University archivist retires after years of chronicling U history

Amy Hackbarth

Several months ago, University archivist Penny Krosch opened a box of correspondence from the 1960s. Inside, she found a letter from Jack Kevorkian asking a prominent University surgeon for his opinion of capital punishment.

Kevorkian, the controversial assisted-suicide practitioner now serving a 10-year sentence for second-degree murder, said he was writing a book against the death penalty.

Not every box Krosch opens is filled with surprises like Kevorkian’s letter, but the promise of another one keeps her going.

“It’s always what is about to happen, what might come up,” Krosch said. “You always want to see what’s in the next box.”

Krosch has been searching boxes and archiving University history for 37 years, managing the archive’s continued expansion, technological changes and its move to the Andersen Library. She will retire from her position May 1, taking
volumes of memories of the University’s past with her.

“You can ask her almost any question and she can answer it,” said Amy Rau, a University senior and senior staff assistant at the archives. “She knows everything.”

Krosch joined University archives in 1965, fresh out of the University’s library sciences program. At the time, the archive was less than two decades old, said Edward Stanford, former University libraries director.

“People kept turning in files to us, and everything was a mess,” said Stanford, 92. “So we decided to form the archive.”

The archive consists of departmental papers and correspondence from University faculty, sports
photographs and film, a yearbook collection and educational programs recorded from radio KUOM in the 1940s.

When Krosch started, the archive held more than 8,000 files. Enough, she said, to line their boxes in a row and walk on top of them to the St. Paul campus.

Now, Krosch said, the archive holds more than 27,000 files.

“You could probably walk to the Rosedale Mall on the files we have now,” she said.

While the archive still collects faculty papers and other materials, it has expanded its collection to acquire new technological formats, such as CDs, as well.

It also contains videotapes, film segments and newspaper articles that mention the University.

Those new ways of saving
information are also changing the way it’s produced, Krosch said.

“People used to write letters or memos to tell their colleagues what was going on,” she said. “Now they just send an e-mail or walk down the hall.”

In 2000, Krosch oversaw the archive’s move to the second floor of Andersen Library. Most of the files are shelved in a cavern below the library.

In the cavern, the University archive’s files line two and a half rows, stretching 18 feet high and 60 feet long.

Even faced with the archive’s size, Krosch is never daunted, said University graduate Chad Gilman, who worked at the archive while in school.

“You can show her any picture or any document and she’ll be able to tell you where and when it’s from,” he said.

A committee will search for a new University archivist this summer, said Lois Hendrickson, assistant archivist.

Krosch said she will spend her retirement gardening, reading and finishing a book chronicling the work of an agriculturist she discovered in the archives.

“It’s really hard to have a life when you work full time,” she said. “I want to get a life.”