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Episode 49: Bill Schwab and His Pryor Commitment to the History of Arkansas

Spread the Ozark love

IANWA Open 0:11

It's time for another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas, the podcast covering the intersection of business, culture, entrepreneurship and life in general here in the Ozarks. Whether you are considering a move to this area, or trying to learn more about the place you call home, we've got something special for you. Here's our host, Randy Wilburn.

Randy Wilburn 0:42

Hey folks, and welcome to another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. I'm your host, Randy Wilburn, and I'm excited today. I got a chance about two or three months ago, maybe a little bit longer than that. A gentleman named William Schwab came he's the executive director of the David and Barbara Pryor center for our Arkansas oral and visual history. He came to one of my weekly rotary meetings and I'm a member of the Fayetteville downtown rotary, which is, as we like to say, the best rotary but I digress. Anyway, Mr. Schwab came and talked about this center that I had known about the building. I was familiar with this corner of the square here in downtown Fayetteville, but I didn't know what was held within these four walls of this building. And when Mr. Schwab was kind enough to come and speak to the members of the rotary and kind of share the importance of oral history here in Arkansas, the importance of capturing this information in a way that makes it accessible, not just putting it in a book and putting it on a shelf somewhere in some dusty library in a corner that nobody can access but creating a visual representation of the history of this state. I was just blown away by it and being the history major that I am. I said, I've got to get in front of Mr. Schwab and I finally corralled him, I finally convinced him to sit down with me. And so I really appreciate it. Without further ado, William Schwab, the executive director of the prior Center here in downtown Arkansas. How are you doing today?

Bill Schwab 2:15

Please call me Bill. Okay. I'll call you, Bill. Okay. It's been a grand day. so far.

Randy Wilburn 2:19

Good. Good. That's awesome. Well, why don't you tell us first of all, as I like to do with anyone because I think it's most important, the individual that I'm talking to, beyond just the organization that they represented, if they do, I always like to learn about them, but why don't you just tell our audience a little bit about who you are, and a little bit of your as I like to call it the superhero origin story.

Bill Schwab 2:40

I've been at the University of Arkansas for 42 years. I was trained at The Ohio State University I know that's terrible. At Ohio State and I'm a urban community sociologist, I also did demography, my passion for this job came about and indirectly it because I do a lot of work. immigrants, especially undocumented youth in Northwest Arkansas, and I was able to work up and down the I-49 corridor as I worked on two books I've published about these young people and trying to bring about some bridging between the Anglo community and the Hispanic and the Marshallese community here in our region. I was chair of a department sociology and criminology for 15 years. I was dean of the Fulbright college for Associate Dean for six years, and the dean for three years. And so I left that job. This one came available A few years later, I taught a class down here, I was impressed with the staff, I was impressed with remarkable facilities that we have here. And I also had a similar commitment to the goal of the Pryor Center, which is to collect the oral history of the people of Arkansas, preserve it and then connect and share it with not only the people of Arkansas, but the people of the nation. Okay.

Randy Wilburn 3:59

All right. Well, you guys have been busy here. Now you are this. The center has been around since 99. Is that correct? Correct. We've been in this space for five years, almost five, five years. Okay. And so all of the material and all of the information that you have collected is housed right here.

Bill Schwab 4:15

Yes, we have a one petabyte server downstairs in the basement. That's a trillion bits of information, by the way. And these archives are available to public on our website. So if people simply will type in Pryor center into their browser will pop up and just kind of shop around look around explore. Our signature program is called Arkansas memories. And for 20 years, we have been recording the live stories of the lives of some most significant Arkansans. These are people that helped change the state's politics, its economy, its culture its medicine. And we have over 100 of those posted and we are posting a few each month. We have A total of 150. I call these womb to tomb survey interviews. They start we start off by asking what are your first memories, right? And then they were all the way through their lives. And some of these interviews are six to eight hours long. The audience doesn't have to listen to a six or eight hour interview what we have done we have chapter markers. So we will have boyhood in Jonesboro, Arkansas, right. And so people can skip around and take a look at the different parts of these people's lives. So, Governor Beebe is on our website, John Paul Hammerschmitt Frank Broyles. Dr. Irby was the first African American physician trained at UAMS. On and on and on. It's this rich, wonderful collection, I think that will be treasured for generations to come. Yeah,

Randy Wilburn 5:51

Man as an historian, it's exciting to hear that you guys are able to capture that and I think it's one of the things that I read I on your site is that You've got representation from I don't know, what is it 72 counties in Arkansas. So you've got representation from everybody, not just it. This is not just a Northwest Arkansas thing. This is the whole state. So the Delta, the northeastern side of the state, the south western side of the state, everybody is, and the center, everybody's represented.

Bill Schwab 6:20

The other part of our collection, I think I'm really excited about is the KATV channel Seven News archives. And David Pryor, found out about the collection, it is the largest and the best indexed local TV station archive, in the United States or one of them. And we started in 1950s. We go through 2008 - 2010. We had the film portion of the archives digitized, and we're now in the process of posting a few hours of it each week. So if you'll go to our website Pryor center, go to KATV, channel, Seven News hard You can type in, let's say, Frank Broyles. And on the left every clip, over the 300 hours of tape that's film has been posted. They'll show up like a chapter marker book. And then you can just go to those different clips and where he's mentioned where he's mentioned. Wow, we just shipped 26,000 tapes and cassettes to a company called media preserve in Pennsylvania. And we think within a year, we'll have those 26,000 hours of video available to the people of Arkansas, on digital on digital, they can watch it on their computer. So if they want to find out what happened on their birthday in 1988, you may can do it.

Randy Wilburn 7:43

Yeah, that's awesome. Now, it's funny when you say cassettes, because I even think man, I mean, some of you were like, what's a cassette? You know, if we get some Gen Z folks that are here, they're going to be wondering what that is because even my kids have seen some of my cassettes and said, What are these and how do you play them because I don't even cassette player at home anymore. So

Bill Schwab 8:02

Well you don't need a player, you see the computer. Exactly use this.

Randy Wilburn 8:05

Yeah, exactly. So you guys are I mean, would it be fair to say that it is a fairly major undertaking to do what you guys are doing?

Bill Schwab 8:13

Yes. And we have this remarkable, dedicated staff makes this happen. And we're just a seven man shop and processing for example, these interviews that we do that are four to six hours long for every five minutes you have on video. That's an hour of transcription, absolute. So what we have on the website for each for say for Frank Broyles, we have one his video. Then we have his audio, and then we have a transcription of the interview. We also have family photos that the people being interviewed bring in, we scan those and we post those as well. And those are really interesting because you get to see what Frank's grandmother and great grandfather looked like and gets some of the locker room scenes that I've never been seen before, taken by through a snapshot. So it's exciting collection. And it's worth people investing in some other time. And,

Randy Wilburn 9:11

You know, as I think about this, and I've had a chance to meet with the folks at the Fayetteville Public Library, I actually spend a fair amount of time down there on the second floor, big shout out to those guys, especially in the genealogy department. I have, and I've lived in a lot of cities around the country, I've yet to see a city that had such a strong connection to its past into the history of it. And I've learned a lot about it, but just being up there among that collection of genealogy information, and they have genealogists that are available at the library that you can go to, especially if you're from this area, and do research about your family history and all of that. And has there been any tie in between what they're doing at the library and what you guys are doing here?

Bill Schwab 9:51

Well, we have a partnership, David Johnson, I've been working together and he's been on podcast. Yeah, has it? Yeah, he's wonderful. Yes. Not an official one, but I think that's one that's evolving. And what's nice about our archive, you can go to the transcription. And you can type in if you know that a family member was related to one of the people that are interviewed, and you can type in search terms, and it will go through every transcript, thousands and thousands of pages of transcripts, and pull out every mention that person's name across 150 interviews. Really? Yeah. So I think it'd be a wonderful tool for people that are interested in genealogy that go through our archives and say there's a distant kin member or someone that happened to know a family member it would be very, very quick and easy search to find out that were mentioned in the interview.

Randy Wilburn 10:44

Yeah, you know, it's funny because my mother's maiden name is Goode a lot of people mispronounce it, "Goodie", but I know there are a lot of goods in the central part of the state has actually met a gentleman that goes to my church. And you know, I remarked to him that you know, we're probably related don't laugh at this. But we are probably related because most of the Goodes came from an area of Virginia. And then they started coming West. And I'm just curious. And I probably could go and do some genealogy research up there at the library and figure out the connection and see. Because, yeah, that's just I think that's really interesting. So I have to have to look into that. So what are you finding to be the biggest use case scenarios of the prior center for the public? I mean, why are people coming here on a regular basis?

Bill Schwab 11:30

Well, one is the research that we do. And we've also launched a new program this past summer, called the Arkansas story vault, and this is student manage student directed student film, student produced interviews. And we are weaving these into these are much shorter. These interviews are probably 15 to 20 minutes long. Our first project I'm a community sociologist and I preach the importance of public places and spaces and creating community and Fayetteville is such a remarkable community because we have so many of them. So we have the farmers market, the Fayetteville square, which defines our identity in many respects, you go down the hill, you've got the faithful Public Library, which is doubling in size. You take a right at Theater Squared, Walton Arts Center, the entertainment district, you get on the trail system, like you and I do, wonderful parks, and then we go to the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. And so all these places are vital and creating community. And so when I became director about a year and a half ago, very few people knew where the Pryor center was because they were focusing only on their oral and visual history role. We became part of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences in 2017. And when we made that move, our mission expanded dramatically to include teaching, research and service outreach. And so, as a former Dean, as former chair of a department my role has been to integrate the Pryor center into the fabric, not only of the Fulbright college, but also our community. So one of the first things I did is I started a program called Pryor center presents its a lecture series designed for adults, covering a wide range of topics which would be interested of interest to an educated adult audience. So our first one was Lisa Margolis. She talked about the influence of music on the brain. She's now at Princeton, she left the university. She's doing a few years there do research. I was fascinating. She had these two film clips, and one of them was a man who had end stage Parkinson's, and she put earphones, played music. He was on a walker. He hadn't been able to walk. He walked across this kitchen floor. Wow. And then there was another gentleman that in a clip and he had end stage Alzheimer's, and he had not spoken in years. And they put on the earphones, and he talks. We had Janine Perry, she talked about why Arkansas became a red state in three election cycles is absolutely incredible. And even with John Brummett we had an all these are recorded, right? These are all on our website. So you can watch these on our website. Just go to projects. Bob Cochran talk about Kent Bonner, who is a guy who was like Thoreau lives off the grid over in the Buffalo River Valley. Frank Shied came in and he talked about how he was able to reconstruct a lost 1921 Chaplin film, using outtakes that he found in the British film museum. Oh, wow. It was great. We had a talk on Pythons. We have researcher JD Wilson at the university who studies pythons in the Everglades and they've destroyed the entire ecology. They actually know where the first snake came from maybe around Miami, someone bought their kid a pet foot-long Burmese python, and one year was eight feet long. And rather than getting rid of it responsibly, they threw it out in a drainage ditch and they've completely decimated the economy. The Everglades. They now pull out snakes that are 18 to 20 feet long. And there's one picture he had in his slideshow. It showed a Burmese python stretched out, it was dead. They are euthanized at this big lump in the center and they opened up the snake, and it's a full grown deer. So I asked JD, how long did it take to digest that? He said two months. And then we finished up with Steve about a talk on how Facebook is destroying our lives and our politics. That was last year. We had Ernie Dermis this summer. And this fall, our first talk was on the Elaine massacre. Right? Yeah, we were talking about that earlier. Yeah. It was an eight hour long symposium. Yeah. And it was powerful and the listeners need to go out and take a look at some of these talks. Three of the people spoke had kin who were murdered in 1919. And this is the hundredth anniversary of the massacre. Exactly. And one of them had his father died as a young man. He was raised by his Grandfather, and after his grandfather died, he discovered that he was a member of the Klan. That he left McGee, Arkansas, taking a train up to Helena went into the Elaine area and murdered people. So that's what we still are hearing about this symposium. And so it's been a remarkable run. Last night we had Kevin Straight is curator at the African American Museum at the Smithsonian. Marvelous talk. Next week, we have Billy Fleming, and he's going to talk about work and research he's done on cities on the east coast in the Gulf that are already forced to make investments in infrastructure because of global sea rise. So he's going to talk about the green New Deal. And then Have you been reading anything about what happened? What the dig up at the crescent hotel on Eureka Springs?

Randy Wilburn 16:49

Yes, I heard about the collection. They found human tissues remains in bottles that were you know, everything was just kind of nice and neatly put together, but They found a huge collection.

Bill Schwab 17:01

Yeah, and what it was you got a Norman Baker who was a fraud, charlatan, he had a cancer cure. He really didn't. People from all over the country were coming here for the cure. And they would die and he'd stick them in a meat locker in the basement of Crescent hotel. And he was an amateur anatomist. So he would do his own autopsies and remove the tumors, put them in a bottle our in alcohol screw the top, but he was convicted of I think was mail fraud, right and went to jail. And they took all the stuff they thought they had dumped it in the landfill. They didn't. They had dug a pit in the back of the Crescent and threw all the stuff in. So we're going to have George Zabo from the artistic director of the Archaeological Survey. He's going to talk about that in December.

Randy Wilburn 17:47

Because I think right now it's, you know, the state police are actually going through all of that. I guess.

Bill Schwab 17:54

They sent stuff down to the crime lab. There's a bottle of the elixir. Yeah, trying to find out what was in it. Right. Okay, and then they pretty gross, but yeah,

Randy Wilburn 18:03


Bill Schwab 18:04

And they brought a reel of film to us that had been dug up. And we had a shock to you before you leave. And we sent up the media Preserve. That's the people that do our digitization. They called, I said, congratulations, you've sent us the worst piece of film that you've hit they've ever received. I think they were able to salvage a few frames from...They did it locally they didn't do it up there. But so that's Arkansas presents and we have a similar array of wonderful talks in the Spring. And the other thing we have we called prior summer showcase. And we are showcasing local talent. So if you notice we have a Steinway piano on loan to us from Oriville and Susan Hall. That's gonna go to the new library edition. Okay, but we're we're keeping it keeping it for now. For now. Yeah. Listeners may know about Claudia Burson, who is a jazz musician, and she teaches in the jazz program at the University and she is incredible. We had her in and she brought in a bass player. And it was a magical night. This past summer. We had Jim Greeson, who does Hog City. It's a Latin jazz group. Sure. Gypsy jazz. We had 157 people in the Pryor Center we were, we were filled all the way back to where the piano is. People were out in the lobby, we opened the doors, with their chairs up against the glass, they could hear the music and then we had people swing dancing out in the atrium. So it was a special evening. And then we had a group just last Friday called Like Butter, and they played folk and kind of the American Songbook. It was but they've all been had one thing in common they were Hall and credible musicians. So that's another way we're trying to get people into the prior center,

Randy Wilburn 19:58

And all of these events of free right?

Bill Schwab 19:59

Oh, absolutely!

Randy Wilburn 20:00

So people just need to make themselves available to it. So besides your website, where else would people be able to find out information about these events? Because I'm assuming you post in a variety of places.

Bill Schwab 20:12

Right? We post using the University of Arkansas media services. So, if you drop me an email at I'll put you on our mailing list and we send out a blast and letting people know that we have an event coming up.

Randy Wilburn 20:34

Yeah, well, I'll be sure to put all of your information on the show notes. So anybody listening to this, you'll be able to go to this episode of the show notes for this episode at I am Northwest Arkansas dot com, get that information. You can download it they'll also eventually be a transcript of this conversation as well. But I think it'll be really helpful for you just to get connected with Mr. Schwab and, you know, find out what he's doing and maybe you know, who knows some of you listening to this podcast may have some some artifacts some items in your attic. That might be a value that you would want to share with the rest of, your local Arkansans. So I would encourage you to to connect with Bill and find out everything that that's going on here and avail yourselves of some of the different programs that are going on.

Bill Schwab 21:19

A couple other things. We have University classes that meet here. We have OSHA lifelong learning classes. We have 12 this semester, we had a big one yesterday about 24 people, Profits made here. Im the president of botanical garden, and we've had two of our board meetings here and a board retreat here. If you are a nonprofit, and you are nonpartisan and I stress nonpartisan, David Pryor was a democratic Senator from Arkansas. We have no affiliation with the Democratic Party. If your nonprofit nonpartisan, you can use during on a weekday, our facilities for free. Okay, on weekends, we have to have a staff member here and so we just have to cover their hourly costs. So, my hope for the Pryor center based on what I call the front of the house, right, we're in the back of the house. We're in the studio, I'll give you a tour. We have soundproof studio booths where we do our editing, we have the control room. We have staff offices, we have archives in the basement and the other vault, which is a mirror of this. Well, I would hope is that the Pryor center would kind of become part of the mental calculus if you would of people. Yeah, you say, Honey, it's Wednesday night, Honey, what do you want to do? I don't know. What do you want to do? I don't want to cook. One of the people say, I heard there's a talk at the Pryor Center. Let's go down and we our Pryor Center presents from six to seven o'clock. They start promptly at six. They are over at seven having plenty of time to eat. So you come down and have an early meal or you come down and have a meal after seven o'clock. That's my hope that this is part of the fabric of this community. This Northwest Arkansas document That we love, and that this place makes a contribution to the creation of community, a safe place where people who are very different. Come and listen to a talk, listen to music, maybe develop a friendship. Exactly. Yeah,

Randy Wilburn 23:17

I love that. I think that's a great idea. I'm always saying it takes a village, of course. But I think that village needs to be engaged. And you know, the Pryor centers is going a long way to try to create that opportunity for people to be engaged. So I certainly appreciate it. We're going to make sure moving forward that we share our Pryor center events on our events page at I am Northwest Arkansas calm to let people know about it. And maybe we'll have to figure out some other ways that maybe we could do some future podcast episodes here and highlight some of the other things that are happening at the Pryor center because I think people need to know about it.

Bill Schwab 23:52

And we have lots of partners. We're partnering with the Fayetteville Public Libray, KUAF. We're trying to have a radio show here on a Saturday. Like, a Michael Freeman type of thing. With Kyle Kellams. We do some things with Theater Squared, Walton Arts Center, we have a relationship with Crystal Bridges. We have a long list of people that we're partnering with because I just had talked with the Walton museum director, and we're maybe going to jointly sponsor an event in January. I can't tell you what it is. So we want to be part of this community. We want to be part of its fabric. We want to have partnerships, that, for example, we some of our speakers are shared with the Clinton school. Sure, in Little Rock. And so it's exciting time and we're trying to not only do our oral visual history, but we're also trying to be a good citizen of this community and our campus.

Randy Wilburn 24:23

So and you bring up you know, former President Bill Clinton and we know he has his presidential library down in Little Rock. I'm just curious as he's been one of probably the most famous native sons of Arkansas. Have you guys attempted to try to get him to come and share his story?

Bill Schwab 25:00

He had pizza here a few months ago. You should have come in!

Randy Wilburn 25:02

Oh, man, man. Well, you know, and the reason why I bring it up is because, you know, a lot of times people talk about, you know, I don't care where you fall on what side of the political aisle you fall on. One of the things that I always talk about Bill Clinton is his ability to connect with people, and I actually covered the Clinton White House in a former life at ABC News, and that's neither here nor there. But I learned a lot about him during that time. And this was kind of like doing the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal and all that other stuff. But there were people that I knew that knew him really well. And they would all say the same thing to me about the fact that when he was speaking to you, there was nobody else in the room. And that's how he made you feel. Hillary's the same way. Yeah. And I've never met her and so but the interactions with him and his ability I've ever heard him speak several times, of course, in person, but just his ability to connect with the audience.

Bill Schwab 25:53

Well, we have a couple things going on with Bill Clinton. One is we have what's called the Clinton project and we have interviewed his staff members when he was governor have been interviewed on camera. And so those are going to be available very soon. We're just finishing up the final processing and those will be up on our website so you can listen to his staff. We also are in partnership with presidential project with the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. Miller center is going to interview him about his presidential years and the Pryor centers going to interview him about his post presidency years. So he'll be in this studio for a couple days and really excited about that possibility.

Randy Wilburn 26:38

He's got a former home down the street, literally down the street. So it's not like that doesn't sound too far fetched. Well, I have to find out when that is because I'd certainly like to make my way up here and, you know, hopefully see him But no, I think that's great. So, any final words that you'd like to share with our listening audience? I mean, certainly anybody listening to this, you need to Come down to the Pryor center and check it out. If nothing else, go to the website and take a closer look at everything that they're doing. There's always an event going on here. As I walked in, there were one side, if I look to one side, there were a bunch of chairs set up for looks like you guys are going to be doing something tomorrow, and then you've got stuff on that side. And so I'm pointing to the right, nobody can see that. But the bottom line is there's there's always something going on here. And it's really, it's actually such a beautiful facility. And I've seen it for other events and actually met with the folks at Startup Junkie, which are just upstairs and there's a lot happening in this building. And so I really want to encourage people that if you come to the square just to go to Hugo's, they've got great fries and sandwiches, but you need to walk right up the street a little bit and come into the Pryor center.

Bill Schwab 27:45

Thank you very much. You said better than I could.

Randy Wilburn 27:49

No, but no, we really appreciate it and we're going to put some of the events that I've looked at online. I'm going to share on our show notes so people can get a glimpse into what's going on but I also just encourage you to come down and visit whether Mr. Schwab is here or not, you need to come down and check out the Pryor center, find out what's right in your own backyard because these guys are doing something really special, something that I haven't seen in a lot of other states that I've been in. And I think that's, that's a testament to what the state of Arkansas is trying to do. So

Bill Schwab 28:20

Thank you very much for taking time. I appreciate you interviewing me.

Randy Wilburn 28:22

Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, folks, there you have it. Bill Schwab, Executive Director of the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History. I know it's a mouthful, but they're doing some great things here. And so I hope you enjoyed this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas, as usual every week you want to come to you with something new, even if whether it's regulatory or not. We want to engaging you want to give you some new information, something that will help you to make your day a little bit better to give you something that will give you some something to think about a way that you can take advantage of this beautiful corner of the state that we call the Northwest Arkansas Ozarks. And we just appreciate sharing with you on a regular basis. So that's all I have for you right now. We'll be back next week with another fresh episode. I really want to encourage you guys, please, please, please check out the podcast and share it with a friend. And we'd love to get a review from you. Whenever you get a chance. Wherever you do listen to this podcast. And you know, that's pretty much about it. We appreciate you being our listener, we appreciate all that you're doing. through us all the feedback that we're getting, it's just motivation for us to continue to go out and meet great people like Mr. Schwab and continue to make this an even better podcast on a regular basis. So we appreciate you from the bottom of my heart. And I will see you guys next Monday. You guys have a great week. We'll talk to you soon.

IANWA Close 29:54

We hope you enjoyed this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. Check us out Each and every week available anywhere that great podcast can be found. For show notes or more information on becoming against visit. I am Northwest We'll see you next week on I am Northwest Arkansas.

About the Show:

I recently met Bill Schwab at a local Rotary meeting. He was the guest speaker that day and I was blown away by his work with the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History. Bill shared one story after another about all that they’ve already done at the Pryor Center and everything that he as the Executive Director, and his team of seven plan to do to “Collect, Preserve and Connect!” all of Arkansas.  

Located on the square in downtown Fayetteville the Pryor Center provides services to the whole state including a growing repository of Arkansas history gathered from every community across the state and made available to public schools, universities, researchers, documentarians, and anyone interested in History.  

Bill gives us a glimpse at the inner workings of the Pryor Center on this episode. 

If this podcast episode resonates with you please let us know by commenting below or by dropping us an email. We appreciate each and every listener of this podcast. 

 All of this and more on this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas.   

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