Interview With Susan B. Sidle

From the interview with Susan B. Sidle of Port Townsend, WA conducted by MonaLou Stefflre on May 20, 2003 at the Fort Worden History Center.  Ms. Sidle was one of the founding members of the Friends of Fort Worden, and has been a volunteer in the Park since 1979.  Here she describes the origins of the Guard House Visitor Information Center and Gift Shop:

“The state was getting more interested in Friends groups at the time ( the early 1990’s) so Gwen and Alan Dunham went to a meeting at one of the state parks near the Columbia River where they had a lighthouse and a gift shop.  They became quite interested in that possibility, thinking it would be a nice thing because we all felt there was a real need for a visitor information center and thought that might be a role that the Friends could fulfill; and a gift shop, if that was possible.  At first, we decided to set up a table in the park office in the summer and people took turns trying to staff it and answer questions.  Jim Farmer (the park manager) felt that might take some of the pressure off the front office where people were always coming to ask questions, although it was needed for registration.  So we saw that as another need that could be filled.  We didn’t raise a lot of money in those years, just whatever people donated .  We put out a newsletter, we had a few hundred dollars.  The park centennial was coming in 2002, and Jim saw that the Friends would have a role in that, because there was a need to have funds for things that were not coming through Olympia.  The Friends agreed to be the official sponsor of the centennial, initially I was co-chair with Joe Wheeler.  Since the Friends were going to handle the money, I stepped down as president and became treasurer of the Friends, which involved being treasurer of the centennial for several years.  Alan Dunham took over as president of the Friends.  At that point we realized that the Guard House  could serve as a possible location for the information center and gift shop that we had envisioned, and saw that as a major centennial project that would have long term benefits for the park.  Jim Farmer was trying to develop ways to get money through the state to bring a lot of the buildings up for the centennial and had had a lot of luck in getting capital appropriations, but the Guard House was not a high priority.                The University of Oregon School of Architecture had a group that specialized in historic preservation that had worked with Oregon State Parks.  They were interested in what was happening here and worked with Washington State Parks, they said they would like to be involved in the restoration of the Guard House.  Jim was able to get enough state funds so they could do that.  In the early 90’s they came up for a year and brought their students and did the complete renovation of the Guard House, which also provided a new restroom and handicapped access, both badly needed in that part of the park.  By ’98 or ’99 we had the possibility of establishing the visitors’ center and gift shop we had envisioned.  Grant and Barbara Davies, who had experience in retail, took on the task of establishing the gift shop and did an incredible job.  By the time the centennial happened, we were well equipped with all kinds of good things that could be sold to raise money for the Friends to do things for the park and at the same time provide information for people to learn what was available in the park and the community; to help with questions about the park rental housing, what was going on, or what to do with their kids or how to hike the trails.  In the past few years the Friends have become a well run and well funded organization that has become a significant part of Fort Worden State Park.”

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