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May 7, 2020

Documenting the Moment: Reflections from Lori Fogarty

As we shelter-in-place, our Director & CEO Lori Fogarty has turned to journaling for reflection, looking to her dad’s journal from the Great Depression as a guide. How are you documenting this moment?

by Lori Fogarty, Director and CEO

Over these past few weeks, I’ve begun to journal the experience of living through this scary, anxious, horrendous, and uncertain time. I approach this both as just an individual person who, along with every other human being on the planet right now, is going through this moment, while also being conscious that I am a leader of an organization and am absorbing the enormous responsibility of shepherding a museum through the most difficult period in my professional life. 

I must receive about three e-mail newsletters a day on “leadership in turbulent times.” I read them, I listen to the webinars, and I try to pull a few nuggets out from each. The impetus for my writing, though, is much more personal. After my folks passed away, I was cleaning out the home where my mom lived for more than 60 years and which had been home to me for my entire lifetime. I came across two diaries that I never knew existed, let alone seen. One was mom’s from the first year of her marriage – 1940. The other was my dad’s diary from the year he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps during the depths of the Great Depression. His first entry is on January 1, 1936.

I couldn’t believe it as I opened these and thought about my parents who would have been younger than my son in college as I was reading their words. My dad wrote on the front inside cover: “In this private document I hope to inscribe incidents which occur in my personal ‘reformation” – which will be a remembrance of my change in physical strength, mental capacity and character.” Have you ever read something more earnest? He was just 20 years old when he went into the CCC to support his truly impoverished family in Iowa. He was also, no doubt, attracted to the idea of having three square meals each day during a time when his mother's dinner menu was “Bread and with it and not much with it.”

He wrote every day in the diary for almost 18 months, stopping without explanation on June 14, 1937. The last page of the journal is the “yearly memo” and he wrote about the contrasts in his life during the first year of 1936. He begins with his weight change – from 120 pounds (he was 6 feet tall) to 156 pounds. He concluded, “I am certain that I have accomplished my first steps toward my goal.” Yes, he must have certainly been gaining in physical strength! Most of the diary documents long days of work, the weather, listening to the radio and seeing an occasional movie, and playing catch and baseball with his fellow enrollees. He sounds like a bored teenager a lot of the time, trying to fill his days of monotony with productive work. It also sounds very familiar right now. Substitute my daughter listening to Ariana Grande for my dad listening to Bing Crosby.

I often think of my folks at this time, surviving the Depression, experiencing World War II, and raising five kids on my dad’s civil service government pay. I’m sure he could have never imagined his daughter reading that journal for the first time almost 80 years later, but it reminds me that getting through these times is often just a day-to-day grind, trying to keep a higher purpose in mind.

So, in honor of my dad, I’m going to try my hand at a journal. Like him, I’ll try to grow at least in “my mental capacity and character,” if not my physical strength. And I’m trying to lose a few pounds while he was trying to gain them! We’ll see what happens. Turning to my mom’s diary for inspiration next.

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