Local historian Edie Riehm has been in the city of Norcross for 15 years, and she has a lot to show for it.
From co-authoring "Images of America: Norcross" last year to being on the mayor’s Imagination Task Force, Riehm definitely puts in more than 100 percent of herself into the city. On top of everything, she also just graduated with her Ph.D. in history this year.
This week, the influential lady was able to step away from her busy life and answer a few questions about herself.
You co-authored . How was the process and are you happy with the end result?
I’m delighted with the end result because it is a unique book about Norcross and one that appeals to people of all ages. And there would be no book without the generosity of the many people who shared their stories and photographs with me, Gene Ramsay and Cate Kitchen.
This book was truly a community effort. The biggest effort involved was getting photographs. That was a slower process than we had anticipated. But after several months of searching for photos, word started spreading about the project and, toward the final months before the deadline, we had many people donating photos and sharing stories for us to consider using. It sort of took on a life of its own… people would come and offer their photos and bring their friends to do the same. In the end, we had many more photos than we could use.
What else have you done for the city?
One of the wonderful things about Norcross is that, if you want to get involved, there are so many diverse things going on, so you can find something that grabs your attention and make a positive impact.
I happen to be lucky - I’m a historian and Norcross is a proverbial “gold mine” for someone like me because of its rich history and the preservation of the historic district. As an historian, I enjoy learning and writing about the history of the city and find the history of those who were in the area before the city was founded especially fascinating. I’ve been the historian for the Norcross Times for many years and at one point served as its co-editor. I also was the historian for the Holiday Home Tour for many years and also for the Historic Preservation Alliance in which I researched and wrote the copy for many bronze markers in the downtown area.
In these various roles, I had the opportunity to interview several Norcross citizens – those who had lived here all or most of their lives and made significant contributions to the community such as the late Colonel John Adams, the late Irene Crapo, the late Ruth Davenport, Dodger DeLeon, Rufus Dunnigan, Carl Garner, the late Francis Newton and Lillian Webb, among others. In 2009 I served, along with several others, on Mayor Bucky Johnson’s Imagination Task Force and one of the most significant outcomes of that experience was the creation of a Norcross Welcome Center and Museum. This building is now home to a public history display that tells the history of the city and also its rich baseball history.
I’m also very proud to be associated with the Norcross Art Fest. Since 2004, I’ve been the co-chair of the Volunteer Recruitment effort for this annual festival, which is always a lot of fun and a prime example of the wonderful community we have here in Norcross because so many residents volunteer for this fabulous event each fall.
To you, what makes Norcross special?
To me, Norcross is the “jewel in the crown” of Gwinnett County. The beautiful downtown was, thankfully, preserved and therefore bypassed when the explosion of Gwinnett County occurred in the 1970s.
I have an abiding interest in documenting and preserving the City’s rich and significant history as a railroad town that grew out of the difficult days of Reconstruction. Our city’s history extends back before the Civil War and, through its founders, it has ties to Atlanta.
What I think is most wonderful about Norcross is the sense of community that is found here. It’s a mixture of young, old, newcomers, long term residents… so many people with so many talents. Norcross is a diverse community in many ways and everyone is welcome here.
Name something you're especially proud of this year:
I completed my Ph.D. in history this year. This was a longer-than-anticipated journey but one that has been very fruitful and gratifying. My specialty is post-World War II Civil Rights and I look forward to continuing my research and writing in that area. I just completed teaching a course in United States History at Kennesaw State University and will do that again in the fall semester. It’s something that I love doing and plan to continue.
What's in store for you for the rest of the year?
I made a commitment to the community while working on the "Norcross" book that, in return for the generosity of those who donated photos and stories, I would sponsor history events through the Welcome Center. Earlier this year, I did a lecture on my own research about white southern churchwomen and their activism in the civil rights movement and currently I’m working on two additional history events for the Welcome Center. One is a talk that I’ll be giving about “Women and War.” The other is a film screening of “My Knees Were Jumping,” which is a documentary film about the Kindertransports, a significant yet little known part of the Holocaust. Cate Kitchen and I are also working on scheduling a speaker from the Kinderstransports organization for that event. The dates are TBD so stay tuned!
I’ll also be looking for a publisher for my dissertation.
And I plan on getting to many house and garden projects that have been neglected due to my studies and dissertation writing.
What is a saying/quote that you live by?
“Sursum Corda,” which is Latin meaning “lift up your hearts.”
Many years ago when I was an undergraduate, my Education Professor, the late Dr. Ann Wonsciewicz-Schlect, taught me and my fellow classmates that we are all teachers in this world – regardless of our vocations. Each day we all teach something to someone whether we realize it or not. Our lessons can be positive or negative, the choice is ours. She encouraged us to be uplifting in our life lessons to others so that at the end of each day when we ask ourselves, “Did you teach something to someone today? If so, did it lift up your heart?” We can answer “Yes!” I try to live by that.
Have someone to nominate for our Most Influential People piece? Tell us in the comments.