The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 12, 2010

‘Storyteller’ leaves legacy of area historic documents

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Marvin VanGilder thought of himself as a storyteller.

“He had a wonderful storytelling voice; one you would want to listen to,” said Ron Petersen Sr., the owner of KDMO radio station in Carthage, where VanGilder’s stories have broadcast for 31 years. They’re so popular, in fact, that they still air at 7:55 a.m. weekdays.

VanGilder died Sunday night at the age of 83. He is remembered for his contributions to local history preservation and the Jasper County Archives, to Carthage civic organizations and events, to radio and to newspapers.

Whether it was “The Big Blast at the State Line” about a fireworks accident or “The Farm Hand Who Saw Stars” about the life of astronomer Harlow Shapley, VanGilder’s life’s work was documenting local history.

In addition to the radio program scripts, VanGilder wrote books. One, a comprehensive history of Jasper County, was published in 1995 to coincide with the county’s 100th anniversary observance.

His “Big Blast” and “Farm Hand” stories are among the 700 scripts he wrote for his “Moments for Remembering” radio show. The stories were from throughout the region.

“Primarily he did a great job with his ability to write and voice his own scripts,” said Petersen, who counts himself as a personal friend of VanGilder’s as well as a professional. Even though the programs recount happenings of the past, “the programs are very timely. He had a special talent in that way,” Petersen said.

VanGilder said himself in a 1984 story that appeared in the Globe that “I like to think of myself as a writer of history. A storyteller.”

VanGilder, born Sept. 24, 1926, in Lamar, had a varied career. He attended Drury College in Springfield where he was drawn to radio when the college established the first campus radio station in the nation. He became a licensed minister in 1946 after working as a student pastor during college.

He taught English, history and music for a number of years in area schools and then took a job as a disc jockey and sportscaster at KDMO in the mid-1950s, where he was promoted to news director. He later was the editor of the Carthage Press newspaper.

He served on the Carthage Board of Education and also on the boards of a number of civic organizations including the Red Cross and United Way.

VanGilder’s work “meant an awful lot because he served Carthage in so many ways,” said Mayor Mike Harris. “He will be sorely missed.”

Much of VanGilder’s interest in history and Carthage focused on the Battle of Carthage, fought on July 5, 1861, and believed to be one, if not the first, of the earliest ground battles in the Civil War.

He worked with other local historians and history re-enactors to help establish the Battle of Carthage Civil War Park and he started an annual Vesper Ceremony there on the battle anniversary. This year his failing health prevented him from conducting or attending the ceremony and other volunteers took it up on his behalf.

Harris commended VanGilder’s efforts in documenting the area’s history and establishing the Vesper Ceremony.

VanGilder maintained and researched many of the sole sources of information he used for his history pieces. His book on county history, “Jasper County: The First 200 Years,” contains a substantial account of the Carthage battle.

Preservation and public access to his materials was the reason the Jasper County Commission created the Jasper County Archives, according to Steve Weldon, the archivist.

VanGilder was a champion of local history, Weldon said. “He deserves a great deal of credit for all he did for the community.”

Arrangements are to be announced by Knell Mortuary.

Radio feature

Listen to “A Moment for Remembering,” Marvin VanGilder’s longtime radio feature that explores the history of Southwest Missouri, weekdays at 7:55 a.m. on KDMO 1490-AM.

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