Preserved totem pole returning to its roots in park

More than two decades ago, Tony “White Raven” Stanovich spent countless hours carving out the images of a thunderbird and beaver on a 14-foot totem pole, and gifted it to the community of Lebanon.

The pole stood in then-Mural Park until recently, when the City of Lebanon made plans to renovate the “pocket park.” In an effort to preserve the pole and save it from the wood pile, Gary Marks, city manager, spent countless hours of his own reworking the log, and will return it to its original location downtown.

The restored totem pole will be unveiled at Strawberry Plaza June 2 following the Strawberry Festival’s junior parade.

Milt Dodge of Sweet Home “roughed out” the western red cedar with a chainsaw, Stanovich carved it, and Patty Richards painted the totem pole. It was erected Sept. 10, 1993 in what was formerly known as Mural Park.

Stanovich told the local paper at the time that Lebanon is a town to be proud of, a community in which he’d built more friendships in under two years than in the past 40 elsewhere. He built the pole to say “thank you” to the people of Lebanon, and to serve as a memorial to the Native Americans, pioneers and visitors of the Lebanon area, he said.

The thunderbird welcomes people, and the friendly beaver—which “has always been known as a hard-working family-man kind of creature”— represents the pioneers and current residents, said Stanovich, who died in 2003.

Exposed to Oregon weather these past 23 years, rot and wood split threatened the continued existence of the pole. Marks had to carve off part of the top and base of the pole, and sand down some spots on the beaver and thunderbird to preserve it.

“This is something that belongs to the community, that, if not restored, is just gonna rot away,” Marks, an experienced artist, said last year as he began the process. “If we can do something to preserve something like this and put it back in the city park where people can enjoy it, that’s great.”

Marks estimates he put a couple hundred volunteer hours into the project over the past year.

“I know no other western cedar log better than this one,” he noted. “I know the ins and outs of this thing very closely.”

While time-consuming, it has also afforded him some time to relax and enjoy what he considers his own kind of “therapy.”

“I get to let go of all the concerns and stress,” he said. “I haven’t painted for a while, but this is in the style of when I was painting on canvas, so this has been really engaging for me. I really enjoy it.”

While working on the pole, Marks did a little research and learned that Stanovich was an honorary member of the Tlingit tribe in Alaska, he said.

While he worked the wood this past year, Marks tried to maintain the inspiration of the original carver.

His initial intent was to repaint the pole using its original color scheme and design, but after researching the background of the Tlinget tribe, Marks decided he would take a different approach.

“That tribe had a certain style, and this pole didn’t really honor that,” he said. “So when it’s done, we’re gonna have a unique pole that belongs to Lebanon, and it’s going to be the accumulation of its history and what it has become when we finally erect it again.”