CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will award the Chancellor’s Medallion to three men who have dedicated their professional lives to preserving and making available the history of the university.
Honored in a June 28 ceremony will be Maynard Brichford, the university’s first archivist; William Maher, the current university archivist; and Winton Solberg, a professor emeritus of history. The Chancellor’s Medallion is the highest campus honor, having been awarded just six times since it was first presented in 1999.
“In this year when we begin our sesquicentennial celebration, it has become clear the most valuable and lasting legacy we have built as a university is our story. All of our great accomplishments, ideas and innovations trace back to the men and women who have been a part of this institution over the past 150 years,” Chancellor Robert Jones said. “Across their respective careers, these three have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that those voices will not be lost or forgotten. They’ve been the unwavering guardians of our history.
“It is difficult to imagine three individuals whose careers better represent the high standards recognized by the Chancellor’s Medallion,” Jones said. “It is no exaggeration to say that much of our understanding of the values and standards of Illinois has come about because of their work.”
Brichford was hired as the first university archivist in 1963 and served in that role until his retirement in 1995. Brichford “built the Archives from the ground up, transforming it into a nationally renowned program,” wrote Ellen Swain, the Stewart S. Howe Student Life and Culture Archivist, who with architecture professor Marci Uihlein nominated the three for the honor. “His proactive approach to archival practice resulted in the acquisition of rich historical holdings on students, faculty and campus life.”
Brichford said the establishment of the Student Life and Culture Archives was especially important for documenting university history.
“There is a wealth of information that makes very interesting reading about student behavior and organizations over the years,” he said, adding that he considers himself primarily a historian.
When he started the job, Brichford went to each department on campus and requested they make annual records transfers. They became the foundation for the Archives, he said.
“The University Archives is the repository for the information that makes it possible for researchers to examine the history of the university,” Brichford said.
Maher began work in the Archives in 1977, and he succeeded Brichford as university archivist in 1995.
“As an expert in copyright law, he brings this knowledge to scholars locally, as well as internationally,” Uihlein said about Maher. “He brings national attention to the outstanding collection here at Illinois through his research and work in the profession at-large.”
During Maher’s career, the Archives has grown in scope, staff size and professional stature, and it has upgraded its facilities.
Maher said the Archives has a role in good governance by maintaining a record of the administrative side of the university, and also in preserving the university’s cultural heritage. By making those materials available for use, “it gives new life to these historical records by connecting someone with a new background to bring to the records and new questions to ask.”
Maher said he’s gratified to see his work recognized, as well as the importance of the Archives to the university. He also said he’s intimidated to receive the Chancellor’s Medallion in the company of Brichford, whom he said had the vision to make the Archives what it is, and Solberg, whom he called “an absolutely superb scholar.”
Solberg once considered becoming a lawyer, but his experiences fighting in Europe during World War II convinced him to study history in order to understand why such events happened. He taught in the history department at the U. of I. from 1961 until his retirement in 1992.
A dedicated user of the Archives, Solberg wrote about university history throughout his career in a way that acknowledges both the positive and negative, and he has continued to do so in retirement. He is currently working on an account of the U. of I. during the presidency of Edmund J. James (1904-1920). He has also shepherded graduate student research and dissertations on university history.
“Winton Solberg is the authority on University of Illinois history,” Swain wrote. “Archives staff, scholars, students, administrators and the general public consult his histories on a daily basis.”
Research and writing about the university’s history have shaped his life, Solberg said.
“I’m interested in my work. I enjoy my work. I serve a useful purpose to point out some of the triumphs and failures of what the University of Illinois has done,” he said.