Meet George Frizzell: Special Collections Head

Special Collections on the second floor in Hunter Library consists of manuscripts documenting southern Appalachian life and natural history, with more of a focus on Western North Carolina. The head of Special Collections name is George Frizzell.

Frizzell joined the staff in 1982 as a research assistant and then became head of the department in 1989. Talk about a dedicated staff member, who even in his free time digs through history to search for new events and reads.

Frizzell has a wide range of knowledge about the history of the area we live in. This is probably because he has lived here his whole life. Living in Sylva for his whole life can seem uninteresting, but knowing that he lives in the same valley as his preceding family members did 200 years before makes it more interesting.

Frizzell’s grandfather went to Western Carolina University back when it was a smaller university and his father was even an employer of the university. Not only did he go to college at WCU but also went to what is now known as Smoky Mountain High School. Frizzell got to know about the history program and liked it so that helped with the decision to coming to WCU.

His studies consisted of a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from WCU and a master’s in library science from University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

“My professors also helped me a lot,” said Frizzell.

Just by listening to him speak about his job and all the collections that WCU has to offer one can tell he enjoys what he does. There is no doubt about that.  Even when he was elementary school, he would reshelf books at the school library during his free time because he loved it so much. Frizzell always enjoyed being in a library and around books.

Frizzell stated, “I think I am fortunate because I truly enjoy what I have been doing over 30 years.”

He says, “I like helping to preserve our history and being able to help people explore it. To me that is a really rewarding, helping them find the answers or the materials that they need, and going out into the community to share things.”

This can show others that he enjoys his job very much. He is more than happy to help and answer any questions that someone may have.

When asked what helped make all of this possible, Frizzell stated, “We really could not do what we do here if it were not for the people who donate things. It’s their generosity that makes it possible.”

He also added, “It also can be like a little bit of detective work…Trying to find things and put them together.”

In addition, he makes it apparent when he says, “It is not just for on campus use, it is for everyone around the community to come use it.”

There have been people from out of state who have flown in just to look at the collections. This has led Frizzell to work with different types of people. He has been able to meet all kinds of people and this has added to his experience.   

When asked what he does in his free time he answered, “A lot of the same thing.” The only difference is sometimes he reads things about history outside of the area he grew up in.

Something no one really knows about this member of the staff is that he had an obsession outside of the office, which he said, “I love classic rock and roll music. I listen to a lot of music.”

His rich knowledge of history does not just stop with mountain heritage in the Sylva area, but exceeds even further than just that. He even has written some of his very own works, chapters in books, written some articles, and even some poetry, about what he has learned. Frizzell said, “I wrote a very long one that got printed [poem] about my father being sick for so long. It was about what he went through and it just made me feel a little more ease having it down on paper.”

He was recently named the 2013 recipient of the Thornton W. Mitchell Service Award for his wonderful service to the archival profession in North Carolina.

This award recognizes the people who have promoted public awareness, support and appreciation of cultural heritage institutions and those who provide leadership in archival organizations or associations.

He was definitely more than willing to share even more information about what he does and why he loves his job so much.  He also said, “I got a great education at Western Carolina University and could put it to use,” which shows that he is more than happy having the job that he has. He wants to share with the community all the collections that are in Special Collections, not just for campus use, and enjoys talking about all of them.