The first roundtable I ever spoke to was a great little group based at the California University of Pennsylvania. I wound through the mountains of southwest PA, following parts of the old National Road (with a side stop at Fort Necessity for the first time!), until I finally reached the small town of California on the banks of the Monongahela River. My co-conspirator, Kris White, was an alum of the university, which he called “The Harvard on the Mon.” Walt Klorczyk, genial and hospitable, brought me to Cal U to talk about “The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson.” He brought me back last year to give the same talk again.
I’m a nostalgist, and as the common saying goes, “You always remember your first,” so I’ve always thought fondly of the Cal U Civil War Roundtable. I’ve made friends there, too, like ECW fans John and Char Stanley.
So, imagine my shock this week when I learned that the roundtable has shuttered its doors forever.
“I’m sorry to say that our roundtable is permanently closed,” Walt told me when I emailed him to ask if the news was true. “Due to the virus, the university has closed all activities on campus. Our roundtable is on campus, and we are funded by the university’s history department, which has been reorganized, leaving us unfunded.” With all the future uncertainties, he added, “the university decided to call it quits.”
Founded in September of 2006, the Cal U CWRT had a strong 13-year run. “It has been a great experience running the roundtable and getting to know great Civil War speakers,” Walt admitted.
The Cal U roundtable’s circumstances might’ve been unique because of their university affiliation—but maybe not. In this strange time of COVID-19, a lot of roundtables are facing unique pressures. Many are trying all sorts of things to adapt; some are making it work, others are struggling.
The Civil War Roundtable Congress has been working to help roundtables, particularly those that are having trouble. They have a ton of resources, they offer peer mentoring and guidance on best-practices, and they’ve been gathering a lot of information so roundtables can make data-driven decisions. All roundtables are different, but a lot of them still face the same challenges—the CWRT Congress wants to help. (Visit their website for more info).
I want to give a shout-out to Walt Klorczyk for the great work he did bringing the story of the Civil War to southwest PA. He put in a lot of effort for a long time, and I really respect what he did for that community.
“I will miss seeing and talking to all the speakers that came to our roundtable,” he told me. “But we will always remember and cherish the memories and the great speakers and the people that attended the roundtable.”