Community Relationships

 
 

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.

 

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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