Joel Rudy is the king of the Boolean search, a lover of books, and a collector of toys. He loves the mountains of the region and can often be found outdoors, either hiking the Creeper Trail or cruising the region’s backroads in his Model A pickup. He has a penchant for vintage items and a passion for history.
“My grandmother was a history teacher, so I guess I inherited my interest in history from her,” he said. “It’s just always been something I’ve enjoyed.”
Joel grew up in Galax with his parents and two brothers. Like many young boys in the 1960s, he spent much of his free time assembling models, collecting Matchbox cars, and playing with toy trains. Many of his treasures survived the decades, including a tiny steam engine that now has a home in the VHCC Library. As Joel grew older, his “toys” became more sophisticated.
He is now the proud owner of a 1936 Chevrolet Town Sedan and a 1928 Ford Model A Roadster Pickup. Neither has been professionally restored, he said, but both are in good, drivable condition. When the weather is nice, he often takes them out on the secondary roads of the region for a cruise, reaching speeds of 50 miles per hour. His love for old cars is just one more thing he inherited from his family, he explained.
As a young man, Joel’s father owned a Model T. In fact, he drove it while courting Joel’s mother and kept it for many years afterward. It was stored in the family’s barn one evening when lightening struck, burning the barn and all its contents. Fond memories of that vintage auto remained and, when Joel graduated from college several years later, his grandmother helped him buy the old Chevy that he still has today.
By then, Joel had a bachelor’s degree in history from Virginia Tech and was ready for his first real job. He ended up at the historic Jamestown Settlement, where he led educational tours of America’s first permanent English colony dressed in a period costume. Many of those who visited the settlement were school children, but Joel also remembers a time just before Thanksgiving when a group of TV reporters arrived in search of pilgrims.
“I had to explain that Jamestown was established in 1607, 10 to 15 years before the pilgrims,” he said. “It was a military fort.”
To appease the reporters, Joel and his co-workers performed a 7-step sword drill that was historically accurate for the Jamestown era. That impromptu performance was broadcast on the news.
It soon became apparent to Joel that there were a limited number of jobs available for those with history degrees, so he prepared for graduate school. He had some experience conducting research – thanks to an internship he had completed with the Environmental Protection Agency – so he began leaning in that direction. He ended up earning a Master of Library Science Degree from the University of North Carolina.
He went to work for the University of Georgia afterward, conducting research for the U.S. Forest Service in the days before the internet. He stayed there several years, then took a job as a reference librarian for Averett University in Danville. His desire to move closer to his family in Galax led him to VHCC in 2003.
Today Joel serves as Coordinator of Library Services. The most rewarding part of the job, he said, is working with students who are enthusiastic about learning and interested in conducting scholarly research. He eagerly introduces them to the various databases available and the wealth of knowledge that can be gleaned using electronic resources.
“I want them to think beyond Google,” he said.
Now a resident of Glade Spring, Joel served as a town council member from 2012 to 2016 and said he is proud of the downtown revitalization that occurred during that period. He enjoyed meeting community members, he said, and listening to different viewpoints. He’s also held an elected role on campus as secretary of the VHCC Faculty Senate for many years. In this role, he is charged with keeping the official minutes at the group’s monthly meetings.
When the workday is done, he often finds himself on the Virginia Creeper Trail, hiking or biking for exercise and enjoying the scenery. He also enjoys reading, mostly non-fiction and historical fiction, and maintains a short bucket list of items he’d like to tackle one day.
He’d like to visit places he’s never been, perhaps tracing his family roots to Germany or enjoying a tropical vacation in Hawaii. And don’t be surprised if you look into the sky one day and see the quirky librarian peering down from a World War II era plane.
“I’d like to go up in a B-series aircraft,” he said. “I’ve always been intrigued by those old planes and the opportunity to ride in one does come around sometimes. I might have a good shot at that one.”