Southeast Missouri State University graduate student Christopher Kinder was invited by the president of the U.S. Army’s 5th Infantry Division to attend their national reunion this fall in St. Louis and interview surviving World War II veterans.
When the interviews are complete, the video files and transcripts will be submitted to the Special Collections and Archives in Kent Library, where they will be accessible to the general public for research and education, as well as to other archives and libraries across the nation. “We hope that our efforts will allow these veterans stories to live on long after they have passed so that we can continue to learn about our past,” Christopher says.
Christopher, along with two other graduate students, started a World War II Veteran Oral History Project this past semester after Christopher read a news story that told of the death of the last surviving World War I veteran.
“I realized that we had allowed so many veterans to pass without capturing their stories and memories,” he says. “I also realized that within my lifetime we will lose all the remaining World War II veterans, and that if we don't act, we'll lose their stories, too. . . . We felt it was necessary to get as many of their stories on tape as possible.”
He says they have been surprised by the reception they have received from veterans and family members.
“We had expected to only have the chance to interview a small number of local veterans, but currently we have 30 willing participants and have been invited to attend the national reunion,” he says.
Christopher, who is a native of Delta, Mo., and who currently lives in Chaffee, Mo., graduated in May 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Historic Preservation from Southeast. He is on track to graduate with a Master of Arts in Public History in May 2014.
“I have always loved history, especially American history,” he says. “History helps to reveal who we are and how we've gotten to where we are as a people. Preserving the objects from our past is a way to connect with people who are long gone but still have a story to tell. Working in this field allows me to live my passion. I love what I study and what I do . . . and that's something I wish everyone could achieve.”
Recently, Christopher was asked to write the nomination for the National Register of Historic Places for the Henry Miller house in Bloomfield, Mo. The home was built in the late 1840s by a prominent business owner and railroad executive. It has fallen into general disrepair but still contains much of its original building material, including some original 1850s, hand-stenciled wallpaper and hand-written notes on the upstairs walls, which were put there by the builder's children. There is a great deal of history to this home.
As a member of the Bloomfield Historic Bi-Way Committee, which oversees the fundraising and restoration of the Miller house, Christopher connects other historic preservation students to the home and leads small work days and day projects.
In the summer of 2011, Christopher completed the Summer Research Internship with the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program at Southeast, which consisted of a two-week long research method seminar followed by a research paper on Henry Miller and his efforts to clear the swampland and build railroads prior to the American Civil War. Christopher’s paper was then presented at McNair Scholar conferences throughout the 2011-2012 academic year as well as at the Missouri Conference of History in Columbia, Mo.
Being part of the McNair Scholars Program has allowed for numerous travel opportunities to conferences for Christopher, both to observe and to present research, including in Washington, D.C., College Park, Md., Kansas City, Mo., and Philadelphia, Pa., and Newark, Del. He was selected to take part in the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program, which helps promising first-generation or minority students to prepare for graduate studies. He also received two awards at the 2012 Student Life and Leadership Banquet, the Civic Engagement Award for the College of Liberal Arts for his involvement in Bloomfield, and the Provost Award for Academic Excellence for the College of Liberal Arts.
As part of his undergraduate major, Christopher also completed an internship at the Felix Valle State Historic Site in Ste. Geneviève, Mo., where he gave tours of the site to visitors and completed an extensive building condition assessment of the Beauvais-Amoureux House, a 1790s structure owned by the state historic site.
Also as an undergraduate, Christopher worked for several semesters in Special Collections and Archives in Kent Library. His final semester as an undergraduate, he tutored students in U.S. history and political science in Learning Assistance Programs. He also served as vice president and president of the Historic Preservation Association.
Currently, Christopher works as a graduate assistant in the Department of History, where he assists with HP200, “Introduction to the Techniques of Local History.” He has also served as a member of the executive board of directors at the Stars & Stripes Military Library & Museum in Bloomfield over the past year. After graduation, Christopher says he plans to continue his education at the doctoral level.
“My experiences here have helped me to realize how much I want to teach,” he says. “While as a public historian I would be teaching the general public, I would really like to teach at the college level.”
Christopher has a wife, Jodi, and a 5-year-old son, Aiden.
“They are my life,” Christopher says. “They are my reason for being and my primary inspiration for pursuing my degrees. I want to show my son that you can achieve anything you set your mind to, as long as you work hard. I also hope to teach him that it's OK and necessary to enjoy what you do in life. My wife, Jodi, has been an amazing support and inspiration throughout my time in school. I could not possibly be where I am without her.”
A non-traditional student, Christopher says he was pleasantly surprised at the amount of support he received from the faculty at Southeast.
“I am first and foremost a husband and a father, and I did not expect to have the experiences I did or become as involved as I eventually became. Thankfully, my professors understood my situation and went way beyond what they needed to do to help me succeed.”
Christopher advises future, and especially non-traditional, students to get involved. Southeast provides so many opportunities for all students, so it's important to get involved in organizations that are in your field and to get to know your classmates, even if they’re much younger,” he says. “I count many of my classmates to be some of my very best friends, and many of them are 10 years younger than I. These are friendships that will last a lifetime, but each of these relationships also helps to develop professional networks that will only benefit you in the future.”