A 31-year Havre High School history teacher continues to add to knowledge at the high school, outside of his returning from retirement to substitute teach.
Jim Magera, who started teaching at Havre High in 1981 and retired in the spring of 2012, has donated between 1,500 and 2,000 — possibly more — books from his extensive collection, which he started acquiring as a youth close to 60 years ago.
Magera said donating the books wasn’t an easy decision — “It’s kind of tough to get rid of your children” — but he wants people to be able to access the knowledge in the books.
“This is my way of paying back the public and my students for the 45 years I’ve enjoyed in teaching,” he said. “If I left those at home, nobody would have access to them, but now they will, and with the inter-library loan … it will even go further.”
Katherine Holt, librarian at Havre High School, said the Magera Collection of books especially on American Indian culture and Montana history, already was a significant resource. The additional books make it even more, she said.
“These two collections, especially our American Indian collection but also our Montana collection, become almost destination collections,” she said. “To have this quantity of books and this breadth of information held within a single location is really very phenomenal. … It’s very, very significant.”
Havre High School Principal Craig Mueller, who started in Havre last fall, the school year after Magera’s retirement, said he has been impressed with Magera’s knowledge and willingness to share it, including the book donation.
“To make that available for us is just amazing,” Mueller said.
He said Magera’s returning to Havre as a substitute teacher, often coming in three or four times a week, also adds a “phenomenal” resource to the high school, both for the history faculty and for the students. Mueller said Magera is working with the teachers who have taken over his signature Havre High classes, as a teacher-mentor.
“It’s great to see him around the building now,” Mueller said. “It’s great to see kids. Their faces light up when they see him.”
Holt said that, to her knowledge, the collection is unique, both in size and in what books it holds.
“We are adding a lot of books to the collection that no other library in Montana has,” she said. “I would say that this collection, based on everything I see as I catalog the books, it’s definitely rivaling anything out there.”
She said that is especially true for the American Indian collection, including that it is designated as a specific collection. Most libraries integrate their books on American Indian culture and history into other collections, Holt said. The number of, and titles of, the books in that collection also makes it unique.
“Based on what I have seen, I would be very surprised if there’s another library that has quite this breadth that we have on multiple tribes, and not just Montana tribes,” she said.
The Magera Collection also holds, and now will hold more, books on Canadian history and more general topics as well.
Magera said some of the books are rather rare, limited-edition prints by obscure printing companies, and many are out of print.
Holt echoed Magera about the books being open to the public. As part of the Montana shared library collection, Havre High School books are available to anyone with a Havre-Hill County Library card — and to any library’s user. They also are available through inter-library loan.
“These are resources intended for the community and for the state, really,” Holt said. “This is really a research collection as much as anything, now.”
Magera said he always has been interested in history and in reading — he reads a half-hour or so every day, a chapter in a book — and it combined with his desire to work with students to lead to his career in teaching history.
He said he originally became a teacher because he wanted to coach high school athletics, and that meant he had to be a teacher. He tied that to history and culture early, starting an American Indian culture class in Box Elder in 1967, long before that was a common practice.
He started as a physical education teacher and a coach in Havre in 1981.
“Coaching got me the job, and I taught P.E. until I eventually could work into the history department. That was my real love,” he said.
That love — which was always an interest of his — developed after he started teaching to enable him to coach.
“I’ve always had a real interest in history, so I majored in history, and I found out eventually that history was more important to me than the coaching was,” Magera said.
He said he was truly blessed, being able to teach history for 45 years.
“It’s kind of nice when you can teach your hobby,” he said.
The knowledge he gained from the thousands of books — “The neat thing is, I read them all” — were utilized in the content of his classes, Magera said.
“Each one of those books is so important to me,” he said. “I gained knowledge from every one of them in some aspect.”
He said he decided to donate the books so that someone could use them, because although he reads every day, there is no way he could read all of them again.
He has kept some of his favorite collections, some special books such as ones autographed by the authors and his 150-volume Lewis and Clark expedition collection, his collection on Civil War and World War II, some local history works and one of his personal passions, more than 200 volumes about the Nez Perce Tribe. Magera also has worked as a part-time ranger at Bear Paw Battlefield, where Chief Joseph the Younger surrendered to the U.S. Cavalry after the tribe’s attempt to flee to Canada .
For now, at least, Magera is keeping those collections.
“But those will probably go there some day, when I decide I don’t need them any more,” he said.