What does history mean to a state? Why should we care about what happened in the past? Washington State Historical Society (WHS) Director David Nicandri, who announced his retirement last week, has done a lot more than most thought possible to teach our forward-looking state the value of our own heritage.
Here in the far southwestern tip of Washington, generations of residents were accustomed to living amidst some of the richest history anywhere, and were equally accustomed to being ignored by the social and political leaders of Puget Sound. Along with Rex Ziak of Naselle and others including Pacific County Friends of Lewis and Clark, Nicandri spearheaded efforts that began in the late 1990s to reveal Pacific Countys nationwide significance.
This work initially focused on the old townsite of McGowan, which Lewis and Clark knew as Station Camp and the Chinook Indians called their Middle Village. Working closely with the tribe, the McGowan-Garvin family, the National Park Service and a legion of other agencies and interested parties, Nicandri and Jim Sayce of the historical society laid the groundwork for a park unit that will help define our future, just as it did our past.
Historians love William Faulkners quote, The past is never dead. Its not even past. This is simply the truth. We all exist along a continuum, consciously or unconsciously taking many of our life directions from the decisions and actions of the past. Nicandris efforts have gone a long way toward helping Washington benefit from our past in a smart and deliberate manner.
In these tough financial times for states, many including ours are taking funds away from historical societies. Like Thomas Vaughan of the Oregon Historical Society, Nicandri spent his career building up a first-rate agency, only to see it pressed to the limit by legislators looking to save relatively small sums from already-small agencies. The Oregon Historical Society has been virtually mothballed in some ways. It is to Nicandris credit and to our Legislatures that cuts here do not yet endanger WHSs core functions. Washington and Oregon both should remain committed to understanding and celebrating those of the past who made us who we are today.
The national and state historical park units in Pacific County will be an educational and economic boon for many years to come. Dave Nicandri deserves major thanks.