As a retiree, I enjoy discovering the occupations of my former students – just what did those hundreds of teenagers passing through my classroom become when they grew up? We certainly asked them often enough what they wanted to be!
The kids they were then are today teachers and lawyers, pharmacists and firefighters, drivers of school buses and big rigs. They have helped me plan funerals, repaired my vehicles, landscaped my backyard, given me flu shots, and vaccinated me against COVID. Several Graham Board of Education members conjugated German verbs as did bank tellers, veterinarians, restaurant servers, a couple of ministers, and a nuclear submarine commander. A bunch of farmers, lots of salespeople, a handful of government employees, a flight attendant, and even a newspaper editor took courses from me. I can check off position after position listed in the federal Occupational Outlook Handbook as ones held by my former students. About a year ago, however, I realized I needed to talk with Jared Shank, GHS Class of 2002, to discuss the life and times of my very first historian!
I probably should describe the current-day Jared before we delve into his keen interest in the past. He went straight from the halls of GHS to the United States Army for a four-year stretch that included a year-long deployment to Afghanistan. Immediately thereafter, he earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Geography and Earth/Environmental Science at Wright State University. He now works at the Department of Higher Education in Columbus as the Senior Director of Military and Apprenticeship Initiatives and Special Projects, looking to create pathways for awarding college credit for military training, experience, and coursework. The son of Graham grads John Shank ’65 and Carol Mahan Shank ’67, Jared is himself a parent, along with his wife Robin, to two young boys.
His interest in history began early, as a young Jared avidly listened to stories told by his relatives. The adult manifestations of that fascination can be found in several projects he has completed to benefit the local area. The historical heart of this Beavercreek resident lies generally in Champaign County and specifically in St. Paris.
His master’s thesis involved remarking the graves of veterans of the War of 1812 in a Xenia cemetery – which eventually led Jared to researching and organizing walks through Evergreen Cemetery in St. Paris as part of the 150th anniversary celebration of the Man on the Monument memorial. These walks featured Jared, dressed in a Civil War uniform, leading participants to the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers and recounting their stories. By the way, Jared also dons his uniform for periodic participation in musket shooting competitions.
The War Between the States, however, has not been Jared’s exclusive interest in history, particularly when a project based on another era could enhance a St. Paris memorial. When he realized the WWI cannon – long on display at Harmon Memorial Park – was in serious disrepair, he took it upon himself to restore the artillery piece, even financing the project by utilizing Facebook’s GoFundMe feature. During the two years he carried out the restoration in his garage, he relied on his Army field artillery experience, his research skills, and his physical handiness to return the cannon to its former condition. In addition to his personal restoration stories, he also explains that the St. Paris cannon was one of a few hundred produced by Bethlehem Steel for sale to France. When that contract was cancelled, the cannons were repurposed for training purposes here at home – French language markings intact.
When I suggested a few dictionary definitions of the profession, we found several characteristics that seemed to describe Jared as a historian. He is a meticulous researcher, unwilling to settle for approximation. He agreed that he is a chronicler, placing events appropriately with a plethora of defining details to clarify who-did-what-when-for-what-reason. And I began to view him as a master of synthesis, especially after he described his efforts to combine information culled from letters of a sixteen-year-old soldier with brief, factual logs and lists – in the process illuminating the story of that young man’s life and his place in history.
Always dissatisfied with history class curricula based on repetitive cycles of wars and treaties, I long ago turned to historical fiction. Jared goes much further: his stories are real accounts of real people leading real lives, more exciting and engrossing than any of the created characters about whom I have read.
But it was when he named recently-deceased David McCullough as the historian he most admires that I began to truly understand Jared’s perspective of history. Author of 1776 and two Pulitzer-Prize-winning biographies, Truman and John Adams, McCullough believed history is the story of people. Jared considers the renowned writer an ambassador of making the historical experience accessible to all – not just the historians.
Whenever he returns to his family stomping grounds, Jared does not think in terms of data and major events. He wants to tell the stories of the folks who actually resided in St. Paris and how they lived their lives. He wants today’s residents to understand how their predecessors lived out their own personal histories on the way to the history we are now making. This hometown historian believes we best understand the history of any era by familiarizing ourselves with the people who lived it. For Jared Shank, it’s still all about the stories.