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A part of history
'Sandy' Temple marks 35th anniversary at Old State Capitol

Sunderine "Sandy" Temple used to dislike history.

But after 35 years of working as an interpreter at the Old State Capitol, and 25 years of being married to a Lincoln scholar, she's learned to appreciate it.

Today, the 68-year-old thrives in all that fills the building's rooms and halls.

"To be doing the same thing or to be consumed with this type of work, you have to love what you are doing," said Charlotte Oglesby, who has worked with Temple as an interpreter since 1987.

Temple celebrated her 35th anniversary at the historic site Friday. She is the only remaining interpreter who worked there the first year after it reopened in late 1969.

Temple says she still remembers how she felt on her first day of work.

"I was terrified," she said. "I had never been an interpreter before."

She planned to stick around for just five years. But five became eight, and then 10. The years kept passing, yet she never left.

"After all that many years, it becomes a part of you," she said. "I like people. I enjoy talking to people, and this is a wonderful building for that."

When Temple began her job on Feb. 4, 1970, the site had been open for two-and-a-half months. Because she had missed the two weeks of training the rest of the tour guides had received, she simply was handed two brochures and told to read up.

"They put me in the state library and I was supposed to interpret it, and I knew nothing about it," she said.

She quickly learned about the room - home to Illinois' first state library, in which Abraham Lincoln was the first to check out a book - from the 22 other interpreters on site.

In those days, the site was bustling with activity. Buses lined up along Fifth Street as tourists waited to view the building, and the staff was well equipped to handle the masses."There were 23 interpreters at that time," Temple said. "We had one in each room. And, of course, over the years they've left, and we haven't replaced them. We're down to five now."

And those five interpreters have their hands full. Not only do they provide impromptu tours of the building, they also are each assigned to clean a handful of rooms, as well as other tasks.

As site interpreter coordinator, it's up to Temple to schedule interpreters and volunteers. One of the more interesting aspects of her job is maintaining the wardrobe of period clothing, which is used by the Old Capitol Chorale singers and for the site's productions of "Mr. Lincoln's World."

The costume she often wears - to portray Mary Brayman, whose husband served as solicitor for the Illinois Central Railroad, in "Mr. Lincoln's World" - is an original 1851 pattern that was used as the model for Mary Todd Lincoln's dress in the "Springfield's Lincoln" statue on the Old Capitol Plaza. Temple posed in the dress for pictures that were sent to the artist.

There have been other perks to the job as well. Because of the building's significance, it has attracted some famous tourists, including Lady Bird Johnson, President Nixon and actor James Arness.

"We've just had (tourists) from all over the world," she said.

Thirty-five years on the job has made Temple somewhat of a Lincoln scholar herself. She even co-wrote a book called "Illinois' Fifth Capitol" with her husband, Wayne Temple, whose most recent work is about Lincoln's eating habits.

She also takes the initiative to research facts about Lincoln and the building so she can answer questions that come up during tours, according to site manager Justin Blandford. It's a characteristic he greatly admires.

"I think anyone who brings her level of expertise and professionalism to the job is always a valuable asset," Blandford said. "Every day is a treat when you get to work with somebody like Sandy."

But what he most admires about Temple is the example she sets for others - especially the students who tour the facility.

"She has the opportunity to shape their thoughts about history," Blandford said. "It's a job she takes very seriously."

Kelsea Gurski can be reached at 788-1526 or kelsea.gurski@sj-r.com.


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