ATHENA - Who is Darwin Richards?

Connie Lenzen, a certified genealogical records specialist, is going to take the bits and pieces that can be found about one of Athena's first white residents and fill in the blanks.

The Athena Public Library has a wealth of archival information about the town, and with a grant from the Oregon Council for the Humanities, they have brought Lenzen to the community to make recommendations about the documents as well as to meet the public and tell them how to research their family and how to preserve the documents of today that could be important to historians in the future.

Lenzen will research a person who lived in Athena when it was called Centerville, to illustrate how to follow trails and find clues about a person. Janet Mandaville of the Athena Library Friends Association asked the researcher to uncover the unknowns surrounding Darwin Richards for her example.

Mandaville suggested Richards because Ronald and Fay Haverland donated his family Bible to the library.

"It was found in the dump," Mandaville said. "It was burned and nasty looking before it was restored."

Little was known about Richards except that he was married to Mary Meador, had no children, operated a stage stop in Centerville and owned 160-200 acres of land in the area. Lenzen is delighted to dig into the enigma surrounding the man believed to be the first landowner in the town.

"These are people who helped establish this town," Lenzen said. "They are a symbol of the settling of this country. He died in 1901, and the only thing left of him is that family Bible. That's sort of sad."

Lenzen is an expert at taking little traces of a person's existence and fleshing out the life he lived. She hopes to do that not only for Darwin Richards, but for his wife as well. Lenzen said historians sometimes neglect the wives.

"We want to find out about his wife, who must have been working right along side of him," Lenzen said. "They married in Centerville in 1879, and I assume she was from there because at that time most women went from their father's hearth to their husband's hearth."

Lenzen said she believes the Bible was kept by Richards' wife because the handwriting is all the same, and there is a notation of his death in 1901.

After Lenzen researches Darwin Richards life, she will report on the paths she traveled for information to the community. She'll use her search to illustrate how they can gain information about their own ancestry.

ALFA received a grant from the Oregon Council on the Humanities to sponsor Lenzen's work. In addition to lending her expertise on archival materials to the library, she will also hold two free public sessions. Light refreshments will be served at both.

The first, a lecture and discussion, will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14 at the Sacred Heart Fellowship Hall on the corner of Fifth and College streets. At the second session, from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Oct. 16 at the same location, Lenzen will illustrate her pursuit of Darwin Richards. Those attending are invited to bring their own family materials to learn new ways of preserving them.

"Darwin Richards was a little cog in history," she said. "He owned two tracts of land and a stage coach stop. He built a house in town. And now he's gone."

Lenzen said that the history of each family is important.

"Every bit of information is good stuff for the historians of today and tomorrow," she said.

The Athena Library has school census records from the 1890s, newspapers, photographs, a great deal of information about the houses built in the community, an inventory of the cemetery done by the late Garland Wilson of Milton-Freewater, and other valuable materials according to Lenzen.

She will try to encourage Athena residents to consider letting the library serve as a repository for their own keepsakes, or at least providing the library with copies of material they might have.

"We hope the project will be a pebble thrown into the pond with many aftermath ripples," Mandaville said of Lenzen's undertaking.

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