Locals share memories of McLoughlin Boulevard corridor
A unique event, "Reminiscing the Past and Assisting the Future," took place Sept. 12 at the Rose Villa Performing Arts Center.
Metro regional government officials and the Oak Lodge History Detectives, a tiny volunteer group passionate about local history, teamed up to benefit from this well-attended event, where longtime Oak Lodge area residents shared their memories of community life in decades past.
Historians preserved on videotape a treasure trove of insights about daily life from as far back as the 1920s, up to 1970, as remembered by neighbors who lived and worked in the area, some of whom are in their 80s or 90s.
Metro used the event to do some historical detecting of a different nature. The results of the reminiscing will assist in identifying potential unknown "brownfields" for future remediation.
Using enlarged historic pictures, ads and maps of the McLoughlin corridor, longtime residents were able to identify locations along this commercial zone, where businesses once existed, now long gone, leaving little or no trace except for possible unidentified pollution. The brownfield identification effort funded by an EPA grant is preliminary to Metro's McLoughlin Revitalization and Redevelopment project.
The event was the brainchild of Grover Jeffrey Bornefeld, an active community-involvement advocate residing in the Jennings Lodge portion of greater Oak Lodge. In addition to his participation in the history detectives, Bornefeld is a member of the McLoughlin Corridor Brownfields Citizens Advisory Group.
It became obvious to him that these two groups shared some common goals, which could be realized by bringing together people whose memories included some important information both groups were working to unearth.
As an added bonus, such an event would provide an opportunity to "build community" by bringing neighbors together over common interests, which Bornefeld considers the most important goal of any community involvement. He was the master of ceremonies at the event that he, along with Mike and Shirley Schmeer, labored for many weeks to make a reality.
Key to the success of the program was a Businesses on the Boulevard 1935-2017 database and image archive built by Shirley Schmeer. This invaluable historic resource resulted from two years of her research using old newspaper ads, school yearbooks, the Historical Oregonian 1861-1987 website, and donated materials.
Rose Villa, an exemplary neighbor on River Road since 1957, provided the perfect venue and support, as they frequently do for many other community meetings and events that wouldn't be possible otherwise.
Mike Schmeer, founder of the History Detectives, had this to say about the event: "It was encouraging to see so many neighbors come out for this evening, including those more recent arrivals to the area curious about local history. The diverse audience listened with enthusiasm to recollections about earlier times, and perhaps even discovered what previously existed on the property their homes now occupy. Of the 85 people who attended, most were unaware of the existence of the History Detectives.
"I hope that hearing all the fascinating memories from the past will inspire more involvement and participation in our group. There are abundant, fun and rewarding opportunities to get involved in the important work of capturing, organizing, preserving and presenting the history of our unique community. We welcome the participation of more of our neighbors."
Brian Harper of Metro said, "I am honored and pleased to help bring the community together to learn about their history, which unfortunately includes the issue of contaminated properties along the McLoughlin corridor, which must be addressed. And personally, I had a great time."
Arriving guests were greeted with "Honored Guest" nametags, reserved seating, and encouragement to visit the map tables manned by volunteers. Long-term residents were invited to share any memories pertinent to the mapped areas. Newer residents (post-1970) voiced surprise at how much has changed over the years, as well as features in the area that are still recognizable.
At 7 p.m. the audience took their seats, and those wanting to share their memories sat in a semicircle facing them. A spirited conversation ensued, as one person's memories triggered another's interesting story. Guests included residents from as far back as the 1920s, some whose names appear on street maps old and new. Others were business owners, whose businesses have endured as community landmarks over the decades, or have grown to become household names throughout the United States and beyond.
Stephanie Kurzenhauser, founder of the Friends of the Oak Lodge Public Library, attended with her husband and two school-age children.
"We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves," Kurzenhauser said. "The stories and recollections from elders in the community were fantastic, and you could palpably feel that people were genuinely loving the experience of sharing and listening to each other."