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A trip back in time on the prairie

From the left, Ron Van Dyk, Roger Sherman, Lillian Huffstetler (Dean), Margaret Peterson, Avis Rector (Weidenbach), Charles Arnold and Jeanne Engle Brown share their memories of Island life from decades ago. They met at the history Jacob Ebey House for the occasion. - Jenny Manning / Whidbey News-Times
From the left, Ron Van Dyk, Roger Sherman, Lillian Huffstetler (Dean), Margaret Peterson, Avis Rector (Weidenbach), Charles Arnold and Jeanne Engle Brown share their memories of Island life from decades ago. They met at the history Jacob Ebey House for the occasion.
— image credit: Jenny Manning / Whidbey News-Times

Sun light filtered in through a window of the Jacob Ebey House, illuminating the exposed rough, rustic wall boards, parts of which still held scraps of wallpaper that once decorated the home. Talk of dances, field work, and the general store; gossip over deaths and wills, and other memories of island oldtimers filled the sun-lit, former kitchen of the clapboard Coupeville homestead that overlooks Ebey’s Landing National Historic Preserve.

The stories came from a panel of seven long-time islanders, Jeanne Engle Brown, Charles Arnold, Avis Rector (Weidenbach), Margaret Peterson, Lillian Huffstetler (Dean), Roger Sherman and Ron Van Dyk, in addition to several audience members who pitched in to fill in lost details of historic people and places of Central Whidbey Island.

Saturday’s panel was the first of what Rick Castellano, executive director of the Island County Historical Society, hopes will become a series of discussions. Castellano videotaped the afternoon-long discussion and plans to sell unedited DVD copies at the museum as well as make the recording available through the society’s archives.

“It was like a class reunion,” he said of the participants as they gathered in the small, rustic room before the taping. “They just don’t get out and see each other very often anymore.”

The participants shared stories and anecdotes of what life was like “back in the day” from 1 to 4 p.m., moderated by Judy Lynn, whom Castellano asked to direct the conversation.

Lynn, a career professional organizer, started collecting oral histories about six years ago and has continued to record and moderate discussions of local and individual histories since.

“It’s important to record these histories while they’re here,” she said.

Lillian Huffstetler remarked about the social gatherings back then and shared her experience of dancing with one fellow who could never get the steps quite right: “It was either bumpin’ knees or steppin’ on toes,” she said.

Another panel member, Ron Van Dyk, credited the Pratt family for salvaging the Ebey House, among other historic homesteads in the area.

“We’ve got a lot of unsung heroes, and there probably should be a monument raised to them, but we all know they’d be embarrassed,” he said. “We owe it to them to remember.”

Van Dyk is looking forward to more discussions on the area’s history.

“We could spend a whole week talking about this,” he said.

Another panel discussion is planned for the thirtieth anniversary celebration of Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve on Nov. 8. For more information on local history, or to view the archives, contact Rick Castellano at 678-3310.

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