Marshall News Messenger’s archived film will be readily accessible for perusing and researching in the near future, thanks to a volunteer service project taken on by Marshall Rotary Club.

The Rotary Club assumed the task while making preparations for its upcoming centennial anniversary celebration.

“About a year and a half ago, the club chose a chairman (David Collins) for the centennial celebration for the 100th birthday of the club; and at that time I agreed to do a lot of the research because I’m one of the older members of the club and also had a quite a bit of experience as a district governor in the greater part of Rotary and the effects that all of the things that Rotary Clubs do, how it affects not only the local folks, but worldwide,” shared Jim Fitzgerald.

Thus, he reached out to News Messenger Publisher Jerry Pye to see if he could access some of the paper’s old files for research purposes.

“He put me on to this newspapers.com website that Marshall News Messenger uses to store and archive their old newspapers,” Fitzgerald said. “And so in going through those newspapers from the early days of the club, I saw a lot of pictures in there of the original charter members and things like that.”

Excited about his discovery he wanted to get his hands on the actual original film of the photos.

“These were pictures taken back in 1922 — the very, very early days of the club,” said Fitzgerald.

“So I asked Jerry if the people down at the office could find me the photographs that went with those pictures,” Fitzgerald recalled. “So he said that they couldn’t do that, that it just wasn’t possible to find those.”

Fitzgerald didn’t realize just how massive the archives that weren’t on microfilm were until he took a visit to the office.

“I didn’t realize at the time what the situation was, the way the photographs, the negatives and all were archived,” said Fitzgerald. “So one day I came down here and visited and looked through the drawers that had all of these photographs in it, and low and behold, they were in total disarray.

“In the file drawers of these photographs and all, there was about 40 or 50 drawers and in those drawers were hundreds and thousands of photographs and pictures …. not in any kind of an order that you could search,” he described.

“They were also in several different formats, sizes,” he added.

Thus, being from a manufacturing background with an expertise in doing inventory, Fitzgerald came up with a plan to revive the archival system.

“I gave some thought to how in the world this could be organized so that it could be searched,” he shared. “I came up with several ways to do it and started out organizing the ones that had dates and times and stuff. And they were all of a certain size film.”

He made an appeal to fellow members of the Rotary Club to help him in reorganizing the massive collection of photographs.

“Several members of the club then came down to the News Messenger and we sorted and organized by date those photos that we could,” he said.

The members even devoted some Saturdays working on the project. Members of the Rotary’s Interact club from Marshall High School also lent a hand. The News Messenger provided magnifying glasses, treats and snacks.

“So over the process of a year and a half to two years now … during that time we’ve organized all of the 35 millimeter film that had dates on them — specific dates — not just years and not just months, but the date, the month and the year,” Fitzgerald explained. “We have 20 or 30 drawers already organized.

Some of the records they’ve organized date from 1987 to 1998.

“So now I’m working on the much, much older format, getting those organized — either in date format or by an index of some sort,” he said. “And then the last part of the project would be to take the rest of the unknown and un-otherwise organized photos and get those into a format that we can get those into these drawers that I have prepared for.”

“At least if we can’t identify them chronologically maybe we could identify them alphabetically by names or we have names on them,” said Fitzgerald. “So it’s an ongoing project that’s been going on for a while. It’s having some success, got a long ways to go. It may be another year or two.”

For the Rotary Club, the project has been a daunting one, yet a labor of love. Most interesting has been stumbling upon the photos of years gone by — the ones that just kind of “pop out,” said Fitzgerald.

“You say, ‘oh wow, yea, I’d love to have been here when this was happening,’” Fitzgerald said of some historic time eras he found.

“There are pictures that I did find of the Hotel Marshall, and as a matter of fact even the renovation and construction of this facility here,” he said of the News Messenger building, “and a lot of the just odds and ends of different people that I knew when they were young, as kids. And, of course, I recognized the names when I was going through them and all.

“So that’s been a really neat part of it,” said Fitzgerald. “I’m looking forward, actually, after we get the renovation done to spending a lot of time just going through them and looking at them.”

Many of the old photos are used daily by the News Messenger for the “History from Our Files” highlighted flashback found on page 2A. The historic photos remain highly in demand as readers and citizens enjoy exploring them to reflect on years past.

“A lot of these people call about people or about school events like FFA or football or basketball or something like that,” said Fitzgerald. “And there are a lot of those photographs in all of this. I saw them as we’ve just been going through here, trying to identify some of the stuff that I wasn’t clear about.

“So there’s a lot of stuff that’s going to be of a lot of interest to people and it’ll be findable if we get it all in a way that people can actually look for it,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s just one of the challenges. It’s kind of a trial and error right now. We’re in the middle of it and we’ve gone this way using chronology.”

Fitzgerald jokes that the ironic thing about organizing the film is that he still hasn’t been able to use it when it comes to finding the historic photos he was seeking for the centennial.

“I came here; I did all this organizing it so I can use it to find all these pictures. So far I’ve not been able to find a single one because most of the pictures that I really needed were in this period that we have not done yet,” he chuckled.

Fitzgerald said it’s been a pleasure for Marshall Rotary to assist in providing a valuable service to the general public.

“Our motto is service above self … (meaning) service other than for yourself; and the theme during my year as district governor was: ‘Real happiness is helping others,’” Fitzgerald said. “It really has been an inspiration; and we find that doing things like this are really a very fulfilling and enjoyable thing and they do bring happiness.

“I’m sure everybody that’s worked on this project will say the same thing,” he said.