They Wrote the Book

Posted: November 24, 2020, 12:00 am

Volunteers collect area stories to preserve history

Some of the people who worked on “Neighbors, Friends & Family.” From left, David Turner, Beverly Mattheisen, Gerry Butler, Linda VanOrden, Maryrae Thomson, Joe McFadden, and Conrad Pfeiffer.
Photo Courtesy of David Turner

By Craig Reed

Fifteen years after the idea originated, and as a tribute to those who came before them, the history of families living in an area west of Junction City are memorialized in a book released in July.

The Joel Pitney house, circa 1911.

“Neighbors, Friends & Family: Portrait of a Rural Community in Oregon” documents stories of 24 families living within a 100-square-mile area of Ferguson and High Pass roads.

The 200-page book focuses on farms, lumber mills, schools, community centers, social structure, and the families involved, and features short stories written by residents who either have the memories or researched the area’s history.

The publication includes facts and figures on donation land claims and personal family stories from the early 1900s.

“I’m pleased with the book,” says Maryrae Thomson, a writer, and editor. “It isn’t inclusive of all the families in the area, but not everyone was able to contribute. I think it is a good mix of stories that give a good feel for the community at that time.”

Most of the stories focus on when families came to the area, where they came from, what they liked about living in the area, and some of the activities that happened in the early years for those families.

“I’m pleased with the breadth and depth of the stories in the book,” says David Turner, an editor, designer, and publisher for the book. “The common thread through all of the process was that people were storytellers.”

The Graville Mill was one of many in the area that suported the community.

Some residents wrote their own stories about their ancestors. Others who didn’t have a knack for writing told their stories to someone else, who transferred the words onto paper.

There are stories of neighbors helping neighbors in farming and logging, and with home and barn construction. There are stories of friendships and tragic accidents, and tales of humor, romance, and bravery.

The stories are accompanied by historic photos that illustrate the people, their homes, and their land.

The book idea originated in 2005 by Frances Evans and her friends, sisters Fay and Vera Moffett. There was limited documented and organized history of the area, so the trio decided to gather stories from the area’s descendants.

They met once a month, bringing together notes, story outlines, and photographs they gathered. When Frances got sick in 2011, the monthly
meetings ended.

The box of information remained untouched. But at the memorial following Frances’ death, her daughter, Maryrae, declared, “There will be a book.”

Workers gather at a mobile cook shack on the Graville farm.

In 2017, the box of notes was put back on the table by Maryrae. Linda VanOrden, a Junction City resident who was involved in historical groups, and David, who had experience as a book writer and publisher, were asked to lead the effort to complete the project. They were joined by content editor Gerry Butler.

“Quite a few of us felt the book needed to happen to honor their intentions,” Maryrae says of her mother and the Moffetts. “It was a weight on my shoulders. It was unfinished business that I needed to get done.”

Maryrae, 70, was born and raised on a Ferguson Road farm and moved back to the property in 1999.

“I grew up with this community,” she says. “Even through the years when I was away, I would come home for the summers and help my dad plant trees and help hay with my brother.”

The book retails for $40 and can be purchased by emailing Gerry or at J. Michaels Bookstore in Eugene.

Gerry, 81, also grew up alongside Ferguson Road. After high school, she left the area for 11 years before returning in 1967.

“We all want the same thing: to respect Frances Evans and the Moffetts, who started the book idea,” Gerry says. “We enjoyed growing up here and wanted to remember those times. I’m pleased we now have a final product.”

Maryrae says she has learned through the project that documenting history is both interesting and important.

“I would like to encourage other people to write down their stories for their families before it is too late,” she says. “You might not think it is interesting, but looking back 30 years, it can be very interesting. It’s history, and it’s nice to have a personal view of it for families.”