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From Pool to Historic Home: An Oregon City Rock Star Proves Learning Never Stops

Posted By Amanda Parsons, Monday, January 14, 2019
Updated: Friday, January 11, 2019

Let's say your city just spent almost $1 million on restoring the oldest house in the county because of its historical significance.

From a new and permanent location to a full building renovation, the home now boasts renewed life.

There's just one problem. Someone needs to manage it, but no one on the payroll has experience with historic preservation or interpretive planning.

What do you do?

Do you task your Aquatic and Recreation Supervisor with overseeing the grand opening and programming of the new museum?

Probably not. That would be ridiculous.

Of course, that didn't stop Oregon City.

Grand Reopening of Ermatinger House

Last year, Oregon City announced the reopening of a historical landmark.  The Ermatinger House is one of the oldest structures in Clackamas County and has ties to the Hudson’s Bay company and the famous coin toss event that resulted in the naming of the city of Portland. 

In 2011 the house closed due to structural concerns.  As an old house, it needed improvements and restoration.  Roughly $1 million dollars was spent to bring this home back to glory and find a permanent location.

Following restoration, conversations among Oregon City management turned to programming.  The biggest challenge the city faced was that they lacked a historic preservationist or anyone with the background or experience to take on such a project.

“We started to talk about who was going to be ultimately responsible for this house and this program, which is so different than the typical work that recreation professionals do,” said Phil Lewis, Community Services Director for the City of Oregon City. 

Having a historic house under the purview of parks and recreation is not uncommon.  However, without an interpreter or preservationist in the staff, there was less guidance.

Rochelle Anderholm-ParschEnter Rochelle Anderholm-Parsch, the Aquatic and Recreation Supervisor for the City of Oregon City. 

According to Mr. Lewis, “it was very apparent that this would be a prime opportunity for Rochelle to step in with a new team and put together an interpretive plan and a program.”

“When I got the call and they said, ‘what do you think about this?’, I thought, ‘Yes!’” said Rochelle when asked about the assignment.  Her enthusiasm wavered slightly when she hung up the phone and the enormity of the project sunk in. 

Located at the Oregon City Pool, Rochelle manages aquatic recreation, pool maintenance, and community recreation that takes place inside the facility.  Beyond the center, she also manages camps, concerts in the park, movies in the park, and recreational sports.  Between events and programs, Rochelle has several teams she oversees.  It would be a disservice to assume she had spare time on her hands.

She wasn’t deterred.  Faced with another role, Rochelle’s first challenge included balancing her current workload.

“I sat down with the people I work with every day and said, ‘Okay, here’s the deal: I got this awesome opportunity, our department gets to open up this house that has been closed for so long, but I’m gonna have to change some of my work load,’” she tentatively offered. 

The response?  Overwhelming support.  Not only was Rochelle met with a chorus of “yes!”, she received the same support when trying to adjust the budget. 

“We didn’t really have a budget to open [the house],” she said.  “So we identified areas where we could pull money.”  Pulling a little money here and there from programs allowed her to get the budget she needed.  “The whole team said yes to each thing.”

It is no surprise she had such a supportive staff.  Speaking to Rochelle feels like speaking to your most supportive friend.  The one who constantly tells you to follow your dreams and will usually finish with, “how can I help?”

With her current responsibilities looked after, Rochelle began diving into the task at hand.  Without any background or knowledge about programming a historic home, she fell back onto her skill at networking.

“The first thing I did was start calling people I knew outside the agency who have experience,” she said.  Her outreach started with a network she cultivated from her time serving with the Oregon Recreation and Park Association.  “Then I started to meet with anybody and everybody who would meet with me in the community.”  With each call, she met new people and learned names of who to speak with about creating a program.

It didn’t stop there.  Between pouring over the strategic plan for the house, and watching commission meetings from years’ past, Rochelle took it upon herself to investigate the history of both the house and its history in the city. 

“Even though the historic [property] wasn’t something she envisioned herself getting into, it is something she has grown a passion for and wants to see successful,” said Melissa Tierney, a recreation programmer working with Rochelle.  After working together for 11 years, Melissa expressed joy in watching Rochelle take on this new role and get excited about it.

As her research unfolded, she realized the need for an interpretive plan.  An interpretive plan would spell out the mission for the house, topics of each exhibit and what artifacts are displayed.  For this, Rochelle needed a specialist.

“At this point, I had an idea of what the house needed to take it to the next step.  So, I rewrote a recreation programmer job to basically fit into a docent position,” said Rochelle.

Through a nation-wide search, they found Lisa Demarais, a recent graduate from the University of Georgia with a Masters in Historic Preservation.

“I really wanted to work with a town that had strong history and that had a project with an opportunity to grow something, as opposed to entering a house that was already well established,” said Lisa. 

“Lisa said she really wanted to get into policy writing and interpretive plan writing and I thought, okay, you’re perfect,” said Rochelle excitedly.  “Where my limitations are… she has the background.  We can work together.”

The perfect partnership seemed just the ticket as the two worked together toward the grand reopening of the Ermatinger House.  With Lisa managing the details around the house, and Rochelle getting the community involved, both helped restore the home so it could tell a story.

Serving as a museum and marking a time in Oregon City history, the living room of the home is the location of a famous coin-toss.  In 1845, Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove flipped a coin to decide on the name for the city of Portland. 

This historic event was reenacted at the grand opening last July with the descendants from both the families, resulting in a different outcome: naming the city Boston. 

“We had 300-something people come through,” said Lisa, describing her role giving tours and presenting certificates to the descendants of the Ermatinger, Pettygrove, and Lovejoy families. 

“I have no experience planning an event at that scale,” Lisa continued.  “That was all Rochelle.  She has been great.”

“Rochelle has the know-how of putting together an experience for the community and being able to put together the pieces of needs, logistically, as well as physical components in the house to tell the story,” said Phil Lewis. 

Now the home boasts guided tours, a strong volunteer program, and the ability to be continually enjoyed by the public.  The success of which, can be credited to Rochelle.

So what is the secret to her success?

“I just haven’t limited myself to a certain position.  Give me whatever and I’ll figure it out,” she shrugs as if this is simply second nature for her.  It probably is. 

She isn’t a one-woman show, by any means.  But her enthusiasm is contagious.  Rochelle’s unwavering commitment to learn and try new things has resulted in an empowered staff, mirroring her example, and enabling the continued success of Oregon City’s parks and recreation services.

“I am really thankful that she has been the person who has been helping me grow,” said Melissa.

Lisa echoed the sentiments. “She is really good at communicating with me and giving me good feedback.  It has been a really collaborative relationship.”

“Rochelle is a prime example of a professional who does the work we do,” said Phil Lewis, proudly.  “I’m very happy to have her on our team and representing Oregon City in the community.”


What has Rochelle been up to since the Grand Opening?

“I got accepted into the Executive Master’s Degree in Public Administration at Portland State University,” Rochelle says.  She started in September. 

“It has helped me see the bigger picture and what we are to our community.  It is empowering.”

You go, Rochelle!

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