Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 19, 2012

Old Mission history recorded on tape


TRAVERSE CITY — Ken Weaver captures local history with a video camera.

As a result, Old Mission Peninsula's first-ever oral history collection is told in both words and images.

Weaver, a retired attorney, spent nine months filming and editing interviews of 17 descendants of peninsula pioneers for his video "Settlement on Old Mission Peninsula." The two-hour video relays memories of growing up and living on the 18-mile strip of prime, fruit-growing land that juts into Grand Traverse Bay.

He gave a DVD copy of the video and 17 DVDs of the individual two- to four-hour interviews to the Peninsula Community Library for public use.

"This is an impressive and important project," said library Director Victoria Shurley. "If these stories aren't preserved, they're gone forever."

Old Mission Peninsula and Eastern elementary schools also received copies of the edited main video for teacher and student use in local history lessons.

Weaver decided to take on the volunteer effort because he enjoys history, and he thought schoolchildren would want to learn local history, too.

His video camera interest started 30 years ago when he paid a dollar for a Bell & Howell at a garage sale. He filmed about a half-dozen history-related videos in recent years for the local public-access television station on cable Channel 97.

Legal work experience with video interviews taught him a valuable lesson.

"If you used video, you got people's attention," he said. "If you talked, people lost interest fast. It's just our culture. We get a lot of information from TV."

Weaver does not appear in the history video. He simply asked each person to talk uninterrupted about their family, schools, communities and houses as he stood next to the camera on its tripod.

"I just let them talk," he said. "I found it fascinating, like having a one-on-one conversation. They came up with things I'd never think about asking."

Tim Carroll, a descendant of early Bohemian and Irish settlers, talked about a great aunt in Chicago, an opera singer who entertained pianist Antonin Dvorak of Bohemia, now Czechoslovakia.

Cal Jamieson shared the secret of his great-grandfather's long admired wood stain — tobacco juice.

Not all of the video's oral history is generations old.

Fruit farmer Leo Ocanas talked about coming to the peninsula in the 1950s as an 8-year-old son of migrant farm workers. He told his mother he would come back to buy a farm when he grew up. He recalled a "drive-in" where Spanish-language movies played during summer evenings for migrant farmworkers and their children.

Local writer Carol Johnson Lewis, daughter of farmer Walter Johnson, discussed the day her father called her when she lived in New York City.

He asked her to research how New York put together its farmland conservation program, among the first in the nation.

John Wunsch described how a 1994 vote made Peninsula Township Michigan's first to adopt such a program to preserve farmland and scenic rural and bay views.

Weaver is president of the Old Mission Historical Society and also is involved in the preservation of the Dougherty House, the area's first frame building. It was constructed in 1842 for Presbyterian minister Peter Dougherty, founder of the region's first Indian mission school.

Weaver said "Settlement on Old Mission Peninsula" will be cablecast this week on Channel 97 at 9 a.m. Tuesday, 4 p.m. Wednesday, and 3 p.m. Saturday. The program also will be streamed for 30 days beginning Tuesday on the UpNorth TV website,