Up until about two weeks ago, I had no idea the mysteries that lurked up on the dimly-lit, musty old 5th floor of the McIntyre Library. I had taken a visit to the Special Collections & Archives, an area of which I was not aware of previously, as sort of a class field trip. Upon arrival I met the university archivist, Greg Kocken, and had the tremendous opportunity, along with my fellow classmates, to interact with the Frederick G. and Joan Christopherson Schmidt Robert Frost Collection. My experience with the collection has made a significant impact on my life both academically and beyond the university for many years to come.
“There’s a really fascinating story about how this collection came to being here...”
- Greg Kocken, Archivist
After this seemingly life changing encounter with history itself, I decided to do some further research on the collection. I set up interviews with Jennifer Shaddock, an English professor at the university, and Greg Kocken, UWEC’s archivist. I had experienced the collection for the first time with both of them in company. I know how the Robert Frost Collection affected me as a student, but I felt that I needed to know how it affected Dr. Shaddock and Mr. Kocken in order to better understand exactly how important this donation is to both the university and the Eau Claire community.
I set out on a quest to find my answer to the one very curious question: How exactly does this collection affect the students and the university? Along my newfound journey, I came to learn much more and take a greater amount from my findings than I had thought I would. My interview with Mr. Kocken was actually very adventurous. It was as if I were hearing a story from a book.
As Mr. Kocken said, “There’s a really fascinating story about how this collection came to being here at Eau Claire… and it’s an unusual story because it takes a lot of strange twists and turns.” This was our conversation when I had the opportunity to head into the temperature controlled archives to review Mr. Kocken’s favorite pieces of the collections. As he was reading to me a passage from one of Frost’s holiday cards, I realized something very intriguing; I was living history as I felt the small tears in the pages of Robert Frost’s note-books. I was touching what he once touched, laboring over communicating his abstract thoughts onto such a concrete page. Our archivist concluded the interview fantastically with his final thoughts, “There are many mysteries that remain within the Robert Frost Collection. Our university has become another stop along the way of a Robert Frost researcher.”
My second meeting, with Professor Shaddock, went just as well. Since the collection was introduced in 2014, Professor Shaddock has taken a few of her classes to see the collection and to interact with it. Like Mr. Kocken, initial word of the existence of the collection reached her by word of mouth, which, as Greg Kocken has said, adds a very unusual aspect to its journey.
During the course of the interview, Dr. Shaddock reveals to me that Joan Schmidt, the donor of the collection, wanted the collection to be used and handled by students. A Shaddock said, “Ms. Schmidt made a wonderful connection between Robert Frost’s writings and this campus. Robert Frost utilizes nature in so much of his poetry and for her to connect that to the abundance of nature at this university is very cool.” Our interview gradually turned into an intriguing and thought provoking discussion about the culture around the holiday cards. “From a teacher’s perspective, it creates a more intimate sense with the author. This collection brings literature alive and makes it clear that there are [real] people behind the work, and I think that’s really important for students to see.” Dr. Shaddock says that she plans on bringing her future students to see the collection so as to interact with Frost’s work on a deeper level than in the classroom.
By acquiring the Frederick G. and Joan Christopherson Schmidt Robert Frost Collection, our beautiful university has created a slightly larger dot on the map of academic treasures. This collection provides the ability of the 20th century’s great American poet, Robert Frost, to live on in the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s archives. May his talents, his relationships, and his mind never be forgotten.