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As Steve Lent retired last week from his role as historian of Bowman Museum, members of the community payed homage to his legacy and accomplishments that have made the museum what it is today

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - Steve Lent officially retired from his position as Historian of Bowman Museum April 7, but will still be available on Wednesdays to answer history questions, will continue to conduct tours, and write his column for the COOn a Thursday afternoon, a large crowd of Crook County residents came to the Bowman Museum to pay homage to an important icon of Crook County history.

Steve Lent recently announced that he will be retiring as a staff member from Bowman Museum after 20 years. His last day was Thursday, April 7.

"Today is a bittersweet day for all of us, I think," said Bowman Museum Director Sandy Cohen at the retirement party. "We are here to honor and pay tribute to a pillar of our community and a truly giant contributor to the history and the success of the Bowman Museum."

Cohen went on to comment, "The first three words I learned after I started here over four years ago – and which are still (and always will be) etched in my mind are, "I'll ask Steve. And when I asked, I always, always, got an answer – usually a very detailed answer. For not only is Steve a walking encyclopedia of state and local history, but, even more important, is his endless enthusiasm in wanting to teach others about that history. Combined with that is his extremely genial and kind nature…always wanting to help and contribute whatever he could to whatever project we were engaged in."

During the celebration, Lent was also presented a beautiful plaque from the county and the Bowman Museum by Jerry and Eloise Brummer. Eloise shared some of her memories of working with Lent during the years she worked for Crook County.

"I spent 26 years working for Crook County, and the last 10 were the best years of my working life, as I spent them in the Bowman Museum, working side by side with Steve Lent," noted Eloise. "It was fun, educational and always busy. He and I each have a deep love for our local history and the desire to preserve it."

She added, "I could not do any of the tech work he did for all the books, Historical Society tours, presentations, photo CDs for high school reunions, quarterly newsletters and on and on. He did it all. I did the menial stuff and even learned from that. Steve not only served this county with his sharing of the history that oozes from every pore in his body, I swear, but he extended his knowledge — verbal and written — to neighboring counties and beyond. He spent many hours of his own time doing presentations for those who asked him and did not expect any payment for his efforts as their attention, approval and remarks were his rewards. He truly thrived on sharing his historical knowledge with everyone."

A true legacy

Lent attended Crook County High School, graduating in 1968. His favorite class was history.

"My favorite subject was U.S. history with Mr. Mulvahill."

After graduation, he attended the University of Oregon and received his degree in history. He intended to be history teacher, but during the summers, he fought fires to pay his way through college.

"When I graduated, I decided 'I really like this fire business.' I started out with the Forest Service and then I transferred to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)."

He served as a fire management officer for the BLM, and when they combined interagency services in Central Oregon, and CO fire management services, he became the deputy for the east side, which included managing the Ochoco Forest Service and Prineville BLM. He served in this capacity until 2002, when he retired.

As early as 1983, Lent became heavily involved in the Crook County Historical Society (CCHS), serving as a volunteer, then was elected to the board. He served as president of the CCHS multiple times, as well as the CCHS Advisory Board for the budget committee.

"I conducted a lot of tours during that period on weekends. Once I retired, Gordon Gillespie, director here at the museum, informed me of a position of assistant director for the Bowman Museum. It was part time initially, and the position eventually morphed into Historian, which I have enjoyed tremendously."

Lent was deeply involved in many aspects of museum administration — a vital function, since the museum was so short-staffed. This included developing the museum's membership program, managing the gift shop and answering research requests and general information requests from patrons and visitors.

Lent expanded to authoring a series of nine books that have been published for Bowman Museum. They include Central Oregon Place Names on Crook (Vol I), Jefferson (Vol. II) and Deschutes (Vol. III) counties; Arcadia photo history books on Prineville, Madras and Crook County; and the three article compilations, "Islands in Time," "Pillars in Time" and "Monuments in Time." He has also compiled a documentary history of the Crook County Courthouse.

Lent added that if these stories are not documented, they can get lost in time.

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - From left, background, Mekia Ogborn; Steve Lent, Jerry Brummer, and Eloise Brummer."It takes a great deal of research to go through old newspapers, old journals and scrapbooks at the Bowman Museum. It is getting increasingly difficult to find stories and when I first came to work at the museum, I was approached by the paper to write historical columns. I have been writing those columns for the paper for over 20 years, and that is a lot of stories," he added.

Lent began contributing the local stories as a history column in the Central Oregonian in 2002. The articles, or vignettes, comes out in the local newspaper once per week. Each article has one page and one picture, with a unique story about a family or place in the Central Oregon region.

Lent indicated that all the stories that he has written for the Central Oregonian are in the three volumes. His inspiration comes from his desire to promote local history. He recently completed the third volume, which is now for sale at the Bowman Museum.

"When we first did the articles for the Central Oregonian, it was to have a segment that we could promote history — but to me, it's a passion to seek out people, places and things that happened in the past that had some kind of significance, and to pass that along," stated Lent.

He indicated that although he will retire as a staff member for the Bowman Museum and the county, he will continue to write the weekly column for the Central Oregonian.

Lent reminisced of his fond memories spent with his good friend, the late Francis Juris, who also contributed a number of books on Central Oregon that she authored. The two went all over Central Oregonian, documenting interviews and re-photographing vintage photos from around the county. Before Lent began at the museum, he had accumulated more than 5,000 photos.

"It was kind of fun going around doing all that," he recalled of those memories with Juris.

In 2001, shortly before coming to work for the museum, Lent received an accommodation award for promoting local history from the American Association of State and Local History. He was scheduled to go back to St. Louis, Missouri on Sept. 12, 2001. Because of the tragedy on September 11, the award had to be mailed to him.

"That was a big honor," Lent said of the award.

As Lent's position morphed from assistant director to historian, he became the focal point for people coming in who desired to learn about local history. He continued to scan photos that people brought in. Often, families would have family albums that they did not want to part with but would agree to let him scan the photos.

"That is something I really like, I really like to help people, and I can usually do it really quick because I know where everything is at," he said of his role as historian.

Through the years, Lent has given multiple presentations around Central Oregon to schools and organizations. It was — and is — also one of the events that Lent enjoys tremendously.

"I have over 27 different historical programs that I have given or can give, so that is kind of a fun thing."

One of his other passions was the historical tours of Crook County that he conducted, beginning prior to his employment at Bowman Museum, and will continue to do.

"I just love going out and sharing my information, plus being that I worked for both the Forest Service and BLM, I have a really good geographic knowledge of the areas, so people get to go into a lot of areas that most people don't even know about," indicated Lent.

"Steve's accomplishments through the years are exemplary and far too numerous to mention," Cohen added of Lent. "But what you should know is the important and leading role that Steve took in shaping and developing our organization to what it is today. Steve was the main catalyst and the visionary behind all of our well-known education programs such as the semi-annual guided tours, courthouse tours, the lecture series and People From Our Past."

Lent emphasized that although he is retiring, he will continue to come in on Wednesdays, so that he can answer historical questions and write his weekly column for the Central Oregonian. He will also write his annual publication for Crook County journals and continue to do presentations and tours.

"This is a passion, not a job," Lent recalled. "It is going to be really sad for me. I have done this for 20 years, and I have really developed a good rapport with people all over the county. But I am not leaving, I just won't be here on a regular basis. It is mixed feelings because I have a lot at stake in this museum."

When he was president of the CCHS the first time, they added the fire escape on the back of the Bowman Museum building. The second time he was president, they dedicated the Ranchers Memorial building. He also got to be part of the opening of the Crook County Historical Center. He indicated that he will still be actively involved when the new exhibit center opens at the Hans Pharmacy site.

Lent has two children and two grandchildren. His son, Jonathan, has followed Lent's footsteps in the fire organization that he retired from in the BLM. His daughter, Allison, lives in New York in the mountains, and works for the Watershed Management for the City of New York. Steve is looking forward to spending time with family this summer but emphasized he will continue to be available on a limited basis through the museum.

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY BOWMAN MUSEUM - Steve Lent works with Mekia Ogborn, who will be stepping into the role as historian at Bowman MuseumLent has been working with his mentee, Mekia Ogborn, to replace his position as historian, for the past few months.

"She picks things up pretty quick," he said.

Lent added, with his quick wit, according to Gerald Ramsey, who is heavily involved in Madras Historical Society, "I didn't know historians retired. He's probably right."

He emphasized that he is retiring, but will still be involved.

"It's been a fun time, and I still have just as much passion for the history as I ever did, so that is why I encourage people if they want to come in on a Wednesday during the week, that is a good time because I will be here," concluded Lent.

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