Class designs TC football exhibit

Jessica Klanderud, assistant professor of history at Tabor College, looks through a folder containing newspaper clippings about the Bluejay football program in the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies archives. Klanderud’s Introduction to Museum Studies class has created a museum exhibit about Tabor’s football program that will be displayed during Homecoming in October. The class seeks football memorabilia from the community.Some athletes wear gloves during athletic competition, but in Assistant Professor of History Jessica Klanderud’s Introduction to Museum Studies class, Tabor College students—mostly athletes—donned gloves of a different kind.

While researching the history of the Tabor football program for a museum exhibit to display at homecoming, students wore gloves to work in the archives.

“When you’re working with photos in the archives, you have to wear white cotton gloves because you don’t want to get oils from your hands onto the old photos,” Klanderud said. “I have, to me, it’s a hilarious photo of all of these athletes geeking out over history wearing white cotton gloves looking through old photos in the files because they’re just so excited about this.”

The class, which met during interterm last January, was part of a curriculum re-design Klanderud implemented upon coming to Tabor two years ago. Its purpose is to create avenues for students interested in history as a career, but not necessarily in teaching.

“I always tell my students that so often people assume that if you like history the only thing you can do with it as a career is to teach, and that’s really not true,” she said. “It’s a way of thinking, a way of absorbing information and using it to help people that is maybe a little bit different than what you’ve originally imagined.”

Creating a museum exhibit

Last January, the six students in Klanderud’s class met to learn how to perform archival research, study museum design and create a museum exhibit. This was the first time Klanderud, who earned her doctorate from Carnegie Mellon, has taught this class at Tabor.

“You have one month to condense an entire class into, so it was a fun exercise to try to really get students into that hands-on history work in such a short period of time,” she said. “You did not have time to second-guess yourself that much. You had to jump right in and do the research and see what it said and go from there.”

For their museum exhibit, students needed to narrow their focus.

“Since most of the students in the class were also athletes, they wanted to do something about the history of sports at Tabor,” Klanderud said. “Obviously, the history of athletics at Tabor is a huge dynasty in a way, so it was important to try to narrow that down. They asked to look at the development of the football program, specifically.”

Each student then chose a specific area of research and designed that piece of the larger exhibit. Topics included the origins of Tabor’s football program, the homecoming tradition, a dream team comprised of the best Tabor players of all time, the history of the logo and uniform, the success of the recent era, and a statistical study.

Students also went to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene for a behind-the-scenes tour of what it takes to run a large-scale exhibit.

The class met with Klanderud periodically throughout the spring semester, completing video interviews with Del Reimer, Tabor’s athletic director when football was introduced; Professor Emeritus Richard Kyle, who served as both the head and an assistant football coach at Tabor; and current head football coach Mike Gardner. The footage was compiled into a 20-minute documentary.

In researching for the project, the class stumbled across a number of interesting finds, Klanderud said. Those included a letter written to Tabor’s president and athletic director in defense of the football program in light of grumblings about it in the community, and a list of calisthenics workouts to be done during the offseason put together by Tabor’s first football coach.

The class also discovered that Tabor made national news for cancelling a homecoming football game because the Bluejays’ 50-person squad was plagued by injury and did not want to face the scheduled Northwestern Oklahoma State University.

“There was a lot of little gems like that,” Klanderud said. “It always is that way when you get in the archives.”

Four of the six students in the class are members of the football team, and Klanderud said the process resonated on a personal level as they read about the team’s perseverance through tough times on the field.

“For these guys, I think, especially since many of them are on the football team, it became a very personal project of being able to show how they worked through the hard times and now have really gotten to a place where they can feel consistently successful,” Klanderud said. “And to know that if it kind of goes south again that they can climb back out of it. They were feeling very positive about the type of program that they’re involved in.”

Exhibit details

The class’s exhibit, titled “A Program of Perseverance,” will be on display in the Historic Church on campus during Tabor Homecoming this October. The exhibit will be open for viewing Friday, Oct. 21 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 22 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The design of the exhibit will follow a chronological timeline from the program’s beginning to present day, while the documentary will be shown on a loop. The exhibit will also feature interactive pieces, including a place for community members to leave a message for the current football team.

Klanderud reached out to members of the Hillsboro community and Tabor football alumni to request they consider loaning memorabilia to display in the exhibit.

The class had access to yearbooks and newspapers in the archives in the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, but Klanderud said they are lacking photos from Tabor football games, and uniforms and gear, especially from the early days of the program.

“We are pretty sure that people have neat memorabilia memories of the Tabor football experience that we don’t have access to in the archives,” she said. “We’re hopeful that people in the Hillsboro community have those things and would be willing to let us borrow them for the homecoming weekend.”

Care will be given to ensure proper display of the memorabilia, Klanderud said, adding that her plan is to put paper items under glass in frames, and she has some display cases as well.

“It will be displayed properly, and there will be always staff in there,” she said. “It will never be unsupervised, so it will be safe and protected.”

Those with memorabilia are encouraged to contact Klanderud by email at or by phone at 620-947-3121, extension 1064.

People who donate memorabilia will be invited to a special walk-through of the exhibit in advance of its opening to the general public.

A rewarding experience

For Klanderud, the practical nature of the class was rewarding.

“The (most fun) experience of teaching the class was watching it go from a book thing to being a real hands-on thing of putting pieces together to tell a story and to look at how something has developed over time,” she said.

Perhaps the most enjoyable, though, was seeing her students embrace the project.

“I just love watching the students do the work of history and really coming to love it,” Klanderud said. “The students really got into that in a way that I didn’t necessarily see coming into the class. By the time they left, they were just so pumped up about the type of work that historians actually do. As a historian, that is so cool when your students are jazzed about doing the actual job.”

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