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Friends of George: Reflections on Frizzell's legacy

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Charles Frazier — 1997 National Book Award for Fiction — Cold Mountain; Author of New York Times Bestsellers Thirteen Moons and Nightwoods

The first time I met George, I was just getting started on Thirteen Moons. I was putting together my research for it, and was over in the Special Collections department. I handed my slip to George and he brought me the book I was looking for. Then, about a half-hour later, he came wheeling up with this cart just packed with stuff. All of these books he figured would be of use to me and to what I had asked for, which they all were. Primary documents and things you wouldn’t find anywhere else. I must have spent a couple of days going through all of it, and it really did shape my book. And having George himself there really did help, because he knew the stories behind the stories. 

Those times that he and I get to talk, any little thing we may talk about with Western North Carolina, he knows something about it. You know, the Internet is not a substitute for somebody like George who has accumulated this huge amount of information and facts, and has really informed opinions on what really happened and what didn’t. I’m doing this research right now for this new book and it’s just this constant hurdle of figuring out what the real history is, where you’re saying, “Is this even remotely believable?” And to have a resource like George is invaluable. 

Ron Rash — WCU Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Culture; Author of New York Times Bestsellers Serena and The Cove; Two-time finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction; Frank O’Conner International Short Story Award

When I think of George, I think that nobody knows more about this region and its history like George does. He’s a great chronicler. For me as a writer, he’s been immensely helpful and generous. He made my books so much better because he pointed me in the right directions of understanding the region and its history. I will miss him. I know he will still be around, and I know that I will still probably be harassing him with phone calls when I need some information on something. [Laughs]. I think his contributions to the university are immense. But, I think beyond that, it’s his contributions to Southern Appalachia and Western North Carolina. I know that Charles Frazier would say the same thing. 

In particular, with Serena, George was so helpful because he helped me find out a lot of information, articles, maps and transcripts with what happened in this area during the logging boom and also with the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He also put me in touch with older men who had logged during that period, and that’s because he knows so many people and has so many contacts, all of which was immensely helpful. My hope for him, and I’ve talked to him about this, is that he will write a book about the region, which he would do a great job in doing so. He’s set up such a vast and important resource at Western Carolina University, something that will always be there for researchers and historians, and also for everyone, anyone who may have a question about the region — it’s there. 

Gary Carden — Noted Southern Appalachian playwright, author and storyteller

I didn't realize that George was "going away." I thought he was merely getting another award. George has been a vital resource to me in every undertaking. He was always there with the statistical data, the historic details and frequently, with the ethical and moral significance. He was invaluable for my play on Horace Kephart and he was essential in my research on "Nance Dude" and "Birdell." He gave me reams of material on Fontana Dam, Ritter Lumber Company and the construction of railroads in Western North Carolina. In fact, I need him right now, as I am researching my great-great-grandfather, who was wounded in Virginia during the Civil War and came home to be murdered by Kirk's Raiders. In fact, George has Bryant Carden's last letter, which I am attempting to convert into a bit of theater.

George Ellison — Noted Southern Appalachian historian, storyteller and naturalist. 

Well, to be truthful, the first thing that comes to mind [about George] is Van Morrison, the Irish songwriter and singer. George and I have for years formed the Western North Carolina Chapter of the Van Morrison Admiration Society. Ask either of us for the provenance of, say, “Slim Slow Slider,” and we’ll let you know that it was first recorded in the fall of 1968 at Century Sounds Studio in New York City on Morrison’s classic album “Astral Weeks.“ 

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But whereas my ragtag collection of Morrison vinyl LPs, cassettes and CDs was long ago scattered far and wide, George’s is reputedly in mint condition, and furthermore, you can rest assured that it has been catalogued alphabetically or chronologically, or both. He is, after all, a special collections librarian — one of the best I’ve had the good fortune to encounter.

For several decades now, my association with George has primarily revolved around the extensive and significant collection of materials related to Horace Kephart — author of Our Southern Highlanders and one of the founders of Great Smoky Mountains National Park — in his care. 

When Kephart’s posthumous novel, Smoky Mountain Magic, was published by the Great Smoky Mountains Association in 2009, with my introduction, I made this observation in a note appended to the list of sources:

 “With the sort of meticulous care his fellow librarian, Horace Kephart, would admire, George Frizzell, head of Special Collections at Hunter Library has helped preserve a significant portion of Kephart’s legacy, while at the same time — with patience and humor — providing access to those materials.”

Maintaining that delicate balance between archival protection, academic use, and public access has through the years been one of George’s special gifts. 

Pam Meister, Interim Director & Curator, WCU Mountain Heritage Center

In my 30 years of museum work, I have collaborated with many dedicated and accomplished archivists throughout the Southeast. Even in this distinguished company, George Frizzell stands out for his deep knowledge of and love for Western North Carolina’s culture and history, his passion to provide public access to the collections in his care in as many ways as possible, and for his above-and-beyond mentoring work with students and emerging archival professionals.

George was one of the first people I met when I began work as curator of the Mountain Heritage Center in fall 2010. In the past six years I have curated dozens of exhibits both large and small, all of which were greatly enriched by images, documents and objects from Hunter Library’s Special Collections. I have come to depend not only on George’s generous sharing of collections, but also on his knowledge of local history and of additional archival resources.

George is extremely creative in finding ways to raise public awareness and accessibility to his collections. In addition to excellent on-site service and his enthusiastic work on innovative websites featuring digitized collections, George is a gifted public speaker who frequently presents programs in WCU and community venues. 

Finally, George is a great teacher and mentor, not just to WCU students but also to students from other institutions. In spring 2013, George and I collaborated on a joint internship with a student working on her MLS through online courses from North Carolina Central University. George devoted many hours of coaching and instruction to the project, even spending a half-day meeting with the online instructor. The MLS candidate is now a full-time staff member at Hunter Library. George also spent three semesters working with public history classes on exhibit research and development, which ultimately resulted in five student-created exhibits on display at the Jackson County Public Library in Fall 2012 that were viewed by over 30,000 library patrons.

Anna Fariello — WCU Associate Professor, Digital Initiative — Hunter Library 

American history tells the “big” stories, stories that have national or international impact, but local stories include details that often get lost in the telling. George Frizzell and the university’s Special Collections are invaluable resources. Whenever I had a question about anything, George always had the answer. I am a researcher who knows how to find things, but George always had the answer right in his head. He has been an amazing resource for my research projects and for our Western North Carolina communities.

Suzanne Hill McDowell — Former Curator, WCU Mountain Heritage Center 

George and I have known each other a long time starting with a common shared experience of being WCU alumni. So, when I began work as curator at the Mountain Heritage Center, I already knew the first place to go for ideas and assistance on exhibit planning and research was to go talk with George at Special Collections. He was never too busy to offer helpful suggestions of sources. And his help was invaluable. He intimately knew the breath and depth of the Special Collection holdings. During his tenure, he crafted the building of an excellent regional collection that continually draws a variety of scholars, writers, researchers, and people hunting their roots. His broad circle of family, friends and professional contacts helped me more than once find people and sources of obscure information that enhanced the telling of a story. I never once stumped George — and I tried.

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