The Long Run: Allen Stokes

University employees with more than 4 decades under their belts reflect on their careers

They arrived in the 1970s, some after serving in Vietnam, some fresh out of high school or college. More than 40 years later, they still come to work at the University of South Carolina — some after officially “retiring.”

“This is such a great place to work, people don’t want to leave,” says Caroline Agardy, vice president for Human Resources. “They’re proud to work for the University of South Carolina and dedicated to making higher education their life’s work.”

The workers who have committed their careers to the university agree. They stay because they like learning something new every day, helping young students find their way in an increasingly complicated world and interacting with co-workers who feel like family.

TIMES spoke with a few of these long-term employees to see what keeps them coming back to work on campus, long after they could have settled into that place in the mountains or that home by the sea.

The Paper Chase

Allen Stokes, library specialist, South Caroliniana Library 

Allen Stokes came to South Carolina as a graduate student in history. He earned his master’s in 1967 and worked processing manuscripts for the South Caroliniana Library. He took a 20-month hiatus to serve in Vietnam, returning to South Carolina and University Libraries in 1972, when he succeeded Clara Mae Jacobs as manuscripts librarian.

“When I first came here, everything was done on a typewriter — with Wite-Out,” he says. “We didn’t have a photocopy machine here in the library, we had a photostat machine. I had to go to another building to find a Xerox machine.”

He earned his doctorate in history in 1977 and, in 1982, compiled A Guide to the Manuscript Collection of the South Caroliniana Library — the library’s first published guide to manuscript holdings,

In 1983, Stokes was named director of the South Caroliniana Library and served in that position for 20 years before taking a break to return to manuscript processing. Two years later, he was back at the helm and served as director for another eight years. He retired in 2013. 

“In the 1980s and early ‘90s, we had researchers from other universities, some would come and spend entire summers here,” he says. One researcher who would come back year after year was Drew Faust, recently retired president of Harvard.

Also during his tenure, Stokes served on the editorial board of the South Carolina Historical Magazine and co-edited Twilight on the South Carolina Rice Fields: Letters of the Heyward Family, 1862-1871. 

Stokes says he is most proud of all the collections and materials the library has made available for researchers over the years. “I’ve always enjoyed my work,” he says. “If I ever reach the time when I don’t look forward to coming to work, then that’s when it’s time to leave.”

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