Before the sun rises, Russ Marty can usually be found camped out at Steele High School with coffee in hand.
You might find him around 5:30 a.m., cataloging decades-old class rings, digitizing film reels from Amherst proms of yesteryear, or framing vinyl records of Steele choir performances from the 1960s.
Marty has been painstakingly transforming the old Comet Corner spirit store, which closed in 2015, into a shrine to the school district’s past.
“The office is getting close to mini-museum status,” he joked recently, showing us around.
There are varsity sweaters and jackets hanging along the walls. Alumni have donated patches, old News-Times editions, baseball gloves long blackened by age, and old campaign literature pitching construction of the Comets football stadium next to Powers Elementary, where planners once envisioned it being built.
Shelves are filled with medicine balls, footballs, trophies, small chalkboards, and hats. The walls are covered with photos and even a section of floor cut from the Central School gymnasium.
The oldest item in the collection is school namesake Fred Powers report card from 1895, long before he became principal.
Marty, a special education teacher by day, is the district’s official historian outside of work hours. It’s a volunteer position but one he takes very seriously.
This winter, he registered his ongoing project as a nonprofit organization with the state. That’s allowed Marty to collect more than $2,000 in donations, all of which is used to purchase equipment and display materials.
“I thought people would be interested in this, but I had no idea. The outpouring has been unreal,” he said.
The local history collection is growing rapidly. Many items, including about 150 editions of yearbooks from elementary to high school, can be found at www.amhersthistory.com.
As Amherst prepares to build a new school — the PK-3 Powers Elementary on North Lake Street — and tear down the old Powers, Harris, and Shupe buildings, Marty plans to preserve key items to remember each defunct school. He already has the Shupe dedication plaque hanging in his museum.
There are some elusive items on his wish list.
Marty said he would love to find video footage of his father, Charlie, playing basketball for the Comets in the early 1970s. And he’d consider any audio or video recordings of Fred Powers or Marion Steele to be treasures, especially any insights they might share into education or the city of Amherst.
Any 8mm or 16mm film is welcome, he said.
To volunteer information or items, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To contribute money to the research effort, visit www.gofundme.com/aevsdhistory.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.