Once while reporting for a story about a local man who worked overseas on a United Nations police task force, I ran up against this newspaper’s morning deadline and needed a quick refresher course on Bosnia. When I say quick, I mean 15 minutes or so. This was a few years before everyone was using the Internet. So I called the one person in Hopkinsville that I was certain understood the background of Bosnia’s political unrest, had kept up with recent news and would also take my call.
Easy. My high school history teacher, Marvin Denison.
I remember Marvin’s help that day because it was interesting to ask him to teach me something as an adult. Maybe he appreciated this many years after trying, sometimes without success, to get me to turn in homework.
Marvin’s long teaching career is an interesting story, so I’m not the only person in Hopkinsville who was first his student and then his friend. Marvin has been at University Heights Academy since 1975, long enough to teach U.S. history, senior government and a few life lessons to two generations of students.
That’s why he came to mind a few days ago when I heard WKMS, the public radio station at Murray State University, is looking for people to feature during its observance of the National Day of Listening.
On Oct. 1, WKMS will send some folks to the Hopkinsville-Christian County Public Library to record stories of local people. I’ve agreed to help the station recruit people for this project.
Here’s how it works: If you want to save an audio recording of a family member or of anyone in the community you respect, you can sign up to interview that person at the library on Oct. 1. This is for people who will bring along an elder who has an interesting story. (Hint. Everyone has an interesting story, so there are lots of possibilities.)
Marvin and I will be among the eight pairs recording stories for WKMS. I plan to ask him some questions about his career. In particular, I want him to share a story about Sept. 11, 2001, when he spent time with students who were watching live news coverage following the terror attacks.
I hope my plan for interviewing Marvin will give others ideas for participating in this project.
Maybe you have a grandmother who recalls old schools and businesses that are nearly forgotten. Maybe your next-door neighbor fought in World War II, or your aunt was among the first women in Kentucky to vote. I imagine many people in the Hopkinsville area have friends or relatives who recall the construction of Camp Campbell, the African-American chitlin circuit for musicians, the biggest floods in downtown Hopkinsville or the days when only a few churches and theaters in town had air conditioning. Personal stories can be just as interesting.
Everyone who records a story will receive a CD. Those who agree to share the story might be included in an hourlong WKMS program for the National Day of Listening on Nov. 29. The National Day of Listening started at StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization that runs one of the country’s largest oral history projects. Since 2003, StoryCorps has recorded more than 33,000 hours of audio and worked with nearly 90,000 people. Some of the stories are broadcast on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”
WKMS is looking for stories to record in Hopkinsville, Murray, Madisonville and Paducah. The recordings will stay at WKMS rather than being included in the StoryCorps archives. The station plans to archive the stories online at wkms.org.
If you are interested in interviewing someone with a good story to tell, and you’re available on Oct. 1, call me this weekend or at your earliest convenience. WKMS will take the contact information from the first seven people that let me know they want to participate. If you leave a message on my office phone, at 270-887-3236, make sure you give me your name, number and the name of the person whose story you want to save.
I can’t wait to hear your stories. And Marvin’s.
Jennifer P. Brown is the New Era’s opinion editor. Reach her at 270-887-3236 or firstname.lastname@example.org.