To The Letter Episode 4: An Interlude with Alice

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Episode 4 is here! In this episode, we take a step away from Joe and Agnes’ story to meet one of Agnes’ friends, Alice Gelisle. This is the only letter we have from Alice, but we felt it was so packed with good information we didn’t want to miss it! In her letter, Alice discusses all the facets of her life–working in a factory, playing basketball, rationing, fashion, and going to dances. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries, Professor Len O’Kelly, and a few talented GVSU Communications students. Alice Gelisle was voiced by student Katie Newville. Special thanks to Marcia Lee for joining us!

Alice’s letter is available below:

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Letter to Agnes Van Der Weide from Alice Gelisle, sent Jan. 22, 1944

Did you enjoy hearing Alice’s perspective? Let us know! Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu or leave us a review on iTunes! We can’t wait to hear from you!

To the Letter Episode 3: Reading Other People’s Mail

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Episode 3 is all about reading other people’s mail. Many thanks to Lynn Heidelbaugh, a curator at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, for speaking to us about the logistics of the postal system in WWII. Lynn is incredibly knowledgeable about all the complexities of how mail and packages traveled overseas, how censorship worked, and the development of Victory mail, or “V-mail”.

If you’re interested in learning more about war and the mail, we highly recommend checking out the National Postal Museum’s latest exhibit-that Lynn worked on!- My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries, Professor Len O’Kelly, and a few talented GVSU Communications students. Joe Olexa is voiced by student Logan Church.

Letters featured in Episode 3 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Jan. 24, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, March 4, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, March 7, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, March 15, 1944

And as promised, here’s an example of both the full V-Mail sheet and the shrunk down version that would have been what Agnes actually received.

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Letter to Agnes, sent Sept. 14, 1943
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V-Mail Instructions and envelope on reverse of letter
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V-Mail sent to Agnes, Sept. 15, 1943 via V-Mail

The final V-Mail is in black and white and is only a fraction of the size of the original.

Questions about the mail? V-mail? Military dentists? Have thoughts about the broken engagement? Let us know! Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu or leave us a review on iTunes! We can’t wait to hear from you!

 

To The Letter Episode 2: Building a Relationship

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It’s here! After several technical difficulties, we’re so happy to release Episode 2 of the podcast: Building a Relationship. In this episode, we take a trip through 1942 to dive into the developing relationship between Joe Olexa and Agnes Van Der Weide.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries, Professor Len O’Kelly, and a few talented GVSU Communications students. Joe Olexa is voiced by student Logan Church. Special thanks to Archivist for Collection Management, Annie Benefiel, who makes a guest appearance to explain how we got these letters, what we’re doing to preserve them, and strategies to preserve your own family letters!

Letters featured in Episode 2 are available below:

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Letter to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent by Joe Olexa on May 8, 1942.

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Letter to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent by Joe Olexa on May 13, 1942.

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Letter to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent by Joe Olexa on May 16, 1942.

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Letter to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent by Joe Olexa on June 25, 1942.

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Letter to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent by Joe Olexa on July 11, 1942.

What do you think of the budding relationship between Joe and Agnes? Let us know! Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. We can’t wait to hear from you!

To the Letter: Podcast Episode 1: An Introduction to the Letters

We’re so pleased to announce the launch of a new venture here at Special Collections and University Archives – a podcast! We’re trying something a little different, and we hope you will listen!

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries, Professor Len O’Kelly, and a few talented GVSU Communications students. On this podcast, we bring correspondence from GVSU’s Special Collections alive. In each episode you will hear (in their own words!) letters written by the people who lived through history and the stories behind them.

Join us as we dive into the story of a young soldier’s relationships and experiences during World War II…

Letters featured in Episode 1 are available below:

 

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Letter to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent by Joe Olexa on July 25, 1941.

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Letter to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent by Joe Olexa on August 23, 1941. 

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Letter to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent by Joe Olexa on September 1, 1941

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Bonus! Joe’s note to the Postmaster, Dec. 5, 1943

Have you ever been to Whalom Park? Heard “Amen” as a name? Let us know! Send questions, comments, and feedback to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Summer through Art: The Mike McDonnell Papers

Various containers painted by Mike McDonnell.
Colorful Still Life, unidentified, by Mike McDonnell

Coming into the Grand Valley Special Collections and University Archives this summer, I had very little idea of what archivists actually did. As an English major, I had studied the wide range of career fields through studying abroad, teaching, and mentoring. However, my History minor remained untouched. As I hurtled toward my senior year here at Grand Valley, I began to wonder what kinds of job opportunities I could find with my minor and discovered archivist was among them. The first place I contacted was the Grand Valley Special Collections and University Archives and I am glad I did. Thanks to the Archivist for Collection Management, Annie Benefiel, I was able to get an overview of what the job of an archivist entails. Her passion and patience in mentoring me through every task, led me to have a greater understanding and appreciation for the important work archivists do.

In my first few days, I was given tasks to help preserve and promote just some of the documents Grand Valley has to offer. I began with transcribing and scanning letters from World War II, reliving the blossoming relationship of a young couple separated by the sea. Next, I tracked down papers for a researcher, sifting through an unfamiliar world of politics from committee meetings to luncheons, to letters about planning and numerous copies of speeches. Then came my biggest task: the papers of Mike McDonnell.

Mike McDonnell standing next to his art.
Mike McDonnell standing next to “House on a Stool” which currently graces the wall outside the Administration Office on the 4th floor of Mary Idema Pew Library at GVSU.

When I began working on the Mike McDonnell collection, I had no idea who this man was or what his story was. Through researching his own work, interviews, and photos, I feel like I’ve met a friend. In organizing and processing the collection, it became clear that Mike McDonnell was someone who understood that his life’s passion was to make art, it was as simple as that. In many of the newspaper articles I scanned, he said time and time again, that making art was never about money. He acknowledged he could make a respectable amount on a painting, but never had the idea of money in his mind. I believe he was interested in seeing how far his art could go. Whether it was a specific subject, or a certain style of painting, he was always experimenting and documenting those important artistic journeys.

Mike McDonnell with portrait of young woman.
Mike McDonnell with a portrait of a young woman behind him.

Though his interviews provided insight into his professional life, Mike McDonnell’s personal photos also revealed who he truly was. Looking through the pictures, you get the sense that he was hardworking, friendly, and goofy person who liked to hang out with his friends and farm animals. In the photographs donated to Grand Valley, his work can be seen lingering in the background or even taking center stage. His life was surrounded by art in various forms and his paintings, I believe, reflected that.

After getting up close and personal with his donated belongings, it becomes clear why this collection needed to be preserved. Mike McDonnell is a key figure in the history of Michigan painters. His attention to detail, the wide range of subjects he experiments with, and his precision through the medium of watercolor allowed me to appreciate the fact that Grand Valley has this collection, pieces of his work on display on its campuses, and that I was lucky enough to process this one of kind collection.

Mike McDonnell in his studio.
Mike McDonnell surrounded by his art.

Every Wednesday, I’d arrive on the Grand Valley Allendale Campus, go over to the Seidman House and get lost for the next four hours in paintings, receipts, slides, and photos all relating to Mike McDonnell and his work. I would walk out into the hot summer afternoon and think of how to see the world like an artist of his caliber would. Looking back at this summer, it has seemed to fly by in a sea of green folders and papers of all shapes, sizes, and ages, and I’ll miss it all. I’m so grateful to the Grand Valley Special Collections and Archives Department for taking me under their wing, allowing me to have been a part of processing this wonderful collection, and getting the grand tour of life as an archivist. It has been truly unforgettable.

Andrea Bazan


The Mike McDonnell papers (RHC-120) were given to GVSU Special Collections & University Archives in May 2017 in conjunction with a gift of McDonnell’s art to the GVSU Art Gallery. The materials are available for research use in the reading room in Seidman House.