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Heritage Heroes
Western Oregon University and Willamette University Students
Stacks of historic materials rescued from the flood.
Stacks of historic materials rescued from the flood.
Willamette and Western Oregon University Students
University students honored for saving historic items from floodwaters
When flood waters threatened two Willamette Valley museums last month, students from Western Oregon University and Willamette University responded to emergency calls and helped save important items in their collections.  For their effort, Heritage Programs of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has given the students and the service programs that alerted them Heritage Stewardship Recognition certificates.
"These museums are stewards of the cultural heritage of their communities. In their time of crisis, these busy students dropped their regular activities to rush and help save hundreds of significant cultural artifacts," said Roger Roper, the leader of OPRD’s Heritage Programs. "We want to recognize them for their work on behalf of current and future generations of Willamette Valley residents."
Staff at Salem’s Willamette Heritage Center arrived on Jan. 19 to find its mill race full with rushing water. Based on the forecast for the day and the damage sustained during the 1996 flood they took preventative measures and began moving historic objects to higher ground. Since time was of the essence, they decided to round up volunteers.
Amy Vandegrift, the director of development and volunteers at the center, contacted the Community Service Learning program of Willamette University to gather additional people. In less than two hours students, alerted to the emergency by emails and text messages, had arrived and were at work.
Vandegrift was moved by the turn out. "They were so helpful and incredibly responsive to our need. Exceptionally generous!," she said.
At the Independence Heritage Museum, staff were surprised to arrive to a flooded basement, having had no record of such flooding in the past. Museum director Peggy Smith began re-organizing the collections. Quickly deciding she needed help, Smith contacted Roben Jack, curator of the Jensen Arctic Museum, who suggested a call to WOU.
Before Smith was off the phone with information desk staff at WOU’s Werner University Center, they had sent out a tweet and the volunteers had begun to arrive. The students, primarily football players and members of the Wolves Helping Others student club, slogged through the water and saved every item in the basement.
 "Their service was invaluable," said Smith, "When I was their age I didn’t do anything like this. It is nice to see that sort of giving."
The Heritage Stewardship Recognition program was initiated by Heritage Programs of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to raise the profile of Oregonians who go the extra mile in protecting the state’s heritage. The certificates went to the Community Services Learning program, Megan Neish, Jordan Wildish, Meara Gordanier, Megan Nanry, Meredith Miller, Matthew Bateman, and Shanel Parette at Willamette University.
At Western Oregon University, the certificates went to the Werner University Center’s Information Desk, the Wolves Helping Others club, the WOU football program, Rebecca Eldred, Marcus Cuellar, Trent Gallegas, Summer Swonski, Stacy Potter, Daniel Aumua, Sean Fujinaga, Brad Hall, Emily Bridges, Pristene Delegato, Spencer Bell, Hannah Seely, Justin Cassens, Chris Ekstedt, Jessica Sandalo, Robert Elmer, Chelsea Beecroft, Katie Williams, and Brian Plasker.
"The flood is an important reminder for all museums, libraries, archives and heritage sites in the state about the need to have plans for responding to emergencies," said Kyle Jansson, coordinator of the Oregon Heritage Commission. "Not all will discover a potential disaster early and have strong, caring students nearby to prevent major losses."


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