Oral Histories

¡Hola! This week I had the pleasure of interviewing a couple of current employees for the oral history aspect of the Dempster Manufacturing Company project that I am working on. I was nervous about conducting the first interview with the current co-owner of Dempster, which is now called Dempsters LLC. I had met him before when he gave us (me, the archivist, and another intern) a tour of the Dempster plant. I knew he was friendly and very knowledgeable about the history of the company, but I still had some butterflies before starting.

An empty chair and a microphone are set up for the next Dempster Oral History interviewee.

An empty chair waits for the next Dempster Oral History interviewee.

Once we got into the interview, though, I quickly found my confidence and we fell into a conversational interview. He spoke of the kind people in town that recognize the Dempster logo on his truck and wave at him even though they don’t know him personally. I was particularly curious about how the idea got started for this project. The co-owner told me the story of how they had an auction for many of the old company materials, and that an employee from Homestead was there. They struck a conversation about the company and about the park. It was revealed that there were hundreds of thousands of records still at the company that were in dire need of organization and preservation. That conversation sparked an interest with Homestead because the Dempster company was so involved in early homesteading history. I was also interested in his plans for the future of the company. He was happy to share their goals and expectations for Dempsters LLC. I also appreciated the fact that he understood the importance of preservation and that he truly wanted future generations to have access to the history of a company with such interesting history. I found those very same sentiments in my second interview with a current Dempster employee. He worked for the company from the 1980’s until it closed in the 2000’s, and is now an employee again with the new co-owners. He told me stories about a funny manager and about how well he got along with his coworkers. He said that he could have found a job that paid better, but that he stayed with the company because he enjoyed working there so much. He hopes that this preservation project will educate others about the history of the Dempster company, especially its early history with homesteaders and other farmers. I could tell that Dempsters means a lot to him, much like it has to many others. I have five more interviews scheduled for next week. (I was popular these past few days in the office with incoming calls!) I can’t wait to hear more stories. ¡Hasta pronto!

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