October 24, 2002

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‘Through the Eyes of Our Elders’—
A Look into the village’s past

Patti Dallas

Patti Dallas

Local videographer Patti Dallas is making sure Yellow Springs history doesn’t go unrecorded. Her new video, “A Portrait of Yellow Springs Through the Eyes of Our Elders,” tells the story of the community through the eyes of those who have helped shape its history.

“Everyone says Yellow Springs has this unique flavor, but where did that come from, what’s its origin?” asks Dallas. She hopes the video provides at least part of the answer.

The hammered dulcimer music of the local band Heartstrings leads the viewer through a series of opening photos of an older, more rural Yellow Springs. An interview with the late Ernest Morgan defines the meaning of community. “Dad maintained that it was in the face-to-face relationships of the small community that the best human qualities emerged, of honesty, integrity, unselfishness, and so on,” Ernest Morgan said, citing his father, Arthur Morgan, a former president of Antioch College and founder of Community Service, Inc.

Through a series of interviews with longtime residents, some now gone and some still living, the viewer learns about historical landmarks, influential figures, and important events that shaped the village. Charlotte Drake’s remembering takes her back to the time when the town had two drug stores and, later, when the traction line on Xenia Avenue was taken up. Kenneth Campbell recalls the mail being delivered by the train, and the activity the train brought to town. And Phyllis Lawson Jackson talks about how youth respected their elders and the green space that was everywhere.

Dallas believes that oral history provides an invaluable way to know a period of time. “It seems like in school you learn about the facts of history, but in a setting like this, you can absorb the feeling of the time,” she said.

The video project began several years ago when Dallas received a grant from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation for a historical video project sponsored by the Yellow Springs Historical Society. She interviewed business leaders, educators, activists, farmers and artists, drawing on their personal perspectives of the village’s past.

Antiochiana, the Antioch College archives, provided a wealth of photos and information as Dallas began to organize the oral histories into segments, beginning with “The Early Years,” and moving through “Village Landmarks,” “Shakespeare Under the Stars” and “Civil Rights.”

The full-length documentary highlights notable aspects of the village, some of which are still in existence and some of which are no longer present. Community structures such as Mills House and the Opera House have been destroyed, for example, but many businesses and institutions begun in the 1940s and ’50s are still thriving and growing in new directions.

One of the most important motivations for the project, Dallas says, was a desire to honor the sense of community that existed 50 years ago and to learn from that in order to apply it today.

Dallas remembers growing up with a strong, daily connection to other people and families in town. But she finds that these days, most people don’t have time to develop those relationships as much as they once did.

“Community happens between the lines, during the down time, which we now have so little of,” she said. “There are too many meetings and not enough parties. . . . I like the premise of adding on to the good, rather than fixing the bad — you get more of what you focus on.”

The idea of creating positive venues for people to get together and share in each other’s lives prompted villager Mary Campbell-Zopf to suggest presenting the video at a community gathering. Dallas liked the idea, and she has invited everyone who is interested to a one-hour screening this Friday, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m., in the Glen Helen Building. The event will include time for exchanging memories

If the event goes well, there could be another video presentation of the next history project Dallas is planning, which will focus on the people and important figures in Yellow Springs history.

And if others are interested in preserving their family histories and recording important events, they can benefit from Dallas’ expertise. She recently launched Heritage Videography, a video recording service for preserving memories, through which she hopes to provide a means for individuals to tell and pass on their stories.

Dallas is busy working on other video production ideas, such as a guide to navigating the world of Irish dance performance, in addition to her work with local access channel 13 and as a musician presenting children’s music concerts.

Whatever her next endeavor, it is sure to be focused on using communication and the exchange of ideas to build a better community.


—Lauren Heaton