Tom Stamp '73 shares his memories of former Kenyon archivist Tom Greenslade '73 and his wife, Mary.
Last year, when a group of us at Kenyon began to plan events for the College's celebration of its one hundred seventy-fifth anniversary, a question arose as to just what such an occasion should be called. We all knew that 100-year anniversaries were centennials and 150-year celebrations were sesquicentennials. But a one hundred seventy-fifth anniversary?
We were stumped. I thought to myself, Tom Greenslade would have known this. And then I also thought, if it weren't for Tom, I probably wouldn't be a member of this group.
The first time I met the Greenslades — Tom and his wife, Mary — was during my freshman year at Kenyon, when I was introduced to them, at a concert, by my classmate and friend Ann Wiester '73, a Mount Vernon native who knew a lot more of Gambier's adults than the rest of us. I'm sure I assumed the Greenslades were long-time residents; I didn't discover until much later that they had arrived in Gambier only two years earlier, at the end of Tom's distinguished first career as science supervisor for the New York City Public Schools.
It was a homecoming for both of them. Tom had graduated from the College in 1931. Mary, his childhood sweetheart, had taught at Gambier High School from 1931 to 1934 after earning her bachelor's degree at Ohio State University. Upon their return in 1967, Tom became Kenyon's archivist and Mary its unofficial good-will ambassador to the alumni.
The first time I saw the Greenslades after graduation was several years later, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at Ann's wedding to Ray Starr '74. There was no reason for them to remember me — I wasn't among their inner circle of athletic and musical achievers — but they did. They greeted me warmly and made it clear that, much to my surprise, they had been keeping up with my "life after Kenyon."
In fact, the Greenslades always seemed to remember everyone, which was one of the reasons they were such indispensable and popular guests at alumni events — as well as one of the reasons Tom was so good at his work in the archives.
When I returned to Gambier as public affairs director in 1984, the Greenslades were among the first to welcome me back to the village. Occasionally, I'd get a telephone call from Mary, who, without identifying herself, would ask, "Tom, are you my friend?" I quickly learned these queries meant that I was about to be asked to fill in for someone's spouse at a gathering of the Gambier Dinner Club, of which the Greenslades were stalwart members. Aside from that, they asked nothing of me for the pleasure of their friendship.
In my first months back at Kenyon, I found occasion to visit the College's archives quite frequently in connection with various projects, and Tom quickly drew me into the fascinating world of Kenyon history. There was the thrill of holding in my hand a letter written by Philander Chase or an ancient photograph of Rosse Hall. There was the satisfaction of finding the answers to more questions than I knew I had about campus people and places. And there was always the pleasure of Tom's company.
My favorite photograph of Tom shows him in the old College archives, a windowless room in Gordon Keith Chalmers Memorial Library. It was a far cry from the spacious facilities into which he moved in Olin Library in 1986, but Tom somehow made it inviting, drawing countless administrators, faculty members, and students into his basement lair over the years.
As soon as Tom determined that he had a willing student of Kenyon history on his hands, he began encouraging me to come along on the campus tours he conducted for alumni, parents, and special guests of the College. He was a masterful guide, blending facts with anecdotes, and, although I didn't think of it in such terms at the time, a masterful teacher.
In September 1990, Tom died unexpectedly at the age of eighty. A few weeks later, Mary presented me with the blazer Tom always wore when he led his campus tours, the one with the heavily embroidered Kenyon crest on the breast pocket. It was a great comfort to wear that blazer the first time I offered what I still think of as Tom's tour and on many more occasions during the past decade. When I lead tours these days, I still wear the jacket, although now I see it less as a security blanket than as a tribute to the Greenslades.
Of course Mary, too, is gone now. In the days, weeks, and months after Tom died, until her own death in January 1994, Mary was a regular visitor to all the offices in the College Relations Division, both giving and getting news of the innumerable Kenyon family members with whom she continued to stay in touch.
In memory of the Greenslades, Alumni Council now presents the Thomas B. and Mary M. Greenslade Award. Those honored with the award have included the late Tom Davidson '51 and Trustee Emeritus Bill Stroud P'76 as well as such beloved Kenyon administration and faculty couples as Gloria and Tom Edwards, Sheila and Phil Jordan, Jane and Perry Lentz '64 P'88, and Bettye and Owen York. This year's recipients were Juanita Newman and her husband, Yauncey Newman, a retired custodian and skilled-trades helper. They were cited for having "ignored the invisible wall that too often separates students from staff members and established relationships that have lasted far beyond Commencement."
Almost every institution is proud of its heritage; many have archives. Fewer have the kind of treasure trove that Kenyon enjoys, donated by alumni, parents, and friends and gathered over the years into a coherent set of memories of the past. For that great gift, the College has to thank Tom Greenslade and his successors, Jami Peelle, Carol Marshall, and Chris Barth '93 (the subject of a profile on page 63 in this issue of the Bulletin). Although not a Kenyon alumnus himself, the Greenslades' son, Tom, a professor of physics at the College, has carried on the family tradition of interest in and research into Kenyon's past, with a special focus on science.
The word, by the way, for a 175-year anniversary turned out to be terquasquicentennial. We decided not to use it — it seemed a bit over the top even for this campus of word lovers — but Dan Laskin, the College's publications director and the Bulletin's managing editor, was able to weave it into a poem (or the lyrics for a drinking song):
On Kenyon's hill perennial,
Where sodden scholars play,
We celebrate today.
Amid the wafting asphodel,
Ye Lords and Ladies true,
With flasks of flowing brew.
I think the Greenslades would have smiled.