Department of Homage: Wendy Koble and Volunteer Transcribers

By Janice Dilg

Our initial email exchange occurred in December 2011. On February 20, 2018, my email inbox contained a missive from Wendy Koble with a subject line of “Judge Lent Finished!!”. Wendy Koble is the Judicial Assistant to Senior Judge Owen M. Panner, a post she’s held for six years. Before that she worked in the James A. Redden Courthouse clerk’s office from 1997-2009 until her retirement. Claiming to have “flunked retirement,” she welcomed the opportunity to return to the courthouse as Judge Panner’s JA in 2011. Judge Panner’s previous JA, Margaret Hunt, had created a digital word document from the paper-only version of Judge John Kilkenny’s oral history transcript, and since she had found it interesting work she suggested Wendy might enjoy doing some transcription for the oral history project. Hence, Wendy’s fateful email of 2011 offering her transcription services.  We settled on her working on the oral history of former Oregon Supreme Court justice and state legislator Berkeley “Bud” Lent (1921-2007).

Oregon Supreme Court Justices, 1983. From bottom of stairs: Chief Justice Edwin Peterson, former Chief Justice Berkeley Lent, Justice Hans Linde, Justice J.R. Campbell, Justice Betty Roberts, Justice Wallace Carson, and Justice Robert E. Jones. Photo courtesy of Judge Jones.

Transcription takes concentration and diligence to accomplish, and one hour of recording can take three to four hours of transcription time.  Wendy worked on batches of five or six tapes at a time. Lent used a fair amount of slang, according to Wendy, and his stories needed a lot of punctuation, especially quotation marks. This slowed the transcription process considerably. Over the years, Wendy would let me know she had one set of tapes transcribed, then share the transcript. With each completed set of transcripts I expected (and feared) Wendy would graciously decline to continue, but she always asked for the next batch of recordings. Only once around Tape 18 did she allude to some weariness and wonder what Lent might still have left to tell about his legal career.  Still, Koble notes that even though she has worked in the judicial system a long time “I’ve learned a lot about the court system transcribing Judge Lent’s oral history.” And, when she didn’t know the people Lent was referring to in his interviews, Judge Panner “knew everyone.”

In that February email that held the last of Lent’s transcript (which covered 22 cassette tapes), Wendy stated: “At the moment, I’m not ‘up’ for any more transcription.” But by the next morning there was another email in my inbox indicatinging that after sleeping on it, Wendy had decided that that she was “open to transcribing some more,” with the caveat that it be  “one that isn’t quite so long.” Wendy is now reviewing a succinct four-hour oral history of a former Oregon assistant attorney general and senior attorney for Multnomah County Legal Aid.

MUCH older transcription equipment. 1897 illustration of a typist transcribing dictation using an early wax cylinder. Wikimedia Commons

There are a few outstanding lengthy oral histories waiting to be transcribed: Roger Martin (1935- ) legislator, gubernatorial candidate, and lobbyist—11 cassette tapes;  John Dellenback (1918-2002), attorney, legislator, four-term Oregon congressman, and Peace Corps director—19 cassette tapes; Robert Duncan (1920-2011), attorney, legislator, and seven-term Oregon congressman—31 cassette tapes; Lee Johnson (1930-2009) attorney, legislator, Oregon Attorney General, and circuit court judge—21 cassette tapes, five of which have been transcribed by volunteers at Dunn Carney; and Hans Linde (1924-  ) attorney, US Supreme Court law clerk, law professor, and Oregon Supreme Court Justice (45-51 cassette tapes, sources have conflicting numbers). Tapes 5-8 and 12-35 have been transcribed. Twelve tapes were completed by staff of Justice Paul De J. Muniz, and three tapes were transcribed by staff at the Coquille Indian Tribal offices. While these interviews list cassette tapes, and that is the format Wendy transcribed from, the oral history interviews have been born digital since 2006, and the Oregon Historical Society will digitize tapes for transcribers.

If you, or someone you know, would like to provide some volunteer transcribing, please contact the USDCHS Oral History Committee chair, Joe Carlisle at jwc@buckley-law.com. And if you have questions, maybe you should talk to Wendy.