Valley Parents: Randolph students take lead on town oral history project

Randolph Technical Career Center student Cannon Eaton interviews journalist Bob Eddy during an oral history project Eaton is doing in his digital filmmaking and media arts class at the school on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Randolph, Vt. On the right is instructor Lance Madzey.. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Randolph Technical Career Center student Cannon Eaton interviews journalist Bob Eddy during an oral history project Eaton is doing in his digital filmmaking and media arts class at the school on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Randolph, Vt. On the right is instructor Lance Madzey.. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

Randolph Technical Career Center students Ava Ferris and Emmaline Caswell work on their portfolios for their digital filmmaking and media arts class at the school on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Randolph, Vt.. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Randolph Technical Career Center students Ava Ferris and Emmaline Caswell work on their portfolios for their digital filmmaking and media arts class at the school on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Randolph, Vt.. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

After interviewing journalist Bob Eddy, Randolph Technical Career Center student Cannon Eaton chats with Eddy for his oral history project on Randolph in his digital filmmaking and media arts class at the school on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Randolph, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

After interviewing journalist Bob Eddy, Randolph Technical Career Center student Cannon Eaton chats with Eddy for his oral history project on Randolph in his digital filmmaking and media arts class at the school on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Randolph, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley News — Jennifer Hauck

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 05-28-2024 11:08 AM

RANDOLPH — In the future, residents won’t have to wonder what Randolph Center once looked like or what people like Al Floyd and Bob Eddy did for their community.

The town’s mid-to-late 20th century history is being preserved through oral histories for the Randolph Historical Society by 14 students in Lance Madzey’s digital film and media arts program at the Randolph Technical Career Center.

The students interview and catalog their videos then post them on YouTube. They have done five episodes and plan another five before the end of the school year. Madzey will continue with the project next year.

At a recent recording, junior Cannon Eaton shot an interview with Eddy, 73, a longtime photographer for The Herald weekly newspaper. Eaton said the project has given him a new perspective on Randolph Center.

“Just being able to talk to people and learn information about their experiences and what has happened is really important,” Eaton said.

Eddy, 73, brought the version of an extra edition of The Herald that was printed two days after a devastating fire in Randolph Center in July 1992 that destroyed an entire block on Main Street.

As Eddy was preparing his microphone and getting seated, he named a few colleagues and friends who had recently passed away, which prompted Madzey to remark, “this is exactly why we are doing this. So we will have something that lasts.”

Eddy’s perspective on the fire provided insights from someone who lived through it and covered it, which is the unique value of an oral history.

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It was early on a Wednesday evening, right after the weekly paper was “put to bed,” with a front page of the July 4th celebration in town that honored the fire department. Eddy said people smelled a faint hint of smoke that could be seen coming from behind the main block, where the Ben Franklin store was located.

“We didn’t know what was happening, but I decided to stick around,” said Eddy, who would remain on the scene until 4 a.m. the next morning, when he grabbed a few hours of sleep before he returned to continue documenting the disaster.

“Randolph was under attack. That is what if felt like,” Eddy said. “Men and women were putting their bodies in harm’s way.”

The Herald’s front page showed a ladder truck pouring water on the fire and on the second page was a photo of Randolph Center Fire Chief Al Floyd directing where the hoses should go.

Eddy talked about the photos he shot of the fire scene and about Floyd, a local hero in his eyes.

“This is an iconic photo of Al. It’s taken during one of three fires in Randolph in the early 1990s. Why do I love this photo?” Eddy asked, holding the page with a closeup shot of Floyd. “It says so much about Al.

“Al Floyd is not a professional firefighter. He is a volunteer and I just think I love living in a community where there are people like Al and so many others who volunteer to take care of the community in so many ways. I think he is a hero. I love him for what he represents in the community of Randolph. There are only a few left who have been here for a long time and invested themselves in the community.”

Eddy also talked about Floyd’s General Store, a gathering place where a lot of news was first learned and gossiped about and often days later would appear in The Herald.

“If you wanted fresh oysters for your New Year’s Eve or a wedge of extra sharp Cabot cheddar off the wheel, not wrapped in plastic, you go to Floyd’s,” Eddy said.

Eddy told the students he went through 26 rolls of film as he documented the fire.

“I doubt there is any film in this room,” Eddy said, noting that he lived through the transformation from film to digital.

After the interview, Eaton talked about his work on the project and why he wanted to know more about Floyd, someone both his father and grandfather knew.

In an earlier interview with Floyd, Eaton said he came to realize how everyone knew each other back then but that is not the case today in Randolph, especially with many students from other towns.

Emmaline Caswell and Kalynn Messier interviewed Caswell’s mother, Brenda Hutchinson, whose family has been in Randolph for 10 generations.

“I really enjoyed this because of how shocking it was to me and how it will look to others,” Caswell said. “It is crazy how many buildings have changed over the years. I think that is the biggest thing for me.”

A restaurant, Victoria’s, is now a gift shop, and the bowling alley has moved to a new location, for example, Caswell noted.

Learning about family history on her mother’s side was another plus for Caswell.

“I never knew much about my mother’s side of the family so this is really eye-opening to me.”

The project has its origins in a discussion between Anne Kaplan, who is a member of both the Randolph Historical Society, and the local school board.

Kaplan said she was talking to a retired doctor, Maury Smith, and both were thinking about history and how quickly time is passing. With neither of them good with technology, Kaplan remembered one of her sons created a video about his cross country running for his senior project.

“Kids are so quick with technology,” Kaplan said,

She approached Madzey with the idea of partnering with the technical center and using historical society photos, and Madzey immediately got on board.

“They gave us some sample questions,” Madzey said. “We are trying to interview as many as we can. What makes it great for the students is it gives them some perspective about the past.”

Messier, who interviewed Caswell’s mother, agreed.

“It was great to hear her stories of how it was and how different it was then,” Messier said. “I loved hearing her experiences. It was very interesting.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.