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University archivist leaves long legacy at ASU


portrait of man sitting in front of carillon

Librarian Carl Cross is the keeper of ASU’s Symphonic Carillon, in the lower level of Old Main. Though he’s planning to retire after 51 years of service to the university, he’ll continue maintaining and tuning the bells until the next carillon caretaker comes forward.
Photo by: Charlie Leight/ASU News

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July 01, 2015

Editor's Note: An Independence Day concert of patriotic music, played on the ASU Symphonic Carillon, will be held from noon to 1 p.m. July 2 on the Tempe campus. Listen outside of the Memorial Union, on Old Main Lawn or at the carillon in the lower level of Old Main.

Carl Cross is in the midst of explaining his aversion to reading when outside, the ASU Symphonic Carillon begins to announce the hour with its distinctive, sentimental chiming. Cross’ eyes widen and a smile breaks across his face.

“That’s my carillon,” he whispers in an aside, and points south out the window of Hayden Library’s fourth floor, toward the speakers on the Memorial Union where the chiming emanates.

Cross will retire this August after 51 years with ASU Libraries. Through the ASU Foundation he plans to make a legacy gift, half of which is designated for the carillon, an instrument whose preservation and utilization he spends much of his time advocating for.

“That just floors people,” he continues, referring to his distaste for reading. Cross has eye issues that make reading extremely uncomfortable but, ironically, that never kept him away from the very place those instruments of personal torture are housed.

It’s the “detail work” of running a library that Cross loves.

“I’m very OCD, if you want to put it that way. I love the very critical things that we have to do. People outside of technical services have no idea of the amount of rules that limit how everything is created, how it becomes available to everybody and to our database,” he said.

Unlike many people, Cross was fortunate enough to discover his life’s passion at a very early age when he took over for the school librarian for a few days after she broke her ankle. He was only in seventh grade at the time, but the librarian was so impressed that when Cross moved on to Tempe High School she wrote a letter to the librarian there recommending him as a student worker.

“I was the only freshmen who had ever worked in the high school library. And I so impressed them that they had me run the library all four summers of my high school years,” Cross said.

Also during those years, Cross watched as Gammage Auditorium, less than a mile north of Tempe High, manifested on the southwest corner of ASU’s Tempe campus.

“Watching that rise from the ground was really something,” Cross said.

Later, when Cross became a freshmen at ASU, his class’ orientation was the first official gathering in the newly built auditorium, even before the inaugural concert. Having taken part in musical-theater productions during high school, Cross’ appreciation for the performing-arts center was a given.

“From that day on, I became a supporter of Gammage,” said Cross, who went on to work in the box office and was later appointed to the university’s performing-arts board. The other half of Cross’ legacy gift will go to his beloved Gammage Auditorium.

As an ASU student, Cross studied English education with a library-science minor. He took a job with ASU Libraries as a student assistant and became a full-time staff member when he graduated in June 1969.

Among several projects Cross contributed to during his time with ASU Libraries is one he is especially proud of: establishing the university archives. Cross and others worked to compile hundreds of years of records, information and artifacts from all over the university into a comprehensive historical archive of ASU.

It was while perusing those archives that Cross’ colleague Judith Smith came upon some information about the carillon, which was donated to ASU in 1966 by Associated Students as a memorial to those in the ASU community who gave their lives in service to their country. After some digging, Smith discovered that although it had originally been installed in Matthews Hall, it had disappeared during renovations.

The carillon was eventually rediscovered in a storeroom in the Matthews Center, and together with Smith, Cross co-founded the ASU Carillon Society in 2002 to raise funds to refurbish the instrument. It now has a home at Old Main, where its music is broadcast daily.

“It’s been in storage more years than it’s been played. And we hope to remedy that,” Cross said.

One of the ways he is working to do that is by promoting various events that feature the carillon, such as the upcoming Independence Day concert of patriotic music from noon to 1 p.m. July 2. The concert is open to the public, and attendees are encouraged to enjoy the concert near the Memorial Union or on Old Main Lawn (which features a second set of speakers that broadcast the carillon’s music). The concert will be performed by ASU carillonneurs William Swayze and Kevin Snow.

Every day since its re-installation, Cross has listened from his office in Hayden Library for the carillon’s hourly chimes, a watchful guardian of the bells. With his impending retirement, he wonders who will be willing to take up that post.

However, Cross does have plans to remain active in the ASU Carillon Society, as well as the Gammage community. In the spring of next year, he will begin his tenure as the secretary of the executive board for the Arizona Association of Manufactured Home Owners and plans to also continue his work as a worship leader for his mobile park community’s church. 

“It’s neat cleaning up all these things as I’m leaving,” Cross said of packing up his office. “You realize how much you’ve contributed. ... The contributions to the online catalogs, to the national databases, that’s all there for perpetuity. … It’s a very different feeling to create stuff that you know is going to be there to aid research and development for years to come.”

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