Roseville residents record their stories

Library preserves history from those who lived it
By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein The Press-Tribune
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When Kathleen Schance walked into the Downtown Library one day last week, she had a date with history. The longtime Roseville resident entered a small room near the back of the building and, after a few minutes of set-up, looked into the camera of an iMac. Then she told her story. “Back then, Roseville was a small town and people knew everyone,” she started off. “There were no secrets between families and the town.” Schance is one of about a dozen residents who have participated in a storytelling project being spearheaded by Lola Aguilar, the library’s archivist. With a $10,000 grant from the California State Library, Aguilar has established a high-tech “digital story station” in hopes of preserving memories of Roseville’s days gone by – from those who lived it. The project records digital videos of participants’ reading short, three- to five-minute stories, overlaid with still photographs – a la Ken Burns – then distributes them online, at The point is to preserve the stories that aren’t necessarily recorded in history books or chronicled in the pages of The Press-Tribune, Aguilar said. The fact that it coincides with the city’s centennial – and the heightened interest in city history – is icing on the cake. “In a hundred years from now, we want historians to know not just what was happening but how did it feel and smell? What was it really like?” Aguilar said. The effort often results in a richer, more inclusive picture of the city’s history than the “top-down” approach that lavishes attention on major players and big events, Aguilar said. While those are still important, a purely stats-and-facts approach to history can neglect the very people affected by it. In her video, Myrna Wathen leaves creek levels and precipitation totals in favor of a harrowing tale of frantically trying to reach her house – and her young son – in recalling the floods of 1995. “The police and fire department were there taking in flatbed trucks to rescue people from their homes,” she says. “Frantically, I attempted to get on the truck but was turned away by the rescuer. Yelling, ‘My son is in there!,’ I gave them the address and anxiously awaited their return.” Not all of the stories tackle big events. In “Life on Park Drive,” Ken Fisher relates a boyhood spent in proximity to Royer Park. “One of my favorite pastimes was to sit on the front lawn waiting for cars coming down the street the wrong way,” he tells the camera. “When I would spy a driver turn onto to Park Drive off of Douglas, I would chase them down the street yelling ‘Wrong way street!’” Others shed light on Roseville’s cultural milieu. In another video, Chris Rohde describes his sense of isolation growing up as a South African immigrant amidst a largely Hispanic elementary school population. As he finds himself identifying with his Hispanic classmates, he learns a powerful lesson about what’s acceptable – and what’s not. One day late last month, Schance sat down to tell a story about her dad, Rube Nelson. He was the superintendent of the Pacific Fruit Express ice plant, and has been honored with both a park and a bridge. But Schance’s story was about the practical jokes her father played – and had played upon him. Was she ready for her close up? “I’m me,” she said, “and what you see is what you get.” FYI What: Roseville digital storytelling project Where: Downtown Library, 225 Taylor St. Watch: Online at To participate: e-mail or call 774-5221