Jim Tompkins remembered as dedicated local historian
Beavercreek resident James Merle "Jim" Tompkins is remembered as an accomplished historian who often gave tours and lectures about the Oregon Trail and the history of Oregon.
Tompkins died peacefully of natural causes in his home on June 3 at the age of 69.
A descendent of Oregon Trail emigrants, he was an active and dedicated board member of the Clackamas County Historical Society and the Oregon-California Trails Association. He has helped produce exhibits at the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Oregon City. Abundant interest in the infamously steep slope that claimed the lives of many emigrants led him to write "Discovering Laurel Hill and the Barlow Road." In 1993 the Bureau of Land Management published his book "The Road to Oregon: Articles about the Oregon Trail."
Tompkins often volunteered at the Museum of the Oregon Territory, where he would lecture at any opportunity. He has been regularly featured in the Clackamas Review/Oregon City News for his popular history-lecture series at MOOT. The tuition-free lecture series came about when Tompkins discovered that the educational program needed assistance. He based the lectures on his book "The City at Willamette Falls: A 3,000-Year History of Oregon City."
Tompkins' technique in teaching history was decidedly approachable, focusing on interesting stories and analysis delivered in layman's terms.
"Now that the Oregon Trail has dumped a half million people into the Willamette Valley, what are we going to do?" Tompkins asked as the central question of the latest series that turned its focus post-1859, after Oregon achieved statehood.
"We are very lucky to have him teaching these classes for us," CCHS Executive Director Claire Blaylock said of last year's series that supported the museum's misson to bring the love of history to all ages.
Tompkins was named the 1990 DAR Oregon History Teacher of the Year, the 2001 Oregon-California Trails Association Writer of the Year, and was the recipient of the 2007 Clackamas Heritage Partners Wilmer Gardner Education Award for lifetime achievement. Tompkins was a friend to many and an educator to all, said National Park Service ranger John Salisbury.
"He was a giant when it comes to a historian," Salisbury said. "Jim was just so enamored with the Oregon Trail that he wanted to share that experience with everyone, and as a teacher, he wasn't a shy man."
While it would be a severe understatement to say he was knowledgeable, Tompkins also loved teaching and was dedicated to passing on the history of the land he called home. He often would go on trips to historic places around the country and bring back his experiences to educate his students, young and old, about his passion.
Tompkins walked the trail with Salisbury in the 1990s, when a federal challenge grant funded 100 teachers walking parts of the Oregon Trail between Independence, Missouri, and Oregon City. Nine local teachers in Oregon City were involved with the project.
Tompkins was born on July 8, 1947, in Renton, Washington, to Merle and Juanita Tompkins. He graduated from Portland State University in 1976 with a master's degree in Oregon history. He became a teacher in the Gresham-Barlow School District for almost 30 years. After leaving Orient School, he continued teaching community education classes for Clackamas Community College.
He married Shelly Jones in 1970 and the couple raised their children in Beavercreek. They later divorced. His children remember him as a supportive and loving father who encouraged them to pursue their goals.
He is survived by: his mother, Juanita Alf; children Jerry Tompkins, Wendy Stimac and Nathan Tompkins; sisters Judy Anderson and Kathy Walliker; brother Bill Tompkins; and two grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his father, Merle Tompkins, and sons Andrew and Peter.
A funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday, June 22, at the Beavercreek United Church of Christ, 23345 S. Beavercreek Road, with a reception to follow at 1 p.m. at the Museum of the Oregon Territory, 211 Tumwater Drive, Oregon City. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in his name to the Clackamas County Historical Society at clackamashistory.org/donate.