Longtime College Archivist and Beloit College alumnus Fred Burwell’86 opens up about his work philosophy, his favorite spot on campus, and which Beatles song he would dance to for the rest of his life (at least this week).
Q: What is your philosophy toward your work? Tell me about your day-to-day work at the college?
A: Service is paramount. That said, I’m always juggling a variety of jobs and hope that one day I don’t disappear under a teetering pile of archival “stuff” – at any given time I might receive a request from Development, the President’s Office, a student organization, an alumnus, or a journalist. Day-to-day I might meet with a class, consult with students and others, conduct research, work on a presentation, or sort through an unprocessed collection.
Q: What game show would you win and why?
A: I have no idea. I haven’t watched a game show since I was a kid. Probably anything dealing with words or history or music trivia, if such a show exists.
Q: What movies make you cry the hardest and laugh the hardest?
A: A hard question. There are dozens of movies that make me cry and/or laugh. A movie that manages to accomplish both is Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights. Back in my student days I wrote a paper on its final scene. One of my favorite “funny” movies is the screwball comedy, Bringing up Baby, starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.
Q: If you could only dance to one song for the rest of your life, what would that song be?
A: An even harder question! I have collected records since I was 10 years old, and I’m especially fanatical about 1950’s and 1960’s rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues. At the moment my choice would be “I Saw Her Standing There” from the Beatles’ first album, but that could change tomorrow.
Q: What is your favorite part about working at Beloit College?
A: The people, for sure. Also the rare opportunity to learn and grow over time. It’s been a very nurturing place.
Q: What three words would describe you as a 13-year-old and if one of them is not awkward how did you do it?
A: Shy. Curious. Bookworm. Reading took me on fantastic journeys and flights of fancy, but also gave me plenty to talk about with friends and family.
Q: How would your best friend describe you?
A: An excellent question for our resident reference librarian extraordinaire, Chris Nelson, who also happens to be my wife and best friend. After some in-depth research, here’s what she wrote (and pardon me for blushing): “He's warm and human, has a gift for making friends, and would be a good talk show host. Beloit College tour guides say ‘Fred knows everything.’ He does know an awful lot about Beloit College, and he knows what really matters generally. Also, to quote Charlotte's Web, ‘It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.’
Q: Would you consider a hot dog a sandwich? Why or why not?
A: Many years ago I used to attend baseball games at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. They had wonderful hot dogs. I never thought of them as sandwiches. Philadelphia cheesesteaks, however, are sandwiches.
Q. Where's your favorite place on campus?
A: Morse Library (and Archives, of course!). A home away from home and, in my opinion, every home needs hundreds, if not thousands, of books. I’m also fond of the wooded hill behind Neese and Wright, overlooking Pleasant Street, where I like to eat lunch on an early spring day.
Q. What's the biggest lie you've ever told yourself?
A: That it was safe to amble across the railroad trestle towering above Lincoln Drive in Philadelphia. It was a busy commuter line. There were no railings, just a brittle, splintery wooden walkway in between the tracks. I crossed back and forth on several occasions, even at night, but it was a stupid thing to do. I still love to hike along railroad tracks, though!