English MATTERS — SPRING 2011

Eugene Smith

When I retired in 1989 from the UW English Department, I knew that I would be active, though I had no long-term plan. My wife, Marcia, and I were in good shape physically and mentally (and still are), owned a paid-off house in Seattle, and had five adult children and grandchildren, all functioning at a reasonably high level. Retirement income was modest but enough to keep us going comfortably. My challenge was to use my present skills and probably develop new ones.

Twenty-two years into retirement, I am happy to report that this has been the most productive and happiest period of my life, both in what I have to show for my work and in my satisfaction levels. Without undue self-congratulation, I hope, my experience has proven that the retirement years, if not golden, can embody zest for life, tempered optimism, hard work, and a desire to persevere right up to the end.

Because I still had professional connections with several school districts through my previous in-service work and the Puget Sound Writing Project, I became a consultant for several years to the Central Kitsap and Walla Walla School Districts, working with teachers on the assessment of student writing. I encountered many teachers who were helping young people in imaginative and successful ways to write essays, poems, stories, and plays.

Then my long-standing interest in local history surfaced, leading to two years of intensive research on the history of Montlake, the community where my family lived for nearly forty years. That information, combined with interviews, resulted in a book published in 2004: Montlake: An Urban Eden. A History of the Montlake Community of Seattle. Because I had discovered more photographs in UW Special Collections and other repositories than I could use in the book, I assembled them, with a jazz combo as background, in a DVD + CD set titled Montlake: A Photographic History (2005).

That experience led to a four-year stint as director of an oral history project in Eastern Oregon. With help from grants and volunteers, we collected, transcribed, and digitized 177 interviews with long-time Union County residents. And that experience blossomed into my becoming a videographer, digital editor, and producer of DVDs—a set of skills I am still using.

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