By Mark Foutch, President

Your Olympia Historical Society has had a productive year.  Our Web presence is better than ever, with more features to come.  Our membership has never been higher, and hundreds of friends and members view our weeklys Facebook posts, biweekly bulletins, and quarterly newsletters. Our web presence generates significant comment, inquiries, and sometimes even controversy!

Early in the year, with Board-approved funding, Karen Bowen and her husband Walt had a permanent banner made to call attention to the OHS table at local history events.  Karen also produced a very nice trifold OHS brochure for those occasions and any other uses.

For a variety of reasons, the Society departed from its usual practice of holding four meetings a year. We began 2011 with an exceptional program featuring the Fleetwoods’ Gretchen Christopher. We finished the year with our Third Annual Members’ Potluck. That lively and informative presentation by Lanny Weaver and Amber Raney took place in the beautiful new Harbor House on Percival Landing.  Thanks to Shanna Stevenson and Deb Ross (respectively) for organizing those two excellent programs!

The remainder of our activities in 2011 were primarily co-sponsored with other organizations. These included co-sponsoring a presentation by John Dodge at a Yacht Club event about the historic shoreline of Olympia; having a booth at the summer Thurston County Through the Ages event in Tenino; sponsoring the 100th anniversary celebration of the Carlyon Fill; and representing the Society at the unveiling of two installations celebrating restaurateur Rebecca Howard, and Susan B. Anthony’s visit to Olympia. We have had comments from members that they would like us to return to presenting more programs, and the Board has already begun planning for this, with the upcoming presentation, on January 21, about milliner Bertha Eugley.

As we move into the new year, the Board recognizes that the Society is at a crossroads. We face four significant challenges/opportunities:

  1. Filling leadership positions on our Board of Directors;
  2. Sustaining a presence at historical events to publicize OHS and local history;
  3. Involving more members in OHS activities; and,
  4. Establishing future goals for OHS and charting a path to attain them.

Per our bylaws, three terms are expiring this year, and we have also had one resignation. So far, we have two possible candidates to fill these positions (one re-upping, and one volunteering to take the unexpired term). We welcome all expressions of interest in serving on the Board – and we may call YOU if you don’t call us!

As noted above, our primary activities in 2011 included further development of our web presence, and attending and/or co-sponsoring other organizations’ activities. While these were many, we did not have a presence at several other local history related events. The Board sees a need to deepen its bench so that we can participate more fully in these events, as well as sponsoring our own. We need more active members (perhaps a subcommittee?) to organize and help staff OHS information tables at history events and work on programs for our quarterly meetings. And we need more members, period, to grow attendance at our events. As always, we welcome suggestions on how to encourage our many hundreds of friends to take the next step and join the organization.

More food for thought: How can we expand our reach and our offerings? How can we safely and securely store the historic documents, images and artifacts that Collections Chair Sue Goff receives from local people who recognize their value and who trust us to preserve and protect them? The next step, which we have not yet begun to tackle, is how to make them available to the public. Should we establish a “brick and mortar” museum as a goal?  How might we accomplish that? In our Summer 2011 newsletter, I asked members to respond to this question, and received one response, from Deb Ross. Deb suggested that we pursue a twofold approach: first, that we not pursue a museum building at this time, but concentrate on creating a “virtual museum” online that would display parts of our collection as well as continuing to strengthen links with other collections and historic locations.  Second, that we explore opportunities with available spaces, such as the State Capital Museum, to display parts of our collection on a rotating basis. After an extended discussion the Board agreed that exploring the virtual museum concept was a good idea but did not completely rule out a physical space someday if one became available.  That discussion will continue.  And at the November Board meeting, at Deb’s request, we budgeted $200 for 2012 for a grant proposal to add some interesting new interactive features to our website accessible at actual historic locations.  The Board also approved OHS’ annual $200 donation to help support the Bigelow House.

What else is coming up?  Well, Program Chair Shanna Stevenson reports that the multitribal Canoe Journey for 2012 will have Olympia for its destination.  This will be a huge multiday event offering a fine opportunity for OHS to assist and staff a display table.   She also tells us that the Olympia Library will be celebrating its 100th birthday leading up to 2013, commemorating the Andrew Carnegie Foundation’s support for constructing the Carnegie Library building at 7th and Franklin.

Thanks also to Shanna, we have a very interesting program for our January 21, 2012 meeting.  We’ll be joined by guests from the Washington State Historical Society and the Washington Heritage Caucus, possibly including some legislators.

After the program, though, it’ll be “just us” and we’ll get down to Olympia Historical Society business:  The Board election, a discussion on the Board-adopted 2012 budget, plans and choices for the year, how you can help.   The Board is excited about the growth it has seen over the past year, and will be working diligently to create more opportunities for member and friend involvement in 2012. We hope you will join us!

Finally, thanks to our retiring board members Deb Ross, Russ Hupe, and Karen Bowen. Deb has served nearly two full terms, having come on the Board to replace a resigning member. She will continue on as web content master and issuing our biweekly bulletins. Russ and his wife Genevieve, both long-term members, and tireless volunteers in a myriad of capacities since they moved to Olympia in 1948, are leaving Olympia to settle closer to their daughter. Karen is resigning due to pressures from other commitments. All three have been valuable Board members and we look forward to keeping in touch.