Alumnus donates historic newspapers to regional history center

Newspapers have chronicled key events from throughout our nation’s history – from crowning achievements like the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and Neil Armstrong’s moon walk to our darkest moments such as President Kennedy’s assassination and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

West Virginia University alumnus Steve Wolfe, BA ’81, Political Science, is quite familiar with those historic moments and their media coverage. He spent more than two decades acquiring more than 150 newspapers that reported on these and other pivotal happenings.

Wolfe is now donating the impressive collection to the WVU Libraries’ West Virginia & Regional History Center.

“I wanted the newspapers to find a long term home where they would be properly preserved and appreciated,” Wolfe said. “I could have chosen any number of similar organizations who had an interest, but WVU is always foremost in my mind and I knew that they would be in good hands with the WVU Libraries.”

WVHRC Director John Cuthbert enthusiastically welcomed the collection, which spans from a 1666 issue of the London Gazette reporting on the Great Plague to the Washington Post’s 1991 banner headline trumpeting Gorbachav’s resignation and the end of the Soviet Era.

“Steve Wolfe assembled a tremendous collection of newspapers,” Cuthbert said. “He pursued critical occurrences and found copies in great conditions. These papers are a wonderful addition to the WVRHC and will be a great resource for researchers.”

A large part of the collection is devoted to the Civil War, including many dealing with West Virginia statehood and Civil War fighting within the state’s boundaries.

“I could think of no better place for these newspapers to be than the principal library of the only state in the nation to be born of that otherwise difficult chapter in American history,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe began collecting newspaper while growing up in Charleston in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As a newspaper carrier for the Gazette in 1970, he would keep copies of newspapers with significant headlines of the day. Wolfe’s interest was also encouraged by his father, who had amassed a large collection, some of which are in the collection he donated to WVU.

Wolfe stepped up his acquisitions around 1985, when he had the ability to search for and afford much older and rarer editions. In those pre-internet days, he would write to dealers to get on their mailing lists and buy directly from them.

He looked for newspapers in his favorite topic areas: the Civil War, politics, spaceflight, and significant events, such as wars and natural disasters like the Great Fire of London in the late 1600s. One gem is the Chicago Daily Tribune with the banner headline that infamously declares: “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

“My collecting interest sort of ran out of gas sometime around 2000, when I ran out of topics of interest and room to store them,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe considers the donation a natural extension of his long-term support of his alma mater. In 1997, he founded the C. Stephen Wolfe II Fund for the Study of the American Presidency in the Political Science Department. He also served on the Eberly College Alumni Board and the Political Science Department Alumni Advisory Committee.

“My WVU experience remains one of the most important chapters in my life, and it's a privilege to be able to give back,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe and his wife, Darla, reside in Bethany Beach, Delaware, and Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. After retiring from a career as an institutional investor, Steve Wolfe went into Virginia politics and earned a second master’s degree in history from George Washington University. He earlier earned a master’s in public administration from the University of Syracuse. Darla Wolfe received her bachelor’s degree from Temple University and her MBA from Villanova University, and is a member of the Villanova University Alumni Association Board of Directors.

The donation was made through the WVU Foundation, a private non-profit corporation that generates and provides support for WVU. The Foundation is currently conducting A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University which runs through December 2017.

April 19, 2017