Whenever I do any research on Centenary College’s early years, I always first consult this book. Through Golden Years is a treasure trove of facts and remembrances that the archives staff uses all the time. Written between 1944 and 1947, it was published for the 75th anniversary of the college.
The book is part earlier manuscript, part unpublished autobiography, part research, and part interview. When beginning their project, Centenary Collegiate Institute was considering publishing an earlier manuscript written by a long time professor, “History of the Centenary Collegiate Institute Compiled from Original Documents and from the Memory of Events Quorum pars parva fuit by Albert O. Hammond, A.M., during forty years a Member of the Faculty of C.C.I.”, with additional chapters that would bring the report to the current year. They decided that there was enough new information and access to new resources for old information that they would start at the beginning.
Leila Roberta Custard, faculty member at C.C.I., was chosen to write the new history. She was a graduate of Goucher College and received a Doctorate of Philosophy degree from the University of Southern California. She had a unique relationship with Centenary; her father was part of the conference that started the school, and her brother was an alumnus. In writing the updated history, she relied not only on Hammond’s manuscript, but also the autobiography of the first president, Dr. Whitney, written for his children under strict orders that it never be published. Custard used these documents as well as documents from the archives of Centenary and Hackettstown, and numerous student/staff accounts of their time at the college.
She wrote copious notes as she did her research, and sent letters out to staff and alumni requesting any humorous or memorable stories regarding their years at Centenary. The library has hundreds of pages of her correspondence and research. She wrote on any type of scrap paper, including using the blank pages left over from her students’ examination booklets. The letters to and from students display the cordial nature of correspondence at that time; when her research time was split by a trip to Chile as an exchange professor, students wrote to her hoping that the trip would not impede her research or prevent her from finishing the book. Custard spent two semesters in Chile in 1945, and as soon as she returned, she went right back to work and had the manuscript ready to present during the 75th anniversary event.
Through Golden Years is a diamond in the rough. It may look unassuming in its simple blue cover, but on the inside, there are years of rich history bursting through the pages. We learn something new every time we look in it!