Historical treasures and resources abound at the Three Rivers Historical Museum, but the place was busting at the seams with living, breathing treasures last Sunday afternoon (Oct. 16) when Aging in Community-Three Rivers held a reception and art show to honor a number of iconic local citizens. An overwhelming turnout from the community and standing-room-only crowd celebrated the unveiling of a project that honored 18 remarkable elders of the Three Rivers community.
Unveiled at this reception was an oral history project created by volunteers of Aging in Community in cooperation with the Tulare County Public Library, Three Rivers Historical Society, and the Friends of the Three Rivers Library.
Spearheaded by Grace Klassen, the project was inspired in part by hearing the oral histories of the matriarchs of the Three Rivers Woman’s Club featured at monthly meetings — Wilma Kauling, Vivian LaMar, Shirley Lilly, Bettie Powert, Evelyn Stiltz, and Pat Turner. Inspiration also came from reading oral histories gathered by StoryCorps volunteers across the country. (StoryCorps recordings are a popular feature on National Public Radio.)
Grace and other volunteer “story gatherers” — Elizabeth Holliday, Kathleen McCleary, Shivon Lavely, Georgellen Parker, and Julie Doctor — then set out to interview, record, and write down these rich oral histories of longtime Three Rivers residents, many from pioneer families, and all notable for their accomplishments in the community.
A compilation of those oral history transcripts, both the six matriarchs of the Three Rivers Woman’s Club and the dozen other iconic citizens of Three Rivers subsequently interviewed — Clancy Barlow, Gail Barlow, Jim Barton, Charlie Castro, Gary Cort, Meryl Darsey, Adrian Green, Howard Hill, Anne Lang, Earl McKee, Pat O’Connell and Mona Selph — are now organized in one large volume, housed at the museum and available for public viewing.
The next logical step in the project will be publishing in book (or perhaps electronic) form, making it more accessible to the public. And, of course, these first 18 oral histories promise to be just the start in a long, continuing endeavor to preserve the history through the words and memories of Three Rivers elders.
Oral histories and the written word were only part of the story at the Dynamic Lives event, as this project was augmented and complemented by an accompanying visual art show. How much of these individuals’ stories are told by the glint in their eyes, the joy in their smiles, the lines on their faces?
Those aspects of their stories were captured on canvas by talented mother-daughter artists Nadi Spencer and Renny Spencer. The portraits (along with 2017 calendars and holiday ornaments that feature the elders) of these remarkably telling faces were on display at the museum and provided a colorful backdrop to the afternoon’s presentation.
Aging in Community board president Grace Klassen spoke to an overflowing crowd in the museum’s new Mineral King Room. It’s hard to imagine distilling these marvelous lives down to just a few lines, but in order to highlight all the honorees in attendance that day, that was the assignment Grace handed out to the story gatherers. And so each honoree stood as Grace recounted their “15-word memoirs.”
The crowd offered generous and enthusiastic applause for each, clearly appreciative for the opportunity to honor these respected elders who had gifted the community with their stories. But it was the respected elders themselves who perhaps most enjoyed the day as reflected in their comments as they were invited to speak.
Honoree Mona Selph aptly summed up what many may have felt when she noted that “it is great to be so loved before your actual memorial service.”