in Columbia. After law school, he returned to his native region to practice law. He would go on to become a well-respected lawyer and judge in not only Missouri, but in the country and across the globe. He would practice up until his death in 1996 at 104 years old.
I found the collection, but it needed to be moved from the attic to our floor to be moved. To accomplish this, Honors Program Director and two of my fellow honors students helped to move the books from the attic. The day of the move, the Director and my fellow Student Honors Council Co-Chair helped the movers carry the books from the old house to the truck, then into the new house’s second floor library. From there, that afternoon my fellow Co-Chair and I unpacked the books and I examined and cleaned them. Then we worked to shelve the books. This allowed us to have the books out and displayed for the Open House Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.
Interest in the books grew. The find excited then Provost Jane Stephens, other administrators, and professors within the history department, especially director of the Historic Preservation program. After finding the books, the historic preservationist was the first person I went to in order to figure out what to do with the books. He then sent me to another historic preservation/history professor, who taught a basic archives class, to see what she would do. This professor suggested speaking to the special collections librarian at Southeast’s Kent Library.
In December I met with the special collections librarian for the first time about the books. We discussed basic preservation and concerns about how they were stored. Then we went on to plan what was needed to preserve the books for the following semester.
Added comments: When I found the books, I wanted to save them before I even discovered who their owner had been. In the end, it was because of their previous owner’s prestige that they were saved and rest of campus learned of the discovery. Otherwise thy might still be in that attic! And if they were still in the attic, I would have felt like I had failed the books because they would continue to be dust-covered and exposed to temperature extremes. I was even planning to rescue a few of the history titles for myself before discovering the original owner! And, yes, the collection remains intact to this day.
Note: Titles used instead of names to preserve privacy.
* Here’s another, newer article: http://www.semissourian.com/story/1897652.html
In the meantime, how would you have handled a situation like this?