After 25 years of service to Elizabethtown College, Reference Librarian and Archivist Peter DePuydt is retiring from his position at the High Library.
DePuydt began working at Etown in August 1990 after spending several years doing what he called “shovel bumming” across the United States while working on archeology dig sites.
“When I started, I worked reference desk, and then I worked in the Interlibrary Loan office. I was here on a temporary one-year position,” he said. In DePuydt’s first year at the College, the Library’s on-staff archivist retired; DePuydt filled the open position, and he has been working in the archives since.
“For years, I would file papers that would come in, faculty minutes, Board of Trustees minutes, photographs that came in, then in the late 90s, I started some digitization projects,” he said.
DePuydt has worked on projects to create digital copies of the editions of the yearbooks The Etonian, published between 1922 and 1950, and The Conestogan, which has been published annually since 1951.
This past year, DePuydt digitized commencement films. “One of the things I wanted to do this year was to get these digitized and get them up [on the Library website],” he said. DePuydt retrieved a copy of the 1943 commencement from the Internet archives, and commented on the campus scenery. “This is right out in front of Alpha [Hall],” he said as about 25 students donning caps and gowns lined up outside the building. “That’s Rider [Memorial Hall], and that’s gone now. That building was actually here my first year, and I never went in it, and now it’s gone!” DePuydt said. Rider Memorial Hall formerly housed a campus library.
In addition to working at the High Library reference desk, Interlibrary Loans and archives, DePuydt is also a published author. Many of his writings describe the history of some of the more unique items in the archives.
DePuydt talked about his collaboration with Associate Professor of History Dr. David Kenley to write about “a sword that was brought back from China by a Church of the Brethren missionary.” The article, “The Sword of the Spirit: A Silent Relic from China’s Christian Past,” was published in the Journal of Asian History in 2010.
DePuydt wrote about another archival artifact, the Manumission Deed, in “Free at Last, Someday: Senator Outerbridge Horsey and Manumission in the Nineteenth Century,” which was published in Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies. The Manumission Deed was found in the archives and was what DePuydt called, “a document that we knew was in here, but nobody knows how it got here.” The Deed was published by a Delaware senator in 1812 and details the emancipation of 14 slaves over the course of 30 years.
In 2008, DePuydt published “Finding Uhlrich’s Daughter: WWII Vet Connects with Slain Buddy’s Daughter Half a Century Later,” which he said was “the most important reference work I’ve ever done.” The article describes DePuydt’s poignant yet heartening story of how he used his father’s photographs from World War II to locate the daughter of a soldier who was killed in action.
DePuydt also worked alongside Jean-Paul Benowitz, assistant director of academic advising, to put together “Elizabethtown College,” which was published in 2014 as a part of Arcadia Publishing’s Campus History series.
Reflecting on his time at the College, DePuydt remembered that “a number of us used to play basketball at lunch hour a couple days a week about 20 years ago.” One of the students who had worked with DePuydt in the Interlibrary Loan office during his first years at the College recently visited him at Etown. “He’s going to be 46 years old now. It’s kind of hard to think about that. In my mind, he’s still a 21- or 22-year-old student,” DePuydt said. “I thought, ‘Hey, didn’t you just graduate?’ and now he’s a principal of a high school!”
DePuydt will retire at the end of the spring 2015 semester. Rachel Grove Rohrbaugh will take over DePuydt’s position as the archivist at the High Library.