Sharon Nesbit honored for efforts to protect, chronicle local history
Sharon Nesbit doesn't see much difference between history and journalism.
"Some news stories are older," she jokes.
Nesbit — The Outlook's beloved columnist who started reporting for this newspaper in 1968 — now has another trophy to add to the stack of accolades she's won over the years.
The 78-year-old was honored with an Oregon Heritage Excellence Award on Thursday, April 12, during a ceremony in Bend hosted by the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation.
"It's not just that Sharon (works) for our communities and the State of Oregon, it's that it has been such a long and sustained effort on her part," said Len Otto, president emeritus of the Troutdale Historical Society. "Here she is, long past the age at which most people retire, and she still is working on history and community projects. I wish I had half her energy."
The commendation notes Nesbit's indispensable chronicle of Troutdale's first 100 years, "It Could Have Been Carpdale," as well as her advocacy that saved the Multnomah County Poor Farm from the wrecking ball.
Preservation of the site, now known as McMenamins Edgefield, allowed the poor farm to be transformed into a major hotel and music venue that helps power East Multnomah County's economy.
"There were only the very first inklings that people were traveling the Historic Highway back then," Nesbit said of her fight to save the property, which occurred in the mid 1980s. "I realized that the county had not followed the state land-use rule regarding its nomination as a historic site."
As a founding member of the Troutdale Historical Society, Nesbit put the organization's $3,000 treasury on the line in the face of high fees proposed by the irked city administrator. With Nesbit spearheading the effort, Edgefield was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1990.
"It was really a learning experience for everybody, including Multnomah County," Nesbit recalled.
Even long-time readers may have forgotten how Nesbit joined The Outlook 50 years ago — she had complained to former Publisher Lee Irwin that there wasn't enough coverage of a new subdivision in a town with fewer than 1,000 residents.
She was paid out of the petty cash drawer for her first few years.
While women have contributed to The Outlook since its earliest years, Nesbit joined the The Outlook at a time when women's first names were not regularly included in reportage, and female journalists were sometimes referred to as "girl reporters" in jokey headlines.
For the hired scribe composing stories on her clacking 1924 Remington typewriter, the biggest draw was access to The Outlook's archives that date back to 1911. It was virtually the only historical record of the area.
"The Oregonian and the Oregon Journal would trundle out occasionally, but only when something was on fire," Nesbit noted. "My first real news editor said I was the best [damned] newsman he had. I got really good support from them."
While Nesbit was surprised to hear of her award, she said the biggest honor was learning that her friends had taken the time to fill out the forms and nominate her.
Letters of support for her application were written by many, including Troutdale Historical Society Vice President Margaret Rice, Oregon Historical Society director Kerry Tymchuk, McMenamins historian Tim Hills and Pamplin Media Group President Mark Garber.
"Sharon is someone who has devoted herself to the heritage of Oregon," Tymchuk said. "She is one of the giants in the field, devoting countless hours to the history of East Multnomah County. When Sharon has a project she is working on, she is unstoppable."
In his letter, Garber noted Nesbit's role in preserving the old poor farm, but also her many other achievements.
"Saving Edgefield would be a career-worthy accomplishment for many people, but it is just one of many successes for Sharon," Garber wrote. "In the realm of physical structures, she was a major fund-raiser and advocate for three other projects in Troutdale: relocating The Depot, building The Barn for a history museum and purchasing the Harlow House, built in 1900, for the Troutdale Historical Society."
Garber also cited Nesbit's stints on the Troutdale Planning Commission, the city's Historic Landmarks Commission, its downtown redevelopment committee, its 100-year Celebration Committee and her longtime membership on the Oregon Geographic Names Board.
He concluded the letter by saying Nesbit is the "perfect fit" for an Oregon Heritage Award.
"If not for her, this corner of Oregon would have much less — and know much less — of its history," he said.
A 2018 Heritage Excellence Award was also granted to the Oregon Women Veterans Sculpture "the Lionesses," a memorial project in Springfield crafted by Troutdale artist Rip Caswell.
"The award recipients represent the extraordinary efforts to preserve Oregon's heritage," Beth Dehn, coordinator for the Oregon Heritage Commission, said in a news release. "They also serve as models for others on how to develop new ideas, approaches, and innovations."