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Preserving the lives of Hamilton alumni

By Rachel Beamish ’16

November 7, 2013

With more than 200 years behind it, it’s unsurprising that Hamilton has such a lively history—one that the College works hard to preserve. Frank Lorenz, the editor emeritus of the Hamilton Alumni Review, has worked at Hamilton for 41 years and has spent much of his time here gathering up pieces of Hamilton’s history.

When Lorenz first arrived at Hamilton, Kirkland College was still in existence and Hamilton was an all-male institution. He can vividly recall the fall of 1978 when the first Hamilton women arrived on campus—a “refreshing” change. Lorenz began his Hamilton career in Burke Library when it first opened in 1972 and was in charge of reference, “which meant not only answering reference questions but [also overseeing] the archives and rare books and special collections.” As head of reference, he would often receive inquiries from the descendants of alumni about their lives at Hamilton and beyond.

Lorenz explained that “in the course of responding to these inquiries, I became very well-acquainted with Hamilton’s history and also its alumni.” While going through the literature in the archives, he came across the work of Edward North, a Classics professor known as “Old Greek” who taught at Hamilton during the 19th century. North, a Hamilton alumnus, spent a great deal of time collecting the documents of Hamilton and putting together its history. According to Lorenz, it is “thanks to ‘Old Greek’ North [that] we have so much of our record, our historical past today.”

North also wrote fairly lengthy obituaries published in the Necrology section of Hamilton’s literary magazine in the 19th century.This tradition was carried on by another professor of Classics in the 1930s, Edward Fitch or “Little Greek,” and after that by Wally Johnson, the secretary of the College, through the 1960s. Lorenz picked up this tradition in 1981 and has been writing what he refers to as “memorial biographies” for 32 years.

Lorenz prefers to use the term memorial biography rather than obituary because “the intent is not to publish the obituary as a news item as you would in the paper; it’s intended to be a record of a person’s life.” He uses all of the salient details he can gather from the College’s records and what has been published elsewhere—anything that provides biographical information.

Over the course of the past 32 years, Lorenz has written, by his estimation, over 4,000 memorial biographies. The ones that stick with him the most are those of the people he’s known personally, through his time here at Hamilton or various alumni events. As he said, some people are “a little more colorful than others.” The completed memorial biographies are printed in the Alumni Review, but they are also filed away and kept as records in the Office of Communications and Development, where Lorenz has worked part-time since his retirement in 2002. For Lorenz, this is particularly important because “decades from now, maybe even a century from now, assuming Hamilton’s still here, we will have inquiries from descendants or maybe scholars who are interested in a particular alumnus or alumna.” These memorial biographies can serve as a useful source of information.

Lorenz is passionate about gathering and preserving the history of Hamilton and its alumni. Regarding his memorial biographies and the role they play he said, “I consider them to be a part of a permanent record that can be drawn upon in years to come.” That record will continue to grow and serve as a resource to members of the Hamilton Community and the alumni who have been lucky enough to call the Hill their home.

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