Everyone has a story to tell, and recording those stories is important to preserving the rich history of Grays Harbor County, according to State Historian John Hughes.
“I look at all this experience and wisdom in this room, and there are a lot of stories here that need to be recorded,” said Hughes to the more than 50 people who attended a presentation last Thursday afternoon by Hughes and Secretary of State Kim Wyman at the Channel Point Village retirement community in Hoquiam.
Wyman and Hughes, former longtime reporter and editor at The Daily World, talked about the Secretary of State Office’s Legacy Washington Project, which records, preserves and celebrates extraordinary people and stories from the state’s history.
Wyman noted the clock is ticking on preserving some of these stories and gave an example from her own family to illustrate the point.
“I had an uncle who was in Okinawa in World War II,” she said. “He never told the story to my dad, so that story is lost in time.”
Moira Connor, community relations director for Channel Point, told Hughes they had recently started a program to record residents’ stories. Connor called the project “a work in progress” and asked Hughes for advice on collecting the stories.
“Ask open-ended questions,” said Hughes. “And be willing to shut up and listen.”
Open-ended questions allow the story teller to add his or her own unique perspective to the story, said Hughes. Wyman earlier had said, “If you tell a story, people remember it,” while just reciting dates and facts can be easily forgotten.
“We are all oral historians,” said Hughes, who recommended Connor hold special sessions for residents to “tell their own remarkable stories. We need to take the time, to make certain these stories are recorded.”
Some of the stories Hughes has collected for the Legacy Washington project come from Grays Harbor County. Arnold Samuels of Ocean Shores helped liberate the concentration camp Dachau with Henry Kissinger in World War II. And the region’s own “Rosie the Riveter,” Regina Tollfeldt, who lived in Aberdeen, helped build airplanes for Boeing during World War II. During the war, there were several Boeing sub-assembly plants in this area, making nose cones for bombers, said Hughes.
Hughes talked about Jim Evans, a Marine and decorated Korean War veteran who lives in Aberdeen. He is one of the “Chosin Few,” the term used for survivors of one of the bloodiest conflicts in U.S. History, the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir in the winter of 1950-51.
Aberdeen’s Moonbeam Kupka fled Korea with her family early in the conflict, married Mike Kupka, a soldier. One of their sons, Jonathan, is now a “full-bird colonel” in the Army Special Forces, said Hughes. Hughes remembers watching young Jonathan Kupka roaming the local hills and neighborhoods with his paintball gun.
The next Legacy Washington project is “Ahead of the Curve,” a study of Washington’s women and how they contributed to the history of the state and the nation. This project comes on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote; Hughes pointed out the women of Washington State gained the right to vote in 1910.
This project, like the ones before it, will be displayed in the Secretary of State’s Office in Olympia and includes a profile of Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation.
Also in attendance were local leaders including Hoquiam Mayor Jasmine Dickhoff and City Administrator Brian Shay; Grays Harbor Commissioner Randy Ross; Port of Grays Harbor Commissioner Tom Quigg and Port of Grays Harbor Executive Director Gary Nelson.
For more information on the Legacy Washington and to view free online the stories of local and other Washington residents who have made their mark on history visit sos.wa.gov/legacy.