Anita Zahniser speaks with Marilyn Willeford as part of her work with the Keizer Oral History Project. Zahniser is stepping away from her role to tend to family, but she’s willing to mentor her successor. (Submitted)

Anita Zahniser speaks with Marilyn Willeford as part of her work with the Keizer Oral History Project. Zahniser is stepping away from her role to tend to family, but she’s willing to mentor her successor. (Submitted)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

When Anita Zahniser volunteered for the Keizer Points of Interest Committee, she hadn’t even heard of the Keizer Oral History Project, but she became the driving force behind it for the last year and a half.

In more ways than one, Zahniser has molded the Oral History Project into something different than what she inherited. In early episodes, most of which are available to view on keizertv.com, the time was dedicated to capturing stories from the city founders and their memories of establishing Keizer as its own city.

After taking on the role as host and interviewer, Zahniser turned the camera’s attention to what came before that time period and the people who weren’t civic leaders. She talked with city founder Jerry McGee “in disguise” as Thomas Dove Keizur, she interviewed a number of the earliest students to attend the first Keizer school and then started talking with residents of Avamere Court about their experiences living in the area for extended periods of time. The next one to be released is an interview with Joy Beebe, who moved to the area from England as a war bride after World War II.  Her final interview, for now, is with Lynn Woolfe whose dad built a fallout shelter during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Despite all that, she thinks she’s barely scratched the surface.

“I would like to see Keizerites in their later years sharing their stories about times when they were children, what it was like raising a family or even what their life is like now in retirement. The story goes on and it’s fascinating because it feels like it’s all connected,” Zahniser said.

Her vision for the project was to present the Keizer Oral History Project at local senior care facilities where she hoped potential interviewees would step forward. She had already made a few steps in that direction. She presented at a few local facilities and she’d even gone as far as doing trial runs during the presentation.

“I would invite some of the residents up and we would pass a microphone around. The goal was just to get them comfortable with the idea,” she said.

Zahniser had little experience interviewing someone when she started, but she found her own way. She read books that her interview subjects had written, looked over photographs with them and then presented interviewees with a list of questions and an invitation to remove the ones they didn’t like and add a topics they wished to share.

“I probably did more than I needed to, but anyone interested in participating in the project would choose their own methods of prepping for the interviews,” she said.

While she wants to see the project continue, Zahniser has become an advocate for preserving family stories apart from the Keizer Oral History Project.

“Going through the process of preserving family history can bring up unresolved issues and chances for reconciliation. It’s not always possible to come to peace with someone else, but if we can make peace within ourselves, that’s a big step,” Zahniser said.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Keizer Oral History Project and how they might participate may contact Deputy City Recorder Debbie Lockhart at 503-856-3418 or lockhartd@keizer.org.