A kind of treasure hunt is occurring at the Champaign County Historical Museum, with Director Cheryl Ogden, Curator Dick Virts and volunteers delving into more that 125 boxes of old yearbooks, catalogs and documents from the now closed Urbana University.
“We were contacted about a month-and-a-half ago asking if we would be interested,” Ogden said of Franklin University’s offer.
“We pretty much told them we will take everything they’re willing to give us,” she said.
The boxes arrived by truck on Wednesday and there are over 50 more boxes at UU for Ogden and Virts to explore. Ogden said she hopes that will be completed by the end of next week.
“It’s kind of overwhelming to look at,” she said of all the boxes. “Usually we don’t get so much all at once. It usually trickles in.
“There are a lot of yearbooks, a lot of historic documents that I’m just thrilled are not escaping,” Ogden said. “There are a lot of photographs, college catalogs, promotional material.”
Ogden’s favorite find so far may be the document deeding land for Urbana University, which was founded in 1850.
“The curator and a volunteer found the original deed from John H. James giving the land to Urbana University,” she said.
“Another box has one of the original plates used to print the degrees handed out,” she added. “There are absolute treasures in here I am thrilled to death are being saved. They are too important to let get out of the county.”
Ogden said not every find may stay at the museum, that it may be decided some items should go to other organizations or facilities.
She said she appreciates that the museum was contacted and the boxes of history delivered.
“I’m grateful that the people at Franklin see the importance of keeping this in the local area and contacted us to see that it gets preserved,” she said. “I am a UU alumna, my father was an alumnus and my daughters both earned their degrees there, There are several members of (the county Historical Society) board of trustees that have connections to UU, so the artifacts we have received will be valued and cared for by us.”
Franklin University purchased the struggling Urbana University six years ago, turning it into a branch campus. Low enrollment and financial difficulties continued, but it was COVID-19 that Franklin officials said finally shuttered the campus.
In April, Franklin announced that UU would not reopen after the spring term. Complying with state coronavirus guidelines, UU had evacuated the campus, and students were doing studies online. With UU’s closing, students were advised that they could finish academic studies online and that there would be assistance for those wishing to transfer to other schools.