Whitman Mission
Administrative History

Chapter Seven:

While management of Whitman Mission does not require support from the local Walla Walla and College Place communities, both the park and the townspeople benefit when each supports the other. Undoubtedly, such reasoning explains the high priority given to public relations during each administration. Public relations accomplishments appear in the Superintendent's Monthly Reports from 1941-1967 and again in the Annual Reports from 1972-1986. In fact, the August 1987 issue of the National Park Service Courier was devoted entirely to "friends associations," [39] an indication that community relations are still considered important servicewide. Most recently, the October 1987 operations evaluations encouraged the superintendent to maintain the Mission's close ties with the community.

Relationship with Local Organizations

The National Park Service was fortunate to have active friends associations to support the programs at Whitman Mission. The Mission support groups were unique in that they were formed without the request or assistance of the National Park Service. There was great community interest in the Whitman story, even before the National Park Service managed the site. Custodian Garth noticed this interest and remarked in his first Monthly Report that visitation was "not infrequent" in spite of the remoteness of the site. "This is evidence for the strong interest in the Whitmans which exists and which has existed for some time." [40] Therefore, the friends groups were vehicles for avid Marcus Whitman fans and for highly motivated, public-minded individuals; often one and the same.

The local people, remembers Custodian Garth, "got the site recognized as a National Monument; they were the motivators behind the whole thing." [41] Certainly, Herbert West was a motivator. He directed the park's first friends association--the Whitman Centennial, Inc., which donated the mission grounds to the U. S. government in 1936. Incorporated from 1936-1956, this group merged into another friends group--the Marcus Whitman Foundation.

The Marcus Whitman Foundation, 1950-1975, provided community leaders with the opportunity to help the National Park Service for 25 years. Although originally incorporated to raise funds for a Marcus Whitman statue for Statuary Hall, Washington, D. C., the organization was most active supporting the park's development program from 1950-1964. Superintendent Kennedy was a member and kept the others updated on the development progress. Other members, such as President Allen Reynolds, Howard Burgess, and Vance Orchard, wrote their congressmen about the park's boundary expansion, attended city council meetings to support the new entrance road and zoning regulations, and printed their support in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Additional projects were spearheaded by Mrs. Goldie Rehberg, including raising money for the Marcus Whitman statue in 1953, and initiating a marker for Alice Clarissa Whitman, dedicated in 1968. After this flurry of Whitman-related activity, the group's focus shifted to the local historical society and the Mother Joseph statue for Statuary Hall. However, interest in the foundation was waning. There no longer seemed a need for the group since Marcus Whitman's statue was erected and park operations were running smoothly. Ex-President B. Loyal Smith remembers, "We didn't really have a purpose anymore." [42] Further, many original members such as Mrs. Rehberg had either left Walla Walla or died. Members tried to revitalize the organization in 1970 but, in 1975, under President Smith, the group disbanded. While the park lost a very beneficial support group, the Marcus Whitman Foundation was not the only organization that supported Whitman Mission. While service clubs are not technically "friends associations," many service clubs were indeed friends of the park.

The Kiwanis Club was an early supporter of the Whitman Mission, caring for the grounds in the early 1920s and 1930s. After the national park was established, the Kiwanis were not as active since the Marcus Whitman Foundation was, as Ex-President Allen Reynolds remembers, the park's main support group. [43] Even after the Foundation disbanded, Kiwanis participation was limited to guest lectures by park employees because "there was very little need of encouragement and support," says Bill Vollendorf, Club Historian. [44] However, in 1981, the Kiwanis, State Parks, State Department of Transportation, and the Whitman Mission placed a new "Waiilatpu" sign on Highway 12. [45]

The Daughters of the American Revolution also helped monument operations in its early years. Louise Jaussaud remembers giving tours of the archeological excavations for the 1947 dedication and helping raise money two or three times a year for the monument. [46] The DAR, like many other local groups, was interested in the park's development and visited the monument frequently during the 1950s and 1960s. In recent years, the DAR's closest connection with the Mission occurs when they attend the Memorial Day Service at the Great Grave. Current Regent Albina Kness feels that the Narcissa Prentiss chapter values Whitman Mission although they are not as active, anymore. "We're proud of what's out there," she said. [47]

Another group often mentioned in Superintendent Kennedy's annual reports was the Northwest Conservation League. They, too, supported the monument's development and arranged lectures and visits by Superintendent Kennedy and Historian Thompson. In fact, Mr. Thompson remembers many such community lectures:

I gave talks continually to all kinds of organizations in town: to the schools, to Whitman College, Walla Walla College, and service organizations of every stripe. We got along well with the Chamber of Commerce . . . . I thought we got along really well with the community. [48]

While these service clubs supported Whitman Mission, they were also committed to many other community service projects. Unlike these clubs, the Waiilatpu Historical Association, incorporated in 1964, was organized to serve only one agency: Whitman Mission.

The park's first cooperating association, the Waiilatpu Historical Association was organized: "to cooperate with the National Park Service in stimulating interest in educational activities and encouraging scientific investigation and research in the fields of History and Archeology." [49]

Cooperating associations developed early in National Park Service history to respond to visitor needs for inexpensive guides, maps, pictures, and other interpretive materials not available through Federal funds. Interested persons in nearby communities and educational institutions joined with park naturalists and historians to provide such items. [50] Accordingly, townsmen Vance Orchard, L. K. Jones, and Ralph Gohlman joined Superintendent Kennedy and Historian Jensen to form Whitman Mission's cooperating association. [51] Sales items were scarce that first year: Drury's First White Women Over the Rockies, Jones' The Great Command, Dick's Valient Vanguard plus two maps and one postcard. [52] Ten years later, the sales items included eleven books, six pamphlets, three maps, two slide sets and seven postcards. [53] Proceeds generated by the association expanded the park's interpretive program and library. During this 10-year span, townsmen L. K. Jones, Vance Orchard, Arthur Hawman, and Ralph Gohlman served intermittently as trustees; Gohlman for the duration. In 1974, the Waiilatpu Historical Association merged with the Pacific Northwest National Parks Association. Another expansion in 1975 included the U. S. Forest Service. In 1982 the name changed to Pacific Northwest National Parks and Forests Association. This expansion increased the association's ability to assist the park. Together with Walla Walla's Baker-Boyer Bank and the Welch Fund, the association sponsored the film, "A Memory Retrieved," about the dying craft of wagon-making. The association publishes the park newspaper, Waiilatpu Press, purchased the replica spinning wheel, and acquired the publishing rights to several out-of-print books such as Frazier's Stout-Hearted Seven. An outgrowth of joint community and park interest, the cooperating association provides an invaluable service to the interpretive program by expanding the visitor's opportunity to explore northwest history.

The existence of Whitman Mission's friends associations, cooperative association, and the service clubs indicates that citizens care about the commemoration of the mission site. However, organized support of the park was more prolific during the park's first 20 years than during its latter 20 years. This is due, in part, because there were highly motivated, enthusiastic people who believed in the significance of the Whitmans and were willing to become involved. More importantly, the mission was undeveloped and needed the help of groups like the Whitman Centennial, Inc., and the Marcus Whitman Foundation. After development was completed, enthusiastic individuals had no projects on which to exercise their talents. The lifeblood of every organization is the motivated individuals who initiate projects and oversee their completion. In recognition of this fact, park administrators compiled a list in 1966 of contributors and supporters of Whitman Mission and the National Park Service (see Appendix N). Thus, the individuals themselves, rather than the organizations per se, are the real friends of the park, then and today.

National Park Service Outreach Efforts

While many community groups and Marcus Whitman enthusiasts willingly supported Whitman Mission without any coaxing from the National Park Service, the park's outreach efforts also encouraged interest in the mission. Nothing was more effective for creating local interest and awareness of the park than the local newspaper. In fact, the 1960 master plan included the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin in its list of most important public relations contacts. [54]

Superintendent Weldon had a very good relationship with the Union-Bulletin's Jim Schick, who covered monument news during the 1950s. He printed stories about Marcus and Narcissa, the grounds improvements, displays, and visitation statistics. During the same time, Nard Jones, chief editorial writer with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, encouraged visitation with articles about the Whitmans and their commemoration by the National Park Service. In addition, the Union-Bulletin's roving reporter, Vance Orchard, covered park issues from 1951-1983. Thirty-two years of writing about the Whitman Mission instilled Orchard with a great interest in the park and its programs. Besides serving on the Marcus Whitman Foundation, the Waiilatpu Historical Association, and heading the publicity committee for the 1964 dedication, Orchard was master of ceremonies for the November 29 Memorial observance in 1980, and was one of the local experts consulted for the museum revision in 1987. Mr. Orchard said of his involvement:

History is a favorite subject of mine. The mission was part of my newsbeat for thirty-two years. If anything was discovered--an artifact or a letter--I wrote about it. I did have a special niche for the mission and what it represented. [55]

After 32 years of watching and helping the National Park Service manage the Whitman Mission and watching community reaction, Orchard feels that community interest has its "ups and downs," but that the support is there when the park needs it. "The program established by the National Park Service has been great over the years." [56]

The park had a high profile at times, due to extensive newspaper coverage. The 1940s was one such time, with the archeological discoveries providing newspaper copy that sparked community interest. The development phase was also a time of high profile. Favorable publicity was critical to the smooth completion of National Park Service plans so Superintendent Kennedy made every effort to cooperate with the Union-Bulletin. Reporter Orchard covered the development plans, helping the public understand these complex legal issues. His complimentary articles, combined with good planning and Mr. Kennedy's public relations skills, generated community awareness and support of the National Park Service. The quantity of newspaper articles about the new cultural demonstrations in the late 1970s and early 1980s indicates another period of high publicity. The most recent rash of publicity occurred in 1986, the Whitman Sesquicentennial year. While newspaper articles certainly contributed to public relations, the park's outreach efforts included more than just newspaper publicity.

During the park's formative years, the superintendents routinely lectured to service clubs and community groups. Custodian Garth and Superintendent Weldon talked to the Kiwanis Club and the Daughters of the American Revolution, reassuring these Whitman enthusiasts that major progress, while slow, was forthcoming. At one point Weldon remarked, "Perhaps they ought to have someone here who is more of a lawyer, good-will-among-the-public-maker etc. than I am!" [57] His successor, Superintendent Kennedy, was just that. Together with Historian Thompson, he lectured to groups and joined the Kiwanis and the Marcus Whitman Foundation to foster support for park development and increase respect for the National Park Service. The Monument's first three managers chose a highly participatory role in public relations because at Whitman Mission's tender stage of development, that was what was needed.

In later years, when public relations was not as critical to park operations, superintendents were not as personally involved with community relations. Instead, other park personnel, including the chief park interpreter, became more involved. For example, Superintendent Stickler took Kennedy's place in the Marcus Whitman Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce, while Chief Park Interpreter John Jensen joined the local planning committee for Fort Walla Walla city park. Although Superintendent Kowalkowski was a member of the Blue Mt. Federal Executive Association, Chief Park Interpreter Larry Waldron was president of the local toastmasters and on Walla Walla's Bicentennial committee. In this manner, the National Park Service did not so much advertise their programs as assist and participate in community-wide and community-generated projects. In recent years, Whitman Mission's booth at Walla Walla's Southeastern Washington Fair represents significant community contact. While Superintendent Amdor took an active personal interest in networking with community leaders, Superintendent Herrera is less interested in becoming involved. Thus, the amount of community involvement depends upon the park needs and the superintendent's priorities.

Although Whitman Mission is designated as a National Historic Site, its support tends to be local. Even visitation was distinctly local in the early years. Historian Thompson points out that the park was very remote and that, "there were no signs [on the old highway] to entice people to come in here." [58] Therefore, visitors were usually people already familiar with the Whitman Mission, often remembering the bare mission site, grave, and shaft from their childhood. It was not difficult for the National Park Service to gain their support for improving the site. Further, active park supporters during this time such as Herbert West, Chester Maxey, and Cameron Sherwood never doubted the relevancy or value of the Whitman story and were proud to help the National Park Service. Mr. Sherwood recently wrote on the occasion of the Sesquicentennial: "All those who are interested in the preservation of our historic sites are proud of the fine planning efforts which culminated in establishment of the Marcus Whitman Mission Site." [59]

The decline of this organized community support in the 1970s occurred partly because there was no obvious need for group support; witness the deorganization of the Marcus Whitman Foundation in 1975. Instead, the fledgling Fort Walla Walla Museum was in more pressing need of community help. Further, the Whitman story did not seem to inspire people as readily or easily as it had in the past, limiting the number of Whitman enthusiasts.

Currently community interest is demonstrated in somewhat different ways. The annual November 29 memorial observance and the Sons of the American Revolution Memorial Day service both invite community participation. Not surprisingly, the park's biggest supporters tend to be those people who remember its early years and have witnessed its growth--people like Bill Vollendorf, Gerwin Jones, and Vance Orchard. Or, as Chief Park Interpreter Dave McGinnis said in 1982, those people who "have developed fond memories of this place . . . " [60] Yet, the Sesquicentennial in 1986 provided an opportunity for people never before involved with the park to participate Wes and Sharon Colley, Gary Sirmon, and Pete Hanson are just some of the people recruited for the Sesquicentennial. By widening the support group in this manner, park administrators ensure that it will continue. While special events provide opportunities for short-term concentrated community participation, long-term participation occurs through visitation. Twenty-eight percent of visitors are from the surrounding areas. [61] These visitors often return again and again with out-of-town friends or relatives, while some regularly view the park's weekend movies. Again, many of these people remember the development years and return to see the progress. While community interaction is not as vital to park operations as it once was, it is nonetheless important. The Whitman Mission is public property and as such, the public continues to be an important administrative consideration. Since no better friends or more friendly critics can be found than in Walla Walla and College Place, this relationship with the Mission should be encouraged.


Last Updated: 02-Feb-2000