The state archivist society salutes the head of special collections at WCU’s library


George Frizzell ’77 MA ’81, head of special collections at Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library, is the 2013 recipient of the Thornton W. Mitchell Service Award for outstanding service to the archival profession in North Carolina. Established in 2003, the award from the Society of North Carolina Archivists recognizes people who have promoted public awareness, appreciation or support of cultural heritage institutions; preserved historical and cultural resources; provided leadership in archival organizations or associations; or taught, trained or mentored new members of the profession.


Head of special collections at WCU, George Frizzell ’77 MA ’81, says he has “the best job on campus.”

Pam Meister, curator of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center, said Frizzell, who has helped enrich exhibits she has curated, is very deserving of the award. “I have come to depend not only on George’s generous sharing of collections, but also on his knowledge of local history and of additional archival resources,” said Meister. “He has a deep knowledge of and love for Western North Carolina’s culture and history and a passion to provide public access to the collections in his care in as many ways as possible, and he goes above-and-beyond to mentor students and emerging archival professionals.”

A native of Jackson County, Frizzell is a descendant of a family that has lived in the area for more than 200 years. His grandfather attended the small school that was the predecessor of WCU and his father was employed by the university. Frizzell said from an early age he felt at home in libraries and worked as a volunteer shelving books in the library at his elementary school. His professional career has been devoted to Hunter Library’s special collections. He joined the staff in 1982 as a research assistant and was named head of the department in 1989. “More than one person has told me that I’ve got the best job on campus,” he said. “As far as a career, I’ve had the time of my life.”

In the library’s special collections are thousands of items documenting Southern Appalachian life and natural history, with particular attention to Western North Carolina. Manuscripts include letters, diaries, business and financial records, legal documents, literary productions, maps, news clippings and photographs. Several of the collections have been digitized and are available online. “We are especially grateful to donors, both in the local community and from across the country, whose generosity made it possible for us to fulfill our mission,” said Frizzell. “It is a wonderful expression of regional and national spirit when individuals, as well as organizations and businesses, decide to share these items with others.”

Frizzell has worked with colleagues at the library, especially in the digital initiatives and cataloging departments, and partners including the Mountain Heritage Center, to enhance the library’s special collections as a resource not only for students and faculty but also for visiting researchers, scholars, authors and members of the community. Researchers for Ken Burns consulted with Frizzell during the development of the PBS documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” and used historic images from the collections for the series and DVD. Novelists Charles Frazier and Ron Rash and the Horace Kephart biographer George Ellison are among the authors who have gratefully acknowledged his assistance in their books.