Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Former history professor volunteers in Kent Library

Monday, September 17, 2012
Dr. John Coleman relaxing and reading at Kent Library on his break. Photo by Kelly Lu Holder

Dr. John Coleman was raised in the small town of Ridge Farm, Ill. Growing up, Coleman had an appetite for history.

Coleman graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Science degree in education with accompanied majors in both history and social studies. Coleman worked as an American history teacher at Springfield High School in Springfield,Ill., before graduating from the University of Iowa with a Ph.D. in philosophy.

Coleman taught at Southeast Missouri State University for 34 years and has volunteered at Kent Library for over 10 years. Coleman recently finished organizing a collection of over 350 boxes of documents, which took him around two years to complete. Along with his volunteer work, Coleman has written around half a dozen articles that have been published in the Missouri State Teachers Association Magazine.

Q: Being raised in Illinois, why did you come to Southeast?

A: I was coming close to graduation and thinking about a job. My wife and I had a 1967 World Almanac, and in these almanacs they had all the colleges in America listed, and I knew that I wanted to stay in the Midwest if possible. So we just made up a list of all the regional colleges in like five or six midwestern states. So I just sat down at a typewriter, this was pre-computers, and typed letters to all the chairmen of the history departments in this circle of states. One night I got a telephone call from the chairman of the social science department here at Southeast and they were looking for somebody to teach American colonial history, so I flew down for my interview and was offered the job in the fall of 1967.

Q: How did you start volunteering at Kent Library?

A: In the spring of 2001 I was downstairs at the reference desk, and I met Dr. [Lisa] Speer and we just sat there and talked. I was going to be retiring, and she said, "Well we could always use help in the archives." I was so excited to work in a library after all my years of teaching. I had always wanted to be a librarian, it's one of my fantasies.

Q: What exactly do you do at Kent Library?

A: I do whatever I'm told to do. Just to give an example of things I have done, when you go into the archives and you go in there and say I need to look at something from the Capaha Arrow from 1952, my job is to go through the entire documents and make a finding aid. So when they came in there would be this booklet, and each box would contain organized information for that specific person or event.

Q: What did you do in preparing this 350 box collection?

A: It was such a large collection I had to play head games to keep myself going through the 350 boxes. The boxes were cancelled checks called warrants from the Little River Drainage District. The secretaries downtown had put the cancelled checks and the paid warrants together in these huge packets. So my job was to unfold the packets. Some of these documents were aged that dated back to the 1940s. Now the next thing you've got to do is remove all the staples because if you leave the staples in, and the staples rust, the rust could contaminate the whole document. After I unstapled all the checks I took acid-free paper, and I interleaf the two together to prevent the paper from disintegrating. I did that day after day for a couple years until it was completed.

Q: How did you earn the name in the department as the "Pillsbury Doughboy?"

A: At home my wife was very health conscious. She wasn't into desserts. So if my kids and I were going to have dessert it was probably going to be dad that was going to do it, and that's how it got started. When I was in the history department I used to make things to bring to the guys, and that's how the nickname got started. One of the first things I made was a Watergate cake.

Q: What do you do outside of Kent Library?

A: One of my hobbies is reading in religion and politics. I also love to spend time with my grandchildren. I have four. It doubled suddenly because my son had twins. So I have three grandsons and one granddaughter. They are just a joy.

Q: How much longer do you plan on staying here at Southeast?

A: I don't know. One issue is I have numerous vision problems, so the day may come to where I can't work with the materials anymore. I want to stay here as long as I possibly can. My passion is just to keep doing something. I guess with my vision problem, there's always talking books.