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Learning never stops while there's a library

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

The great baseball player Tyrus Raymond Cobb, the Georgia Peach, was an advocate of good penmanship. Cobb wrote letters -- in beautiful, flowing script -- using green ink. You can find many of Cobb's original letters to his foundation board and officials at the University of Georgia library.

Harry Downs, a lifelong educator with a Georgia degree, is responsible for the Cobb letters being placed in the University's special collections libraries. Downs was the longtime chairman of the Ty Cobb Foundation, which has awarded nearly $13 million to educate Georgia boys and girls.

Library officials will also show you Richard B. Russell's baseball card collection, which the late senator began as a teenager. Even if you are not a baseball fan, you might enjoy this collection that dates back to the days when the spitball was legal.

Then there are the memoirs of Frederick Benteen, who survived Custer's last stand by showing up a little late. Recently, I was introduced to those treasures by Chantel Dunham, the pretty development director of the University library. There was prior knowledge of the first two treasures. In the last year of his life (he died in 1961), I interviewed Cobb who lived at Propes Apartments in Cornelia and had talked baseball with Sen. Russell at his office in Washington and when he was home in Winder. Sen. Russell was a serious baseball fan, and his card collection reflects that. (You can see his collection online by visiting the Russell library Web page.)

Time constraints kept me from learning more about Frederick Benteen, but as soon as time permits I am going back to see Toby Graham. Graham oversees those papers and letters, which were donated to the university's special collections libraries by Margaret Mitchell's brother, Stephens.

It had been some time since I had visited the library, a fact which made me feel a little sheepish when I walked into Chantel's office. A library is a place where you are reminded that learning doesn't have to stop when you are handed your diploma. Your emotions experience a lift when you realize you are in such a special place.

For years, I have had this personal debate: Is curiosity something we are born with, or can it be acquired? I have concluded that curiosity can be developed, especially if kids in their formative years are associated with books rather than with the sedentary influence of television, which can be so alluring.

As a farm boy, I had a desire to learn more about the world, brought about, in part, by long days toiling in the hot sun. There wasn't much intellectual stimulation from life in the fields, except that it introduced the value of the work ethic and was a simple and wholesome experience, two things you appreciate with the passing of time. The highlight of the week came on Saturday. After a half day of work, all farm families journeyed into town in their pickup trucks and spent the afternoon grocery shopping and gossiping with their friends and neighbors.

I beat it over to the county library where a nice lady, Mrs. Spell, introduced me to books. It was such a thrill to rake my hands across the spines of all those books. That was the place where I first learned of Ty Cobb, marveling at the fact that he was Georgia born and never thinking there would ever be a chance to meet the man.

Mrs. Spell let me check out all the books I could carry. One of my treasured memories was taking respite from work in the fields and finding a shade tree to read those books, which were returned each Saturday at which point I checked out a new batch for the coming week.

Those were hard times, or so I thought, but books provided comfort and inspiration that alleviated the drudgery of farm work.Ground has been broken for the development of a new home for the university's special collections. Chantel and Bill Potter, university librarian, are busy trying to expand collections for the new building, and I can't wait to see the next treasure they have to offer.

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.