A pillar in our time
Steve Lent finds it fun to dig into family scrapbooks, scan through newspaper articles preserved on microfilm, and pour over historical documents.
So fun, in fact, that since 2002 when he became the Bowman Museum historian, he has been writing historical articles on local people, places and events once a week for the Central Oregonian.
"I enjoy writing these stories," Lent says. "People had read all the stories in the paper, and they said, 'Boy you know, it'd be nice if you would write a book, compiling all these stories.'"
That's how his first collection of articles, "Islands in Time," came about in 2008.
So, of course, once he had enough articles, it made sense to follow up with a second volume.
Lent and the Crook County Historical Society published "Pillars in Time" a couple weeks ago, and he will sign and sell copies during the Bowman Museum Fabulous February Reopening from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the museum.
Lent's family moved to Prineville when he was a year old, and he graduated from Crook County High School in 1968. He's always enjoyed history and earned a history degree from the University of Oregon. However, he ended up with a 30-year career in wildland fire management.
"Then Gordon (Gillespie) at the museum here kept pushing me to retire early so I could come here to work at the museum when an opening came available," Lent recalls. "So, I did retire early from the firefighter program to come here and work in 2002."
That was the same year the Crook County Historical Society Board gave him the go-ahead to write weekly historical articles for the Central Oregonian.
He gets story ideas by going through old newspapers and histories, and sometimes folks give him an idea.
"It's getting hard to find stories after all this time," Lent said. "Unfortunately, one of the people that kept feeding me information — Frances Juris — recently passed away. She was always saying, 'Here's something you should write about.'"
It takes a couple of hours to write each article, sometimes more, depending on how much research he needs to do.
The museum houses all of the Central Oregonian issues on microfilm as well as all of the family histories for the Crook County Genealogical Society.
"Another invaluable source is people through the years have kept scrapbooks, and they've donated them to the museum, so we've got over 150 scrapbooks, and I go through them and try to find stories through there, too," Lent said. "Those are actually treasure albums, those scrapbooks."
When he began writing these articles 16 years ago, he mostly wrote about the early pioneers, from the 1860s to 1900. Then, he began covering 1900 to the 1920. Lately, he's been writing stories from as late as the 1940s.
"When it gets harder and harder to write stories, you've got to consider what is exactly historical, and, of course, anything that's 50 years old is actually historical," he pointed out.
He estimates he's written more than 800 articles about local history, and this is his eighth publication. He wrote three books about place names, three books about the history of Prineville, Crook County and Madras, as well as the two volumes of Central Oregonian articles.
"There'll probably be a third one – because I've written so many stories – called 'Monuments in Time,'" Lent said. "I'm working on that one."
The historical society printed 500 copies of the 309-page comb-bound "Pillars in Time" volume on 8 1/2-inch-by-11-inch paper. It features one article and photo per page and is divided into three topics: people, places and events. It includes a bibliography and a story index as well. It sells for $20 at the Bowman Museum, and they may distribute it to other historical societies and bookstores.
Lent believes the locals will find the book interesting — especially because it's very likely readers will recognize some of the families, events and places.
"I think it's a fascinating idea to get a short, brief story on people, places and events that otherwise probably wouldn't even come to light — people probably wouldn't even know about," he said.
Steve Lent book signing event during Bowman Museum Fabulous February Reopening
Date: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10
Place: Bowman Museum, 246 N. Main St., Prineville