If a picture is worth a thousand words, a photo recently acquired by the Illinois College of Optometry may be considered priceless. Through the generosity and persistence of a collector in northern California, ICO is now in possession of a Class of 1913 photo composite. It’s the college’s oldest composite that is in one piece, and the second oldest overall.
Alan Goodsell, 69, of North Highlands, Calif., happened upon the composite photo in June at Deseret Industries in Sacramento. “We weren’t looking for anything in particular,” he says. While rummaging through bedframes, paintings, portraits, and other oddities, he discovered the item in the backyard of the thrift store.
Goodsell enjoys antiquing with his wife, Mary Hutchins, 70. “We’re retired and shop there a couple of times a week,” he says. “You never know what you’re going to find. We like to go look for odds and ends, and usually end up with inexpensive clothes or toys for the grandkids.”
Prior to retirement, Goodsell was an assistant manager of a care home, working with the visually and hearing impaired. Hutchins retired from the grocery business. The collecting couple enjoys watching American Pickers, the History Channel’s reality TV series about two Midwestern pickers who travel across America in search of rare artifacts. Goodsell and Hutchins prefer to stay close to home when shopping for unique objects.
Other than ICO, Goodsell and Hutchins haven’t reunited other people or institutions with treasured items, but they have acquired an eclectic personal collection. Among the array of goods: a 1970s-era Bernhardt Flair chair they attained for $50 but estimate is worth around $450, old Indian lamps, vintage cast iron toy cars, records, and an extensive Vera Bradley purse collection.
Though Goodsell and Hutchins are not optometrists and don’t otherwise have a connection to optometry, the class composite photo’s age and good condition intrigued them enough to purchase it for $3. “We didn’t really need it, but we knew somebody would want it,” Goodsell says. “I thought it was worth saving. It’s 104 years old and looks in good shape. We thought the $3 picture was a good investment.”
Adrian Saverimuttu, store manager at Deseret Industries, says the donation- like most items the store receives- was anonymous. Housed in a 21.5”x 8.5” glass frame, the photo shows students and faculty- 60 men, 10 women- of the then-Northern Illinois College of Ophthalmology and Otology (NICOO). ICO was formerly NICOO, from 1891-1926. As the result of a merger with the Needles Institute of Optometry, NICOO became the Northern Illinois College of Optometry in 1926. In 1955, the college merged again, this time with the Chicago College of Optometry. Thus, it was renamed Illinois College of Optometry.
In an effort to find the photo’s rightful owner, Goodsell and Hutchins began with their local community college, American River College in North Highlands. Though the college no longer offers optometry courses, it recommended contacting ICO. The rest, as they say, is history.
Both Goodsell and Hutchins were shocked to learn about the significance of the photo, and thrilled to reunite ICO, the oldest optometry school in the nation, with this piece of history.
“We were just tickled to find out [the photo] was that old and came from a school of that stature,” Hutchins says. “It’s like sending a piece of history home. Now it’s part of their archives. It’s where it belongs.”
Saverimuttu, who has been managing the thrift store’s donation center for six years, agrees. “I’m sure glad that people are willing to do this kind of research,” he says. “It’s a happy ending.”
Heather Swink, CAE, M.A., is a freelance writer, editor, and content adviser. Follow @HeatherSwink, connect on LinkedIn, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.