Helping with Oral History

10/26/2020 Chris Wills

After a 25-year absence, ALPLM Volunteer Jan Culp returned “home” to Springfield in 2014. Jan was born in Springfield and grew up in Gillespie and Staunton before attending and graduating from Blackburn College with a Bachelor of Arts with a Psychology major. After college, Jan accepted a position at the First National Bank of Springfield (now U.S. Bank). While there she earned her MBA at the University of Illinois Springfield.

Eighteen years later, having attained the position of Vice President of Marketing and Planning, Jan left FNB and Illinois to accept a position as Vice President of Marketing for National City Bank in Akron, Ohio. This ultimately led to a position at the Cleveland headquarters as Vice President of Retail Advertising for the corporation. The remainder of her eighteen years in Ohio were spent as the Marketing Manager for BCG & Company, a regional accounting and international IT consulting business.

In 2007, Jan pursued her dream of working in Christian missions, with an outreach to the Muslim world. Relocating to Phoenix, Arizona, she served as Print Communications Manager at the U.S. headquarters of an international mission agency. With assignments in Pakistan and Thailand, her work in the agency provided some amazing opportunities related to two of her life’s passions, travel and photography.

The ALPLM was erected during Jan’s absence from Springfield and seeing it was a major priority for her when she retired and returned. After her initial visit, Jan was discussing local volunteer opportunities with a friend who informed her that the Library’s Oral History Department might need an editor. “I contacted Dr. Mark DePue and have volunteered at the library for the past six years,” she shared. “I continue to serve as a volunteer editor working three afternoons a week and love it.”

Jan is honored to be part of such a monumental and worthwhile project and is grateful for a volunteer position that offers her the ability to continue using her business skills while broadening her base of knowledge. She is thankful for the many benefits associated with her volunteer position. “Now I get to do what I enjoy and apply my skills to work that is interesting and important,” she explained. It is great to know your efforts are appreciated, something that is too often missing in the corporate world.”

A self-described introvert, Jan enjoys the solitude of editing, although she also likes working and interacting with the transcribers, auditors, and other editors in the Oral History Department. Team members help one another when there are questions regarding formatting, equipment functionality, and comprehending the words on the audio recordings. She observed, “I would say we have a very congenial work environment. Mark DePue has been the best of ‘bosses,’ showing interest in and appreciation for each of his volunteers.”

When she is not at the ALPL, Jan’s other volunteer work includes being part of the mission team at her local church, Cherry Hills to ensure the well-being of their missionaries serving overseas and in the United States. Additionally, Jan is doing her part to help keep Springfield clean and beautiful by becoming Washington Park’s unofficial “cleaning lady.” Taking advantage of her good fortune of living across from the park, Jan can be found walking two to three miles there, five days a week. Noticing a growing litter problem, Jan decided to act on an issue that nobody else was addressing. “I pick up trash daily as I walk,” she shared. “Not only is it satisfying to see the park’s beauty uncluttered, but other visitors, as well as the park’s management, often express their appreciation.”

Through her love of traveling and photography Jan has visited sixty-one countries and captured many beautiful and astonishing sites on film. “I have been fortunate to experience numerous adventures in countries from Tibet to South Africa, Morocco to New Zealand, and many places in between,” she exclaimed.
Throughout her life, Jan has opened her heart and given back to others in effort to improve the lives and environments of those she meets. She recognizes the reciprocal gifts we receive when we freely give of ourselves. Jan provided such as an example from an editing assignment –, a military veteran’s interview a few years ago –, recounting the lasting impact of this volunteer experience. “I felt privileged to be editing the transcripts of this Vietnam War Veteran as he recalled harrowing stories with a blend of frankness and humor,” Jan stated. Jan learned that he had written a novel, generally an autobiographical account of his life before, during, and after military service.

Later, Jan attended a panel presentation that Mark DePue moderated about the Vietnam War, and this veteran served as one of the panelists. “Afterward, I asked him to autograph my copy of his book and told him how much I enjoyed editing his oral history,” Jan shared. “He arranged to meet with me in the following weeks and revealed that he had begun writing another book, a sequel to his first. To my amazement and delight, he asked if I would serve as editor on that project. I worked with him for several months, until cancer—likely due to agent orange—returned to his body, making him too weak to continue. He passed away a few months later, the rest of his story, forever left untold.”

Jan’s ongoing volunteer work with the Oral History Department is part of the common goal of the staff and volunteers to record and document the stories of the people of Illinois. We encourage you to visit the ALPLM’s website to read or review a variety of oral history transcripts or audio and video recordings. As Jan succinctly stated, “These are the real-life stories of Illinois’s citizens, some well-known, but most ‘regular’ people like us, from all walks of life and social circumstances. You will find unexpected treasures in this fascinating collection.”

Thank you, Jan, for assisting us in our ever-growing repository of oral histories told through the captivating stories of the people of Illinois.

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