Kent Retires after 37 Years as Historian

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Donald H. Kent retired Feb. 5, 1975, as director of the Bureau of Archives and History of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. His retirement ends thirty-seven years of service with the Commission.

Although he is retiring, anyone who knows Kent realizes that he will not cease working in the area he terms “the kind of thing he would have done for enjoyment.” His most immediate plans are to continue in the area of the history of Pennsylvania’s Indian relations, an expansion of a project he did for the Department of Justice.

Kent, who received a bachelor of arts degree in history in 1931 from Allegheny College (as well as a Phi Beta Kappa Key) received an honorary doctorate from Albright College.

In addition to his work as bureau head for the Commission, Kent also is current president of the Pennsylvania Historical Association and is assistant executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies.

Paul B. Beers, in his column in the Harrisburg Evening News, noted that the retirement” of Don Kent on February 5 [1975] will leave a conspicuous gap in the Pennsylvania history profession.”

Kent joined the Commission’s Harrisburg staff as an assistant historian in June of 1940, but his association actually began in 1937 when he served as historian for the Frontier Forts and Trails Survey, a Works Progress Administration project, sponsored by the Commission.

Kent said that his interest in history began in high school. He noted that Jessie Berst, an Erie teacher, was es­pecially helpful and was also instrumental in helping him obtain a scholarship to Allegheny College.

At Allegheny, he diverted from a planned career in chemistry, largely due to the influence of a history professor, Dr. Warner F. Woodring. “The War of 1812 on the Great Lakes,” Kent’s first serious historical research paper was done under Woodring’s supervision.

During a brief teaching career, Kent founded the Presque Isle Club, long before a Junior Historian program existed. Kent said the club was an outgrowth of his shock when he realized that not one of his students knew that a French fort existed within a few blocks of the school, East High, in Erie.

A humble man, Kent is noted for his ability as a source finder and dispatcher of historical facts. Beers, in the column cited earlier, said that “As much as anyone can be, he is a one-person encyclopedia of Pennsylvania history.” Typical of his unassuming manner, Kent said that he simply knows where to locate sources.

The French Invasion of Western Pennsylvania: 1753, one of his works, brought into focus the “Contrecoeur Papers.” Kent noted that in writing this book he proved what he had wondered about as a student in Erie.

Approximately 140 persons honored Kent at a special dinner. In addition to co-workers, there were Commissioners and historians present. Tributes were paid Kent by Norman B. Wilkinson of the Hagley Museum, Wilmington, Del.; Homer T. Rosenberger, Maxwell Whiteman and Phillip Klein all Commission members; Ralph Hazeltine, former Commissioner and treasurer of the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies, and William J. Wewer, executive director of the PHMC.

Mrs. Ferne Smith Hetrick, Commission chairman, pre­sented Kent with a special citation from Gov. Milton J. Shapp in recognition of Kent’s long service to the Commonwealth.

Harold Myers, head of the publication division of the bureau, paid tribute on behalf of his co-workers. Letters and telegrams were also read. Mrs. Autumn Leonard, a long­time associate of Kent’s and a retired Commission researcher, served as mistress of ceremonies. Harry E. Whipkey, state archivist, coordinated the recognition dinner. Gifts included a portrait of Kent done by Elmer Youmans, Commission artist; a leather-bound volume of The French Invasion of Western Pennsylvania: 1753; and a gift certificate.

Paying tribute to his wife Anna, in an interview with the writer, Kent noted that she took the photograph of Bou­quet’s birthplace in Switzerland used as the frontispiece in one of the published volumes. Mrs. Kent has just retired as an accountant for the Harrisburg Chapter of the American Red Cross.

When queried about what period of research and writing he most enjoyed, he cited the French and Indian period. Kent, of course, discovered the “Contrecoeur Papers” in Quebec and had them published in 1952. Kent instigated the publishing of the Henry Bouquet papers. Two of the proposed seven volumes on Bouquet have been published.

Kent certainly is a recognized authority on Colonial and Indian history. His extensive research and writing established that recognition. He has been responsible, either as an author or an editor, for many books, pamphlets and articles on the history of the state, with particular emphasis on Western Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War period.

As director of his bureau since 1961, Kent was responsible for the activities and production of the, Commission his­torians and archivists, its publication program and for the maintenance of the State Archives and the operation of the State Records Center.

Kent even assisted in writing the original legislation for the State Museum. The three legislators who sponsored the bill were Senator Israel Stiefel of Philadelphia, Representative Norman Wood of Lancaster and Representative John R. Haudenshield of Pittsburgh.

There was nothing under Kent’s jurisdiction as bureau head that he couldn’t do himself. His knowledge, versatil­ity and keen sense of humor made working for and with him a pleasure.

As noted previously, Kent doesn’t expect to alter his life pattern. In addition to his involvement with the Pennsyl­vania Historical Association and the Federation of Historical Societies, he has recently been appointed a member of the Advisory Committee of the U.S. Military History Research Collection at the Carlisle Barracks. A native of Erie, Kent and his wife will continue to reside in Camp Hill.

When asked if he had any advice for youth interested in history, Kent urged them to become involved in historical societies, and if none exists, to create them. And who can offer better advice than a man who has spent nearly thirty­-seven years in the history profession?