When someone shows up at the Clark County Historical Museum with questions that stump the staff there, Executive Director Brad Richardson knows just where to turn.
The “Growing up in Vancouver, WA” Facebook group.
“I see it as a living, breathing archive of the community’s knowledge,” Richardson said.
Pat Klinger, retired Burgerville marketing vice president, founded the group in July 2014. It has since grown to 7,000-some members who swap old photos and stories about Vancouver’s past.
“It’s as much about history as it is about memories and reminiscing,” Klinger said. For example, participants love to exchange tales of fun times they had at the amusement park on Hayden Island that closed in 1970.
“Jantzen Beach is historical, and also not really,” he said. “It doesn’t fall into the category of the first courthouse burning down. It’s serious and fun at the same time.”
Klinger has organized 350 electronic photo albums. He posts a new banner photo each day.
He enlisted five others to help him administer the private Facebook group, including local historian and former city councilwoman Pat Jollota.
“She’s always got the rest of the story no matter what the topic is,” Klinger said.
Acclaimed jazz drummer Gary Hobbs also helps Klinger with the group. Hobbs played with the popular Vancouver band Little Curtis and the Blues at the Trapedero Teen-Age Club in the 1960s. He lives just a few blocks from his childhood house on Vancouver’s old west side. He said he appreciates the group’s singular dedication to nostalgia.
“Pat Klinger laid down the basic rules: No politics. It has to have Vancouver content,” Hobbs said. “It’s a positive oasis for folks.”
Those who want to join the group have to answer a series of questions to prove their connection to Vancouver.
“We’ve declined 2,000 people,” Klinger said. He was surprised at how many people from foreign countries or who have no connection try to join.
Given his background in marketing, Klinger keeps a close eye on the group’s demographics. About 65 percent of members are women. About 78 percent are baby boomers like Klinger and Hobbs, both in their early 70s.
But there’s younger members, too.
“I try to coax them out of their shells,” Klinger said. “They’re here to learn. I’m here to help educate and stimulate the connection to Vancouver.”
The group has no formal affiliation with the Clark County Historical Museum, but the two often turn to each other for information.
“From what I can tell, this is something very unique — this level of professionalism and management,” Richardson said of the group. “It’s an amazing resource to crowdsource information and get people’s accounts.”
He especially appreciates the participants’ discussions about what historical tidbits mean to them.
“That’s what we try to get at in history — meaning, what it meant for people who lived through these time periods,” Richardson said.
After years of online interaction, two members of the Facebook group told Klinger they wanted to organize an in-person gathering. They convened a picnic at Vancouver Lake Park in September.
True to form, they picked a date that paid homage to history: the fundraiser for St. Joseph Catholic Church and School that took place on the second weekend of September from 1972 to 2014.
“We picked the weekend that would have been the Sausage Fest,” Klinger said. “The weather is usually good.”
Sixty people showed up, many with photos to share.
“I got to meet some people from different generations. I had read their posts but we had never met,” Hobbs said. “There’s a real infectious community feel to it. It’s very positive and uplifting.”
That’s what keeps Klinger going — the quality of the connections among group members, as evidenced both online and at the group’s first IRL (in real life) gathering.
“I’m sure we’ll do it again next year,” Klinger said.