More than 15 years ago, the process was started that gave Magnolians a major gift of written history in “Magnolia: Memories & Milestones,” written and published by a dedicated corps of volunteers.
The volunteer board of the Magnolia Community Club (MCC) procured two $10,000 grants from Department of Neighborhoods. I had just retired as an MCC board member in charge of its history committee when I was asked to come up with a process that would capture history in some kind of book form. Nobody was quite sure what it would look like or how it could be done.
Author Aleua Frare, volunteering for the MCC back in 1976, generously gave her time and produced an undocumented view of historical fact, tied together by folksy yarns and urban legends. But I wanted something more.
I set up a “Write Your Magnolia Memories” booth at Magnolia Fest, to see whom else I could lure into doing professional work for free. The first person to take the bait was a skinny guy doing wheelies in his wheelchair. He pulled up to the booth, did a spin move and magically produced a self-published volume on his colorful Magnolia childhood. That was Hal Will; he had contracted polio in his early 20s, and it left him a paraplegic. He loved the impossible idea of doing this book; he immediately volunteered.
I reached out to people like Bob Kildall, of Discovery Park fame, who let me know he found me brash but was intrigued enough to join up. Kildall recommended Scott Smith, the guy “who fought Metro.” My mother’s friends Patty Small and Joan Santucci, both excellent writers, signed up. My daughter Jenny’s friend, Joy Carpine, still in journalism school at the University of Washington, wanted to write a chapter. My writing group at the time produced four of the authors: Nancy Worssam, Sam Sutherland, Gail Martini-Peterson and John Hendron. Some were retired; some stay at homes; some had full-time occupations.
For each writer, I designed a portfolio with all kinds of writing examples, history writing materials, style sheets, lists of contacts, subjects and sources. We began a long, time-consuming process that included long monthly meetings at the Magnolia Library, to talk, exchange drafts, monitor progress and somehow put together our book.
Every writer settled on a topic or two. Some wrote about their childhoods or researched early life on Magnolia through interviews or academic research. Worssam started at the very beginning with the Native Americans and Native American experts.
Experts came forward for no charge. People pulled out scrapbooks and photo albums; folks renewed friendships from their childhoods. Volunteer peer editors encouraged, kindly critiqued and helped craft draft after draft. The “Henry A. Smith: Magnolia’s First Pioneer” chapter, which I wrote, had 27 drafts! Santucci proved to be my inspirational peer editor, all the while, doing her own chapter of the history of the Village.
We combed archives. We learned about the Polk Directory, Kroll and Baist maps. We went to the periodicals room at UW Suzzallo Library to go through the old Magnolia News. We went on time-consuming interviews all over Magnolia; to the Seattle Yacht Club to meet with the chamber brothers, sons of the first hardware store owner on Magnolia; and to the university to discuss fish and fishing with the Fisheries Department to get a context for Fishermen’s Terminal. Many authors volunteered to spend their own money on the project.
Authors produced pictures and proof of what they were writing about. Everyone needed citations in endnotes, captions, proper credit for photos, copyrights and correct formats in Modern Language Association-style.
Rob Hitchings volunteered to work under Col. James Collins, at the Fort Lawton Army Reserve, preparing for the long-awaited Korean War medaling. Hitchings wrote of that and his father’s experience in that war, while he and his mother, the editor of the Magnolia News at the time, were left behind. Magnolian Roy Scully, famous Seattle Times photographer, volunteered to do “now” shots.
Scott Smith and I traveled to West Seattle nearly every day for three months to work with Paul Langland on the final book design. Smith logged in thousands more volunteer hours, gas and food money to make the book a reality.
“Magnolia: Memories & Milestones” was presented in December 2000; quickly selling out two publishings, a third was done. It was awarded the Virginia Folkes Award from the Association of King County Historical Organizations.
From that band of 13 volunteer authors, the Magnolia Historical Society (MHS) became a 501(C)3 nonprofit in 2001. These begat new volunteers, doing new things for Magnolia history, me continuing to be one of them.
Santucci, Kildall, Will, Small, Malsed, Scully, Hendron have passed on — they leave us with a huge loss of ready, generous service and a generation of memories. But they also leave behind a grand legacy of generosity and a clear sense of the place they called home.
Writing remains MHS’ main mission, which produced a second volume, “Magnolia: Making More Memories,” in 2007, with 32 volunteer writers. It was also nominated for the Virginia Folkes Award.
Hardcover books are falling out of fashion; sales of the Magnolia books are slow. MHS writing workshops produce new memoir writers. The hope for a third corps of volunteer writers dealing with Magnolia in the ‘50s and ‘60s lingers but seems unlikely.
Nearly all longstanding volunteer organizations on Queen Anne and Magnolia struggle now to get new, younger people committed, involved and in leadership positions. MHS is now without a president and is seeking new board members. The Magnolia Community Club also needs new board members.
Volunteering — the only reason so much award-winning history about Magnolia exists, and the only reason our wonderful neighborhood is what it is — seems to be becoming a part of the past.
To join the MHS board or to purchase the Magnolia history books, go to www.magnoliahistoricalsociety.org.
MONICA WOOTON is a board member of the Magnolia Historical Society. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.