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Volunteer Spotlight - Judith Kent (May 2004)

Judith KentView additional Volunteer Spotlights
Over two years ago, Judith Kent of Palm Coast, Fl. read an article by Studs Turkel in the AARP magazine about an important national effort created by the U.S. Congress to collect and preserve the first-hand accounts of veterans. At the time, Ms. Kent was involved with an oral history project supported by her local library -- the Flagler County Public Library -- to collect the histories of “colorful” people from their county.

“Flagler County has thousands of veterans and it seemed like a perfect place to start the Veterans History Project,” recalls Kent.

Since then, Ms. Kent along with a number of other dedicated volunteers have interviewed more than 25 veterans for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project. “In the beginning, we received some publicity with an article in the local paper which created an overwhelming response of veterans who wanted to participate.”

Image: see caption below
Judith Kent (right) interviews World
War II veteran, William Ryan. Ryan served
in the Navy and now volunteers for the
Veterans History Project lending technical
support. Photo taken in 1999.

Bill Ryan, another Flagler County Public Library volunteer and webmaster provided the technical expertise needed to record the stories digitally for the Veterans History Project. He organizes the content and puts the interviews on CDs-- one CD for the veteran, one for the local library and one to be sent to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress where the Veterans History Project is located.

The list of people signing-up to participate in the Veterans History Project began to grow. A number of Library volunteers were veterans themselves and they signed-up to be interviewed. Anita Noad, a library staff member and author agreed to proof read the transcripts. Mary Ann Clark, a library trustee and former executive secretary transcribed Ms. Kent’s interviews. Library Director, Doug Cisney gave his full support to the effort. The Friends of the Library of Flagler County generously funded the project, making it a regular item in their annual budget. “Then through ‘word of mouth’ our list of veterans to be interviewed and people wanting to record the stories started to really take off. Veterans who were interviewed would suggest other veterans,” said Kent.

The theme that Ms. Kent hears over and over is about “loyalty.”

Robert Granston is the most moving interview Ms. Kent has conducted. Mr. Granston was a POW and had a gruesome experience but in the interview he chose to focus on the friendships that he shared with his comrades and the survival skills that enabled them to endure over four years of captivity. In the interview, he shared a letter he wrote to his sweetheart on his hospital ship returning home. The letter read, ‘I’m free, I’m coming home, I love you, I love you.”

“I want the veteran to feel very good about the experience of recording his or her wartime memories. I want it to be a life affirming experience for them. I believe the Project strengthens family history as well as our nation’s history,” replied Kent on the reason shehas been so involved with the Veterans History Project.

Ms. Kent is a retired psychiatric nurse and taught students how to interview patients at the University of Miami. Many of her students were involved with the VA hospital and Ms. Kent knew a number of Vietnam, Korea and World War II veterans. She reflected that her professional experience supported her interest in the Veterans History Project.

Ms. Kent offered some advice to people interested in starting their own Veterans History Project: “Look around because volunteers out there with so much talent and who are so generous with their time. And you can do a lot on a ‘shoe string’ budget. Look to your local library for support and ask others to help. People want to get involved.”

Ms. Kent serves as a Trustee to the Flagler County Public Library and has been a volunteer for the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project for more than two years. For information about the Flagler County Public Library go to www.flaglerlibrary.org. To listen to an interview with Vietnam Army Nurse Rhonda Marie Prescott conducted by Judith Kent, go to www.loc.gov/warstories.

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  August 10, 2010
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