CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Jan. 15, 2016 – Nine students in an historic preservation class at Southeast Missouri State University put their newfound knowledge and expertise to work last fall when they partnered with the Cape Girardeau Jaycees to archive the organization’s history at Southeast’s Kent Library.
Kent Library’s Special Collections and Archives this week accepted a donation of historic records from the Cape Girardeau Jaycees after students in HP 450 “Problems in Historic Preservation” organized a collection of the organization’s materials and prepared them for researchers, community members and others interested in the organization to use.
“This was really a remarkable project because the Jaycees were able to have their papers organized and deposited in our archives,” said Roxanne Dunn, Special Collections and Archives librarian in Kent Library. “Dr. Lily Santoro’s class also was able to develop practical archival skills while organizing the collection.”
The Cape Girardeau Jaycees collection consists of organization newsletters, photos of members and events, videotapes, buttons, membership chapter information, programs, financial statements, artifacts, memorabilia and the chapter charter. Most of the materials are from the 1980s and 1990s. The collection also includes paperwork about the personnel involved with the Jaycees. Also included is information about key programs spearheaded by the Jaycees, such as Christmas Toybox, the Air Show, the annual golf tournament, Riverfest and the Fabulous Follies, an annual musical production the Jaycees performed in the 1960s through the 1980s.
The students organized and rehoused the records of the Cape Girardeau Jaycees in accordance with archival best practices, known as “processing” in the archival profession, said Dr. Lily Santoro, assistant professor of history and historic preservation, who taught the HP 450 course. The students had to create a logical order for the papers — about five linear feet or seven archival boxes — that reflected the values and administration of the Jaycees, while ensuring that the collection would be easy for researchers to use.
“This was a particularly challenging prospect because the papers had been stored in various locations for at least a decade and there was not a very clear original order to the collection when it came to us,” Santoro said.
Once the students determined how they would organize the materials, they had to ensure the long-term preservation of the collection by physically moving the documents into acid-free archival folders and boxes, Santoro said. This included removing items that would do long-term harm to the collection, like staples and paperclips, and securing fragile items in polyester sleeves.
After the collection was fully rehoused, the students wrote a descriptive finding aid that will be used as a guide for researchers at the University Archives, she said. The finding aid gives a brief introduction to the collection’s contents and the history of the Jaycees. It also includes a container list that tells researchers what types of documents are stored in each acid free box and folder.
“This required students to implement both the theoretical knowledge and practical skills they were learning in the readings for this course and HP405 (Archives and Special Collections Management), which many of the students took last spring,” Santoro said. “In processing, students had to demonstrate professional judgements, based on archival best practices. They also had learn to work with fragile, dirty, or unusual documents. They learned how to clean and repair paper, how to protect documents from damaging acids, and how to apply archival principals in the real world.
“The completion of a real-world archival project is a central feature of my HP450 course,” Santoro continued. “It gives students who are considering a career in archives a taste of the profession and equips them with some of the skills needed to enter that field. I am incredibly grateful to the Cape Girardeau Jaycees and the Special Collections and Archives for giving my students such a great experiential learning opportunity. It is these kinds of partnerships and hands-on projects that makes the Historic Preservation Program at Southeast exceptional.”
Dunn said, “Not only will this collection be very useful to researchers, but it was amazingly helpful to us to have a collection donated that was already organized and processed.”
Chris Foeste, immediate past president of the Cape Girardeau Jaycees, said the archival project “came about because we were needing a copy of our original articles of incorporation for taxing purposes and none of the current officers had a copy. Luckily, the call was put out to former members and a wealth of documents was delivered. We found the document that we were looking for, but we found so much more, including the original charter from 1936.”
He said he was aware of the capabilities of Santoro’s classes after he worked with one of Santoro’s classes on an archives project for the local Masonic lodge, St. Mark’s #93.
“The class did such an amazing job with that project, when the opportunity came across to work with the Jaycees’ archives, it was a no brainer to reach out to her and her class to arrange a project around the Jaycees archives,” he said. “For me it was a logical decision, since the students had done such an amazing job with the work of cataloging and indexing, that this collection not go back into storage in someone’s basement, but be available for all chapter members former, future and present.”
Foeste said the archival project will be a tremendous asset because the organization lacks a building to house its records.
“Lots of things get lost during officer transitions, especially when officers hold positions for multiple years. This was the case with our organization,” he said. “The Jaycees had experienced a downturn in membership around the late ‘90s into the early 2000s when a lot of documents didn’t get transferred.”
Over the years, the Jaycees’ historical records were, in some cases, passed down from officer to officer, and at other times stored in a member’s basement. This is the first time the Jaycees have made an effort to collect their chapter historical records, he said.
“The Jaycees chapter has been in this community for 80 years this March. It has played a role socially, philanthropically and civically throughout those decades, and that work was done and will continue to be done by members of this community,” Foeste said. “Even now, I look back at some of the things that have been done and the events that have been captured and documented by the Jaycees over the years, and you not only get a snapshot of what the members were doing, but what was going on in the Cape Girardeau community at the time. It will provide a great looking glass for anyone looking to do community research or genealogical research for family members that were involved in the Jaycees.”
“The Cape Girardeau Jaycees Collection documents very important volunteer work that was done by the group since their early founding within our city. Researchers will be able to better construct a civic history of Cape Girardeau by having access to this collection,” she said. “On a lighter note, the programs for the Follies and some photographs as well highlight entertainment from a different era, and are quite funny to browse.”
The Cape Girardeau Jaycees, originally known as the Junior Chamber of Commerce, was organized in 1936. Membership was open to men between the ages of 18 to 36, until 1984 when the bylaws were changed to also include women between the ages of 18 to 36. It strives to provide leadership training to its members while also working to improve the community through a number of programs. During World War II, the Jaycees sponsored a youth program called “Teen Town” on Themis Street and a U.S.O. on Broadway, both in Cape Girardeau. Annually, they held a large community event called “The Follies” which featured its members dressed up in costume. The Jaycees Wives Club formed in 1953 to assist in many of its community programs. In 1975, the Jaycees started their annual Christmas Toybox program which provides Christmas presents to needy children in the area. It replaced a similar program called Operation Santa Claus. Over the years, the Jaycees have given out awards, provided children with swimming lessons, raised funds for street signs, and bullet proof vests for law enforcement agencies. The Jaycees were instrumental in establishing the SEMO District Fairgrounds at Arena Park and operated a golf course with admission being waived for its members. When members reach a certain age, they are no longer a part of the organization and become known as “Exhausted Roosters.” At its peak, membership hovered around 300 people, and was as low as 35 in the early 2000s. The organization had grown to about 180 members in 2015 and is still active in the Cape Girardeau area. Its largest community project continues to be the annual Christmas Toybox program.
Photo caption: From left are Tyson Koenig, archival assistant in Special Collections and Archives; Dr. Lily Santoro, assistant professor of history and historic preservation; and Chris Foeste of the Cape Girardeau Jaycees.