The longtime keeper of the Library’s microforms—and longtime wearer of Hawaiian shirts—becomes the namesake for a new student internship
On a Thursday in late June, Raymond Gadke, AM’66, walked into a restaurant filled with a sea of Hawaiian shirts, and those shirts were filled with University students and alumni of different ages. When Gadke, himself dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, sat down amid this sea, John Boyer, AM’69, PhD’79, the dean of the College, presented him with a giant check for $75,000.
This was the culmination of a fundraising effort to establish an internship honoring Gadke, a longtime University of Chicago Library staff member. More than 50 alumni—many of whom were in the room, wearing those Hawaiian shirts—raised $75,000 to create the Ray Gadke Internship Fund Established by Friends of Ray to Endow Undergraduate Internships (as it says on Gadke’s plaque commemorating the occasion). The fund will be part of UChicago’s larger Metcalf Internship Program, which offers undergraduate students paid experience in their chosen field. The Metcalf program was established in 1997 by University trustee (and Gadke internship donor) Byron Trott, AB’81, MBA’82.
Brooks Dexter, AB’79, MBA’84, led the fundraising effort for the internship honoring Gadke. Now managing director at corporate finance advising firm Duff and Phelps, Dexter was, once upon a time—like nearly all those who gave money to the internship fund—a College student working for Gadke in the Reg’s microforms library. “For more than 40 years, Ray has been helping undergraduates make the journey from College to the next step in their lives,” Dexter says. He calls Gadke a friend and a mentor. “Those of us in Ray’s employ were known as ‘Ray’s Rangers.’” For the past 15 years, Gadke has sent a daily email of “fun facts” to his network of friends and former employees, “including a happy birthday wish to any Rangers with a birthday that day,” Dexter says. (The August 3 email, which stretches to 15 pages, notes that on that day in 1492, “Christopher Columbus set sail from Palos [Spain, not Illinois] with his three ships, seeking a westward route to India and China” and that in 1946, “what some historians consider the first ‘theme park’ in the world, Santa Claus Land, opened in Santa Claus, Indiana.”)
And why the Hawaiian shirts? Because Gadke wears them just about every day, and has ever since he saw Elvis Presley in the film Blue Hawaii. “I had worn button down shirts and stuff like that, but I thought, these are nice, and I got in the habit of wearing them,” he says.
Gadke’s job title is reading room manager, but he has worn many hats during his time at the University. He arrived in the 1960s as a history graduate student, studying the role of religion in American immigrants’ assimilation, an interest that he has maintained and that inspired his sizable collection of religious figurines from shuttered Chicago-area churches. During Gadke’s academic research, he’d met a number of local priests, and when the Archdiocese of Chicago decided to close some of its churches, “one of the pastors called me and told me, ‘I’ve got a church full of statues, what can I do with them?’ And so I said, ‘Hey, that’s kind of a neat idea,’ and so I started acquiring them.” Gadke keeps a few of these statues in his office on the third floor of the Regenstein Library, but says that walking into his apartment, which has about 45 of these statues, kind of feels like walking into a church.
In 1971 Gadke was hired to supervise the microfilms collection, which is headquartered on the third floor of the library. Later his jurisdiction grew to encompass current periodicals as well, and now his job includes care of all of the library’s reading rooms: the periodical reading room on the second floor, the reference collections throughout the library, and and, of course, the microfilms.
Microfilms have been an important method of document preservation from the early 20th century through the end of the 20th century. After that, digitization took over, but microfilms remain important because of the volume of material they still store: newspapers, magazines, photographs, and countless other documents. Creating microfilms involved sliding individual documents under a projector and taking photographs of these documents using a film camera. This process, as Gadke explains, was equivalent to today’s digitization.
The University was one of the very first institutions to have an academic microfilm collection. Herman Fussler, AM’41, PhD’48, the former director of the UChicago Library system, started the University’s Department of Photoduplication, which produced massive amounts of microfilm in the basement of Cobb Hall (where the coffee shop is today) until its closing in 1995. Fussler created some of the very first academic microfilm when he sailed to Paris on an ocean liner full of microfilm equipment in order to catalog French Revolutionary newspapers from 1788 to 1791—film that UChicago still has. Though the University no longer maintains the Department of Photoduplication, microfilm still contains an amazing amount of knowledge about an incredible range of topics.
And Gadke himself has an amazing amount of knowledge about an incredible range of topics. At the library he helps patrons—students, scholars, visitors—find the research they need. “Everyone’s looking for something different,” he says. “People come from all over the world to use our collection. A lot of the things that we have, we are the only place in the country that has them.” That includes original copies of Revolutionary French newspapers, old Irish newspapers obtained for a professor studying Ireland, Armenian newspapers—as well as the good old Chicago Maroon. “We have people that want to look from the glory days of Big Ten football, want to come and read about Amos Alonzo Stagg and University of Chicago football. Right where we are”—he was standing in the Regenstein Library—”were football stands that held 40,000 people, and got up to 60,000.”
Gadke is approaching his 45th year working as a full-time staff member, which means that he’s worked at the Library for longer than any other man on the staff. When I asked him how it came to pass that he ended up working at the library, he told me, “It just kinda happened. You know, I got a job that I enjoyed, and it’s where I’ve been since.”
The article originally appeared on the University of Chicago Magazine website.