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Campus Center buttoned up with presidential memorabilia

Original campaign buttons from presidential candidates are on display at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center. (Photo/Nathan Carter)

USC is getting into the campaign spirit with a new exhibition featuring presidential election buttons from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Continuing until Nov. 12, 14 display cases in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center’s Trojan Family Room feature hundreds of original campaign buttons from 11 presidential candidates: Wendell Willkie, Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater, Lyndon B. Johnson, George McGovern, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Al Gore. An additional display case near Moreton Fig restaurant features many more campaign buttons from the U.S. presidents who visited USC during their terms, including William Taft, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford and Barack Obama.

Jerry Papazian, former USC Board of Trustees member and former USC Alumni Association president, donated the buttons from his collection to make the exhibition possible.

Papazian, who owns more than 10,000 campaign buttons, has been collecting the memorabilia since 1971. He began at age 16 while serving as a page in the House of Representatives during an election year.

“I just started picking up buttons here and there from congressmen’s offices,” Papazian said. “I have buttons from every election going back to 1896. Some campaign buttons are more interesting than others. Some are pretty funny, some are very serious, [but they all give a] good flavor of that particular election campaign year.”

This exhibition marks the first time Papazian’s buttons have been on display.

“I’ve had them accumulating in my house over the years, and friends who have come over have seen them,” Papazian said. “[Vice President for Student Affairs] Michael L. Jackson saw my collection and said, ‘We’d love to have this on display during one of the campaigns.’ I said, ‘Let’s pick out the most interesting.’ ”

Papazian’s favorite is a reproduction of a button from Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. The original button features Roosevelt sitting at a table in 1904 with the first African-American man ever invited to the White House. The reproduction depicts Obama sitting with Sen. Ted Kennedy. Though Papazian doesn’t own the original button, the reproduction is displayed outside Moreton Fig.

“It’s interesting; it’s history,” he said. “Today, they’re used as fundraising items; you buy one for $5, or you get one when you contribute or go to a fundraising dinner. Before, you could go to the campaign offices, and they’d have a bowl of little buttons and they wouldn’t charge you for them. They wanted you to wear them. I don’t think people wear buttons like that anymore.”

The exhibition is part of the Ronald Tutor Campus Center’s Art & Trojan Traditions program, which places art and artifacts throughout the center to enhance the educational experience of the university community. The collection includes art by students, faculty, staff, alumni, and local and international emerging artists; pieces on loan from the USC Fisher Museum of Art; and commissioned masterworks, such as John Nava’s “Trojan Family Tapestry.”

Campus Center buttoned up with presidential memorabilia

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