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Furman Engaged: Student gathers histories from The Woodlands

Bryant Garrison ’25 will be presenting his project on the oral histories of residents at The Woodlands during Furman Engaged.

Last updated April 1, 2024

By Furman News

For Bryant Garrison ’25, The Woodlands at Furman has become a special place. As this year’s American History Book Club Research Fellow, he’s spent months collecting oral histories from residents of the retirement community just off Furman University’s campus.

“I’ve always been drawn to older people and their life experiences and their wisdom,” said Garrison, an accounting major on the pre-health track. “The Woodlands residents add a richness to the Furman community. It’s an extraordinary collection of people.”

The oral histories will eventually become part of the oral history collection of Furman University Libraries, said Garrison, who will discuss his project at Furman Engaged, Furman’s annual campus-wide celebration of engaged learning experiences, on April 12.

Garrison, who grew up near Greenville in Six Mile, South Carolina, had already followed his love of local history into volunteering with the Greenville County Historical Society by the time he took a class taught by Courtney Tollison ’99, Furman’s Distinguished University Public Historian. The student impressed Tollison so much that she asked him to join her in a research project on the history of Bald Rock, a scenic overlook in northern Greenville County.

“He did great work,” Tollison said. “The sources were difficult to come by, and we engaged in some very creative measures to put together that history. Bryant is an exceptional student, and working with him represents the best of what The Furman Advantage can be, in terms of its potential to impact students, faculty and the community.”

When the Woodlands oral history fellowship emerged through the American History Book Club, Tollison knew that “Bryant would be perfect for this,” she said. Working with Marion Strobel, the William Montgomery Burnett Professor of History, and Ezra Hall ’19, director of philanthropy and engagement at The Woodlands, Garrison and Tollison started building a list of interviewees.

The list includes Peg van Bergen, a former United Nations translator, and her husband, Harry, who owned the company that installed the carillon in Furman’s Bell Tower; and Ronn Carroll, an actor who shared the stage with Ethel Merman on Broadway in “Annie Get Your Gun.”

Many notable names from Furman history are also on his list, such as Carl Kohrt, former Furman interim president; John L. Plyler Jr., son of the namesake of Plyer Hall; and Hazel Harris, professor emeritus of history who helped establish the Child Development Center.

As part of the library’s collection, Garrison’s work will provide “an opportunity for future research,” he said. “If someone wants to do a history of college bell towers, then I have the history of the people who installed them.”

“He’s contributing in a very meaningful way,” said Tollison. “The Bald Rock research and the oral histories he’s conducting at The Woodlands are going to benefit scholars well into the future.”

In the process, Garrison has also sharpened his own communication skills, which will benefit him in the professional world, he said. And immersing himself in Greenville’s history has helped buttress his resolve to stay in his hometown for the long term after graduation.

“When I got into my history research, I was surprised by the network of people around me – how deep it was and how interconnected everyone’s stories are,” said Garrison, who plans to enter a master’s degree program in accountancy right after completing an internship at a local accounting firm next summer. “Building those relationships where I intend to live has been really meaningful to me.”

Furman Engaged Is April 12, 2024

The Furman Advantage guarantees students the opportunity to participate in high-impact engaged learning experiences. Furman Engaged is a day dedicated to highlighting these diverse and immersive learning experiences. Learn more >>


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