Monday, March 26, 2012

Karen Kearns, Mentor and Friend

Tomorrow flags at Idaho State University will be lowered to honor Karen Kearns, an associate professor and head of Special Collections and University Archives at ISU's Eli Mi. Oboler Library. Kearns passed away Wednesday, March 21st. Karen's passing is a huge loss for the university community, the ISU Library and for me personally.

The first time I met Karen was in 2003 when, as a freshman, I had enrolled in the Historian's Craft (HIST291) without having taken a single History course. I was in over my head and I knew it. As an associate professor at the library, Karen taught instructional seminars for various courses on utilizing library resources. My class met at the library to have Karen instruct us on how to find primary and secondary sources. I was impressed with how knowledgeable Karen was and began to feel less intimidated by my situation. Little did I know, I would become Karen's employee three year's later and eventually her friend.

In 2005, I was door-to-door campaigning with Richard Stallings who was running for Pocatello City Council and we began talking about my academic interests. Stallings, a professor and historian, mentioned that his congressional papers were at ISU, but they'd not be processed since they arrived in 1992. Wanting to begin a project that didn't utilize the oft-accessed Minnie Howard Collection, Stallings suggested I contact Dr. Ron Hatzenbuehler in the History department about arranging it. When Ron sent me to Karen I found her approachable and excited about my research project. I soon found out that Karen's background was History, too, and that she had once been Ron's student.

After a few months going box by box through the materials Stallings had donated to ISU (all 266 of them), Karen and I discussed something I never would have imagined months before: My processing of the entire Stallings Collection.

From the fall of 2006 until the summer of 2010, I had the honor and privilege of working for Karen Kearns on the Stallings Collection at ISU. For four years I walked into Special Collections and worked toward the goals of representing and preserving the public service of Congressman Stallings for future researchers; ensuring that Karen never had reason to regret entrusting me with such a monumental task, a task for which I had no experience; and, making both Karen Kearns and Richard Stallings proud.

Something wonderful happened along the way as I worked in Special Collections--Karen and I became friends. It wasn't hard given that Karen and I shared two loves: history and baseball. When I learned that Karen was a baseball fan, I planted myself in her office for an hour to hear about her beloved Cubs and Dodgers. From that day on, I could count on getting commentary from her on every baseball story. When I moved away from Pocatello in the summer of 2010, those conversations didn't end. Our morning emails back-and-forth were notorious for bashing the Yankees (minus Joe Girardi who we both gave a pass), commenting on whatever bizarre predicament the Cubs were in the news for (usually Zambrano), and recounting the losses our teams had taken (Karen offering moral support during the Braves' collapse last September). It was a constant dialog that I looked forward to.

Karen was one of those people who was no different personally than she was professionally. Karen was kind, considerate, and generous in all facets of her life. She was fiercely loyal to those in her inner circle. Karen's friendship was something that could be counted on. She was passionate about her family, especially her daughter Emma. She was a truly amazing woman.

The influence of Karen Kearns on my young life is something I will always be grateful for. Her influence is something I have yet to fully grasp, though, and I suspect I will find throughout my life that she influenced me in a multitude of ways. That she would agree to mentor me as I learned about archival practices is something I will forever be indebted to her for. Karen's death, at the age of forty-six, is still settling on me in profound ways. Her loss is a loss for so many and so many of us will miss her dearly. We'll miss her humor, her friendship, and her passion. Most of all I will miss how easily I could rely on her and how steady the shoulder was she allowed me to lean on.

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