Centennial - Looking Back
My good friend Tom Allee brought background information on Poland for my story for the Michener Society newsletter and also brought a book written by Michener titled “About Centennial,” which gave wonderful background on his inspiration to write it as well as how it should be written. Tom also loaned me the book authored by Michener’s close friend John Kings called “In Search of Centennial.” I had just finished a story about Michener, Musial, and Poland, for the newsletter and in a casual moment I glanced through them and was amazed that it was in 1970, 40 years ago that Michener began researching for his manuscript that was later titled “Centennial.” It’s hard to comprehend that time span, but after pause and reflection, I was aroused to go back to that time period in Colorado’s state history which had such a deep impact on the state’s citizens and in particular, on myself.
Michener, in one morning in 1970, did a complete outline for his new novel, “Centennial.” Michener had been having meetings with the Colorado Centennial Commission which had, as its focus, his novel as the centerpiece of the state’s 100th anniversary, coinciding with the nation’s Bicentennial celebration. His characters had been clearly identified in his mind, and his desire to write this story goes back to his years in the late thirties when he taught at Colorado State College, later to be given university status as the University of Northern Colorado. The school would later house the James A. Michener Library, dedicated in 1972.
One can only reflect in total awe as to his exhaustive research, covering our great state and the Rocky Mountain area, and compiling such an exceptional piece of literature that thrilled us all in Colorado and indeed the world. But this is not about the novel and its huge success. Rather it is about how the publication itself did more than bring pleasure to the millions of readers; it is about how it was the major impetus to the successful celebration of Colorado, and the impact it had on my life.
I was appointed as the Director of Marketing for the Commission and you can imagine the euphoria of knowing that I would have the opportunity to raise the funds to restore and create new monumental buildings, and other items of interest in the state. My budget was limited, so without the interest Michener’s novel had created it would have been much more difficult to raise the monies so desperately desired by the communities for their favorite projects.
The state’s celebration was a huge success and I will always feel that the task of raising the capital is largely attributed to “Centennial.” I have looked through many documents trying to determine if Michener ever had the time to see the restoration of so many historical places he mentioned in his book. I would have loved taking him to Bent’s Fort close to Pueblo, the Centennial Village in Greeley and so many others. I have pictured in my mind how excited it would be for me to show him each place and how his work was more than just a novel, but an exercise that gave our state a momentous time to rejoice in our place as a state in such a great nation. I was proud to join other government and library dignitaries when I went to the 25th anniversary of the Michener Library. I, like others, was so disappointed that his health did not allow him to speak to us via electronic hookup from his home in Austin where he succumbed to his illness several days later. His inspiration led me to write five novels as well as serving on the Advisory Board of the Michener Library and on the Board of Directors of the James A. Michener Society. Seldom does one get an opportunity to give something back to the land he calls home as I did in serving on the Commission, and we will always be grateful that this teacher and literary lion gave our state and its citizens a special moment in time.