Chesterfield County Administrator Dr. Joe Casey always is on the lookout for innovative ideas and programs to enhance quality of life for county residents. He found one almost by happenstance during a May visit to the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, Ohio.
There’s a room in the facility where U.S. veterans can record stories about their military service. The stories are archived and can be accessed on demand by visitors. After listening to several, Casey thought, “That’s a powerful thing.”
“I found it fascinating,” he said. “It’s not like somebody tells a story on Tuesday and 1,000 people have to hear it on Wednesday. It’s a story that, 25 years from now, we’re not going to be able to hear in the first person.”
Upon returning to Chesterfield, Casey pitched the concept to Dr. Mike Mabe, director of Chesterfield County Public Library (CCPL), and tasked his team with developing an oral history project that would be accessible not only to veterans, but all county residents.
“Everybody has a story to tell,” Casey added. “If you have something to say today that will help somebody 20 years from now be a better person, or provide context about how something has evolved into what it is 20 years from now, there’s something just natural and organic about that.”
CCPL recently launched Chesterfield Remembers, through which Chesterfield residents can record their personal story via video or audio at Central Library. There’s a portable studio set up at the library, including a backdrop, a high-quality microphone and a digital video camera.
“It’s a great place to do it, in the public library. Staff are there and are trained to help people work through these types of things,” Mabe said during a presentation to the Board of Supervisors last week.
Residents are encouraged to visit the CCPL website, submit an interest form and schedule a time to record their story. Of particular interest are stories of veterans who now reside in Chesterfield or whose stories reflect life in the county during times of war. Stories from centenarians, or stories that reflect various aspects of Chesterfield’s history, are also encouraged.
The oral histories are archived as part of CCPL’s digital collection and can be accessed either in person, by smartphone or computer through its electronic card catalog system.
“The best way to introduce your descendants to who you are is to leave something like this,” Mabe said.
Board of Supervisors Chair Chris Winslow called it “a fantastic idea” and asked Mabe to bring Chesterfield Remembers back before the board periodically to promote public awareness of the project.
With seniors now representing a larger share of Chesterfield’s population than ever before, the board’s vice chair, Jim Holland, noted it’s important to collect their wisdom and experiences “while we have a chance.”
“This is a wonderful tool for capturing the history of Chesterfield County,” he said.
“We’re remembering something,” Casey added, “but we’re not recording it just to put it in a time capsule.”