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North Elba Narratives

Oral history coordinator strives to record local voices

LAKE PLACID — Kendall Taivalkoski has been working quietly to amplify Lake Placid voices through North Elba Narratives, an oral history project with the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society that launched online in October.

The project seeks to record the histories of people who live, work or volunteer in, or have visited, Lake Placid.

Originally a Wisconsinite, Taivalkoski knows that Lake Placid tends to draw people in. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history fields, and she ended up in Lake Placid two years ago, shortly after she visited the area for an internship at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum. She said she fell in love with the village.

Taivalkoski has been working at the Mirror Lake Inn as a front desk clerk during her time here. She said it can be hard to interact with the community and its history at the inn since she’s mostly dealing with tourists. And the narratives project is a way for her to get involved.

“I’ve always been very interested in bringing history to the public and making it very accessible for people, and obviously building a free and open website for all these stories and oral histories would be an excellent way to do it,” she said.

Taivalkoski started working on the project in September, when the former project coordinator, Carla Eilo, transitioned out of her position. Since then, Taivalkoski said she’s learned what she can from Eilo, built and launched the North Elba Narratives website and recorded nearly a dozen stories to add to the site.

The website includes sections for stories about local people, businesses, adventures and Adirondack 46ers, social justice, sports and the Olympics, careers, the arts and more. Right now, people can listen to 20 oral histories already posted to the site.

When Eilo was the administrative director and collections manager at the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society in 2017, she worked with Northwood School Associate Head of School Tom Broderick to foster an oral history project with students there. When grant money became available earlier this year through the North Elba Local Enhancement and Advancement Fund (LEAF), former historical society Administrative Director and Collections Manager Courtney Bastian saw the opportunity to revive a new iteration of the oral history project. The historical society received a $15,000 LEAF grant to carry out the North Elba Narratives project.

Jery Huntley, a Keene resident who spearheaded the Keene Valley Library Association’s oral history project, “Adirondack Community: Capturing, Retaining and Communicating the Stories of Who We Are,” was a point of contact for Eilo and Bastian. Now, Taivalkoski is using Huntley’s new program, OurStoryBridge, a free online resource to help communities begin oral history projects of their own, to launch a similar undertaking in the village of Lake Placid and town of North Elba.

Submitting stories

Kendall Taivalkoski holds a torch from the 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Pyeongchang, South Korea at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum. (Photo provided)

In a quiet lower level room of the Lake Placid Public Library, Taivalkoski records the stories of Lake Placid and North Elba. When someone makes an appointment through the North Elba Narratives website to share their story, Kendall sets up a time to meet them at the Main Street building. It’s just her, a recorder, a pen and paper, and the person who has a story to tell. Taivalkoski said the process is simple and open.

“I don’t want people to feel a lot of pressure when they tell us a story. … Everyone’s story is different and, of course, as a historian, I want to say every story should be heard,” she said.

Taivalkoski advises people to keep their stories between 3 and 5 minutes, introducing themselves and their story to start and punctuating the story with an ending sentence. She said it’s OK if someone gets off-course or sidetracked during their story — it happens — and she will cut out any long pauses before uploading the piece of history to the website.

Taivalkoski said she still remembers her first recordings with Jim Rogers III, who was a charter member of the Adirondack Sports Council and part of the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee. Those stories are her favorites so far. Five of his stories are in the website’s “sports and the Olympics” section, and he shares memories about bidding for the Winter Olympics, establishing the Winter Sports Council and other stories about the 1980 games.

Taivalkoski said sports history was her focus when she went to graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and she sees sports as a way to make history more accessible to people.

This is an appointment card for the North Elba Narratives oral history project. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

“Growing up in Wisconsin, if you say you like history, people would be like, ‘Ugh, boring,'” she said. “But if you ask like, ‘Oh, who are all the quarterbacks on the Green Bay Packers in, you know, the 1960s?’ people can rattle those off, so I just thought that was an interesting sort of way to get people interested in history.”

The North Elba Narratives project is designed to be accessible; it gives an alternative option to share stories for people who can’t come to the library to record live. People can record their stories from their home computer and submit the files online, using the same story guidelines as the live sessions. People at home should be mindful of their movements, such as clicking pens and rolling desk chairs, because those sounds can come through in the recording.

Taivalkoski said the project goal is to gather at least 50 stories and launch them on the website by next May, when the LEAF grant and her contract ends, but she said more stories would be better. In November alone, she’s gathered around 10 stories in addition to the 15 to 20 Eilo collected over the summer.

Taivalkoski encourages people who want to record a narrative to consider sharing multiple stories. People can request to submit a story, either from home or in person, at www.northelbanarratives.com by clicking the button for submissions on the home page.

All stories are histories

Taivalkoski said she’s interested in engaging with Lake Placid High School students in the future to collect their stories during her time with the North Elba Narratives project. She stressed that hearing narratives from young residents is just as important as gathering those from veteran community members with more life experiences.

“I think those stories are just as valuable,” she said. “I think knowing what was here and what is here right now will definitely help in the future, so you know, don’t think of age as like a limitation here. Everybody has an interesting story, and everybody’s unique, even if you are in the same area you see things through different eyes.”

Once next May rolls around, Taivalkoski said she isn’t sure how the oral history project will continue, but she thinks that the stories she collects can serve multiple purposes.

She said the narratives will not only serve as pieces of history for the community, but that the stories can also act as teaching tools in a classroom setting, helping to engage students in oral histories.