Construction of the new campus had begun in earnest. But just as vital as the actual physical construction of the new campus was the selection of the faculty, staff, and students who would people it. The first slate of ten tutors for Santa Fe, as recommended by the two deans and the Instruction Committee, was comprised of two women and eight men, several of them (Clarence Kramer, William Darkey, Curtis Wilson, and Thomas Slakey) with a significant number of years of teaching on the Annapolis campus already under their belts, and one of them (Ford K. Brown) with a tenure at the College going all the way back to the founding of the New Program in 1937. A timely article published in March of 1963 in the widely read magazine Saturday Review, along with a newly released St. John’s admission film, brought the College a large wave of applicants for the fall of 1964, resulting in an incoming inaugural freshman class for Santa Fe of 84 students, 33 of them women and 51 men.
And along with these cohorts of faculty and students, to round out the academic side of the house, was the hiring of the campus’s first librarian, John Knego. In The Colonization of a College, Richard Weigle describes the campus library’s earliest beginnings:
Priority was given to the library for the new college, since it would take time to assemble a collection of reference works, class copies of Program books, and books on general subjects. Books had been given by a number of friends, but the first actual step was the appointment of John M. Knego as librarian at the May meeting of the Board in 1963. Knego was the first choice of the faculty committee. He held an M.A. degree in library science from Indiana University and had a working knowledge of the Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Russian, and Croatian languages. At the time of his appointment he was serving as reference librarian at the Kresge Science Library of Wayne State University, in Detroit. He spent the months of December and January 1963-64 in Annapolis acquainting himself with library needs and procedures before moving to Santa Fe at the beginning of February. Meanwhile the Annapolis librarian and the Library Committee of the faculty had been compiling titles of volumes which should be purchased for the Santa Fe library, primarily class copies, texts, and references and secondary books for the Program as a whole. The most helpful source of titles was found to be the Annapolis shelf list.
Temporary space for the library staff to work at accessioning was provided on the second floor of a building across San Francisco Street from the entrance to the La Fonda, a donation from the law firm of Seth, Montgomery, Federici, and Andrews. Four new appointments were made: Mrs. Florence van Dresser, secretary; Mrs. Margaret Frazier, library assistant; Mrs. Diana Chaffee, library assistant; and Ruby Rubideaux, cataloguer. My annual report at the end of the College’s first full year of operation pays tribute to the tremendous feat of building the new library’s book collection:
“John Knego, the Librarian, and his staff have wrought miracles in bringing the new library into being and in acquiring and cataloguing 6,675 volumes during this first year. An additional 7,000 volumes have been received, mostly by gift, and are yet to be acquisitioned. It would be impossible in this report to acknowledge the many donations to the Library, but mention should be made of the gifts of all publications by the Bollingen Foundation and of reprints of the Southwestern Classics by the Rio Grande Press of Chicago. Notable bequests of books were received from the late Edith Ames Crosley, Kenneth Foster, Grace Guest, and Robert Hunt.
“The volunteer Library Committee of Santa Fe citizens and others, under the honorary chairmanship of Witter Bynner and the general chairmanship of Mrs. Alexander Girard, contributed importantly to the development of the Library. Through sponsoring benefits and through seeking Friends of the Library, this Committee obtained gifts of nearly $5,000 to endow the purchase of books and $4,360 in memberships for current book acquisitions.”
Greer Garson, a member of the Library Committee, had suggested the idea of making a gift to the College to endow purchase of a book each year forever. As a result there were fourteen perpetual book memorial endowments by the end of 1964 and twenty-two life memberships. Those figures nearly doubled in the first year of the College’s operation.
From an article in the Santa Fe New Mexican, May 10, 1964:
During one of the most delightful parties of early Spring, more than 400 friends of St. John’s College in Santa Fe were introduced Thursday to John M. Knego, librarian for the college, and his young charming wife, Mrs. Knego. Setting for the reception was The Palace with the two private dining rooms in use as well as the brick-paved, walled patio despite the gale-like breeze and its accompanying dust….Mrs. Alexander Girard is serving as chairman of the library committee with Witter Bynner as honorary chairman….The tea table in the gold room held an arrangement of Tropicana roses in an heirloom footed container while the table in the other room held a magnificent display of long-stemmed white roses with small pots of grape ivy encircling the base….Librarians from throughout the area were among the 400 or more guests attending the Thursday afternoon reception….Among the guests were members of the Scientific Library staff at Los Alamos, the Mesa Library there, the Public Library here, the Supreme Court Law Library as well as many who have extensive private libraries.
Also notable in this article is a photo of renowned painter and longtime New Mexico resident Georgia O’Keeffe, seen in attendance and mingling with the other guests.
Diana (Chaffee) Amsden, a Northern New Mexico native and UNM and Harvard-trained anthropologist and archaeologist who was one of that first cadre of librarians to catalogue the books that would become the initial library collection, recalled in an email to Meem Librarian Inga Waite in 2001:
The first librarian was John Knego. He was originally from Croatia, from which he and his wife were refugees; she had terrible memories, and his health was still affected….Mr. Knego was wonderful to work with. Charming, educated, and his English was entertaining; he always said “wolume” rather than “volume”. It was at this time that I learned to drive and he enjoyed jumping with alarm and running when he saw me approach in the driveway/parking lot. I still remember him with affection.
We used IBM typewriters with the type on a rolling ball; this was state-of-the-art. On rare occasions a gear would slip and all of the letters would come out wrong. The books were chosen by the faculty and Mr. Knego, and I suspect that the list was a copy of the card catalog at St. John’s at Annapolis.
At first we started in an upstairs room across the street from the La Fonda. Then we moved into what would become the cook’s apartment [now a storage area in the basement of Peterson Student Center], downstairs under what would be the library [now the Bookstore]. One of my fondest memories was our opening ceremonies. Mr. Meem took me into the dining room and turned on the [Alexander Girard designed] chandelier, a beautiful thing like a Swedish Christmas tree. He looked as happy as a little boy with a new toy. He was an endearing man. They were painting Mr. Girard’s symbols on the wall outside the library. Mrs. Girard was head of the Library Committee and was an elegant-looking and sweet-natured woman whom I liked very much.
I recall that the dining hall had a rule about wearing a necktie, so one student came in wearing his tie around his leg. There were some delightful students.
Another memory is our going for quite a few days to the home of someone (who shall remain nameless) who had bequeathed his library to St. John’s. We cataloged the books, each on a separate slip of paper. It was an impressive library—and we also found a few pornographic books!
Another happy memory is the films shown upstairs [in the Great Hall] periodically. There I first saw Carl Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, a silent film so taut that sound would have broken the intense mood. Later I saw it in Los Angeles at the Shriners’ Auditorium with orchestral accompaniment, and it was not nearly as effective as when silent.
Also, I had the privilege of taking a couple of seminars from Dean Kramer, and discovered how cheated I had been that the classics had not been part of my required curriculum. I had graduated with highest honors from UNM, then earned a Master’s at Harvard. I now have six degrees and know I am not educated by my standards because the classics were not there, and they are not only the foundations, but also the best thinking.