Mel Dageforde meets with Karen Cook of the University of Kansas in his map room.

Senior living resident donates historical map collection to university

Hagerstown, Md.    Friday, September 22, 2017

As a graduate student at the University of Kansas, Mel Dageforde passed by the shop window of a rare-book dealer in Kansas City and saw something that would affect him for the rest of his life. 

“The window was full of beautiful maps,” Dageforde, now a resident of Diakon Senior Living – Hagerstown, says. “I had never seen anything like these maps.

The shop owner, Mr. Glenn, told me that the buyers of his maps wanted them for wall decorations. He liked that I was someone who liked them as maps.”

Dageforde, who had earned his bachelor’s degree in geography, focused on cartography in graduate school. The shop owner invited him to come back any time and use his office to study his maps. Dageforde returned often and, in fact, bought his first historical map from Glenn for $3.25—one created in the 1630s by a prolific Dutch cartographer named Willem Blaeu. 

Now 93, he recently sent the bulk of his map collection to his alma mater. “I love my university,” he says. “They were so good to me. The maps are going to a research library, where a graduate assistant has been assigned to the collection. The first thing they will do is make repairs to help preserve them.”

“It’s my hope ... that someone else will be moved to give something back.”

Born in a small town in Kansas, Dageforde has had “a wonderful life,” he says. He served in World War II, attended college on the GI Bill, worked for military intelligence and federal geological agencies in regional offices and then in Washington, DC. He married and reared a family. And, over the course of 60 years, he curated an extraordinary collection of historical maps, a passion sparked by his visits to that rare-book shop.

Dageforde and his wife, Wilma, were married for 51 years, “not long enough,” he says. She passed away seven years ago and he moved from their home of many decades, a farm near Frederick, Maryland to Diakon Senior Living – Hagerstown’s Ravenwood campus.

Dageforde held on to a few cherished maps from his collection, his favorite being a map of the Americas from the 1600s. Unfortunately, his failing eyesight prevents him from seeing the details of the beautifully framed map as he once could, but he can readily recall its fine details.

And he loves to share interesting facts about the early history of map-making: how maps were drawn on paper made of rags, making them last forever; how they often ended up in royal families, a sign of their stature; and how cartographers traveled on ships with explorers to see firsthand the oceans and land masses they were drawing.

While he says he has felt some sadness in parting with his beloved maps, he believes the time was right.

“It’s my hope,” he says, “that someone else will be moved just a little bit to give something back.”

Karen Cook unpacks the maps at the University of Kansas.

How did the maps make it to Kansas?

“Mel ... has not been able to enjoy his collection because his vision has gotten poor. Once he told me of his wish to donate the maps, but that he had no idea about how to make that happened, I stepped in,” says Dan Murphy, a local graphic designer and photographer as well as spouse of former Diakon Senior Living Executive Director Jodi Murphy. 

“First, we focused on cataloging the maps and a created a bound book of all his maps with photographs and information. I then surprised him ... with contact information for a staff member [Karen S. Cook] at the university who is a special collections librarian. They talked that day and Mel said he could hardly sleep that night, he was so excited. So [the staff member] planned a trip to Hagerstown,” Murphy recounts.

Because of concerns over shipping the delicate items, the Murphy family decided to transport the maps themselves, delivering 15 boxes and one tube of maps to the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas.   

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