Herschel Yenzer Day- October 13th
By Amanda Diggs
Talking Books volunteers often go above and beyond in their service to the program. One such volunteer was Herschel W. Yenzer of Topeka, Kansas, whose machine repair and maintenance work for Talking Books garnered appreciation in the form of an entire day dedicated to the man. In September 1976, Sheila Merrell, the Kansas State Library Director of the Division for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, suggested Yenzer as a recipient for the Distinguished Kansan Award. She sent a letter to Kansas governor Robert F. Bennett, pointing to the many hours of work that Yenzer logged repairing hundreds of cassette machines, record players, and cassettes for the Talking Books program over the last 15 years. She explained how there was no way that the program “could exist without him.”1 On October 12th, Governor Bennett issued a proclamation that declared October 13th as “Herschel Yenzer Day,” in commendation for his “devotion to helping the blind and physically handicapped citizens of Kansas.”2
In 1960, Yenzer joined the Telephone Pioneers, “a group of veteran telephone employees who meet for fellowship and service.”3 He retired from the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in 1968, and was in charge of machine and cassette repair for Talking Books patrons in the north central and northeastern parts of the state. In one year alone, he had worked with “more than 700 record and cassette players and nearly 1,000 cassette tapes.”4 A 30-60 hour workweek added up to a total of 2,250 hours of repair work, free of charge. Yenzer also purchased many of his own testing supplies, which could be quite expensive, stating in an interview that it was easier to do so than filling out order for these supplies from the Library of Congress. He also spoke about some of the struggles he faced with repair and maintenance work, and how he and his clients sometimes overcame those challenges.5
In early October of that year, Yenzer received a letter of thanks from Frank Kurt Cylke, Chief of Division for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress, for his contributions to the program.6 Twenty-five Telephone Pioneers members, including Yenzer, were recognized at a special workshop and appreciation banquet in Great Bend, Kansas, on October 13th, 1976. Other members of the Topeka branch of Telephone Pioneers awarded at the ceremony included Dick Kasson and Howard D. Thomas.7 An article from the November 1976 issue of the Sunflower Chapter of the Pioneer newsletter states that, “At 70, Yenzer is practicing what he preaches and enjoying every minute of it.”8
1Sheila Merrell to Robert F. Bennett, The Honorable Robert F. Bennett, September 8, 1976.
2 Robert F. Bennett, Proclamation by the Governor, October 12, 1976.
3 Merle Bird, “Repairman for Talking Books works full-time at volunteer job,” Topeka State Journal, undated, sec. 4.
4 Pioneer: Sunflower Chapter, “Active life member ‘retired’ in name only,” November 29, 1976, 1.
5 Merle Bird, sec. 17-19.
6 Frank Kurt Cylke to H. W. Yenzer, October 8, 1976.
7 Topeka State Journal, “For work on Talking Books: Pioneers honor Topekans,” October 18, 1976, sec. 2.
8 Pioneer: Sunflower Chapter, 1.