Despite growing up just a few miles away in Lake Oswego, Kevin Pike never knew anything about West Linn's McLean Park and House until about eight years ago.
Pike, by this point a West Linn resident, was asked to lend his expertise as a contractor for some construction projects going on at the famed 1927 home along the river. It didn't take long for Pike to fall in love with the lush grounds and unique feel within each of the home's 17 rooms — his favorite is what is known as "the groom's room" — and in 2013 Pike was named president of the Friends of McLean Park and House board of directors.
"I'm trying to think of a place in Lake Oswego — and I grew up there — that has that sort of Rose Garden-ish, Pittock Mansion-ish feel to it," Pike says. "I really like having something (like this) in West Linn. Oregon City has the McLoughlin House, but this place is actually useful. … We had over 2,000 people use this place this year.
"I think we are doing a good job; we'd like to expand that."
Indeed, though the house was originally built by Dr. Edward McLean for his family to live in, it now serves as a wedding ceremony and gathering venue. The property is technically owned by the City, but the Friends of McLean Park and House nonprofit organization has been in charge of maintaining the space for around 30 years.
Such an undertaking requires a significant amount of volunteer hours, however, and the Friends continue to push for more community involvement. A recent barbeque held at the property Aug. 19 was scheduled in part to raise awareness and generate interest from prospective volunteers.
"Like any nonprofit trying to support a community landmark, we need a constant and diligent effort to bring people in not only on the volunteer side but on the director side," Pike says. "One of our older directors who has been here for 20 years has retired, and so at this point we're actively seeking people who would be interested in being part of the 'go-forward' plan."
Pike's predecessor as president of the board, Mike Watters, might have stepped aside from that role, but he remains one of the most active volunteers at the park and house — 24 years after he first discovered it.
"Because we (moved) across the street, we'd go for hikes and come down to the great park," Watters says. "They had some caretakers at the time, they let us go through the house and said, 'Oh, you should be part of the Friends.'"
Watters remembers being struck by the large tree on the property — "it's 35 feet around!" — and his wife, Peggy, also saw parallels to her own background when she first toured the house.
"My wife also comes from a family of five, and her dad was a doctor," Watters says. "So she kind of liked the idea of, 'What would it be like to be raised here?'"
Much of Watters' time recently has been spent organizing the house's historical archives, and he recalls a newspaper article from 1981 stating that the property's future was "up in the air."
"The place went downhill and turned into a delinquent property in the '70s," Pike says. "Then the Friends came."
Indeed, things have come a long way since those days of uncertainty. But as the Friends continue to look for ways to extend their reach and find new uses for the property, they worry about who will carry the baton as board members continue to age out.
"The under-35 category, I don't know if there's a strong push to be involved in something like this," Pike says. "We're trying, I just don't know if the mentality is there. … This generation may not have an interest in preserving history, might not have an interest in our history at all, might not find a place like this useful."
"There needs to be some kind of new blood, new leadership," Watters adds. "I think nowadays people seem to go more towards episodic volunteering rather than committed volunteering."
Specifically, Watters says the Friends are in need of people with knowledge about landscaping, historic preservation and fundraising.
"When you talk about (fundraising), the ideal would be a combination of a City person and board person working together on large grants for developing parking (under the Abernethy Bridge)," Watters says. "And maybe more of a home-style building for them to add (on the property)."
In the meantime, the current board members hope to connect with other nonprofits to expand usage of the McLean Park and House.
"We still have a ton of time and space and capacity to do, I think, more with the community," Pike says. "So outreach is going to include reaching out to all of the nonprofits to see if they can utilize this space for more meetings. Even the West Linn Garden Club or the Lions — just all of the people trying to make the community a better place, we want them to know this can be a resource for them."