When I was in my early twenties and sometimes staying in Chicago, I met Kim, a Canadian woman who had been riding her motorcycle around North and Central America. Somewhere in Central America, Kim had run into Ken, who owned a store in Chicago called See Hear Music and Video. Ken told Kim that if she rode up through Chicago, he’d have a job for her and a place to stay. I had worked for Ken at See Hear during high school, and I would stop by when I was back in town. The person I had been closest to at the store, John, thought Kim and I should meet. We both trusted John, so we took him up on it.
Kim would go on to drive trucks around North America and then to fly helicopters in Afghanistan for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and then she would start a farm in Manitoba while training other helicopter pilots, and I would end up out in Oregon, but at the time, Kim and I had no idea where we were headed. We ate quick food and drank hot tea and even trudged up Lincoln Avenue through snow and slush to laugh our way through a ballroom dancing class for which we were gloriously ill-equipped. A few months later, Kim loaded everything she had into her small backpack and the rack on the back of her small motorcycle and rode out of Chicago toward the rest of her life. We’ve been exchanging letters ever since. On a lark, I recently looked back over some of them. Each letter tells some specific stories, and the batch of them—the whole archive—also tells a story about the two of us, where we’ve been and where we are and where we might be headed.
These letters are on my mind now because this issue of Oregon Humanities magazine is a retrospective. More specifically, it’s a look back through the eyes of Kathleen Holt, who has shaped the magazine and much more of Oregon Humanities’ work for about eighteen years. Eighteen years is a long time: so many decisions and consequences, paths taken and avoided, sentences chosen, tinkered with, reordered, printed, and read and forever part of all the writing that has been published in this magazine. The magazine has collected and shared hundreds of stories, but it is also itself a story, both about Oregon Humanities and about Oregon.
Much of Oregon Humanities’ work has not been written down; our conversation work means something to those who participate in the moment, who listen, talk, think, and feel together, but it’s part of no documented archive—it is ephemeral, enduring mainly as memory. The stories that are published in the magazine often end up being the stories that stick, the stories people can go back to.
2021 will be Oregon Humanities’ fiftieth year. This means that this issue is much more than a look back. It’s also a signpost pointing forward to the next fifty years.
Kathleen has been Oregon Humanities’ storyteller-in-chief for almost a generation. She has helped not only our magazine readers but all of us who work with Oregon Humanities to understand the meaning of our work and to move it forward. Maya Muñoz-Tobón, Ben Waterhouse, and Priscilla Wu are three of the people Kathleen has worked most closely with, and their understanding of storytelling and Oregon Humanities’ work are a significant part of the legacy Kathleen leaves behind.
As Kathleen rides off to her next endeavor, and we turn to the next issue of the magazine and the next fifty years of Oregon Humanities’ work, we’re grateful to Kathleen for where she has helped take us, and we’re excited and hopeful about where our work will go.
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