Home again

It’s 90 degrees, and Ryan Culligan ’13 stands in the sweltering kitchen at the Homestead, cooking dinner for the first official night of the Homestead Reunion on Friday, May 25. “We’re expecting between 100 and 200 people,” he says. “Right now, it looks like it’s going to be one of the biggest reunions in the last 35 years.”

Culligan has been cooking since noon as a resident of the Homestead, Denison’s student-run, intentional community with a focus on ecological sustainability.  Twelve students live and work together at the Homestead each semester, and reunions have occurred every five years since the Homestead was established in 1977.

This year’s event celebrates 35 years of Homestead history, and Culligan says that the reunions always include a talent show for alums, as well as projects around the Homestead such as working on the gardens and the cabins. And it’s a group that shows up ready to get to work.

“We actually have people here for the reunion asking, ‘Do you have anything for us to do yet?’ ” Culligan says, taking a break from cooking. “I didn’t, and they were actually kind of upset.”

This year’s reunion is unique in that it coincides with Doane Library’s archival project on the Homestead, which both Culligan and Kyle Plummer ’12 are working on this summer.

“The archival project and reunion planning have acted together,” says Plummer, the Homestead’s reunion coordinator. “We printed and sent out about 250 invitations for the Homesteaders we could find, then we set up a Dropbox account and a Flickr account, so people could put their pictures and stories there.”

A Homestead resident since his first year at Denison, Plummer spent his last semester working on the reunion and gathering photos and materials from three and a half decades of residents. This summer, he will work with Culligan and other Homestead students in the library to put together a historical archive.

“I’m so excited about it,” Plummer says. “I can’t believe that I’ve gotten the opportunity to spend my time looking at Homestead history and learning about this place a little more.”

For the reunion, large-scale posters of photos from the archive are on display in one of the Homestead’s cabins, so that reunion-goers can mark the faces they recognize for the archives.

“We have 1,700 photos that have been digitized so far,” says Culligan. “It’s been a lot of piecing together who’s who, based on Polaroid pictures.”

Josh Finnell, Denison’s humanities librarian, is overseeing the summer archive project, having written a Next Generation Libraries Andrew W. Mellon Grant to fund the digitization efforts. “The archive is a tether that binds all past and present Homesteaders seeking to recall and share similar experiences,” he says. “Moreover, it serves as a strong record of how this Denison community is still evolving.”

Former Homesteaders have joined in the archive project as well, including Chris Jacob ’03, a reunion participant who also is putting together video interviews throughout the weekend with current and former Homesteaders.

“I’m excited about the interviews because I know they’ll be great conversations,” he says. “But I’m also excited to put everyone in completely different contexts because there’s so much here – people in the chicken coop, people in the creek.”

This reunion will be Jacob’s second, and as the crowd begins to trickle in, he says he looks forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

As a former Homesteader, Jacob says that the experience of living at the Homestead was unparalleled. “I have more friends from here than I do from anywhere else, and we all keep in touch,” he says. “It was so formative here. At this place,  I feel like I developed into who I would be.”

He says that kind of experience is likely what draws so many Homesteaders back to Denison for the five-year reunions.

“Nobody ever regrets this place,” he says. “That’s why people come, because there’s truly something unique here.  Everybody would say it’s something different, but what I think it comes down to is the circumstances – where it is, that it’s unexpected. It’s just this gem. It’s unique.”

The beginnings of Homestead archive can be accessed in the Denison University Digital Resource Commons.

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