Two years ago Sharon Hoverson, Carl B. Ylvisaker library director, received a call from Gerald “Jerry” Connelly, who told her about his large media collection of classic American movies, Golden Age radio programs, television series and books.
“You know, I’d like to give this to Concordia,” he said. “Would you be interested?”
Hoverson told him that she certainly would, but would like to see what he had before making a decision.
“OK,” he said. “Sounds good. We’ll talk about it some other time.”
Hoverson and Connelly never got back in touch. Last October, Connelly passed away after a long battle with cancer. Hoverson received a letter from Connelly’s attorney in December. He had went and bequeathed his media collection to Concordia despite not having another conversation with Hoverson.
Connelly’s extensive media collection consists primarily of classic Hollywood features from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, such as Casablanca, East of Eden, and Frankenstein, although it also contains an abundance of radio programs and television series, such as the Jack Benny Program and Lone Ranger. Many programs exist in multiple formats because Connelly continuously updated his collection as new technology developed, so some titles may appear in Betamax, VHS, and DVD form.
Connelly also donated three 16mm projectors and a collection of 16mm films, two projector screens, and books to the library.
Hoverson said the enormous task of sorting through the generous donation will be a summer project for library staff. Hoverson said they hope to determine what they will be able to keep in the library, due to limited space available and the fact that the library typically only houses media materials for curriculum purposes.
She intends to speak with faculty about which items they foresee potentially using in the classroom. If the library does not end up keeping all of the items, Hoverson wants to make sure they find a good place for them, such as a museum or an outlet in the community.
“If we don’t keep them, I am really interested in finding some kind of museum, a broadcast media museum, that may want to take them,” she said. “I certainly don’t want to just toss them anywhere because Jerry kept immaculate records and everything is in good order and shape.”
Connelly did indeed keep immaculate records. Every single item in his collection is organized in an alphabetical card catalog. Countless 3×5 white note cards in small gray plastic containers neatly list the title, year, length, format, and a synopsis of the program, as well as where and when Connelly purchased the program and how much it cost. Hoverson said it’s quite rare for the library to receive donations other than books, but it’s even more unique to receive a collection so substantial.
“I’ve been showing people who are interested the card catalog and they go through and say, ‘Wow, he has that one?’” Hoverson said with a laugh. “I think it’s a very good collection. He obviously was very dedicated.”
Greg Carlson, Communication Studies and Theater Art assistant professor and avid film collector himself, said the fact Connelly had taken so much care and time to describe the contents of the collection itself is a valuable aspect of the donation. Carlson said many collectors today keep an electronic list, if any at all. Carlson said he is very pleased that a donation of this size was made to the college.
“We (Carlson, Hoverson, and CSTA professor and chair Don Rice) were all kind of amazed,” he said. “Every major classic Hollywood feature was in there.”
Carlson said Connelly often tried to acquire every film with a certain star or director. For example, Connelly’s collection features every film starring John Wayne, every film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and every animated Disney film. Carlson said he already foresees using films from Connelly’s collection in his film courses, Appreciating Film and Analyzing Film.
Despite the presence of Concordia radio broadcasts amongst his collection, Connelly is not an alumnus of Concordia, although he lived in the Fargo-Moorhead area periodically throughout his life. Connelly was born in Breckenridge, Minn. in 1938. He joined the US Army after high school and was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. After returning to the United States, he attended the Brown Institute’s school of broadcasting (now known as Brown College) in Mendota Heights, Minn. In 1963, he joined the local WDAY TV station as a copywriter, announcer, and weekend weatherman. He moved to Los Angeles in 1968 to pursue his lifelong interest in films, where he worked as a radio news and production director and screenwriter and won a first place award at the 1997 Monterey Screenwriting Competition. Connelly returned to Fargo in 1992 where he worked at KFGO radio and Flint Communications until his death.
Jerry’s brother, Donald Connelly of Minneapolis, said in a telephone interview that he doesn’t know of any prior connections Jerry had with Concordia, but he knew Jerry was scouting around the Fargo-Moorhead area to find an organization to be a home for his collection. Donald said Jerry also mentioned MSUM as a possibility, but he must have determined that Concordia would make the best use of his collection.
“Somehow, he decided Concordia was the most welcoming home for his beloved collection,” Donald said.
Hoverson said the Concordia library is delighted to be the recipient of Connelly’s generous donation.
“We’re very happy to get this collection,” she said. “I think we’re going to get some gems out of it.”
Marisa Paulson is a senior and the news & features editor of The Concordian, although she still writes when she can. She plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in fall 2011.