One thing that people will often say when they are talking about a long-time colleague who is about to retire is they will leave some big shoes to fill. They may not say it in those exact words, but the sentiment is always the same. A person is departing that is dependable, a wealth of institutional knowledge or an expert troubleshooter â€“ if there is something that is vexing the organization, if something important is needed, that is the person you call.
Steve Lent has retired as Bowman Museum's official historian after 20 years of service. The museum will certainly be fine. It will still thrive and is currently poised to expand — people around here love their history. But the museum is losing something as Lent steps away from his official post. Like many retirees, he isn't stepping completely away from the museum — he plans to maintain a presence and remains a member of the Crook County Historical Society. And readers of his weekly newspaper column can rest easy — he plans to continue submitting them. But Lent won't be there during the majority of the museum hours and that leaves — pardon the cliché — big shoes to fill.
If you haven't had the pleasure of talking to Steve Lent about Crook County history, you are missing out, especially if you have any interest at all in what the community was like in the past. Picture a slide show of people and locations throughout Prineville and Crook County and Lent filling in all of the details — where the picture was taken, what occupied the space at the time and what is there today, and what was happening at the time of the photo. And if you should have follow-up questions, there is a good chance he can provide the answer.
This knowledge could be explained by his continual presence at the museum, talking to customers, helping them track down important historical information or artifacts. Perhaps it is the fact he has authored nine books that have been published at the museum, chronicling the history of not just Crook County but its Central Oregon neighbors of Deschutes and Jefferson counties, through his wonderful Places and Names trilogy. The first one, of Crook County, is a master text of detailed local history, answering thousands of questions by explaining how geographical places in the county — buttes, creeks, springs, what have you — got their names. Most of those places were named after people, early settlers, and in unwrapping the mystery of the location names, Lent presents the histories of region's early residents in clear, interesting prose. If your interested in local history at all, it's gold.
Of course, many readers are well aware of his Central Oregon History columns, which Lent has delivered weekly like clockwork to the Central Oregonian since 2002. When word got out that he was retiring, the newspaper office fielded more than one call from customers concerned that the history columns would cease. They weren't the only ones who wondered, but the newspaper staff was as relieved as the readers to learn he would continue to write and submit them.
Hopefully, Lent will maintain a similar presence in other ways — his knowledge for local history is vast and his passion for it undeniable. He has absolutely earned his retirement, a well-deserved reward for many hours and years of excellent service in the name of Crook County and Central Oregon history. At the same time, we all hope that the community can continue to benefit from its walking, talking community encyclopedia.
Steve Lent's contribution to the preservation and celebration of our local history is unmatched, and the books and educational resources he produced will serve as the primary source of Crook County history for decades.
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