Growing up in Philadelphia, Paul Levengood was immersed in history from an early age. But it didn't stick until he carved his initials into a tree.
The Levengood family lived in an 18th-century farmhouse just outside the city, and there was a 300-year-old beech tree just outside Paul's bedroom window.
“Around the base of the beech tree, every kid that lived in the house from the 19th century up had carved their initials,” he says. “It was amazing.”
The tree left its imprint on Levengood. He went on to Rice University and earned a doctorate in history, then landed a job with the Virginia Historical Society, where's he spent the last eight years, and will take over as president and chief executive in November.
His impact on the historical society will be on display Nov. 10, when WCVE airs “Witness to a Century,” an oral history he directed featuring interviews with a dozen people older than 100. They submitted firsthand accounts of segregation, the Great Depression, the great flu epidemic.
Levengood, who's also an author, tries to instill that same sense and wonder of history in his own three children — daughters, 5 and 10, and a son, 8.
A couple of years ago he went back to the old farmhouse, and his heart sank as he pulled onto his old street and didn't see the sprawling branches.
The beech tree was gone, but the initials were still there.
“They left the bottom 10 feet of the tree,” he says. “It was just kind of a great way of keeping that tradition in place.”