A photo of the intersection of Union and Court Streets, taken in the ’40s. (Photo courtesy of the Southeast Ohio History Center)

‘Growing Up In Athens’ Explores Coming Of Age in Athens Over Past Century

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A group of young boys spend a summer crafting a raft out of oil drums they spot floating down the Ohio River, hoping for a Tom Sawyer-esque journey to New Orleans.

A young girl and her friends sneak a jar of fireflies into the Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium on a summer night and release them into the rafters of the building during a 50-cent movie showing.

A riot erupts on the Ohio University campus after three Kent State students are murdered by the National Guard only two and half hours drive away from Athens.

These are all memories collected in the forthcoming Growing Up In Athens: A Collection of Memories, a painstakingly assembled volume that explores coming of age throughout the past century, decade by decade, right here in Athens.

Editors Jan Hodson, Janice Huwe, and Linda Philips worked with a board of volunteers throughout the past four years to craft the book, which will be released in a highly limited edition in November by Orange Frazer Press. The book is a coffee table-sized, 350-page, full-color hardcover tome and contains over 250 individual Athens-centric memories.

“In working on this project, we quickly realized that people were entrusting us with their most treasured memories – and we immediately felt an obligation to make a high-quality book that these people could hold in their hands; something that would really pay tribute to their memories,” said Hodson. “It did start to feel like we had a tiger by the tail at a certain point. We knew we had to publish, no matter how long it took or how hard it could be.”

A photograph of the homecoming parade outside of Baker Center in 1968. (Photo courtesy of Ken Steinhoff)
A photograph of the homecoming parade outside of Baker Center in 1968. (Photo courtesy of Ken Steinhoff)

The group sent out some 400 letters to folks with Athens ties, petitioning them to submit their memories.

“When we asked people to submit stories, they often said the same thing. They’d say ‘oh, I’m not a good writer,’ or ‘nobody wants to hear my memories,’” said Hodson. “But once people started to submit their writing to us, all of their memories were fabulous. We told them not to worry about spelling or grammar, and that we would edit all of the memories so that they wouldn’t look foolish or anything. And before we knew it, people were dodging us in Kroger because they knew we were waiting on their writing.”

In the end, they received memories relayed in all types of ways – mostly digitized, but some in delicate, looping handwriting on small pieces of stationary mailed to the committee. A number of older contributors to the book were also recorded telling their memories in WOUB’s studios, which will be available after November.

Some of the memories weren’t narratives at all.

“One woman submitted a poem written by her father, who had been deceased for about 15 years,” said Philips. “She just happened to have poems that he had written about a junkyard that had been in Athens.”

“Some people submitted bullet points; telling us that this happened; this happened; this happened, and others wrote very detailed stories,” said Hodson. “We started to take it all very seriously when people began to submit very sad memories, or deeply personal memories.”

The submitted memories were artfully edited and re-edited, by Hodson, Philips, Huwe, and retired teachers John Barrington and Anne Kemmerle.

Overall, the committee found by reading and editing each memory, Athens has both stayed largely the same and changed drastically over the years.

“Kids used to run all over this town in the summer,” said Hodson. “They’d leave home in the morning and they wouldn’t come back until night, and they did it all with very little adult intervention – there were no play dates back then, just play. It’s really kind of sad when you see how much that has changed.”

Philips and Hodson also noted that the community’s interconnectedness with Ohio University has sadly faded over the years.

“People had a lot of memories about the university that they didn’t even realize were really more about the university than they were about Athens,” said Philips.

“Many people who lived in Athens were also the sons and daughters of professors, so the university was the main reason they were here,” said Hodson. “It was so different back then – people recall going into the Grover Center and playing basketball and they didn’t have to be alumni or pay anyone or ask anyone – they just went in there and played.”

Growing Up In Athens was crafted under the sponsorship of the Southeast Ohio History Center, and the proceeds from the project will go toward that organization, which is also the place where books will be available for purchase in late November. Philips and Hodson estimate that publishing the book will cost around $36,000. They are still seeking donations to fund the publishing process.

Pre-order forms are available at Lamborn’s Studio and White’s Mill and the book can be pre-ordered by calling the Southeast Ohio History Center at 740-592-2280. It costs $50 if picked up at the Southeast Ohio History Center, and $56 if shipped anyplace in the continental U.S. A book launch celebration is planned for November 25 at the Southeast History Center.

“This book is important because these are the voices of the people who have lived here,” said Hodson. “I think that anybody who cares about a place should be interested in knowing the sense of place seen through the eyes of its citizens.”

For more information, check out the Growing Up In Athens website and Facebook page.