South Coast University Gets Rare Political Memorabilia Collection; Students Now Curating Exhibitions

Aug 31, 2017

Some Cal State Channel Islands students are digging through a treasure trove of political history.

It’s eight decades of political memorabilia donated to the university by the family of a longtime political activist in Ventura County.  The students will not only research the hundreds of items in the collection, they'll catalog them , and create online and physical exhibitions.

Stephanie Limon is one of the 18 freshman students in a one of a kind new program. In a room at the university’s John Spoor Broom Library, she and her classmates are opening boxes to find everything from “McGovern for President” campaign posters from 1972 to JFK campaign brochures. They’ll not only research the hundreds of items in this collection, they’ll catalog them, and create online and physical exhibitions.

Dr. Sean Kelly is a Cal State Channel Islands Professor, and Chair of CSUCI’s Political Science Department is teaching the unique, two semester program.

The unique collection came from Ventura County’s Tolmach Family. Jane Tolmach was a staunch Democrat in the county for more than a half century, and served as Oxnard’s first female mayor. After she died in 2015, at the age of 93, the family decided to donate her collection to Cal State Channel Islands.

The program is being done in collaboration with the university’s library, which received the collection. The excitement is high as students sift through the memorabilia in a room in the library’s archives. Student Emma Amato says even if she doesn’t recognize the names, it’s exciting to dig through the boxes filled with everything from campaign posters to buttons. Classmate Anna Sosa is holding a presidential campaign brochure for John F. Kennedy. She admits when she lived on the East Coast, and would fly out of JFK Airport, she didn’t know much about the man behind its name.

Matt Cook, the head of the Library’s Unique Collections, says it’s amazing to see how excited the students are about the project. Cook says the project will challenge the students to use research and creative skills, as they turn the collection into online and physical exhibitions.

The items mean different things to the instructors, who remember most of these political figures than they do to the young students, who weren’t even born yet.

Professor Sean Kelly, and some of the students unroll some campaign posters from current Governor Jerry Brown, before his first election in the 1970’s, and his father, Edmund “G” Pat Brown, who was the state’s governor in the late 50’s and early 60’s.  There's also a liquor bottle with a special Brown label on it, because in the 50's and 60's it wasn't uncommon for politicians to give supporters something like a bottle of bourbon.

Kelly says the students will ultimately decide how this unique collection of items is displayed both online, and at the museum. They’ll pick the items, analyze them, and create the presentations.

The collection could attract a lot of attention when it goes on display online, and in public. Among the many rare, and unusual items is a collection of photographs of U.S. Senator Bobby Kennedy taken at a campaign rally in the late Oxnard mayor’s backyard the day before he was assassinated in Los Angeles.