Publication features local memories — including Pete Ritter’s boxing career

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

If you go

What: Clark County Historical Society’s Authors’ Party and membership meeting. Museum director Susan Tissot will discuss the museum’s past year and preview 2012. “Clark County History 2010” will be available free for members, $14 for nonmembers.

When: 5 p.m. Thursday. Membership meeting begins at 6 p.m.

Where: 1511 Main St., Vancouver.

Information: 360-993-5679 or Clark County Historical Museum.

Related story

Everybody Has a Story:‘Mighty Mauler’ lost fighting spirit after friend’s death in ring

Howard Gingold brought a newcomer’s fresh eye and a professional’s seasoned skills to Clark County and its history.

“I just like to tell good stories,” he said. “If it’s not a good story, I’m not interested.”

Gingold spent decades chasing good stories. The Los Angeles native worked in newspapers and television news as a reporter, writer, producer and CBS bureau chief. Then, a few years ago, he retired to Vancouver with his wife, Fayma Goldman, after the couple’s son moved to Battle Ground.

Fayma started volunteering at the Clark County Historical Museum and eventually asked museum director Susan Tissot if there might be any tasks for her husband — an inveterate storyteller with too much time on his newly unbusy hands.

Tissot quickly realized what an asset she’d have in Gingold, and made him editor of “Clark County History,” the annual journal published by the county historical society, which also operates the museum. Tissot said Gingold — and designer Jane Leonard, another recent volunteer recruit — have brought a new level of professionalism to the publication, which started up in 1960 but went on hiatus for a few years as longtime volunteers grew old and fell away.

You can sample that professionalism, and meet a few amateur historians, Thursday as the 2010 issue of “Clark County History” is released at an authors’ party at the museum.

From 5 to 6 p.m., this issue’s contributors will be on hand to say hello and sign copies of the journal, which is free to historical society members and $14 for nonmembers. At 6 p.m. there’s an annual membership meeting — and you’ll be welcome to attend if you go so wild during the party as to decide to join up. (Basic annual membership costs $40 per individual.)

Both Gingold and wife Fayma will be on hand. Fayma volunteers at least one day a week at the museum as a research assistant, and when there are special events she serves as a “jacqueline of all trades,” Gingold said.

Flowering

The editor’s job is “a huge job and it’s not paid,” Tissot said. The publication takes a great deal of editing, she said.

The work begins as “Howard and I sit down and discuss the content,” Tissot said. They consider what anniversaries or commemorations are in store for the coming year — for example, the 2009 annual focused on the museum building itself, a former Carnegie library, on the occasion of its centennial. Some topics are brainstormed at the museum and farmed out to willing writers; others arrive after (or without) initial queries from eager unknowns.

“I’m trying to appeal to a broad readership,” Gingold said.

Unlike a scholarly journal, these articles are not peer reviewed, Gingold pointed out. That is, they haven’t been critiqued by professional historians and sent back for revisions. Gingold works hard to ensure the stories are readable and logical, often sending pieces back to writers for more research and polishing.

“It’s gratifying to point out what a story needs and to see how people develop,” he said. “After a few drafts their work has improved a lot, and it’s pretty good. You can see them flowering.”

“I think it’s important that the annual is very democratic,” said Tissot. “It’s community people writing about local events and local memories. You want to have people own the history before they’re gone.”

Tissot said she considers the journal a first run at history, laying the groundwork for more scholarly study that may come later.

“There haven’t been a lot of academics focusing on Clark County history, although that’s starting to change,” she said. “A lot of things are changing in this community. It’s very dynamic. I’ve been trying to think about the things that need to be documented before they’re lost.”

Boxing history

For example, there’s 72-year-old Gene Ritter of Whipple Creek. Ritter is a lifelong Clark County resident and a faithful fan of the annual historical journal.

“Like a lot of people, I anxiously await the new edition every year,” he said. “I sit down and read it in an evening.”

Ritter said he’s been wanting to downsize his life lately, and he offered some of his sports memorabilia to the museum, chiefly the boxing keepsakes and news clippings from the time when his father, Pete, was a locally famous middleweight known as “The Mighty Mauler.”

Ritter got to thinking, “a story would go well with that.” So he offered his written memories too.

“This was my first story and my first time working with Howard,” Ritter said. “He really knows his stuff.”

How so?

“All of us who were writing for the first time, we were too mouthy,” Ritter said. There was lots of back-and-forth by email and lots of guidance from Gingold about what to include and what to omit, he said.

“He used the editor’s penstroke and eliminated a lot of things. I think my article ended up about half the size it started out. That’s pretty much normal,” Ritter said.

Now, Ritter’s story has been edited even more: a highly condensed version is our regular “Everybody Has A Story” feature in today’s newspaper (see Page D1). If you’re interested in the fuller version, you now know where to find it.

Digging through scrapbooks and memorabilia both refreshed and confused his memory, Ritter said. There were plenty of missing dates, conflicting information and other oddities.

“It was a challenge to get everything right,” he said. “I enjoyed working with an editor who’s been around and had some whiskers.”

Tissot said another museum fundraiser — an actual boxing match — is tentatively set for Feb. 25.