WRFA Announces “I Remember” Oral History Project

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Area residents who want to share their memories to help chronicle local history in Chautauqua County will get a chance to do so later this year.

WRFA-LP in is launching an oral history program that will allow Chautauqua County residents to provide their first-hand accounts of people, places, industries and events from our region’s rich past.

The “I Remember” oral history project will begin with a series of interview sessions starting in June, and local residents who want to serve as primary sources on a variety of historical topics are encouraged to participate. The interviews will then run in a series of audio and video programs that will be broadcast on the local airwaves and also streamed online.

“As a former trustee with the Chautauqua County Historical Society, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of documenting first-hand accounts of everyday people who’ve experienced, lived and witnessed our local history,” explained Jason Sample, WRFA general manager, adding, “That’s why this project is so important for our county.”

Funded through a Community Action Grant from the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, as well as from additional funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s American Rescue Plan Act Stabilization Grant, the “I Remember” project has a goal of interviewing at least 100 different individuals and providing 25 hours of audio and video programming in its first year. All interviews will also be transcribed and donated to the Chautauqua County Historical Society and the Fenton History Center for their archives.

“We’ve already established a committee of local historians to help us identify topics to focus on for this year,” Sample said. “Starting in June, we’ll schedule a series of interview sessions and invite community members to meet with us and share their memories of a particular topic or topics.”

Partnering with WRFA on the project is Kipp Reynolds from Kranky Plate Productions, who will help to document each interview. Conducting the majority of interviews will be Dan Swackhammer, a long-time resident of Jamestown who has a past history of working on a similar project. In 1986, Swackhammer produced and directed an hour long video documentary in conjunction with the Jamestown Centennial entitled ‘A Century of Life- A Century of Living in which he interviewed residents born in the 1800’s as well as local historians.

First Interview Session is June 4

The first interview session for the I Remember project is scheduled to take place on Saturday, June 4 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the James Prendergast Library. Specific topics for the June 4 session include: Brooklyn Square & Urban Renewal; the Kent Mansion, including its time as the Scottish Consistory and also the transition to the Robert H. Jackson Center; Jamestown General Hospital; Jamestown Community College from 1950 to 1990; and the development and early history of the Lucille Ball Comedy Festivals.

Other sessions, which will focus on other topics, will also take place on June 25 at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts; July 16 at a location to be determined in Bemus Point; and August 13 again at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts. Other dates and locations for future months will also be announced.

WRFA is asking anyone who wishes to be interviewed for the project during any upcoming session can reach out via email at WRFA@RegLenna.com with “I Remember” in the subject line. You can also call (716) 664-2465 ext. 209. More information can also be found online at WRFALP.com/IRemember.

Once enough interviews have been collected, WRFA will launch the first episode, tentatively scheduled for September 2022.

“This is going to be a very exciting project and we are looking forward to not only hearing the stories and memories of people who’ve lived and experienced our local history, but also sharing it with the greater Chautauqua Community,” Sample said. “I cannot express enough how excited we are to see this project launch and usher it forward!”

Comments, questions, or suggestions about the project can be directed to Sample using the above contact information.