If Portland, Oregon isn’t currently one of your top choices of places to see in the United States, you might think about updating your list. Heralded as one of the ‘greenest’ cities in America, Portland is a hotbed of community activity and a beacon of 21st century city planning. Bicyclists and pedestrians fill the tree-lined streets, taking time from their leisurely stroll for a quick cup of Stumptown coffee or a bite to eat at one of the local food carts.
A big city that still retains the small town vibe, Portland is a place where happy hour-frequenting 20-somethings and families coexist peacefully. And smack dab in the middle of downtown Portland sits the Multnomah County Central Library, a pillar of this North Western community since 1913. Like Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), the Multnomah Library was a 2009 recipient of the National Medal Award, awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to the ten best libraries and museums around the country.
(Multnomah County Library, front entrance)
Behind the beautiful facade of the building lies nearly 17 miles (yes, MILES) of book shelving, which is a good thing because according to the Library’s website the average library card holder in Multnomah county checks out nearly 31 items per year, a national record.
Last week, StoryCorps Facilitator Sophie Simon-Ortiz and I traveled from foggy San Francisco to Sunny Portland for three days of recordings. Here are a few of the stories that came out of that quiet room in the back of the library.
As a preschool teacher in the Portland public school system, Nicki Eybel began to feel that her creative talents weren’t being exercised to their fullest extent and she knew she needed a change. So she did the only natural thing she could think of: she decided to start her own preschool.
(Nicki Eybel, Charlotte Muellner and Marko Muellner)
A former student of hers, Charlotte Muellner, and Charlotte’s father Marko Muellner sat down for a conversation to learn more about Nicki’s life. A devout believer in the importance of early childhood education, Nicki named Maria Montessori as one of her greatest influences.
At 96 years old, Roger Shepphard recalls the vivid details of his youth during the Great Depression to his daughter Melissa. Moving West to Portland from Minnesota, he worked as a door-to-door salesman distributing samples of Kellogg’s products in the early 1930′s.
(Melissa Shepphard and her father Roger Shepphard)
At the onset of World War II, Roger joined the Navy and worked as a shipbuilder, specializing in waterproofing electrical wires. During test runs, he remembers, they would send huge ships a few miles up the Willamette River, causing the water to be pushed high up onto the shoreline. With a grin on his face, he recalls one test run when a local fisherman out in his small wooden boat got caught in the wake of a ship during a test run. Both the fisherman and his boat ended up unharmed in the weeds a few yards above the shoreline.
Having co-authored a book at the age of 7, Kate Patterson will no doubt have a leg up on the rest of her class when she starts the second grade. Entitled ‘In My Attic’ the book details all the wonderful things Kate finds in her attic. She sat down with her father Dan Patterson to read the story in in it’s entirety.
(Kate and Dan Patterson)
An avid reader, Kate names Beverly Cleary (a native Oregonian) and Judy Bloom as two of her favorite authors. When she isn’t penning novels, Kate likes to play Legos with her little brother and anxiously awaits the start of second grade.
Of course, these are just a few of the extraordinary participants who came to share their stories at the Multomah County Central Library. A huge thanks goes out to the staff at the library for their support and for helping to arrange these wonderful conversations.