Lebanon Museum seeks stories to tell and a home of its own

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

While somebody’s trash might be someone else’s treasure, it’s the old things – and stories – that have value for those hoping to establish a museum in town.
And as the Lebanon Museum nonprofit works to build interest and support for its mission to acquire a proper building, its board members – Paul Aziz, Linda Ziedrich, Thonni Morikawa, Kendra Antila, Wayne Dykstra and Alysia Rodgers – seek local stories of long ago, as Vice President Ziedrich continues an oral history project she began this year.
Funded by a Siletz Tribe grant, the project is an effort to collect stories from some of Lebanon’s oldest citizens. To date, Ziedrich has interviewed eight people about the city during the mid-century, revealing perspectives on their childhoods, school, downtown life and, of course, the Strawberry Festival.
“Because Lebanon has never had a museum, its history is not well-documented,” Ziedrich said. “To have the personal stories is really interesting.”
This isn’t the first time such a collection’s been gathered. A project sponsored through the Linn-Benton-Lincoln Comprehensive Youth Program in the 1970s resulted in a book, “It Used to Be… But Now…,” that can be downloaded for free at tinyurl.com/y9rh5uz3. It retains stories from more than 20 locals, offering intimate glimpses into some of Lebanon’s rooted families.
In 2019, resident Jeff Smith shared historical photographs of Lebanon mills and millwork, but, Ziedrich said, the collection proved that a lot of that history was lost, simply because most modern residents couldn’t verbally pass on any related stories.
“We don’t have that much information on what went on in those mills,” she said. “To have the stories of the men and women who worked there would really be great.”
“It Used to Be… But Now…” sheds some light on millwork through interviewee Irma Bilyeu, who began working at a Lebanon plywood mill in 1944 at 90 cents an hour and received a gold watch when she retired in 1965.
Her story, forever embedded into the annals of Lebanon history thanks to the book, gives readers an understanding of not just the work, but also the working conditions.
And that’s what the Lebanon Museum wants more of: stories that enrich our understanding about the sights, sounds, smells and inner workings of mill life in Lebanon.

LEBANON MUSEUM board member Thonni Morikawa, right, looks through an old scrapbook assembled by the Junior Women’s Club in the 1970s, while Joli Root, left, gets distracted by the colorful pages.

To that end, Ziedrich is searching for men and women with personal knowledge of that life. Once the museum has completed a collection of 10 Lebanon stories and acquired a grant to fund transcription, volunteers can make them available through publication. The transcriptions, as well as the audio recordings themselves, will become available at the Lebanon Public Library until the museum can secure its own building. Ziedrich hopes to make them available by early next year.
Meanwhile, the museum hosted a presentation on Oct. 20 at the Lebanon Public Library on four local women’s clubs that have persevered for more than a century.
These organizations were part of a national trend that began in 1868 after female writers were barred from an honorary dinner for author Charles Dickens at the New York Press Club and launched Sorosis, a club for women.
Reading from a book about the history of women’s clubs, Ziedrich said, “The women’s club movement was an outgrowth of the crusades to emancipate slaves and to gain rights for women, including the rights of suffrage and a better education. The clubs allowed women to acquire knowledge, develop their intellectual and social abilities and confidence, and to work together democratically to improve society.”
Women’s clubs in Oregonbanded together in 1899 to pass a library bill in the state Legislature, which led to the development of many libraries throughout the state. Lebanon ladies started forming clubs in 1900 with the development of the Women’s Study Club and Civic Improvement Club. The latter, Ziedrich said, formed after women were turned away from the Lebanon Business Men’s Development League.
The Civic Improvement Club organized the city’s annual flower show and children’s parade during the Strawberry Festival’s early days, traditions that continue today. Members also supervised a swimming pool at the canal on Wheeler Street and established the annual Founder’s Day.
“I thought it was really, really remarkable that we have all these women’s clubs over 100 years old,” Ziedrich said. “The men’s clubs do not have such a good record. I think it’s really impressive, and I just wanted to get a feeling for why and how women’s clubs have lasted so well in Lebanon.”
Madeleine Cariati, of the Women’s Study Club, shared the origin of the 122-year-old group. Reading from the original minutes of its first meeting, she was able to illustrate how meeting locations and membership limits were determined.
“All the (earlier) minutes were handwritten, which is lovely to look at,” she said. “They had beautiful handwriting.”
At that first gathering in 1900, Maude (Ralston) Kirkpatrick was elected chairman and the ladies voted to name the group the Ladies Literary Society of Lebanon. In 1915, it became the Women’s Study Club of Lebanon.
“They began by studying some curriculum and then later, I think the reason they changed to Women’s Study Club was, they went to pick a theme and study the theme for the year,” Cariati said. “That’s what we currently do. In the spring we choose a theme for the next year, and that’s been going on all these years.”
The club’s framework remains the same, as do the dues: $1 a year. Cariati shared a scrapbook containing program booklets from the organization’s first 75 years. Within its pages, one can look back on topics of study: China, rivers, biographies, Canadian authors, folklore and fantasy, women authors, myths and legends, and women pioneers of Oregon, to name a few.
Meeting twice a month, members take turns presenting programs on a chosen topic then embark on a field trip at the end of the year. When a member dies, the club donates a relevant book to the library in their memory.
Lillian Barnes, of Lebanon’s Fortnightly Club, expressed pleasure at the similarities her group shares with the Study Club. It, too, donates a book to the library in a member’s memory and meets twice a month at homes and churches. Its dues are $1 a month.

Lebanon Museum board member Thonni Morikawa takes a closer look at a Women’s Junior Club scrapbook that is just as old.

The Fortnightly Club was established in 1906, and its members continue sharing books with one another.
“In 1906, books were not readily available and there wasn’t a city library,” she said. “Each club member was asked to submit one book and they were rotated at each meeting, so by the end of the book club, members were exposed to 16 different books, and that was really special at a time when there weren’t many opportunities to get books.”
As books trade hands, Barnes finds that historical fiction is currently of particular interest to members. During a meeting, one makes a presentation on any topic of choice with one limit: no politics.
“We’ve had some really varied programs,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot.”
Past programs have covered such subjects as authors, cookbooks, dictionaries, the Yellow Pages, craft projects and histories of aprons and of places in Oregon. Examining original minutes from the club’s earlier days, Barnes said she realized the club has a long history of philanthropy. During World War I, the women knitted items for soldiers, donated to local and global organizations, provided goods for Lebanon’s strawberry shortcake, and donated books and money for literacy programs.
“I’m proud to be in an organization that supports women and especially supports reading for children,” she said.
Present Day Club member Betty Adams doted on her group and pointed out that its dues haven’t changed since its 1909 launch: 25 cents a year.
She said the club was “established by several forward-thinking women to stimulate interest in science, literature, art, and social and ethical cultures.”
Its members have been meeting monthly for 113 years in each other’s homes to share and study articles of interest, and to this day continue to bring articles, books or something learned to spread the knowledge.
The Present Day Club was formed by women who brought their children for lunch and playtime while they met, Adams said.
“The women were wives of men who belonged to different clubs, and I think they felt left out, so they started this club,” she said. “As the club evolved, children no longer participated; they weren’t welcome.”
This final statement elicited warm laughter from the audience.

P.E.O. CLUB member Sally Morgan reveals a well-preserved charter when the Chapter V club formed in Lebanon in 1919.

Finally, Sally Morgan, of the Philanthropic Education Organization (P.E.O.) Sisterhood Chapter V, discussed the organization, which was established in Iowa in 1869 and has since expanded to thousands of chapters across the U.S. and Canada. The Lebanon chapter formed in 1919.
Morgan emphasized that the club consists of women who actively celebrate the advancement of women’s education, and its cornerstone is friendship. Its annual $55 dues help support scholarship funds, grants, awards and loans, and the stewardship of its Cottey College for women in Nevada, Missouri.
She recalled her childhood, when her own mother hosted meetings at home.
“When mom had P.E.O., we knew it,” she said. “You could not go in the living room, and you could not use the towels in the bathroom. She put out candy and stuff, and we tried, boy. It was always very, very formal and, boy, we couldn’t get anything dirty.”
The women meet twice a month for sweet treats and a member’s program. Recent presentations included such topics as how to make honey, a study on the U.S. Capitol, information about Build Lebanon Trails and even a presentation on the history of bubble wrap, which Morgan found interesting.
They also rally around members who are ill or need help, regularly participate in activities to raise money for scholarship programs and rope their husbands into club projects.
As the ladies refer to themselves as a sisterhood, the men are termed BILs (for brothers-in-law), “a valuable asset to our chapter,” Morgan noted, then quipped, “They are initiated into the chapter and expected to do what they are told.”
For more than a century and until only recently, club members were expected to dress to the nines.
“We all dressed to kill in the beginning,” Morgan said. “Dresses, stockings, fancy shoes and, I can even imagine, gloves. A little while ago that changed to slacks when a woman decided to show up in slacks. What a scandal!”
Morgan revealed that one Betty Adams was the culprit responsible for this shocking display. A few eyebrows rose at that meeting, Morgan told this reporter, but slacks have since become an acceptable mode of dress, and jeans were recently voted in as an option, as well.
During the presentation, scrapbooks with photographs, booklets, article clippings and even napkins from each meeting were shared with attendees. It’s the kind of history board members of the Lebanon Museum would like to make available to the city’s older and newer residents.
The museum’s next program will be the annual Historical Downtown Walk, scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, beginning at the BLT booth near the gazebo at Ralston Park, 925 Park St.
Volunteers will lead participants through town while sharing local history.
Every year the free event is different, according to Ziedrich. This year it includes a visit to the former Wells Fargo building, the upstairs of the Courtney block and three buildings associated with the Scroggin family.
For more information about the museum and upcoming programs, visit the Lebanon Museum booth at the vendor mall in the former Teen Challenge Thrift Shop, 846 S. Main St., or online at Facebook.com/LebanonMuseum.