His Legacy Continues: Walt Research Library and Simpson Archives Opens

Dr. Joseph W. Walt wrote about Simpson College’s history, so it’s only fitting that his legacy will help protect it.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Friday, Oct. 9 to officially open the Joseph W. Walt Research Library & Simpson College Archives on the third floor of Dunn Library.

“It’s remarkable what it looks like compared to what it did before,” said Sunnie Richer, chair of Simpson’s Board of Trustees, whose members attended the ceremony. “History is a big deal here, and his legacy means a lot.”

The renovation project was made possible by a $120,000 gift from three of Walt’s nephews and a niece — Tom Mathews of South Ogden, Utah; Bruce Mathews of Midvale, Utah; David Mathews of Reno, Nev.; and Hillary Mathews of Bountiful, Utah.

Walt died in 2013 at the age of 88. He taught history at Simpson from 1955 to 1994 but was a commanding presence on campus for much longer. He also wrote the history of Simpson, “Beneath the Whispering Maples.”

“I’m very excited,” said Cyd Dyer, College Librarian and Archivist and Walt’s friend. “Joe himself was such an important part of Simpson history. To be able to dedicate a room in his honor is just wonderful.”

The Joseph W. Walt Research Library features the books he used to research Liechtenstein as well as posters about that country that once hung in his house. Walt became enchanted with the country as a young stamp collector and visited there almost every year. He had completed five chapters of a history of Liechtenstein when health problems forced him to stop.

The room also features original tables and chairs from Carnegie Library at Simpson, which opened in the early 1900s, as well as the trunk Walt used when he was a Mormon missionary in Sweden.

“Joe loved libraries,” Dyer said. “He thought research was so important.”

Adjoining the research library is the Simpson College Archives, which contains a treasure trove of historic materials, from yearbooks to old marching band uniforms.

“We moved everything out, demolished a wall, built a new one, replaced all the windows and added insulation,” said Dyer, who praised her staff for helping to complete the work by Homecoming weekend.

The archives room has controls to maintain the correct temperature and humidity, as well as a gas suppression fire system.

“Simpson was founded in 1860,” Dyer said, “In 1918 there was a fire that destroyed everything. We don’t want to have that happen again.”

When Walt died, he left a $1 million bequest to Simpson to help provide Study Abroad scholarships for students. Dyer said he also hoped to help the library.

“The fact that his family contributed to help make one of his dreams come true is amazing,” Dyer said.

Jay Byers ’93, chief executive officer of the Greater Des Moines Partnership and a Simpson trustee, said he did not have Walt for a class but got to know him well as a student and after graduation.

After touring the renovation, Byers said, “I think it’s a great tribute to Dr. Walt. It’s great that we are able to preserve his legacy, He had a lot to teach all of us, and this allows him to continue teaching long into the future even though he has left us.”

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  1. Bruce Mathews on October 19, 2015

    I’m sure to be conveying for my siblings as I wish here to sentiment our gratitude in your providing this way for my Uncle Joe to extend his legacy to the college he loved teaching 39 years. That there is only one success – to be able to spend your life in your own way, I can attest to his genuine caring for the institution of learning, hence, success reciprocated joyously between both. Uncle Joe and I are linked by blood, and blood is memory without language. I knew him my whole life. And knowing his memory is cherished beyond ours is something I cannot possibly rely on language to express how grateful we are.
    Bruce Mathews