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March 4, 2021

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Clark County women share stories of failure, hardship, survival in ‘Omitted from my Obituary’

By , Columbian Features editor, and
The Columbian
Published:
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Local women share their stories in "Omitted from My Obituary," available for $28 at Vintage Books in Vancouver and online at amazon.com.
Local women share their stories in "Omitted from My Obituary," available for $28 at Vintage Books in Vancouver and online at amazon.com. (Eric Holmes) Photo Gallery

In the new book, “Omitted from my Obituary,” women from Vancouver and beyond share stories of embarrassment, redemption, illness, epiphanies, pain, and identities lost and found.

Elizabeth Holmes and Lisa Keohokalole Schauer explain in the introduction that they published the book because they believe in the power of storytelling, but they wanted “to hear the stories of struggles of others instead of the sanitized versions we are often given of ‘it was really hard and then everything was great.’ ”

The book branched from their organization, Trust Tree. Holmes and Schauer founded the group as a way for women to help each other after they mended their own fraught friendship in 2018.

The two had moved in the same circles for 20 years, both working in the construction and development field.

“As a couple of the only females in that industry, we had gotten a little sideways and more competitive than collaborative,” Schauer said.

Trust Tree aims to keep other women from falling into the same trap. The name has a mystical ring to it, but Holmes said she first heard the term in the 2003 Will Ferrell comedy, “Old School.”

“I just really liked the sound of that,” Holmes said. “We wanted to create the net that would hold you.”

They also wanted to make a documentary about Nan Henriksen, mayor of Camas from 1983 to 1992. In the book, they recall seeing her participate in a panel discussion: “She was delightfully forthcoming about the very real pain points involved in being a single mother with a full-time job in addition to leading a city.”

Holmes and Schauer went to filmmaker Beth Harrington to find out what it would take to make a documentary and quickly realized they would have to start smaller. They launched a podcast, which gave way to the book.

In June 2019, they began by approaching Betty Sue Morris, a former Clark County commissioner and state legislator, to write an essay.

“When she said ‘yes,’ we knew we were on to something,” Holmes said.

Many of the other contributors’ names will be familiar to Clark County residents.

“The depth of vulnerability that women were willing to share was really moving,” Holmes said. “Some of these women we had known for years and didn’t know big pieces of their story.”

Clark County Treasurer Alishia Topper wrote about stretches of homelessness as a teen. Kelly Love, Clark College communications officer and a former TV news anchor, wrote about confronting alcoholism. Rhona Senn Hoss, who has worked on community partnerships for a variety of organizations over the years, wrote about being paralyzed by polio as a girl.

Not all the essays are so heavy. Clark County Councilor Temple Lentz wrote about campaigning for “Meanest Person” in high school only to be voted “Most Likely to Be a Politician” instead. Beth Harrington, the filmmaker, wrote about her stint as a backup singer for the whimsical rock band Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers in the 1980s.

A theme emerges in the book, similar to the conclusion reached by Harrington in her essay: “It is better to … fail than follow some predictable path and ‘succeed.’ ”

“Omitted from my Obituary,” $28, is available at Vintage Books (6613 E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver) and online at amazon.com.

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