Growing through history
Molly Reel had been volunteering at Philip Foster Farm for almost 10 years when she discovered her own family connection to the National Historic Site in Eagle Creek.
Reel, an 18-year-old graduate of Sandy High School, started volunteering at the farm when she was 8. Several summers ago, she learned that her great-great-great grandfather, Daniel Trollinger, and great-great-geat-great grandfather, Perry Trullinger, had stayed at the site after traveling on the Oregon Trail.
A sign on the farm's restroom noted that it was named after Millard Trullinger, one of Reel's ancestors who was related to one of the organization's original board members. However, Reel didn't make the connection immediately because there are nine spelling variations of the family name. So several summers ago, she looked through the farm's record books to see if they stopped at the National Historic Site where she had spent so much time.
In the 1800s, Philip Foster and his wife, Mary Charlotte, established a property in Eagle Creek to host numerous pioneers traveling west on the historic Barlow Road. The site included a store and places for weary travelers to stay.
While Reel knew her family had journeyed across the Oregon Trail, she didn't know whether they took the Barlow Road or followed the Columbia River. After not finding any evidence in the farm's records, Reel went onto a website that had a record of the travelers that stopped on the farm in 1857, where she found her relatives.
"I remember being so excited," Reel said. "I've always felt a really strong connection to this place . . . Some of my personality has been shaped by being here. It's nice to know that there's a deeper rooted connection."
During her research, Reel also discovered that her ancestors had paid five cents less than the required fee to cross the Barlow Road.
"I handed my boss, (Elaine) Butler a nickel and I said I was paying off my family's debt," she said, smiling at the memory.
Reel, who has always had an interest in history, began volunteering at the farm after visiting with her mother.
"I saw kids my age running around in pioneer clothing, I saw a pamphlet about volunteering, and I've been here ever since," she said.
Reel volunteered at the farm every summer until she turned 16, when she became a member of the staff.
"It's an awesome summer job. I got lucky," she said.
When she first began volunteering at the farm, Reel's tasks included cooking on the wood stove, weeding in the garden and creating bouquets. Her duties eventually expanded to helping with day-to-day operations, working in the farm store, coordinating historical clothing donations and organizing events.
Reel enjoys seeing history come to life at Philip Foster Farm and is particularly interested in women from the pioneer era.
"I'm fascinated by their day-to-day life because it was so different from what it is now," she said, adding that she appreciated learning about the contributions made by women. "The Fosters had five girls, and it's interesting seeing where their families went off."
Reel also enjoys sharing this with the farm's younger visitors.
"I love the summer camps, and connecting with the kids. They remind me of me at that age," she said.
Earlier this summer, Reel's experiences with history and event planning at Philip Foster Farm culminated with coordinating a re-enactment of an 1860s wedding. Along with organizing the event, Reel played the role of the bride, Mary Elizabeth Welch, who married Max Foster.
Historical wedding bells
The wedding occurred last month during Mary Charlotte's Garden Party, an annual celebration of pioneer women on the farm.
Reel had been planning the event since January — doing researching for historical accuracy and coordinating members of the wedding party.
Along with the ceremony, the wedding also featured dancing and an opportunity to take photos with the bride and groom. Members of the wedding party strived to remain in character for the entirety of the afternoon.
"My mom came up to me, shook my hand and said nice to meet you,'" Reel recounted with a smile.
Though the event presented several challenges, including going through three people to play the groom, Reel said it was worth it in the end.
"Walking down the aisle and seeing everything I'd worked on come together was absolutely awesome," she said. "I couldn't have asked for it to turn out better. It had been a dream of mine for a long time to do something like this."
Looking to the future
After spending a decade at Philip Foster Farm and graduating from high school, Reel's next step is to join the U.S. Navy. She previously planned to attend college immediately after high school but was drawn to the Navy because of the opportunities it presented.
"I was worried about student loan debt and ending up with a degree I didn't want," she said, adding that she will serve as an aviation machinist with the Navy and looks forward to serving the country, traveling and meeting people. "I knew it was something I could be really proud of. It's a great way to see the world, set myself up financially and gain personal grit."
Though she is excited about her future plans, Reel noted that her connection to the farm made leaving a difficult decision.
"If I had stuck around, I knew I could do a lot more around here," she said. "It was hard to tell people that it was my last summer here. I never thought that day would happen. I can't remember a time when I wasn't here."
Along with developing a variety of leadership skills while at the farm, Reel noted that the experience has shaped elements of her personality.
"There's a whole different side of me that people don't always see," she said, adding that the farm has allowed her to develop her playful side because of the historical reenactments they often create. "When I'm here, I feel like I can be completely myself."
Moving forward, Reel said her co-workers are one of the aspects of the farm she'll miss the most.
"I have a strong bond with the people I've worked with. I'll miss the historical piece, too," she said. "I've always felt like I've made a difference here."
Philip Foster Farm Programming Director Jennifer Goldman has appreciated Reel's love of history and willingness to engage in a variety of tasks.
"She both charmed and educated tour groups from first graders to seniors. I particularly loved how much she would throw herself into a project, the wedding being only one example," Goldman said. "She has grown and matured in the time she spent at the museum from an adorable camper to a confident leader."
Reel said her experiences on the farm will stay with her as she embarks on future endeavors.
"After the Navy, I want to go to college to be a historian. I'd love to come back here and continue with what I left off," she said.
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