One Last Research Question
October 6, 2023, was the last day of my thirty-eight-year career at the Central Arkansas Library System. I spent the first thirty years in the Reference Department, now known as Information Services, and the last eight in the Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art. A substantial portion of both positions involved answering research questions, and that was my favorite part of the job. In the early years of Reference, before the internet, the reference desk was a busy place, with phones ringing constantly and patrons needing assistance with a wide variety of information needs. I can only guess how many bar bets we settled! With the introduction of the internet, things slowed gradually, but the questions kept coming. Answering questions in the Roberts Library involved assisting patrons with matters usually focused on Arkansas history or genealogy.
Finding answers to patrons’ requests was extremely rewarding, especially when the topic was one that I knew nothing about. If the patron was able to provide more details and the question was answered, the patron would think I was the smartest person in the world!
I remember many strange requests over the years. While I do not remember the first reference question I ever received, I will always remember the last. It came as an email from someone out of state via a research request sent to the online CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas (EOA). After reading it, my first thought was, how am I ever going to find the answer to this and then, why would anyone need to know that?
The question read: “I was wondering if there is any information about Jerry Van Dyke having a tri-color collie in the early 1970s? Her name was Alice.”
For background, Jerry Van Dyke—who was born in Danville, Illinois—was a famous comedian and actor who lived in Arkansas; he was inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in 1998. He was perhaps most noted for his Emmy-nominated performance as Luther Van Dam on the television show Coach. Van Dyke and his wife, Shirley Jones, owned a ranch in Hot Spring County, and, in the late 1990s, they purchased and renovated a city block in Benton (Saline County), including the Royal Theatre and a soda shop that bears his name. Van Dyke’s older brother, Dick, became a movie actor (Mary Poppins), television sitcom pioneer, and comedian (The Dick Van Dyke Show). Read more about Jerry Van Dyke on the EOA here.
Pondering what resources might uncover this information, I suddenly remembered I knew someone who had married into the Van Dyke family. I contacted her, and she said she would try and find out for me. While I was waiting to hear back from her, I reached out to the patron and told her I had retired but would let her know what I found. She responded by explaining why she was asking, saying:
“In the early 70s (maybe ’73 or early ’74) my sister and brother were driving in the Danville, IL area (we lived in Mendota) and picked up a tri-color collie in the rain, walking by the roadside. They brought her home and we took care of her and put out ads and flyers to find the owner. After a few days we heard from Jerry Van Dyke’s secretary who said the dog was his and had gotten away when he was visiting his hometown. She said [the dog’s] name was Alice, and when we called the dog by name, she recognized her name. I believe we took Alice and met the representative, but that part is fuzzy because I did not go along, and I was only 10 or 11 years old.”
She also explained that she had been looking at her mother’s photo albums and found a couple of pictures of Alice that were taken when she was at their house. She said it brought that memory back and made her curious to know more.
I did hear back from my friend, who reported that she spoke with Jerry Van Dyke’s son and indeed they had a dog named Alice. The son was young at the time, and it was the first dog he remembered having as a child. He recounted a story about a game they played that involved chasing Alice around the pool. The game was appropriately called “the Alice Game.”
Finding this information that seemed like it would be impossible to locate feels like the perfect exclamation point to end my rewarding library career that I loved for so many years.
By Alysanne Crymes