University founding father to retire

Come June, Northern Kentucky University will have lost one of its greatest patrons. Dr. James Claypool will be retiring after 34 years of service ranging from Professor of European History to the first NKU Dean of Admissions. It was during his first university teaching job, at Murray State University, that Claypool met Dr. Frank Steely. Steeley was able to entice him to move camp to an obscure little school called Northern Kentucky State College. Claypool became the first Dean of Admissions and of Students. He is one of the founding members of Northern Kentucky University.

Dr. James Ramage, Regents Professor of History, said of Claypool, “He has made great contributions to [NKU], aggressively promoting the university.”

Claypool said some of his contributions include: hiring most of the people who work in the admissions and the registrar’s office and helping to form an identity for NKU by suggesting an athletics program.

Claypool can also be credited with helping expand NKU’s visibility by staging popular musical acts on campus, such as Sly and the Family Stone, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Jackson Browne and the Eagles. These performances were intended to attract the local community and to lure possible students. “We were getting [the musicians] for $3,000. That’s the most I ever paid anybody,” said Claypool.

Another mark on campus left by Claypool is the Steely Library Archives, founded by Claypool in 1982, even though at the outset he knew nothing about developing an archive.

“Archives is like planting a crop. You go to a group, you talk to them, you lay out the fact that, look, we’re going to have an important historical resource here,” Claypool explained. “If you have a library, or if you have something of worth and you really don’t know where to put it, [and] your family really doesn’t appreciate it, or you’ve collected it all your life – you need to put it where it is available to the whole region, where it’s available to scholars. And I laid those seeds and within two or three years they started to sprout.”

Claypool’s ten years of work in archives introduced him to Kentucky history, and he is the only NKU professor to teach it. According to Ramage, Kentucky History is one of the most popular courses in the history department.

“The first stage of education is the accumulation of knowledge,” Claypool said. “The second stage is the utilization of knowledge and the application.”

By working in archives, Claypool was able to accumulate a great knowledge of Kentucky history and has traveled throughout Kentucky speaking about various aspects of its history.

“His breadth of knowledge is unbelievable. He can go from [talking about] the Stanley Cup race to politics to the price of eggs, and he doesn’t need a note. He can lecture without any notes. He is amazing, and he will be missed,” said Karen Engel, sophomore history major.

Faculty as well as students will miss Claypool when he retires this summer. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with him, and [it has been] a pleasure to have him as a colleague. Jim is a close friend and I will miss him very much,” Ramage said. So, what is next for a man who has had his hands in just about everything imaginable? Well, Claypool’s immediate plans are to go to Europe and to finish research for his next book about thoroughbred horse racing jockey Steve Cauthen.