Legacy Washington is a project under the direction of the Washington State Secretary of State’s office. Its mission is “to document extraordinary stories in Washington history” and to make them available to the public. Originally founded to focus on state-wide officials, politicians and the judiciary, Legacy Washington has shifted its attention to interviewing more ordinary people.

Legacy Washington John Hughes
John Hughes is the chief historian of the Legacy Washington project, part of the Secretary of State’s office. Photo credit: Laura Mott/Legacy Washington

Drawing upon the unique historical resources of the Washington State Library and Washington State Archives, as well as from heritage organizations throughout the state, the project has really grown over the last few years. A cornerstone of this is oral history interviews with individuals. John Hughes is chief historian of the Legacy Washington project. His duties include research, writing and conducting oral history interviews. He enjoys being able to help tell these stories of important individuals who have impacted the state.

John Hughes was born and raised in Aberdeen. For 42 years he served as a reporter and later editor of the Aberdeen Daily World newspaper. Nine years ago, upon retirement from the newspaper, he took on the Legacy Washington project. Hughes, a history major, credits his newspaper experience for inspiring him to become involved in Legacy Washington.

His work with the newspaper introduced him to interesting historical figures, from politicians to loggers and union leaders. Also inspirational was a 2001 book that he edited with Ryan Teague Beckwith, On the Harbor: From Black Friday to Nirvana, which included a three year series of articles in the newspaper about Grays Harbor County history. It was John Hughes’s first book and his experience working on it excited him about doing more.

Hughes began his work with Legacy Washington by interviewing Krist Novoselic of Aberdeen, whom Hughes knew as a teen. Novoselic, former bassist of the music group Nirvana, has worked for both fairer government and increased youth involvement in politics. Since that time, Hughes has interviewed many people. These interviews have been incorporated into exhibits as well as published. To reach a wider audience, Legacy Washington materials are available online, in electronic format and in print media. The group also publishes blogs and uses social media.

Legacy Washington moon
Moonbeam Kupka’s family were refugees during the Korean War. Photo credit: Moonbeam Kupka/Legacy Washington

Legacy Washington, according to Hughes, puts all of its interviews on their website, and publishes “full-scale biographies depending on interest.” These books include themed collections of interviews as well as individual biographies. They are published free online and are available for reading or purchase as ebooks on Amazon.com and at Legacy Washington. Since Legacy Washington cannot print books at State expense, the Heritage Center Trust helps raise funds for printed versions of these books for sale. The Trust is a 501(c)(3) federal nonprofit. The Trust also insures that these books are available through the Washington State Library’s Talking Book and Braille Library.

Hughes is excited by recent movements to make Legacy Washington materials available to students. Legacy Washington books are given to school libraries across the state. Most recently, Legacy Washington created a curriculum to accompany the current exhibit Korea 65: The Forgotten War Remembered at the Washington State Secretary of State’s office in the Legislative Building. The curriculum teaches visiting students about the conflict before, during and after seeing the exhibit.

Legacy Washington Erik Larson
Erik Larson is Aberdeen’s youngest mayor and works to revitalize the city’s economy. Photo credit: Erik Larson/Legacy Washington

Important Grays Harbor County stories have been included in Legacy Washington. Over the years Hughes has interviewed many interesting people in Grays Harbor. These include Erik Larson, Arnold Samuels, Jim Evans, and Moonbeam Kupka.

Legacy Washington Arnold Samuels
Arnold Samuels worked in the army counterintelligence corps during World War II. Photo credit: Arnold Samuels

Erik Larson, interviewed as part of the “Who are We?: Washington’s Kaleidoscope,” exhibit, was elected Aberdeen’s youngest mayor at age 23 in 2015. Descended from Swedish immigrants who settled in Grays Harbor, he has sought to revitalize Aberdeen’s economy. His slogan is “Come as You Are” taken from a song by Nirvana.

Another interesting Grays Harbor individual John Hughes interviewed is Arnold Samuels, for “World War II: Washington Remembers.” Now living in Ocean Shores, Samuels immigrated to the United States to escape the Holocaust although many of his relatives perished. He volunteered for the American military and served in the Army Counter Intelligence Corps, helping with the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp and denazification during the post-war occupation. Samuels occasionally visits schools to talk about his war experiences and the Holocaust.

Jim Evans, interviewed for the “Korea 65: The Forgotten War Remembered” exhibit and book project, lives near Hoquiam. Originally from Humptulips, he served as a Marine in the Korean War. During the conflict he fought in the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, a decisive and costly battle of the war, that saw Chinese and North Korea forces begin to push American and South Korean forces out of North Korea.

Moonbeam Kupka was also interviewed by John Hughes for the Korea 65 project. Kupka, now lives in Aberdeen. Her family fled the northern invasion, moving back and forth as frontlines ebbed and flowed over the peninsula. She married an American soldier named Mike Kupka and moved to the United States. Their son Jonathan is now the commander of the Headquarters Command Battalion at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall at Arlington, Virginia. When asked about the interview process, she remembers it as a pleasant experience. “He’s a wonderful person,” she described Hughes, adding that he is “very personable.” Overall, she feels that “I am very humbled to be part of this book,” calling it a “rare honor.”

The “Korea 65: The Forgotten War” exhibit is currently on display 8-5 on weekdays at the Secretary of State’s office in the Legislative Building. People are welcome to see this free display and learn about an important part of our history that affected many people.

Being able to record and present these stories of extraordinary people is what John Hughes believes Legacy Washington is all about. As the project seeks to reach an increasingly wider audience, he finds it incredibly “satisfying” to tell these stories. Overall, Hughes describes that sharing these stories with people is “the most fun I’ve ever had.”

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