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Ryan Johnson, Published September 25 2012

Couple donate vintage clothing to NDSU historic costume collection

FARGO – The historic costume collection at North Dakota State University is bursting at the seams after a husband and wife donated about 300 pieces of vintage clothing to their alma mater.

The donation, honored with a ceremony and reception Tuesday afternoon, is just a fraction of the 5,000 or so dresses, poodle skirts, shoes, purses and fashion books that Bill and Priscilla Stark collected over the decades.

Virginia Clark Johnson, dean of the College of Human Development and Education, said the Stark donation represented a carefully selected group of items that would help fill some of the “gaps” of NDSU’s Emily P. Reynolds Historic Costume Collection, which is housed in a small space in the Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Family Life Center.

Ann Braaten, an assistant professor and curator of the costume collection, said Monday night “was like Christmas” as they unpacked the vintage treasures from the 1800s to the 1970s, including a ballgown from Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration and a 1930s wool baseball uniform.

The donation was arranged when Jill Duckett, the daughter of William and Priscilla Stark, called NDSU this summer to say her mother had passed away in March in Arizona. Duckett ended up with the bulk of the collection that Priscilla used for 26 years in vintage style shows for her company, The Way We Wear, in Illinois and Arizona.

The Starks met on the NDSU campus, marrying in 1948 and earning bachelor’s degrees in 1949. They eventually moved to the Rockford, Ill., area, where they worked in education.

Duckett said her mother hated history in high school. But she said while Priscilla was earning a master’s degree in textiles and clothing in Wyoming, she discovered it was the “dryness” of history textbooks that she disliked, not the topic of history itself.

She said Priscilla wanted to give the high school students she taught a different experience than what every girl at the time did, which was making the same jumper for their class. So, she bought some vintage clothing and organized a fashion show, and she was hooked.

Over the years, Duckett said her parents traveled to flea markets, estate sales and antique stores, snatching up everything from lingerie and vintage fashion books from the 1800s to paper dresses and go-go boots from the 1960s.

She said after her mother died, it made sense that some of the collection would go to the university where her parents had met and started their higher education.

Her father, Bill Stark, was at Tuesday’s celebration, holding back tears while wearing a big grin as NDSU faculty members and community members admired the newest additions to the costume collection.

Holly Bastow-Shoop, head of the Department of Apparel, Design and Hospitality Management that oversees NDSU’s collection, told Stark the donation will serve two purposes.

“It memorializes what your wife, Pat, did, as well as your unbelievable willingness to go along with a hobby like this,” she said.

Duckett said her father’s donation to NDSU represented not only vintage clothing and books, but her parents’ “lifetime work” of research.

“They’re teachers at heart, and in Mom’s passing, she and Dad are still teaching,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587