The old films were sitting in a box, about to be tossed in the trash.
The dozen rolls of unlabelled, 8 mm film, discovered several years ago by resident John Mandle in an alcove near the theater stage at Valle Verde, chronicled the construction of the community 50 years ago.
“That was priceless,” says Mandle, who recently retired as an archivist at Valle Verde. “We have film of the construction and of the first residents.”
For the last 16 years, Mandle, a retired engineer, has been one of several volunteers at the Valle Verde archives, preserving the history of the community.
As he approached two decades in the volunteer post, Mandle stepped down in July and is hoping another resident will soon succeed him.
“I have other things that I would like very much to do,” Mandle says. “I decided I would back off from the archives. I told the resident council I would retire July 4, Independence Day, and I’ve been trying to retire ever since.”
Mandle is helping in the search for a replacement and will train his successor.
The archives, which were launched in the 1980s by resident Marian Abrecht, now include more than 20,000 documents and photographs. The archives are located in a studio apartment at Valle Verde and until Mandle’s retirement, were open each Saturday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and by appointment.
On other days, Mandle and the other volunteers were often busy sorting through old documents to decide which needed to be preserved for posterity.
“What happens mostly is that staff or relatives come in to clean out an apartment of somebody that has passed away and they find a whole bunch of newsletters or what have you and they pass them on to us and we process them,” Mandle says.
The documents and pictures are catalogued on computer databases. The information is particularly valuable to family members trying to find information about their deceased relatives, Mandle says.
“We have about six different databases on residents, including obituaries, what apartments they lived in,” Mandle says. “We have all the phone books that were ever published at Valle Verde all the way back to the early 70s. When somebody wants information, they know there’s a place they can go and try to find it.”
The material was useful as Valle Verde celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
“Out of 6,000 photographs in the archives, they are probably using 150 of those for the anniversary posters,” Mandle says.
Mandle not only preserved historical items, he also recorded Valle Verde history in the making. For three years, he filmed the recently completed Valle Verde master-plan rebuilding program.
“We have time-lapsed videos of everything that was done in terms of tearing down and rebuilding,” Mandle says. “One day, that will be interesting for someone to look at.”
Mandle’s efforts will be sorely missed, says Valle Verde Information Technology Technician Ron Martin.
“John has been instrumental in bringing many technologies to Valle Verde on behalf of its residents,” Martin says. “He pioneered and adapted the software used for our historical archive process.”
Mandle took a software program designed for audio files and gained permission from the author to modify it for photographs and documents, Martin recalls.
“The software is still unequaled for that purpose,” Martin says. “He truly is an engineer as he designs and creates his own parts to bring his visions to life.”