Snapshot in Time
Then: Over 15 years ago…the process was started that gave Magnolians a major gift of written history in Magnolia: Memories & Milestones; written and published by a dedicated corps of volunteers. The volunteer Board of the Magnolia Community Club (MCC) procured two $10,000 grants from Department of Neighborhoods. I had just retired as an MCC board member in charge of their history committee when I was asked to come up with a process that would capture history in some kind of book form. Nobody was quite sure what it would look like or how it could be done. I knew it would be more volunteering, a whole lot more, if I accepted!
Author Aleua Frare, volunteering for the MCC back in 1976, generously gave her time and produced an undocumented view of historical fact tied together by folksy yarns and urban legends. I wanted something more. And, I’d have to get a whole bunch of volunteers willing to give a whole bunch of time and energy to get it done.
If I did it that (and, I was quite unsure if I would or could), I knew I wanted professional well-written, well-sourced and well-illustrated stories of substance written by Magnolians, making it even more unlikely. Smart, capable folks bound together only by altruistic ideals, a love of a common neighborhood and no money-making motives.
I set up a “Write Your Magnolia Memories” booth at Magnolia Fest, to see who else I could lure into doing professional work for free. The first person to take the bait was a skinny guy doing wheelies in his wheel-chair. He pulled up to the booth, did a spin move (and, from somewhere on his person) magically produced a self-published volume on his colorful Magnolia childhood. That was Hal Will. That was so Hal Will. He had contracted polio in his early twenties and it left him a paraplegic. But, Will was all about opening windows when doors were shut. He immediately loved the impossible idea of doing this book. He immediately volunteered.
I reached out to people like Bob Kildall, of Discovery Park fame, who let me know he found me brash; but, was intrigued enough to join up. Kildall recommended Scott Smith the guy “who fought Metro”. My Mom’s friends, Patty Small and Joan Santucci, both excellent writers, signed up. My daughter Jenny’s friend, Joy Carpine , still in journalism school at the UW, wanted to write a chapter. My writing group at the time produced four of the authors: Nancy Worssam, Sam Sutherland, Gail Martini-Peterson and John Hendron. Some were retired, some stay at homes, some had full-time occupations.
I designed for each writer a portfolio with all kinds of writing examples, history writing materials, style sheets, lists of contacts, subjects, sources. Why that didn’t scare everybody off, I’ll never understand. We began a long, time-consuming process which included long monthly meetings at the Magnolia Library to talk, exchange drafts, monitor progress and somehow, someway put together “our” book.
Every writer settled on a topic or two. Some wrote about their childhoods or researched early life on Magnolia through interviews or academic research. Worssam started at the very beginning with the Native American’s and Native American experts. Experts came forward for no charge. People pulled out scrapbooks and photo albums, folks renewed friendships from their childhoods. Volunteer peer editors encouraged, kindly critiqued, help craft draft after draft. The Henry A Smith Magnolia’s First Pioneer chapter, that I wrote, had 27 drafts! Santucci proved to be my inspirational peer editor, all the while, doing her own chapter of the history of the Village.
We combed archives. We learned about the Polk Directory, Kroll and Baist maps. We went to the periodicals room at UW Suzzallo Library to go through the old Magnolia News. We wondered and wrote; and, wondered and wrote more, month after month. We went on time consuming interviews: all over Magnolia, to the Seattle Yacht Club to meet with the Chamber brothers, sons of the first hardware store owner on Magnolia, to the University to discuss fish and fishing with the Fisheries Department to get a context for Fishermen’s Terminal. All of us donating our time and getting others to do the same. Many authors volunteered to spend their own money on the project. And, did.
Authors produced pictures and proof of what they were writing about. Everyone had to have citations in endnotes, captions, proper credit for photos, copyrights and correct formats in Modern Language Association style. All time and talents given freely–no charge, our pleasure…and, it most often was! Rob Hitchings volunteered to work under Colonel James Collins, at the Fort Lawton Army Reserve, preparing for the long awaited Korean War medaling. Hitchings wrote of that and his father’s experience in that war, while he and his Mom, the Editor of the Magnolia News at the time, were left behind. Magnolian, Roy Scully, famous Seattle Times Photographer, volunteered to do “now” shots.
In the end, for three months, Smith and I traveled to West Seattle nearly every day, all day and into the nights to work with Paul Langland on the final book design. Smith logged in thousands more volunteer hours, gas and food money to make the book a reality.
Magnolia: Memories & Milestones was presented in December of 2000, just in time for Christmas. Quickly selling out two publishings, a third was done. It was awarded the Virginia Marie Folkins Award from the Association of King County Historical Organizations (AKCHO).
The preface of the book began with me saying: “I will be retiring from a 25 year “career” of volunteerism at the end of this project. If only every one of us had the privilege of 25 years of service to devote to causes we believed in, what a better world it would be!”
Little did I know: from that band of 13 volunteer authors the Magnolia Historical Society (MHS) became a 501(C)3 non-profit in 2001. These begat new volunteers, doing new things for Magnolia history, me continuing to be one of them.
Now: Santucci, Kildall, Will, Small, Malsed, Scully, and Hendron have passed on. All leave us with a huge loss of ready, generous service and a generation of memories. But, they leave behind a grand legacy of generosity and a clear sense of the place they called home.
Writing remains the main mission of the Society which produced a second volume, Magnolia: Making More Memories in 2007, having 32 volunteer writers; and, also nominated for the Virginia Folkes Award. Hard cover books are falling out of fashion. Sales of the Magnolia books are slow. MHS writing workshops produce new memoir writers. The hope for a third corps of volunteer writers dealing with Magnolia in the 50’s and 60’s lingers; but, seems unlikely.
Nearly all long-standing volunteer organizations on Queen Anne and Magnolia struggle now to get new, younger people committed, involved and in leadership positions. The Historical Society is now without a president and is seeking new Board members. The MCC also needs new Board members. Two parents working, kids in elite sports, Facebook, Twitter and texting seem to be replacing “face-time”, serving on Boards or going to meetings.
Volunteering, the only reason so much award-winning history about Magnolia exists, the only reason our wonderful neighborhood is what it is, seems to becoming a part of the past. I still have hope: young “x and y gens” and newly-retired “boomers” prove it isn’t so by serving as a local volunteer.
You can volunteer to join the MHS Board, purchase the Magnolia history books and learn more about this place called Magnolia written by volunteers by visiting the rest of our website: www.magnoliahistoricalsociety.org