California Area Historians Seeking Stories

By Rankin, Barbara | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 29, 2007 | Go to article overview
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California Area Historians Seeking Stories

Rankin, Barbara, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

You do not have to be a celebrity to have a story to tell.

In fact, everyone has a story inside, a tale of family beginnings, ancestors, traditions, places, schools, careers, church and social life.

The California Area Historical Society, in an effort to fulfill its mission to "preserve the significance of its settlers and to educate the public," is putting a new emphasis on encouraging older residents and their families to share their stories.

"We are losing more and more of our older citizens. It is important that we get the family and community stories they have while they can still remember facts," said Pat Cowen, historical society president and coordinator of the Oral Histories Project.

Gathering such stories began informally in the early 1980s, when the California Area Historical Society spun off from being the Archive Committee of the Friends of the California Area Public Library into its own organization, based in the Gallagher House on Wood and Fifth streets in California.

Merrell Holman, a retired elementary principal of Noss Laboratory School on the campus of California University of Pennsylvania, and Miriam Donavon Wilson, retired California School District and Cal U music teacher, began by interviewing people. Both are charter members of the society.

They interviewed "community pillars" such as the late Adelia Birkinsha, better known as "Dilly," a retired special education teacher and social worker who spent the rest of her life as a full- time community volunteer.

They also sat down with Bertha Gue, who for many years was a teacher at the East Pike Run Elementary School and the two-room Coal Center Elementary School before that.

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