Lake Oswego honors four 'Unsung Heroes'
Lake Oswego residents Mark Browne, Taylor Finley and Duke and Jan Castle were honored this week as the City's Unsung Heroes of 2017. The annual award recognizes individuals or groups who have "worked quietly behind the scenes on behalf of the community."
According to Mayor Kent Studebaker, the awards have been given out every year since 2001, and 64 residents have been honored in previous years. This year's round of prizes looked to Lake Oswego's past and future.
Browne was honored for his work in organizing and cataloging the massive archive of historical documents at the Oswego Heritage House, the Castles were selected for their efforts to promote sustainability and Finley was singled out for his efforts to prepare his neighborhood for future natural disasters.
"These are the people who make this such a wonderful place to live and raise our families," Studebaker said during a City Hall ceremony on Tuesday.
Browne moved to Lake Oswego with his wife after retiring from a long career as a dentist and says he began volunteering at the Oswego Heritage House as a fun thing to do with his free time. But he quickly fell down a rabbit hole of historical study and preservation.
"I thought, 'I'm retired and I've got a couple hours a week to spend,' and it turned into a 40-hour-a-week job," he says, laughing. "But it's just fabulous, the historical perspective on our amazing town."
According to Browne, the Oswego Heritage Council's vault contained over 14,000 historical documents, photos and other memorabilia from 26 of Lake Oswego's famous families. There were also City records, he says — everything from the types of paving stones on the original streets to a 1906 petition to remove cows from A Avenue.
"The more I got into it, the more humble I became about the quality of the things we have," he says. "The richness in terms of diaries and documents and the photographic evidence we have is off the charts. We have things that are actually of national historical importance for western migration and movement."
But most of the collection was simply stacked in boxes, without proper preservation and largely inaccessible to the public. Browne took the lead in cataloging the items and making sure they would continue to survive.
Without a professional background as an archivist, Browne had to teach himself how best to proceed, and that involved a lot of outreach and requests for mentorship from groups like the Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Historical Society.
"I went to see what they do, how they do it, what their collections are, so we can better serve the community," he says. "I have people from the state come in and help me know what I'm looking at."
Browne has also been heavily involved in renovations to the Oswego Heritage House itself in the past year, helping to add a new museum area and an archive and research room. He says he's honored to receive the Unsung Hero award, but points to the work being done by all the members of the Heritage Council.
"It's wonderful, but only in the sense that it reflects the hard work that we've been doing at the Heritage House," he says. "That's the part I like, because I don't do this all alone."
Jan and Duke Castle
The Castles are at the heart of the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network, a community group that has been strongly advocating for the City to pursue sustainable and resilient construction on soon-to-be-built new schools and the downtown Civic Center that will replace City Hall.
The duo have been longtime advocates for both causes, and Jan Castle says disaster resiliency and sustainability go hand-in-hand in terms of building construction.
"Sustainability is about building a resilient society that can continue to perpetuate itself, that can go on into the future in a healthy way," she says, "and seismic resilience is sort of the same thing. If you build a building that's really green but isn't built to survive an earthquake that you know is coming, it's not really sustainable."
Duke Castle says he sees the focus on sustainable buildings in the past year as a culmination of some of the Sustainability Network's recent efforts, including a community writing initiative in 2016 called the Lake Oswego Story Project, in which the group asked residents to write stories from the perspective of future city residents, looking back on how the residents of today took action to halt climate change.
That was followed by a campaign urging the City to create a Climate Action Plan for Lake Oswego, which the City Council endorsed as one of its goals for 2017. The Castles and other network members have spent the past year working
with City staff to develop the plan.
The Castles say they've been happy to see an increase in awareness about climate change issues in Lake Oswego over the years, reflected both in the size of the Sustainability Network's membership and the level of engagement the group has with the City when it comes to new development projects.
"The fact that (sustainability and resiliency) was so enthusiastically embraced by the design team and the public makes me feel like Lake Oswego is beginning to embrace this idea of building buildings that are going to last and be safe through anything, and provide their own power," Jan Castle says.
The duo say they plan to keep increasing the scope of their advocacy work and want to encourage the creation of a long-term culture of sustainability in Lake Oswego.
"The things that our team are going to be proposing are going to take years if not decades to unfold," says Duke Castle. "But one of those is just for the City and community to institutionalize this, and realize that we need to keep doing this year after year."
Westridge resident Taylor Finley was honored for work as a neighborhood organizer to prepare for a Cascadia-type earthquake or a similar natural disaster. He says his interest in the topic began when he read a 2015 story in The New Yorker called "The Really Big One," which described how a magnitude 9.0 earthquake would impact the Pacific Northwest.
"That was kind of the spark for me of my realization of the risks that we face," he says. "So I ended up asking questions of my Neighborhood Association chair at the time about anything that we had been doing as a neighborhood, and we hadn't done anything at that point that was organized."
But the neighborhood chair pointed him toward another neighborhood association that had begun preparing, as well as the citywide group PrepLO, which works to teach community members about preparing as a neighborhood unit. Finley joined PrepLO and volunteered to serve as a coordinator for his own neighborhood. His local efforts eventually expanded to include the adjacent Blue Heron neighborhood as well, due to the small size and close proximity of the two.
Finley's group meets periodically at Westridge Elementary School and focuses on implementing the lessons and suggestions from the larger PrepLO group (which is co-chaired, coincidentally, by fellow Unsung Hero Jan Castle). Finley says the smaller, informal setting is helpful for local newcomers who may not know much about the topic and would otherwise be overwhelmed by a sense that there's too much to do.
"Just talking about those things, and the easy stuff you can do as a neighborhood and an individual family to become more resilient, makes it worthwhile," he says. "Your neighbors, in the case of a major disaster, are going to be there for you."
Finley says he was surprised to learn that he would be receiving the Unsung Hero award, but wants to use the chance to let more people know that neighborhood preparation is easier than people think. Others looking to organize their own neighborhoods should get in touch with Prep LO (preplo.org), he says, and they can be quickly trained on preparation and begin passing those skills on to their own neighbors.
"I'm humbled because knowing some of the other people that have gotten (the award) in the past, I was very surprised to be included," he says. "Knowing what they have done and I have done, I feel like I pale in comparison to a lot of other people, so it's great to be included in that list."