Foutch: Origins of the Olympia Historical Society, part 1

Background:  For many decades Olympia was content to depend on the State Capital Museum for its local history venue and a place to store many of its important historical assets.  In the early ‘90s it appeared that the Art Deco Thurston County Courthouse on Capitol Way would be torn down and a State History Museum built on that site.  But the courthouse was saved for adaptive reuse and the new History Museum ended up in Tacoma.  Then, after it was determined that the old Lord family mansion housing the State Capital Museum was not suitable for long-term archival use, its “Olympia Collection”  went to Tacoma, also.  For years after that the local historic preservation community has variously muttered about the move of “our” history to Tacoma, or wondered about how to develop a facility to bring it back.  A bond issue for a new Olympia library, which might have included such a room, failed twice in 1997.

Local history and preservation advocates Rebecca Christie,
author of the neighborhood history  Workingman’s Hill, and Annamary Fitzgerald, then-Executive Director of the Bigelow House Preservation
Association, met when both served on the Olympia Heritage Commission.  Both recognized the need for a local history repository and a community-based preservation advocacy organization.

While doing research for her book, Rebecca became aware of historical materials stored in closets, basements, attics and garages.  Many families expressed a desire to have a place where they could donate their materials to be preserved and available to researchers and the general public.

So on August 19, 2001, Rebecca Christie, Annamary Fitzgerald and Liza Rognas signed and sent out letters addressed to “Dear Friend of Olympia History.”  Recipients were invited to a community potluck meal at Rebecca’s home Sunday evening, September 9. 

This letter identified the “Need: Identify, collect and preserve our community’s rich and rapidly vanishing/dispersing historical record,” and then asked, “ How can we locate, gather and house the historic materials currently held in private collections….?” and “What can concerned members of the community do to support other ongoing heritage-related projects?” Attendees would meet for a “…brainstorm discussion and to get the ball rolling.”

The meeting agenda included:
Refining the Statement of Need, selecting the Intended Audience, and drafting a Statement of Purpose.  This last was determined to be, “To identify, preserve, protect, promote, interpret and perpetuate resources associated with the history of the City of Olympia and its identified growth area.”

The file contains no attendance list for this first get-together, but the group did set up “Identified Committees” with these members:

    Invitation List:  Rebecca Christie, Shanna Stevenson, Winnie Olsen
    Program:  Drew Crooks, Pat Harper, Shanna Stevenson
    PR/Publicity:  Liza Rognas, Randy Stilson
    Mission Development:  Bob Arnold

Today, some attendees believe that Roger Easton and Susan Goff also were at that first meeting.Perhaps others were also.

The group concluded its work by outlining “Next Steps:

    Identify Stakeholders for an Organizational Meeting
    Hold Organizational Meeting
    Establish an Olympia Historical Society”

On November 8, 2001, a short item in The Olympian confirmed
that the group was actively pursuing its goals:

“A gathering to explore forming an Olympia Historical Society is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 10), at the Thurston County Courthouse, Building 1, Room 152.  For more information call Annamary Fitzgerald, ….”

A flier for this meeting listed hosts Annamary Fitzgerald,
Rebecca Christie, Winnifred Olsen, Shanna Stevenson, Pat Harper, Drew Crooks,
Randy Stilson,and  Bob Arnold.  Meeting sponsors were listed as “…interested
individuals and the Conservation Associates of the Pacific Northwest.”

Two vintage engravings grace the reverse of this flier.  One shows a girl on the shore collecting shellfish which she held in the front of her gathered-up dress, while just offshore
a Native American fisher in a traditional canoe casts a net.  The image was framed with oyster shells.  The second engraving shows a bustling port and city viewed from the Westside, with the wooden bridge to “Marshville” and downtown in the right background and a departing steamboat in the foreground.   Mt. Rainier rises in the far distance.  (These two images would later be considered for an official OHS logo.)

The group’s publicity effort brought a very credible response:

Present at this key meeting were: Gerry Alexander, Bob Arnold, Karen Bowen, Ann
Christensen, Rebecca Christie, Marilyn Connon, Drew Crooks, Spencer Daniels,
Lauren Danner, Edward Echtle, Lynn Erickson, Lois Fenske, Annamary Fitzgerald,
Chuck Fowler, Susan Goff, Beverly Gunstone, Pat Harper, Dorothy Hernes,
Genevieve Hupe’, Russ Hupe’, Dick Johnson, Agnes Kelley, David Kindle, Bonnie
Marie, Winnie Olsen, Susan O’Neal, Susan Parish, Liza Rognas, Don Roselle, Lila
Sjodin, Shanna Stevenson, Randy Stilson, Ed Swan, Kathleen Turner, Lanny Weaver,
Diana Wilkowski, Sandy Yannone, and Tom Zahn.

The agenda included:

Introduction:
Annamary Fitzgerald
Speaker:  Chief Justice Gerry Alexander,
on the topic, “An Olympia Historical Society—A Good Idea”
Motion to organize an O.H.S.
Motion empowering the temporary chair to appoint a Committee on Organization,
responsible for           drafting a
Constitution and Bylaws.
Committees and Interest Areas (signup sheet)
Discussion and Adjourn

After Chief Justice Alexander’s remarks, the group set to
work.  Susan Parish moved, seconded by Ed
Swan, that an Olympia Historical Society be established “on this day, Saturday,
November 10, 2001.”  There was no
discussion and the motion passed unanimously.

Drew Crooks then moved that “Temporary Chair Annamary Fitzgerald
be authorized to appoint a Steering Committee to continue the organizing (of)
the Olympia Historical Society.”  Rebecca
Christie seconded the motion.  Concern
was raised about the possibility of duplicating the work of the State Capital
Museum.  Chuck Fowler volunteered to be
the liaison between the Museum and the Olympia Historical Society.  There was no further discussion and the
motion passed unanimously.

Committees were named:
Organization (Steering Committee), Collections, Education and Programs,
Membership, Finance and Fundraising, and Outreach and Publications.

The next meeting was set for Saturday, January 26, 2002, at
the same location.  Its main order of
business would be to adopt Articles of Incorporation, to appoint a nominating committee
that would present a slate of officers for a Board of Directors, and to set up
standing committees.

The minutes were signed by Patricia Carol Harper, Acting
Secretary.

The Olympia Historical Society had been born.

(End of Part One)

It would seem, then,
that 2012 is actually OHS’ 11th birthday year, not its 10th.  I’d always assumed that filing the Articles
of Incorporation with the Secretary of State’s office marked the most significant
date, not considering all the hard work it had taken to get to that point.  And, given the caliber of all those involved
in OHS’ conception and gestation, it’s not at all surprising that the process
was most impressively organized and carried out meticulously.  Many of those dedicated community volunteers
are still active in local historic preservation; a few are no longer with
us.  We owe them all a debt of gratitude.

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