Mary Ann Burrows of Wallowa has enjoyed collecting historical stories her entire life. Now, at 83, she is the vibrant and enthusiastic Director of the Wallowa History Center and is working on moving and expanding the center to former U.S. Forest Service office building in Wallowa. She is a retired schoolteacher from a family of teachers and school administrators. The teachers in her family stretch back four generations and forward two more generations as her daughter and granddaughters work in the field.
Q. How did this passion for history start?
A. I was born I Wallowa and graduated from Wallowa High in 1951. My family is big on history; my great-grandfather came to Wallowa in 1890 and had the McCrae Hotel in Wallowa. My mother and father had a dairy, and we delivered milk around town. My dad was also chairman of the school board and on the school board as a member for many years. My dad was very interested in local history, so every time you went anywhere with him, you got a story. And I just enjoy learning and I think it should be a lifelong occupation.
Q. Every career your family had seems to be a story-rich field. It’s no wonder you’re involved in the history of Wallowa now. How did you become involved in Wallowa History Center?
A. After I retired as a teacher after 26 years, and my husband Thorval and I returned to Wallowa County in 1994. I served on the library board. One year, we, on the library board decided we needed to keep Wallowa history, so the Wallowa History Center was born in 2002. First we published a picture book you may have seen, “Looking Back at Our Town: A Photographic Portrait of Wallowa, Oregon.” The History Center now has a supporting membership, we’ve won a grant and we’re hoping to expand.
Q. What has Wallowa taught you?
A. I feel blessed every day for having been born here and living here in the city of Wallowa. I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood. I was never afraid, you could walk the streets, you had a lot of community support. Most of my classmates were like extended family. My family didn’t go very many places –– you couldn’t do much traveling with a dairy to take care of –– but when we did, when we came back, my parents would just give a big sigh of relief: We’re home. I think I learned that from them and appreciated what we had. People in Wallowa appreciate having a town like this to live in.
Q. What do you look forward to in the next five years?
A. I’m delighted every time I get a new piece of information about the history of Wallowa, and I’m excited about getting the new place (and all that means). We’re long-lived in my family: I had a grandma who graduated from college in 1897. She moved out here and taught at Asotin and Forest Home and then married Grandpa, who was on the school board of Grouse School and at 96 she was still as sharp as could be.