Outreach Efforts

 
 

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: March 1, 2015

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