UCA Archives

This article was originally published on November 07, 2008

Elder collection is old-school but marvelous treasure for UCA

I had come to view a fraction of the archives of the late Jim Elder when Jimmy Bryant, University of Central Arkansas archivist, took me back a bit by hauling out something from my archives from another publication.

It was an excerpt of a column I had written about two decades ago, long forgotten, about Elder, the longtime Arkansas Travelers broadcaster, University of Arkansas football statistician, radio personality, Arkansas Sports Hall of Famer and sports fan/observer extraordinaire.

Former UA football coach Lou Holtz, while waiting to begin taping of his television at the KATV (Channel 7 studios) often like to engage in playful banter with those few reporters who showed up on Sunday afternoons to watch it.

"Who got the hits in Major League Baseball yesterday?" Holtz playfully asked Jim Elder.

"Which team?" said Elder.

At the time, I described Elder as not only a walking encyclopedia of sports knowledge but a human mobile home that traveled about in his many duties with almost instant statistics, quirky daily stories, poignant observations and old-style cassettes full of radio cuts of people and events. His briefcase was a mini museum.

Elder’s family has donated his collection of sports memorabilia to the UCA Archives and it’s a real coup. It has to be one of the best, most diversified and unique collections in the South.

As often the case with Elder, there’s a story behind the story.

Jim was a pack rat on steroids. if he ever threw anything away that related to sports, you can be assured it was trash of the lowest degree. By the time, Bryant places Jim’s collection of "who’s that," and "that’s interesting" stuff in acid-resistance boxes, they’ll total about 150.

There are pictures, programs, calendars, notebooks and personal correspondence, many with red marks and comments.
"Everything here was a treasure to Dad," said his daughter. "It all really meant something to him because Dad always liked to find the story behind the scores."

Most of the photographs were on the door and the cabinet doors in Jim’s office, a larger mini-museum.

You know the stuff your kids do that you put on a refrigerator? Think 50 times that.

A smattering of what is contained in the montage of mostly 3×5 photographs on the doors, attached by common tape, is: a photo of baseball star Willie Mays in a bright yellow polo shirt, a picture of former Arkansas coach Ken Hatfield in an 1980s’ outfit that you’d might get arrested if your wore it in Cabot; a photograph of Eddie Sutton in dark hair; almost year-by-year golfing photos of the late broadcaster Paul Eells (a close friend of Jim’s); a couple of photos of the late broadcaster Jack Buck in action; several photographs of Frank Broyles and the late Orville Henry in golf tournaments down the years; and hundreds of pictures of horsemen and officials at Oaklawn Park.

Before the KARN studios, where Elder used to work, were torn down for relocation, his family gathered all the items in Jim’s office. They were at a brief quandary about what to do about all the photographs on the doors.

"I don’t know if we should take the doors," said Susie.

"I’ve got a drill in the car, let’s do it," said Ray Tucker, a longtime Elder admirer and chief operating officer of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

The photographs displayed Wednesday at McAlister Hall were still on plain, brown wooden doors. The handles to the cabinets were still attached.

"This is not how we would preserve them with photographs taped to doors, but actually, Jim did a great job of preserving history," said Bryant who will preserve the photographs in a safer and more efficient manner in the archives and also make CD’s of them in addition to cataloguing all the items for future research

"I didn’t have the heart to get rid of any of this stuff," Susie Elder said during the formal presentation ceremony Wednesday. "I didn’t know what to do. This is a great place for it."

"It’s about preserving things for future generations," Bryant said, "People 50, 100 years from now can get an idea what sports and recreation looked like in this era and what some of the people they will read about looked like."

Also among the few items publicly displayed for the ceremony were official photographs of Arkansas Traveler championship teams and notebooks filled (in Jim’s careful handwriting) of cuts from interviews, both from Jim and also provided by networks, of sports figures for his radio sports updates and broadcasts. Jim did one of the few sports talk radio shows in the country in the 1980s with now-primitive equipment, mostly handwritten notes and a format that was way ahead of its time in being cool.

Among some of his notes that he wrote in dated notebooks to remind him of specific dues on tape were:

Tom LaSorda: "…the best Major League teams will lose 1/3 of their games."

Willie McCovey: "…can’t go on forever."

Ken Hatfield: "…Broadcasters don’t always check with a coach on the game plan."

Don James: (former Washington football coach): "…I’m not gonna jump off the damned roof."

And one of the biggest "omigosh, why would anyone save that?" items was in the middle of a table. It was from Jim’s military days: a yellow program from the Third Army vs. Seventh Army football game. The date was "Nov. 29, 1945. Nice, France."

Once catalogued, the collection will be available for public inspection and research at the UCA Archives.

Dyed-in-the-wool from birth sports fans who like collections, trivia and just like to glance at sports memorabilia might bring along a portable chair, cot and lunch to view the collecting.

You won’t be entering an archive as much as a gold mine with glittering treasures from the past in every box, around every turn.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235david.mccollum@thecabin.net)