At a recent Heritage Tree Committee meeting, OTE had an opportunity to catch up with the Oregon Travel Information Council’s Ed Washington and Charlotte Lehan. As part of their Council duties, Washington and Lehan serve on the Council’s Heritage Program Subcommittee. Their responsibility is to report on program activities and make recommendations to the full Council.
(To view the photographs full size, click on the image to enlarge.)
The committee’s July meeting was held at Inchinnan Farm near Wilsonville. The hazelnut farm was home to the late Peter McDonald, who was a long standing member of the Oregon Heritage Tree Committee. The property is still owned and operated by Peter’s son James. Peter’s wife Jill welcomed the tree committee to farm’s magnificent 1870’s home and a vine covered veranda overlooking the Willamette River.
A memorial bench crafted by committee member Doug Grafe sits on the home’s porch facing several old-growth Douglas fir trees—the place where McDonald requested his ashes be scattered. William (the McDonald’s wire-haired terrier) escorted Ed and Charlotte across the grounds, as the two Council members marveled at the towering canopy of a giant black walnut tree.
OTE had a moment to sit down with Ed and Charlotte and find out more about why they’re so enamored with Oregon history and OTE’s heritage programs.
OTE: So Ed and Charlotte, are you native Oregonians?
Charlotte: “I was born in Portland in the early 1950s, so yes, I’m a native Oregonian. Although I’ve moved a bit around the Pacific Northwest, I’ve been located in Wilsonville since 1989.”
Ed: “I was born in Birmingham, Alabama, but my family moved to Oregon 71 years ago. In 1942 my father moved out to the Portland area because of jobs in the shipyards. The rest of my family followed two years later, and moved to *Vanport, the Kaiser Shipyard’s company housing. (*See notations at the end of this interview, for Ed’s audio history file and the historical marker at the site of Vanport, in Portland, Oregon.)
Charlotte: “I am a seventh-generation Oregonian with nine direct ancestors who crossed on the Oregon Trail, so I have always been interested in Oregon history, especially after inheriting a set of family history books from my great uncle back in the 1970s. My involvement with local cemetery restoration has made it clear how interconnected we all are, no matter what our background.”
Ed: “I can definitely connect my passion for Oregon history to my seventh grade teacher Mrs. Hazel Hill. She was an outstanding Oregon historian who had a talent for exciting her students. Mrs. Hill took our class on field trips to some of Oregon’s most historic spots: Celilo Falls, Champoeg Park, Mt. Hood, the Bonneville Dam, the State Capitol in Salem, and the McLaughlin House in Oregon City. Those trips really stuck with me and became the threads that tied me to Oregon history—-and Mrs. Hill’s remarkable and unmistakable appreciation for the history of this state.”
OTE: How did you two become acquainted with the OTIC and the work of its heritage programs?
Charlotte: “I had been involved with urban forestry in both my terms as a Wilsonville City Councilor and Mayor—and had given presentations for urban forestry conferences. The late Peter McDonald—whose farm we’re meeting at today—approached me about applying for a seat on the Heritage Tree Committee. I went ahead and applied and was welcomed into the group. I was not involved very directly with the Council until I was invited by Lynn Peterson (a prior Governor’s Office staff member) to fill a vacancy on the Oregon Travel Information Council.”
Ed: “I got invited by Annie von Domitz, the OTE Heritage Program Administrator, to attend the Vanport Historical Marker dedication. While I was standing in front of the marker, I realized that it was only about a block and a half from where my family’s house stood before the Vanport flood. Annie called me back later to ask if I would speak about my personal experience in the flood as part of an oral history feature for the marker. I was then recommended as a candidate for the Council, filled out my form of interest and was appointed. As part of our Council duties, we participate in sub-committees—so both Charlotte and I sit on the heritage committees because of our natural interest in history.”
Charlotte: “The communities we have worked with have been very appreciative of our involvement and consider it a great honor to be recognized by either heritage program. The ability to host and protect a state heritage asset often serves as a catalyst for other local tourism and heritage efforts as well. Historical markers or heritage trees draw in travelers to areas they might not have thought about visiting before. Travelers who stop to view a series of historical interpretive markers or significant trees will often have lunch in a local restaurant or stay overnight, bringing additional dollars into smaller outlaying areas.”
Ed: “Serving on the OTE heritage committees gives me an appreciation of the similarities between the people you meet along the way. It’s all about bringing small communities together. Sometimes I really think the ghost of Mrs. Hill, my seventh-grade teacher, is right beside me when I attend these events. Her spirit stays with me—and because of her love for her students and history, she’s always in the back of my mind when I’m meeting people. The work we perform supports the continuation of our state’s history for so many.”
OTE: What do you think will be the most important factors for the Council’s Heritage Program subcommittee to focus on over the next few years?
Charlotte: “We need to maintain the integrity of our programs and integrate them with other tourist information opportunities—especially as we upgrade certain travel information kiosks located within OTE’s rest areas. Keeping the agency programs reasonably self-supporting will also be important.”
Ed: “I think we need to really talk about both the proud and not-so-proud parts of our history. We need to discuss all sides, and represent our history accurately and truthfully. We need to keep our eyes on the future and how we can do a better job in all of OTE’s programs (including signs and rest areas). Historical markers could tell a complete story, just like the old Burma Shave highway billboards did in the 1950s and 60s. People will be compelled to stop if there is a beginning, a middle and an ending to the entire story. There’s so much travelers may not know about our state. The Oregon Territory in the 1850s was one fourth the size of the entire country—and we played a huge and very important role that needs to be told.”
OTE: What has been your favorite OTE heritage event so far, and why was it meaningful to you?
Charlotte: “It’s very hard to pick just one! I greatly enjoyed the Captain Flavel Heritage Trees event in Astoria, the Champoeg Marker restoration dedication, the Robert Gray Marker on the coast, the Aurora Colony Black Walnut Heritage Tree, and of course, the R.V. Short Heritage Tree—which is on the property where I live. Two of those were nominations that I made, but all of them involved a large commitment and participation at the local level. I have heard that the View Master Marker dedication at the Oregon Caves was fabulous, but unfortunately I was not able to attend that one.”
Ed: “One of my favorites—and there’s a lot—was the Hollering Place Marker dedication at Coos Bay. I don’t have the opportunity to get down that way very often, and I really enjoyed reconnecting with Coos Bay and the history of its people. They’ve gone through some tough economic times in that region so I hope the markers are encouraging folks to stop. On that same trip, we dedicated the Shore Acres Monterey Pine Heritage Tree, which was beautiful. I also remember freezing in early spring at the Ellmaker Heritage Tree Grove in Veneta. The Willamette Valley had had several days of warm weather in a row, so I wasn’t expecting it. But the dedication and the family and the community were wonderful!”
OTE: What value to Oregonians do you think the programs provide?
Charlotte: “OTE’s heritage programs help to maintain our connections to our history, and they help explain how the current situation—for cities, towns, landmarks or buildings—came to exist. This understanding about the details adds depth and uniqueness to everyone’s travel experience. Heritage and historical sites can also help inform community leaders as they collaborate on present-day policies and decision-making for local residents.”
Ed: “Our Council has been given this large responsibility to preserve the heritage programs for future generations. Everyone, including the OTE staff, Council members, and Oregonians get to enjoy the actual fruits of our heritage committee labors. We are consistently ‘out there’ in the communities making sure that the resources of the programs—from the nomination applications to the final products—are made available to the citizens of this state.”
OTE: What do you think will be the greatest challenge for the OTE Heritage Programs, and what improvements can we make?
Charlotte: “One of our many challenges will be to find the right balance of high and low ‘tech’ for spreading the word about our programs, especially as both technology and our audience change over time. I would like to see us coordinate better with other state heritage programs such as the Oregon Cultural and Heritage Commission and State Historic Preservation Office—perhaps even integrating the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and OTE heritage programs into a more unified presentation on display panels within our OTE rest area travel information kiosks.”
Ed: “I think our greatest challenge is to guarantee that we have funding in order to operate the program and provide communities with the resources and support they need. Although we continue to search for additional funding, it is ultimately our responsibility to administer the programs. It’s always going to be difficult to make sure that enough is set aside for these valuable programs, and we need to make this a priority.”
OTE: Has anything surprised you about the other volunteers of either the Heritage Tree or Historical Marker Committees?
Charlotte: “We have extremely knowledgeable and dedicated individuals on both committees. They know Oregon history at a very deep level. Many are experts in their fields, which supports the research on their committees—they are professionals in arbor care, geology, and forestry. The discussions are always lively and informing, and every decision is made very carefully with consideration for the local community, and how to help them take advantage of their heritage assets even if not accepted into OTE’s state program.”
Ed: “I am impressed by the absolute sense of commitment. For example, when the heritage tree group goes out to research a tree, I’m astounded by the depths taken to move a tree from nomination to dedication. When the committee members talk trees, they know all of the tree species and sites, just like sport experts can name all the stats and athletes names and numbers. The public doesn’t really know much about our individual committee members, they just enjoy the results of their labors. I feel honored to be a part of their process as a Council member. I really appreciate that.”
OTE: Any thoughts about how technology might support the OTE heritage programs moving forward over the next 50 years?
Charlotte: “Mobile device technology and GPS are just beginning to make an impact on tourism and travel, as well as how we access and share historical information. Tech has the potential to become a very important part of both programs in the future, probably in ways we can’t even imagine from here.”
Ed: “I think that we should use the type of interactive kiosk that we recently constructed in partnership with Clackamas County—at the French Prairie Rest Area—in more of our rest areas. That’s a model of how we could provide more relevant travel information, and at the same time, provide facts about Oregon history. As we become more wireless, we should integrate more methods for getting out the word about Oregon history. We should be asking ourselves how we can apply new tech in support of our programs.”
*Vanport audio file and historical marker
If you would like to hear Ed Washington’s narrative about the flood that devastated his family’s home in the community of Vanport, link to our Oregon Historical Marker Vanport web page and click on the audio file. You can also view images and read more about the historic event that destroyed the Vanport community and displaced its population.