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Olen Burkholder Looks Back
by Jeff Clark


Olen BurkholderApril 1st will arrive before we know it--but there will be no fooling around in one major respect: Olen Burkholder, a linchpin and mainstay of media services at JMU for 30 years, will officially retire at that time.

Not all of his 30 years, of course, has been under the current Media Resources department.  First, Olen recalls, the department was “the Instructional  Media Center, which split off from the Television Production Center and began to operate as AV Services.”


How did Mr. Burkholder come to that department, so many years ago? 


He remembers…. “After graduating from Blue Ridge Community College, I worked for a short time for a full service TV & appliance dealer in Harrisonburg doing mostly low level stuff like deliveries and TV antenna installations.    I was anxious to work doing real TV repairs and was rather impatient about paying my dues doing grunt work and was dreaming about having my own TV service business.   

“About that time, I learned that there was an opening for an electronics lab technician in the very program that I had just graduated from at Blue Ridge Community College.  So I applied at BRCC and was hired.  

“In that job I developed professional relationships with the Madison College TV Production Center engineers, Dick Hollar and Berlin Zirk.  Judy Hinegardner, now with Media Resources, used to be their department secretary.

“On a job lead from a staffer at Electrical Wholesalers (where I bought parts for BRCC), I called Dick Hollar on my CB radio when I happened to be following him home!  He confirmed that the Instructional Media Center (which at that that time was part of his department) was interested in hiring someone to repair AV equipment.”


But a year passed before the job materialized. Then… “One day, out of the blue, I received a call from the Dean of the Library, Dr. Mary Haban, about working at Madison College. She had my employment application and wanted to know if I was interested in an interview. 

“I was offered the job and learned that I would be starting from scratch and that there were few tools or equipment in place.   I asked at the interview if I could see where I would be working and what I would be working with.  I was led to a small room in Keezell hall that contained a small workbench, an assortment of broken 16mm projectors and tape recorders and a tool set that consisted of a small cheap set of screwdrivers!

“I responded to the offer by saying that my acceptance would be contingent on my being funded to furnish the shop to the degree that I felt would be necessary.   They then asked me to submit my equipment list with prices which were then endorsed by Dick and Berlin.  They confirmed the offer and all the equipment I wanted was ordered my first day on the job.”

From its tiny office in Keezel Hall, AV Services moved about two years later to Carrier Library and became Media Resources.  Olen’s original job title was Lab Mechanic.   “My work was almost exclusively  bench repairs, mostly 16mm  projectors and Kodak slide projectors as that was the most heavily used technology.   At about that time, we started to acquire a number of 1/2 inch  EIAJ format reel-to-reel videotape recording systems.   These became a popular format.”


“Lab Mechanic” was succeeded in the Commonwealth classification scheme by “Laboratory Instrument Maker.”  It has an odd ring these days, with the huge expansion of technology in our campus classrooms and its convergence with networked computing. It was not until the close of 2001 that Olen’s position, and those of the increasing number of classroom technicians he came to supervise, were reclassified with the more apt “Information Technology Specialist.”

Olen Burkholder and staff
Media Resources staff don fake glasses and noses in homage to Olen at his retirement party on Jan. 30. From left to right:  Jeff Clark, Kevin Pitchford, Jeff Roadcap, O.C. Siron, Judy Hinegardner, Olen Burkholder, Patti Williams, Bryan Dewitt, Jackie Woolf, Jim West.  Kneeling: Vince Drumheller.

By 2001, Media Resources was well on the way to establishing what is now the “technology classroom” or “TC.”  Olen’s dedication to its development in a way that truly meets the changing needs of faculty on campus has been constant.  As lead media technician, he pioneered the teaching console design.

Since Olen has seen so much in his years at JMU, I asked him to think about key changes in the use of instructional technology in our campus classrooms. He considers the following developments to be important.


The advent of the VCR and its effect on our services:  “These units gradually made there way into classrooms at JMU, first as 35-lb 'portable' recorders.    The cost of the early VCRs (about $1000) and the  competitive war between VHS and Beta formats tended to slow implementation in classrooms at JMU.  Another factor that tended to slow implementation was the fact that budgets for technology were not centralized and coordinated very much.   My role for the most part was to provide repair services for our small pool of equipment and equipment inventories held by various departments around the campus.  While I did what I could to coordinate the consistency and availability of technology, there tended to be "technology empires.”

The rise of personal computers: “This was not technology that we encountered much as a presentation tool in the early years but it did prompt the purchase of early video/data projectors.   These projectors were interesting but difficult to work with, considering the ‘portable’ mode that our operations were based on and the fact that these units were bulky and required at least an hour of critical tuning each time they were set up!  So we tended to use the early projectors primarily for special setups and events.

The other downside for us was that adequate budget for non-computer technology seemed to be lacking.   In addition, it took a long time for our role in the convergence of IT and AV to develop.”

The advent of the truly integrated, centrally supported “teaching system”:  “In the early 1990s, Media Resources did get the resources to develop a few tech classrooms in Duke and in Harrison and Godwin Halls, which were fully integrated with custom designed furniture and control systems that were intuitive and easy to use. These systems were about four times as expensive to develop as our current TCs are.  Our design was very successful as all but one of those systems are still in use today, virtually unchanged from the original design concept.     

“In the mid 1990s many departments were still committed  to 'rolling their own' tech classrooms, rather than relying on a central service like Media Resources.   When SCHEV started using the Equipment Trust Fund (ETF)to fund technology, ETF was targeted to specific academic disciplines and excluded central services such as Media Resources.  So departments were able to buy a lot of equipment that proved beyond their management capability.

“Once the novelty wore off, and the obvious advantages of centrally managed classrooms became apparent, it seemed like Media Resources was valued more.  Users seemed to really like the integrated systems that we had successfully implemented a few years before.   A major step forward occurred when we were finally able to standardize all of the classroom TCs and to develop the cooperative support relationship that we now have with the Lab Services administration group in IT.  The cost of the technology dropped dramatically and simple, low cost control system options made it possible to do much more with much less.   To have all of the classrooms operate with a common look and feel, with controls that were obvious and easy to understand, made a dramatic difference in the comfort level of users as well as in the demands on support staff.”

Olen Burkholder--now a long way from repairing TVs and the like--has left an imprint on classroom instructional technology that will remain at JMU for a long time to come. His co-workers in Media Resources feel this so strongly that they put it permanently into these words: “ In honor of Olen D. Burkholder for 30 years of innovative service in James Madison University’s Media Resources. The teaching technology in this room was designed and realized under his guidance. His admiring colleagues and friends will endeavor to keep the standard he set, here and everywhere at JMU, for the benefit of all faculty and students”. You can find them on a plaque in the Media Center tech classroom (Carrier Library 16A).


And these days you can find the “retired” Olen Burkholder in his new business venture, Integrity Audio Systems.  This two-partner local company specializes in church sound and video installations, as well as AV presentation systems for conference rooms, schools and occasional outdoor facilities.


What could be more fitting for a man of Olen Burkholder’s unique experience and talents?

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