Taped oral histories capture Lopez Island memories

Helen Hastin with her sons, Phil and Bud. Both Helen and Phil recorded oral history interviews for LIHS. - Contributed photo
Helen Hastin with her sons, Phil and Bud. Both Helen and Phil recorded oral history interviews for LIHS.
— image credit: Contributed photo

By Gary Alexander

Special to the Islands' Weekly

A mere 160 years after Hiram Hutchinson landed on our fair island as the first permanent non-Native settler, we have amassed an amazing amount of island lore. As past President of the Lopez Island Historical Society and author of many of the exhibit panels there, I am aware that the museum has focused on the “ancient” history, taking place from 1850 to the 1930s, but there is much more recent history to capture as well. That’s why I’d like to inform you of two new, exciting programs that capture island memories from two perspectives—i.e., the first and second halves of the 20th Century.

One program, “Voices from the Past,” is being produced by LIHS and it covers interviews taped from the 1950s through the 1980s about memories from early in the century. The other, “Once upon an Island,” covers memories of Lopez from the second half of the century, as remembered by our new “old-timers.” These interviews are archived on Lopez Island’s low-power but high-energy radio station, KLOI-LP FM.

Oral history provides for the preservation of history by “ordinary people,” who would not necessarily be found in the documents of the headline-making movers and shakers. Oral History is also the first and most traditional way in which history has been passed down over the centuries. Here’s a brief summary of these two new programs and how you can eavesdrop on early Lopez Island history.

Voices from the Past is a new LIHS program to “digitize our memories,” preserving taped interviews from the 1950s through the 1980s, capturing voices of Lopez pioneers who lived here in the early 20th century. These recordings will be available for purchase beginning in mid-summer, 2012. You can hear the voice of Willie Cousins, a fascinating and imaginative story teller recorded in 1957, telling a string of colorful tales “out of school” about his neighbors. You can also hear Helen Hastin (Uncle Phil’s mom) describing the challenges and joys of building their Lopez homestead in the early 20th century.

Other island voices captured on these aging cassettes include members of our famous first-families like Coffelt, Davies, Gallanger, Higgins, McCauley, Norman, Spencer, Weeks and 30 other pioneer names you often see emblazoned on the Lopez map in the names of our bays, points, roads and spits.

These voices are currently archived on 120 cassette tapes. Throughout 2012, LIHS staff will listen to each tape, transcribe some portions and digitize them all, in order to keep their voices alive for future generations. The LIHS Oral History Digitization Project will transfer the interviews from tape to a digital format that will create exact copies. Museum Director Mark Thompson-Klein calls this “the museum’s most important project in many years.” You can learn more about the project at:

The first historians were storytellers who sat around fires describing events from their own lives and their families of origin. That brings me to the second exciting new program.

– “Once upon an Island” is a series of over 25 interviews conducted like a “fireside chat,” hosted by Alie Smaalders, Lorrie Harrison and others. The first 24 interviews are available at the Lopez Library in the audio book section. These 24 and others are also available in archived on-line at

KLOI is sponsored by Give Island Voices Expression, a name which encapsulates a belief that all islanders deserve access to our shared airwaves, either in the studio or listening live via streaming audio, or from taped archives with our local characters, old-timers, philosophers and 20th century pioneers.

A brief (but incomplete) list of interviewees in 2009, 2010 and 2011 includes Greg Blomberg, Larry Cochran, Tom Cowan Sue Dumond, Greg Ewert, Hal Gillespie, Marguerite and Ona Jean Goodrow, Stanley Greenthal, Steve Horn, Betty Hastin, Christa Malay and Corwin Martin, Pamela Maresten, Barbara Nason, Jeff Nichols, Ron Norman, Linda Graham Rose and Rosie Sumner (apologies for leaving anyone out.) I have now listened to all of these fascinating hours, usually while walking Lopez roads.

Oral history continues this summer, when LIHS is planning a special “Big Event,” where we plan to “channel” the voices of Willie Cousins and Helen Hastin, among others, played by our resident thespians.

In addition, my wife Karen and several other Lopez quilters will be conducting taped interviews of island women under the banner of “SOS”—Quilters “Save Our Stories” (a division of the Alliance for American Quilts), explaining how quilts preserve community and family history via delightfully personal memories.

History is coming alive on Lopez Island. Enjoy hearing the voices of our island’s pioneer families.*

*Needless to say, both KLOI and LIHS appreciate any tax-deductible donations to support these projects!

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