History lesson: Normal West seniors organize, study archives
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History lesson: Normal West seniors organize, study archives

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NORMAL — There’s a mysterious missing room at Normal Community West High School.

“Fun fact: Did you know there isn’t a room 149? The school map shows 148 and 150, but no 149,” said Normal West senior Alex Landsly.

Landsly and five of her senior peers, Emily Kratz, Jessica Flescher, Katie Scherman and Krista Barth, discovered the oddity while poring over old blueprints of the school.

The girls are part of the archiving group West Past, where they preserve and organize items with a connection to the high school’s 21-year history.

“I’ve learned a lot of things the average student just isn’t going to know,” said Scherman.

Normal West social studies teacher John Bierbaum came up with the archiving idea four years ago with help from social studies teacher Cathy Unsbee.

Bierbaum spent the years amassing shelves of club T-shirts, athletic gear, photographs, yearbooks and other items with a high school connection. Among the more unusual items, according to the group, are a shovel used for the building’s groundbreaking ceremony, a half-deflated football from a past game with Normal Community and a coat passed from principal to principal since 1996.

When the collection got out of hand, Bierbaum asked the group of girls last fall if they'd be willing to organize the stacks of history.

The group of volunteers meets twice a week at 7:15 a.m. to file and research items before the first bell. They even took a day last week — during spring break — to archive.

“They choose to work on this during their free time. They’re close friends, history buffs and they’re just trying to keep these things from disappearing,” said Unsbee.

Each member has a different skill. Most said they love to tidy and organize items. Others said it’s all about the history and research.

“We do it because we’re preserving history and discovering how things formed at West,” said Emily.

The group has hosted fundraisers to pay for shelves, acid-free boxes, labels, hat stands, coat hangers and archiving software.

April Anderson, university archivist at Illinois State University, met with the girls in October to give archiving pointers. She also invited the group on a tour of ISU’s archiving facility.

When Anderson saw on a return visit Thursday the headway the group had made in five months, she said, “Wow, guys. This makes my archivist heart sing.”

Since the beginning of the school year, the group has downsized inventory, organized shelves of yearbooks, cataloged nearly every item and made a to-do list for their successors after graduating.

“I was blown away with what they’ve accomplished,” said Anderson. “I teach archiving classes at ISU and I’ve never seen a more motivated group. They have created a repository that future students can learn from and continue to build on.”

Anderson encouraged the group to reach out to alumni groups for help identifying past students in photos.

“It’s important to keep these items archived so future students can reminisce a little. It creates connections between former and current Normal West Wildcats,” said Anderson.

The girls hope to recruit a dedicated group of younger classmates to take their place after graduating in May.

“It takes a special person to do this,” said Scherman. "You have to be mature and responsible and also enjoy the work you do.”

Any Normal West alumni with items to donate can contact the group at ncwhsarchive@gmail.com.

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