military archives


An official ribbon cutting marks the dedication of the University Archives to LTG Richard G. Trefry (pictured l to r: Dr. Karan Powell, Dr. Wally Boston, LTG Richard Trefry (USA, Ret.), Gen. Alfred Gray (USMC, Ret.), Dr. Katherine Zatz, Chair of the Board of Trustees).

By Jennifer Colter
Contributor, In Military

During the inauguration week events celebrating new APUS President Karan Powell, university leaders unveiled a special military-focused exhibit, “APUS and Military Educators: History of the Influence on Security and Military Education” at the dedication of the Richard G. Trefry University Archives in Charles Town, WV. The exhibit highlights the influence APUS military education has had on the APUS community of friends, faculty, students and staff and how that influence shaped the university’s current security and military programs.

In addition, the Academics Center was officially re-named the Alfred M. Gray University Center. The new name is a display of honor and appreciation to one of the University System’s principal supporters, General Alfred M. Gray, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 1991 after 41 years of service. Gray is Chairman Emeritus and a member of the Board of Trustees.

The University Archives exhibit features donated personal papers from Board of Trustees member Lieutenant General Richard G. Trefry (USA, Ret.), historical papers and photographs from the Association of the United States Army, and documentation of APUS security and military programs over the last 25 years. A ceremony to commemorate the dedication of the Archives took place on Thursday, November 3 in the Richard G. Trefry Library. LTG Trefry, university founder Major James Etter and General Alfred Gray were all present.

This event involved considerable planning and logistics from University Archivist Laura Donahue. Laura shared her experience in planning the dedication. She also expounded on why this exhibit and the renaming of the APUS library and university center is significant.

Q: What was it like having so many years of history at your fingertips? How long did the organization process take?

The exhibit “APUS and Military Educators: The History of the Influence on Security and Military Education” started developing in my head when I began working for the university in April 2015. I started curating featured exhibits in January 2016 and this is my third installment.

My first exhibit was “Early AMU” which depicted our school’s humble, yet important origins. The second exhibit, showcased this past April, was “APUS in Charles Town: A History Told through Archives.” This exhibit depicted the history of the university in Charles Town and our important symbiotic relationship with this community. We are a part of this town and Charles Town has been integral in becoming a part of our campus.

When I started here, I really just dove right in. I asked myself, “What do we have here? What can we share with APUS and the community in the archives? How can I assist in sharing this?” I knew that Trefry’s items should be showcased, especially all of his hard work as an educator throughout his long career. With our large collection at this institution, we could focus on our military and security programs from the past.

Honestly, this is a very interesting position to have – an archivist for an online university. But I’ve come to discover that because APUS was a pioneer in distance and online education, our history deserves to be told.

My process for exhibits involves brainstorming themes, finding interesting objects, digitizing the items, collecting their metadata and thinking of creative ways to display and use our exhibit space in the University Archives. The current exhibit pulls from both the Trefry Collection and the American Public University System Collection.

Q: How many years do the papers and photographs from LTG Trefry date back?

The earliest papers are from the early 1940s, before LTG Trefry was admitted to West Point. He actually spent a year at Dartmouth before he left to enlist in the military during WWII. After his time in the service, he enrolled in West Point a few years later and the rest is history. We keep getting boxes from him. Because it is a growing collection, it’s hard to say what we will receive in the future – maybe something from his youth!

Q: Military history is extremely fascinating and seems to resonate across multiple generations. How do you see the exhibit being the most utilized by the University and the outlying community?

It all comes down to the rich stories of our service members. The Archives are intended to capture the real lives of the veterans who fought in past wars. Because we have such a large military student population, the history of former service members and wars really resonates with everyone regarding what they may be going through today.

It’s the role of the Archives to preserve the personal stories, interweave them into the larger picture of global history and make the stories resonate with current service members and everyone else. It’s important to teach everyone without an understanding of military life or history how people lived and what they sacrificed to help us get to where we are today.

Q: Were there any pieces or periods in history that had more material than others?

A significant portion of the Trefry Collection comes from when he was teaching at the Army Force Management School in the 1990s-2000s after he retired. It involves a lot of teaching materials – lectures, slides, programs, awards, etc. We also have a lot of interesting pieces from when Trefry was a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, which is what we highlighted in the exhibit.

Q: Will more materials be added to the exhibit over time? Is it a living display?

I have not decided on a ‘take-down’ date for the exhibit. As far as collection development goes, I definitely want to continue to grow both our Trefry Collection and our institutional record collection. Part of my 2017 initiative is to focus on casting a wide net and invite faculty and staff to contribute their papers and other items that would be relevant, interesting and educational to use as resources.

Q: As an Archivist, why is the exhibit’s unveiling significant to the University at this juncture? What does this mean for the institution and its prominent academic military programs?

This is a new chapter in the University, because the Archives dedication was part of inauguration week. Although the Archives were created in 2011, they really needed that extra time (and a few archivists) to go through the items, evaluate to see what we have and showcase the historic treasures.

The next step is to create an online presence. I have an exhibit site and I am currently working on an institutional repository.

I’ve also created an online university archives guide that IS public-facing. I have information about the university archives, what our mission is, what types of materials we have, a form for research request and an archives tutorial. I believe that showcasing the archives online and hosting events like the dedication really show what we are all about; I’m a resource for the University and community. We have our name out there, and now I want to share our available resources.

Contact Laura Donahue for information about the University Archives at

Founded in 1991 by USMC Major James P. Etter (retired), American Military University began with just a single degree program — the Master’s in Military Studies. Later becoming American Public University System, the University System has since developed many security and military programs with the help of its veteran faculty, a large military student population and dedicated staff.