Photo by Judy Watson Tracy

From Annie Russell to Mr. Rogers, Rollins’ Treasures Were in Good Hands

By Joy Wallace Dickinson
This article appeared originally in the
Orlando Sentinel on August 22, 2010. Reprinted by permission of the Orlando Sentinel.

“Shakespeare based some of his stories on this book,” says Trudy Laframboise, pointing out a rare 1587 edition of The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, one of many treasures in the Special Collections and Archives at Rollins College.

The Winter Park college is celebrating its 125th anniversary, and for the last 25 of those years, Laframboise has been a key caretaker of its treasures—a trusted guide for scholars, students, and just plain folks who want to know more, who need help answering their questions about everything from Winter Park history to Walt Whitman‘s poems.

As classes begin, always an exciting time of the year, Laframboise will be making a new beginning, too. After saying fond goodbyes, she’ll retire and start a fresh chapter of life.


Guardian of heritage

Her career at Rollins concludes with awards and thanks: Earlier this year the Society of Florida Archivists honored Laframboise with its Award of Excellence for her dedication to the archival profession and outstanding contribution to the preservation of the state’s documentary heritage.

Like theatrical set designers or publications editors, for example, archivists toil out of the limelight, organizing and preserving information so that it’s accessible to others.

And whereas it’s typical for scholars to become quite narrowly focused on an area of study, archivists such as Laframboise are asked to become experts on a world of knowledge, depending on what resides in their collections.

“I’m going to miss all of this,” she says about her department in Rollins’ Olin Library, where the treasures seem to reach out into every corner of the world beyond. “In every corner, there’s something.”

Russell’s shoes, Rogers’ sweater

There are shoes that belonged to the great actress Annie Russell, namesake of a theater on campus, who retired from the stage in 1918 and later taught at Rollins until her death in 1936.

Russell’s shoes are so small that a child could wear them, but her résumé loomed large. She originated the title role in Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara in London in 1905, to name just one role.

These days, however, visiting alumni may be more interested in seeing the shoes (and sweater) of Fred McFeely Rogers, Rollins class of 1951—the Mr. Rogers who made the whole world part of his neighborhood on TV.

A lock of Napoleon’s hair has been under Laframboise’s care, as well as fragments of the Mayflower, the world’s smallest book, and a first edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

After 25 years, Laframboise can tell you about alumni such as the author Rex Beach, the 1890s Rollins student and veteran of the Klondike Gold Rush who was once lionized as “the Victor Hugo” of the North. His ashes are buried on the Rollins campus.

She can tell you, to give just a couple more examples, about author Zora Neale Hurston’s relationship to the college, and about the Rice affair that rocked Rollins in the early 1930s, when the college’s president, Hamilton Holt, asked the controversial educator John A. Rice to resign. Several other professors left with Rice to found the experimental Black Mountain College in Asheville, N.C.

‘A fantastic history’

In 25 years, Laframboise has cared for important manuscript collections and invaluable photographs. Filing cabinets that line a long wall brim with historic images she has organized, catalogued, and protected with acid-free wrappings. They constitute a tremendous resource for the history of Florida and beyond.

In one large photo from Rollins’ own history, thousands of people attend a 1940s performance of the Animated Magazine that gained national fame during Holt’s tenure (on September 19, the magazine was brought to life again this year in a special re-creation).

Asked what she’ll miss the most, Laframboise says, “the atmosphere, the students, the professors. Especially in the early years, it was like a family…There’s so much here of history, and it’s a fantastic history.”