Project records life stories

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"I tailor each interview to the person. We discuss life eras and talk about historical events that occurred during their lifetime like the Depression or World War II."

Schrediah Mahurin, director of the Barry County oral history project

By Lisa Schlichtman

For the past two and a half years, Schrediah Mahurin has spent her days recording the memories of those who have called Barry County home for decades. She has interviewed these individuals about their lives and their tape-recorded words have been transformed into written narratives.

In all, Mahurin has interviewed 85 people in her role as director of the Barry County oral history project, which is underwritten by local businessman Jerry Watley.

The first volume of these oral histories has been published and will be available to the public for the first time during a book signing on Saturday, Oct. 20.

The first edition of "Lifetimes of Memories: Voices of Barry County" includes the narratives of Loren Cole, Charlene Jeffries, Eunice Lyall, Esther Wedding-ton and the late Alta Coffey.

The four living narrators and Coffey's son, George Coffey, will be present at the book signing, which will take place from 9 a.m. to noon at the new Barry County Museum on Highway 112 in Cassville. The book signing will also include refreshments and the opportunity to preview the new museum.

The oral history project began in June of 2005 with the hiring of Mahurin to direct the process and conduct the interviews. Mahurin had no other experience beyond an appreciation for her native Barry County and a love of people. She also had previously served as administrator of the Cassville Senior Center and had an established relationship with many of this area's elderly population.

Mahurin began her task by reading books on oral history, in particular the Fox Fire series.

"I started contacting people I knew and asking them if they wanted to be interviewed," said Mahurin. "I explained to them what an oral history was and how we feel it's important to preserve history and an earlier period of time for our children and grandchildren to read about and know about."

In its simplest form, oral history is the story of one's life. Mahurin meets with each narrator and asks them questions about their life and records the answers.

"I tailor each interview to the person," said Mahurin. "We discuss life eras and talk about historical events that occurred during their lifetime like the Depression or World War II."

In preparation for recording the oral histories of her narrators, Mahurin prepared outlines for several different life eras, including: early life before marriage; married life and how the person met their spouse; and life during wartime, to name just a few.

Once Mahurin records the interview, which is done over several different visits, the interview is transcribed word for word. The transcription is then returned to the narrator who checks it for accuracy. After the transcript is approved, it is sent to a writer who puts the narrative in story form. The story is then sent back to the narrator for their final approval and family pictures are added to the pages.

"When my narrators see their transcript in story form with the pictures, that's when you see their excitement," said Mahurin. "And they're generally thrilled when they finally see their life story in book form."

When asked if she has a favorite interview, Mahurin is unable to choose just one.

"I have a lot of favorites," Mahurin said. "I've had the opportunity to interview five centurions, which allowed me to go back farther into history."

A segment of Barry County history that really sparked Mahurin's interest was the Great Depression.

"It is amazing what people did to survive," said Mahurin. "To think what they went through and the things they did to make it is extraordinary. It's really made me appreciate Ozarks ingenuity."

Mahurin said she was also intrigued by stories James Woods told of his time in the CCC camps at Roaring River State Park.

"I just found that extremely interesting," said Mahurin. She added that Woods' recollections would be included in the third volume.

Kathy White, director of the Barry County Museum, said Mahurin has done a fantastic job overseeing the oral history project.

"Schrediah's done a terrific job with this project, and we're tickled to death to have this first volume in print," White said. "We hope the public will also be excited. This oral history project has been a pet project of Jerry's for a long time."

The second volume of Barry County narratives is almost finished. That edition will include narratives by Lloyd Reed, Raymond and Lois Phariss, Nell Campbell, Buck and Peggy Calton and the late Aubrey McNabb.

According to Mahurin, the plan is to publish one volume each quarter. The books sell for $9.95 plus tax with all proceeds benefitting the Barry County Museum.

Even with 85 interviews completed, Mahurin continues to seek out life stories of local residents. She keeps a card file of possible people to interview and watches the newspaper for interesting stories.

Anyone who would like to be interviewed or who has a family member who would be a good interview subject is welcome to contact Mahurin.

"This a great job, and I love it," said Mahurin. "When I get someone's story on tape, I know it's not going to be forgotten."

For more information about Saturday's book signing or the Barry County oral history project, call the Barry County Museum at 847-1640.

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