Tribute to Dr. Verlon L. Stone, 1944-2023

The late Dr. Verlon L. Stone

.... Born in Iowa, he married his high school sweetheart, Ruth Marie (Spehr) Stone in 1965, and they have journeyed together as she became a noted Indiana University professor of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, and he an Indiana University Ph.D. in Instructional Technology, Anthropology and African Studies. 

By  D. Elwood Dunn

I join a host of friends and colleagues in Liberia and around the world in extending condolences to the family of Dr. Verlon Lloyd Stone who passed away suddenly on May 30.  

Stone was a great American friend of Liberia and the father of the Liberian Collections Project (LCP) at Indiana University. LCP is an archive for the preservation of an important part of Liberia’s historical and cultural heritage.

Born in Iowa, he married his high school sweetheart, Ruth Marie (Spehr) Stone in 1965, and they have journeyed together as she became a noted Indiana University professor of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, and he an Indiana University Ph.D. in Instructional Technology, Anthropology and African Studies. 

Following a varied career which included working in Saudi Arabia with Saudi Aramco, he retired to his home in Bloomington in 2001 to pursue his passion which would last to the end of his life. 

He came to hold the following positions: Special Advisor for the IU Liberian Collections/African Studies Collections, Head of the IU Liberian Collections for more than a decade, and Consultant/Advisor of the Liberian Centre for National Documents and Records Agency (CNDRA/National Archives). Between December 2009 and January 2012, Verlon Stone supervised a World Bank-funded project to establish the Liberian Archive’s Digital Scanning Center in Monrovia.

I first met Verlon through the Liberian Studies Association (LSA) in the 1980s. Alongside engagement with the mundane activities of LSA and its journal, the Liberian Studies Journal, Verlon and I found mutual passion in the preservation of Liberia’s cultural and historical heritage.

Already a major center of African Studies in the U.S., Indiana University was developing a significant repository on African Studies, including Liberia. But it was Liberia’s immediate post-civil war needs that provided the impetus for my collaborative engagement with Verlon Stone. 

We visited Liberia shortly after Charles Gyude Bryant was installed as interim leader of a war-weary country. My eyes were on the papers of former President Tubman, papers I had the opportunity to view and work with briefly in late 1980. I was anxious to know whether they had survived the 14 years of war. 

But there was also interest in the National Archives, as there were horror stories that this national treasure had been trashed. So, our focus on the first trip were the Tubman papers and the National Archives. In time, a number of other prominent citizens’ papers came to our attention. 

They included the papers of Episcopal Church Bishop George D. Browne (which we facilitated on behalf of the Archives of the Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas), cultural icon Bai T. Moore, former Minister of State and True Whig Party Chairman E. Reginald Townsend, and his spouse Evelyn Townsend, and A. Romeo Horton of African Development Bank fame. We also unsuccessfully pursued the papers in Dallas, Texas of former Supreme Court Justice and Ambassador Angie Brooks Randolph. 

Verlon and I felt that we were on a mission for rescuing and preserving priceless Liberian records. We were able to accomplish three things. With the consent and support of the concerned families, we acquired and shipped to Indiana University for professional cleaning and digitizing the papers of the individual Liberians mentioned above. 

A legal instrument guided each transaction. The second accomplishment was that through Verlon’s efforts, IU partnered with CNDRA and a monetary award was granted by the Endangered Archives Programme of the British Library specifically for the Tubman papers. 

This made possible the acquisition of over 40,000 pages of historically important papers from the Tubman era which were recovered from deteriorating conditions at the late president’s Totota, Bong County Estate.  

Their original organization was restored and the papers microfilmed for preservation and accessibility by researchers. Also produced were 47 reels of publicly available microfilms. 

Our third accomplishment was that we lobbied Interim Chairman Bryant for the purpose-built national archives in Sinkor to be returned to its rightful owner, given that it had been occupied by the government’s National Investment Commission since 1997. 

Bryant promised to include the issue of the return in a memo to his successor, which he may have done, for eventually the National Archives was able to claim its building and begin important restorative work.

Verlon was the chief facilitator from IU, while I served as a negotiator with the various families, all of whom I knew personally. Verlon and I congratulated each other in 2009 email messages. 

As I commended him for the expertise and commitment he brought to our common endeavor and his role, I told him that it was “tomorrow’s Liberia that will more fully feel the impact of your singular contribution toward preserving a key feature of the nation’s heritage.” 

He graciously reciprocated: “Thanks for your kind words, but you were always the sparkplug for getting projects started and for making the most effective contacts using the smoothest and most gentle words. I feel we made a great team as nothing would have started or continued without your hand being in it.”

Verlon is survived by his wife, Ruth, IU Professor Emerita, daughter Angela Stone-MacDonald, and her husband Keith MacDonald, his brothers Lyle Stone, Gary Stone, Dale Stone, and Roger Stone and their families, as well as in-laws Paul Spehr and Jeanette Childress and their families.

A funeral service will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church in Bloomington, Indiana on July 1 at 11:00 am.

Rest well Verlon, until we meet again!