Celebrating Frank Boles’ 30 Years of Service as Director of the Clarke Historical Library

Frank Boles, Director of the Clarke Historical Library, loves telling stories. And many of his stories arise from his work collecting and preserving other people’s stories. During his 30 years as director, Frank has tremendously shaped the Clarke’s collections and outreach efforts and has developed meaningful professional and personal relationships. When he recently announced his plans to retire on August 31, 2021, many colleagues said they will especially miss his stories and his sense of humor.

Some of Frank’s memorable accomplishments include building the Hemingway in Michigan collection, obtaining the Aladdin papers, and securing the Blass family papers. Frank enjoyed getting to know members of the Michigan Hemingway Society and talking with Jim Sanford about his Uncle Hemingway.  The Hemingway collection has grown through external financial support that enabled the Clarke to collect one-of-a-kind family memorabilia.

Frank is proud that the Hemingway in Michigan collection started from nothing 20 years ago and has become a collection of national significance with the assistance of dedicated donors. Recently, photographs and documents from the Clarke’s collection were used in the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary film, Hemingway.

According to Frank, the Aladdin collection came about suddenly and unexpectedly. Retired CMU professors who purchased the Aladdin company warehouse in Bay City did not know what to do with the corporate papers. They called Frank late on a Friday afternoon, and soon six truckloads of corporate records arrived at the Clarke including company catalogs, sales records, and architectural drawings. This collection is one of the library’s most popular, especially to individuals who own Aladdin kit homes.

The Blass family papers include letters written between 1922 and 1927 by Kenneth Blass and Marie Kleiner. Kleiner was a CMU alum who was teaching in Harrison. When she and Blass became engaged, Blass moved to Detroit to work at the post office to earn money so they could get married. Their letters tell the stories of their everyday lives as they anticipated their future together. Frank enjoyed talking with Blass and Kleiner’s children about their parents’ experiences. When working with individuals who wish to donate personal or family papers and memorabilia, Frank reflected that he “gives them the opportunity to make their thoughts last. Sharing their collections with a broader community is an endorsement that their life matters and that their ideas should be preserved. In collecting and preserving Michigan history, the Clarke creates a snapshot of American life and culture.”

Frank noted that the Clarke provides both educational value and social value. Frank views the Clarke Historical Library as a humanities laboratory.

The Clarke’s social value comes from helping people learn the context and background of historic events. “The lack of knowledge can be dangerous. When we understand the background, we can come to a different conclusion and understand the reasons for what’s happening today. Understanding the present means understanding the past.” As an example, Frank explained the importance of the Native Treaties, Shared Rights traveling exhibit which is one of the most popular traveling exhibits created by the Clarke. “The exhibit explains that these treaties included shared rights. White settlers received the right to live on native lands in exchange for Native American rights. White people may have forgotten their part of the deal.” The content of this exhibit is also available on the Clarke’s website.

Relationships are at the heart of Frank’s experience as director. “I have worked with many talented, generous, and interesting people. My colleagues do a wonderful job, and the Clarke board members’ reflections and feedback contributed to the success of the Clarke.” Frank always invited speakers to dinner before their presentation. “I did so selfishly to make sure they arrived on time. These dinner conversations were also an incredible opportunity to learn from interesting people.”

Frank’s most memorable experiences included conversations with David McCullough, Jim Sanford, U.S. Senator Robert Griffin, the Blass family, and Grandma Marijuana.

The Clarke Historical Library has changed a lot from the library it was in 1991 when Frank became its director. In 1991, the library was located on the Park Library’s fourth floor and was difficult to find. In the early 2000s, during the Park Library renovation, the Clarke moved to the first floor where its exhibit space is highly visible. This dramatic change required a more aggressive outreach program, something at which Frank excels. Under his leadership, the Clarke exhibits, speaker’s series, and fundraising efforts have flourished. The collections have grown considerably during the past 30 years, building upon the original gift from CMU alumnus Dr. Norman E. Clarke, Sr., of historic books, manuscripts, maps and images and the initial endowment to a collection containing over 80,000 items. Frank’s fundraising abilities increased the library’s endowments to more than 20 with a combined principle exceeding $2 million.

Please join us in celebrating Frank’s 30 years of service to CMU and the Clarke Historical Library! We wish Frank much joy in retirement!

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