University of West Chester Alumni’s ‘The Night Before Christmas’ Book Collection Offers Virtual Holiday Joy

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Like many events this year, the coronavirus has ended West Chester University’s annual parties with Santa Claus, one for alumni children and another for children with special needs.

But the enterprising staff at the State University’s Alumni Office had another idea, made possible by a long-standing donation from former Barbara Loftus Perrone, a retired librarian with a passion for life. was collecting books.

And the books she collected were illustrated interpretations of the nearly 200-year-old poem “The Night Before Christmas,” officially titled “A visit from Saint Nicholas.”

Thanks to Perrone, the library has over 600 books, newspaper clippings, recordings and other memorabilia with various interpretations of the classic holiday tale by illustrators around the world. Why not bring in alumni and current students to virtually read some of them to children? staff of thought elders.

This resulted in 13 virtual readings by a cast of volunteers, some wearing Santa hats and winter scarves. The university posted the readings on its website and started posting two per day on its Facebook page last week.

Perrone’s daughter, Susan Perrone Walthall, also a West Chester graduate, read one illustrated by her mother. The wife of university president Christopher Fiorentino, the president of the alumni association and a sports presenter for CBS3 are among other readers. Old and new alike participated and also read books on Hanukkah and Kwanzaa themes. Reading is done in Spanish. Even West Chester’s mascot Rammy participates in a reading.

The readings are intended for the offspring of alumni, but the school has also shared the connection with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Southeastern Pennsylvania Easter Seals, YMCA of Great Brandywine and others. groups serving children.

“We were able to turn that into something more accessible to a lot of people… and really spread that holiday cheer as far as we could,” said Brigid Gallagher, deputy director of alumni engagement.

Perrone, 87, a West Chester resident, has a long-standing relationship with the college. She received her bachelor’s degree in 1956 and she also met her late husband Charles, a 1950 graduate, at a summer school there. The couple have spent their lives and careers in West Chester, she working as a librarian and he as a teacher and administrator in the school district. The couple’s three children are also college graduates. Perrone retired in 1987 and spent over 30 years volunteering at Paoli Hospital.

Over the past half-century, Perrone has collected books, conducted door-to-door sales, auctions, shops and flea markets, and shopped online, said Ron McColl, West Special Collections Librarian. Chester. She had always been interested in children’s literature and was excited when she found an illustrated version of the poem by the McLoughlin brothers from 1896.

“It kind of got her excited and she went from there,” McColl said.

The collection also contains a copy of the first printed book containing the poem, an 1837 anthology where Clement C. Moore took credit for writing it, McColl said. (The poem first appeared anonymously in a New York newspaper in 1823.)

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Perrone illustrated two of the books, one which included a silhouette of his twin granddaughters and family cats, with one wrapped around Santa’s shoulders, similar to a family photo of his son, Michael, with a cat wrapped around his neck.

Barbara’s favorites include Anita Lobel’s urban Victorian New York version released in 1984, Tasha Tudor’s picturesque 1975 rendering of her Vermont farmhouse with Welsh corgis and a dollhouse, and the warm decor of Tomi de Paola’s New England incorporating colorful quilt patterns c. 1980 ”, writes his daughter Susan in a preface to a catalog of the editions of the collection.

Along the way, Perrone became friends with Nancy Marshall, who amassed a similar collection that she donated to the College of William & Mary, Gallagher said. Other colleges also have collections, including Carnegie Mellon and the University of Michigan.

Upon Charles C. Perrone’s death in 1999, his wife began donating his collection to West Chester in his honor, noting that he had always supported his artistic endeavors. In 2006, she created a foundation so that new and rare out-of-print illustrated editions could continue to be added to the collection.

“Barbara wants to share with the University of West Chester community not only the rich educational resource that the collection will provide, but the less tangible spirit of this gift,” her daughter Susan said in a statement on the website. West Chester. “It is a living testimony to the power of writing, to the beauty of an artist’s brush, to the passion of a shared dream and the joy of true love.”

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West Chester houses the collection, much of it donated by Perrone, in the Special Collections Department on the sixth floor of the Library. The pieces cannot be checked out, but students and faculty can make an appointment to view them for research or class work. The collection is not widely used and this is something McColl said he would like to change. He hopes that the publicity around the virtual readings will make the availability of the collection known.

Books can also be used for entertainment, which West Chester has decided to do this holiday season. The school hired a videographer and filmed most of the readings, each lasting about six to 10 minutes, at their alumni and foundation center.

Perrone continues to add books to the collection each year, McColl said.

“I bought some books from her just before Thanksgiving,” he said. “She has more than she wants to give. It will be part of his legacy. I think of her. I think about Christmas. She gives and gives and gives.


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