Print Page

Post card donation part of larger family story

Contributing writer

Catherin Alaei, who helps to manage special collections at the CEU library, looks through the 'folder postcard' that was donated to the college by the Knowles family. The collection can be viewed by the public.

When Forney, Texas resident Sarah Kathleen McCool and her husband Jesse traveled, they picked up postcards, just as many of us do. Later, when daughter Joann and grandson Johnson joined them in their travels, they picked up postcards too. After Jesse retired in 1974, the couple traveled in their motor home, acquiring more postcards, and trading some with other couples they met along the way. Soon they belonged to postcard trading clubs. Before they knew it, Sarah Kathleen and her family had amassed a postcard collection of over 14,000 cards.

After her mother passed away in 1989, Joann collected a few more postcards, and then took on the daunting task of organizing and archiving all those cards. She placed them all in plastic sleeves, sorted them and boxed them together. When Joann passed away in 1995, the collection was inherited by Johnson, his wife, Catherine, and son, Colin.

The young Knowles family moved into Joann's house and the cards sat in their boxes in various closets in the house until 2004 when Catherine Knowles found one old postcard of a mansion that is now a small library in Odessa, Del. She emailed them asking if they would like to have the card.

"They immediately accepted that card and all of Delaware," she said. "Then I discovered they had an entire wing devoted to DelMarVa which was a new word to me, but it gave me the opportunity to donate all my Delaware, Maryland and Virginia cards."

That was the beginning of something big. The family decided to donate the cards to various libraries and historical societies. Now they are donated, along with an extensive inventory list that Catherine painstakingly creates on the computer. When complimented on the lists she says "it makes the task so much more pleasurable since I've now learned they are of great value to researchers and scholars."

The cards have been donated far and wide, including to the College of Eastern Utah Library.

So far, the largest donations have been to the University of North Texas (all of Texas, except Dallas which went to the Dallas Historical Society, 1,274 and 177, respectively); Duke University (both NC and all the foreigns, exclusive of Great Britain, the latter 1,400 cards and former 134); New York Public Library (all New York City, 199 cards): New York Historical Society (rest of New York, 399 cards); Boston Public Library (all Massachusetts 497 cards); New England Historical Society (all New England except Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, 610 cards); Pennsylvania Historical Society (all Pennsylvania, 268). Others include Purdue University, the Chicago Public Library, the Nashville Public Library, the Detroit Public Library, the St. Louis Public Library, and several more.

Colin Knowles stands in the 'Hall of Frame' at the family's home in Texas. The family collects and hangs the letters they have received from institutions where their family's postcard collection has been donated in this hall.

This year alone the family has donated over 6,000 cards with plans to donate a similar number next year and the remaining cards in 2008.

And now the prestigious list includes the CEU Library. Catherine Knowles contacted Catherin Alaei in the library in November to ask if CEU would like the Utah cards - 72 in all. The collection, which includes cards from National Parks, Salt Lake, Ogden, Provo and others, range in age beginning in the early 1900's. One is a "folder" containing 22 early images of Utah and Colorado, four of them of Soldiers Summit and Castle Gate.

All the Knowles' ask for in return for the donation is a letter of acknowledgement from the various institutions to Colin, who is the only great-grandchild of the McCool's and the only grandchild of Joann. The letters are hung, for now, in the "Hall of Frame" in the Knowles home. Later, Catherine says she will place them in a scrapbook.

"My vision is to have a scrapbook of all the letters as Colin's legacy from his paternal grandmother and great-grandmother." She states, "Perhaps someday he can travel with his family to many of these institutions and show them their heritage that has positively impacted so many people."

When asked why CEU was selected over the other libraries in the state Catherine had a good reply.

"One of the things I've learned in my donation process is to look for a library or historical society that has direct email contact information for special collections," she stated. "Only 50 percent of institutions without direct email addresses respond, while almost 100 percent who have those contacts reply back."

She also credits CEU with having the quickest 'yes' response out of everyone she has offered a collection to.

The collection is the first of its kind at the CEU Library. It has been placed in an archival binder and will be housed in a locked cabinet in the Special Collections room.

"This is a wonderful piece of Utah history" says Barbara Steffee, CEU library director. "It gives us a different aspect of history than we've had in the library before. Some of the postcards show Salt Lake City without paved streets, another shows West High School as a new building. Checkerboard Mesa in Zion's Canyon is shown with an old 'woody' station wagon driving down the road. What a treasure this collection is."

Anyone wishing to see the collection can visit the library and ask at the front desk. Break hours vary, so call the library first at 613-5209 for hours.

Print Page