EMCA Oral History Project

EMCA Oral History Project

The mission of the Eugene Masonic Cemetery Association (EMCA) Oral History Project is to document the history of the formation of the EMCA Board and rehabilitation of the historic cemetery that started in the 1990s. A major part of this effort is the collection of oral history interviews with knowledgeable individuals who participated in this history.

This project was created between January 2021 and December 2021 by Alex Brokaw (EMCA Board Member and Historical Collections & Archives Archivist, Project Co-Director), Kate Thornhill (EMCA Historical Collections & Archives Volunteer Digital Archivist, Project Co-Director), Carolina Hernandez (EMCA Historical Collections & Archives Digital Collections Volunteer), and internship support from Amy Bentz, Helen Seto, and Roxanne Russell from the University of Denver Library and Information Science graduate studies program. Special thanks go to John Bredesen and, especially, Charles Wright for final editing.

All interviews are to be used only for non-commercial, educational, and research purposes.

If you are using this oral history project for teaching, research, or outreach purposes then please attribute EMCA in your work using the following attribution.
EMCA Historical Collections & Archives, Eugene Masonic Cemetery Association. “The EMCA Oral History Project” Eugene Masonic Cemetery Association. 2021. https://eugenemasoniccemetery.org/index.php/emca-oral-history-project/


Interview with Kay Holbo

Kay Holbo was the prime mover in directing the EMCA in its first years. She discusses her early upbringing and the positive influences she received from her father and uncles and how their work ethic and behaviors influenced her. Kay describes how the City of Eugene, Oregon provided a transitional process with the willing Masonic Lodge to form the Eugene Masonic Cemetery Association, and she tells how her experience with the Mulkey Cemetery led to her becoming EMCA’s first president. 

She discusses the history of the Eugene Masonic Cemetery, including the history of neglect and vandalism and the involvement of the Freemasons and the City of Eugene, Oregon in the management of the cemetery before the EMCA was formed to take it over. She goes into detail about her work in running the cemetery, including the resources she used and the other people who were involved in the rehabilitation. She also discusses the renovations, cleaning up of the cemetery, who was involved in the early-day activities, involvement of other EMCA board members, and the fund-raising efforts and successes, of which she is particularly proud.

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Interview with Alice Adams

Alice Adams was born and raised in Buena Vista, Oregon and is a retired radio operator for Emerald Loggers Radio.

Adams interest in the cemetery started in the 1950’s because her husband, Murray, was a member of Masonic Lodge #11, which owned the cemetery. Murray and Alice, along with others, volunteered to clean up the ten-acre grounds by weeding and cutting away the brush—an almost impossible job. They did this through the ‘80’s.

In about 1993–1994, a notice was issued for anyone interested in attending meetings about how to “save the cemetery.” She signed up immediately! Consequently, she is one of the original members of the Eugene Masonic Cemetery Association board, established in 1995. 

Adams has a love for the Masonic Cemetery, not only because her husband, Murray, is a resident, but she also has “a great interest in the history of the place, the stories of some of the people who are there, and the things that happened in the cemetery.”

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Interview with Barbara Cowan

Barbara Cowan was born in NYC and grew up in Summit, NJ.  Her family summered on Cape Cod where she developed an appreciation for the outdoors. Later, she moved to the Oregon coast where she enjoyed gardening and working at a plant nursery. She relocated to Eugene to complete a degree from the University of Oregon, and in 1990 became a Master Gardener through the OSU Extension Service.

Barbara established her own garden design and restoration business. Aware of Barbara’s professional background, EMCA President, Kay Holbo, invited her on a walk in the cemetery, and asked her to imagine the landscape free of blackberries with a cultivated naturalized understory. This conversation led Barbara to lead a work party. Shortly after, Barbara joined the board. 

For eighteen years, Barbara chaired the EMCA’s Landscape Committee, on which she worked with local arborists and native species authorities. Barbara also led work parties, raised funds, and reduced landscape costs by implementing new maintenance strategies,

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Interview with John Bredesen

John Bredesen was born in Beloit, Wisconsin. Over time, he developed an interest in anything technical, mechanical or electrical, and these interests led him to a career as a radio and television engineer. His last position before retirement was chief engineer at KLCC, the NPR station in Eugene. 

In 1980, John moved to Dallas, Texas, to build a new television station, after which he moved to Eugene. John was familiar with the Masonic cemetery because he lived nearby and often walked through the grounds. In 2002, when his wife passed away and was buried in the cemetery, he was invited to join the EMCA board. He became president of the board in 2003, a position he held for 10 years. 

John was instrumental in many facets of the cemetery restoration, including assisting with the construction of the garden cottage, as well as many projects inside Hope Abbey mausoleum.  In 2013 he started the music concert series “Music to Die For.” He also created and continues to serve as editor of the monthly eNewsletter for the EMCA.

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Interview with Hallis

Hallis describes the series of jobs and academic experiences that led to her becoming a CPA. Her great-great-grandfather sold the city of Eugene the land to create the Eugene Masonic Cemetery, and after she moved to Eugene, Hallis visited the cemetery regularly. There she met Kay Holbo, then forming the EMCA, who invited her to join the board as Treasurer. Hallis enjoyed the hands-on and social aspects of the volunteer work. She was glad the board hired David Foster to maintain the grounds and she welcomed Charmaine Landing’s landscape plan. 

Business obligations forced her to resign from the board in a few years, but she rejoined it later and eventually became Treasurer again. She describes spearheading the Bodies of Work event, a demonstration by local plein air painters with an art show in Hope Abbey. She tells how she and Perry Prochet developed a self-guided walking tour and accompanying brochure to showcase and explain some of the symbolism on markers in the cemetery. She is hopeful that the cemetery will survive, though she thinks it will be tough unless the board really gets behind the endowment. She is amazed at the progress the EMCA has been able to make.

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Interview with Denny Hellesvig

Denny Hellesvig was born in Minnesota, moved with his family to Eugene in 1948, and has been here ever since. His interest in architecture dates to the 9th grade, leading to a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1960 and an Oregon license in 1964. He was in private practice until 1991, when he joined the Building and Permit Services of the City of Eugene. Denny and his wife, Lynne, moved to South Eugene in 1979 and have lived within four blocks of the Masonic Cemetery since then.

As Eugene’s Building Official, he worked with the city’s historic planner, Ken Guzowski, who was an early cemetery board member. Upon retirement in 2001, Denny was invited by Ken to join the EMCA board, where he served for seventeen years.

Though he held titles on the board as archivist, treasurer and vice president, it was his role as project manager that deeply involved him in restoration projects throughout the cemetery. His first major project was leading the restoration of all 77 stained glass windows in Hope Abbey over a fourteen-year period. His leadership and talent as an architect led to other major projects such as designing the Garden Cottage, an historicallyappropriate Hope Abbey entrance porch with wheelchair ramps, and efforts at restoring and cleaning tombstones.

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Interview with Mike Helm

Mike Helm was born and raised in Pendleton, Oregon and has had a career as a high school English teacher and writer. When he bought a house near the cemetery in 1985, he soon realized there was a substantial amount of vandalism in the cemetery. He describes finding items such as skateboards, beer bottles, syringes, needles, and broken tombstones. This experience soon led to his forming the Hope Abbey Restoration Committee. 

For the next ten years, he worked to bring the vandalism to the attention of county commissioners and the City Council, creating a slide show and other presentation materials. These efforts helped lead to the formation of the EMCA, of which he became an initial board member. Meanwhile, he began patrolling the cemetery every night, a practice he continues to this day. He stresses the importance of having a presence in the cemetery as a deterrent to unsuitable behavior and tells an amusing account of how he used to scare people away at night. He believes that the cemetery will become even more valuable to the community. He feels that stable finances and community education are keys to its long-term security.

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Interview with Rich Maris

Rich Maris discusses his early upbringing and his decision to become an architect. He is a Freemason and gives a detailed description of what Freemasonry is and his involvement in two Masonic lodges in Eugene, Oregon.

Maris describes how the Masons came to provide the first public cemetery for the city of Eugene in 1859. He reviews meeting minutes from Masonic meetings in the early 1900’s that describe the negotiations between Masonic Lodge #11 and a Portland mortuary company to build a mausoleum on the cemetery grounds. “Hope Abbey” is the marvelous result of those negotiations.

Maris joined the board in 2014 as a liaison between Masonic Lodge #11 and the Eugene Masonic Cemetery Association. He talks about how his mission was to preserve and care for historic grave markers. He was seeking to balance the board’s focus on the landscape with a focus on the restoration of the grave markers. He is pleased that the board has adopted that philosophy of balance between the two. He retired from the board in 2020.

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Interview with Hugh Prichard

Hugh Prichard was born in Chicago, but moved to California as a toddler. As a self-proclaimed child of the 60s, he was a Vietnam protester. Hugh started his career as a teacher in the Los Angeles school system, working in the Watts area. He moved to Eugene in 1970, and continued to teach. Later, he and his wife, Sue, transitioned to a career in commercial real estate and started their real estate firm, Prichard, Evans and Elder. He has lived within three blocks of the Masonic Cemetery for fifty years, and knew well its horrible condition.

Hugh’s involvement with the cemetery began as an interested person who visited regularly.  A discussion with Kay Holbo, the EMCA’s first president, led to an invitation to join the board. In the interview, he discusses the rundown condition of the cemetery. He describes the vandalism as “… people just went there to party and do drugs and be bad.” When Hugh became board president, he carried on the process of restoring the cemetery. Once burial sites were repaired, he used his real estate skills to restart the sale of grave sites and provided guidance regarding burial procedures. His interview takes you through his involvement with the cemetery and how it became a beautiful, historic landmark.

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Interview with Mary Ellen Rodgers

Mary Ellen Rodgers was born in Flint, Michigan and is of Irish heritage. Her family’s genealogy influenced her love of learning about history.  She received her bachelor’s degree in marketing

at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan in 1982. She joined the U. S. Navy in 1983. 

After moving to Eugene in 1998, she read an article about the Masonic Cemetery and decided to visit. She soon volunteered, doing landscape cleanup, and was asked to join the board in 1999. At the same time that she was on the board she attended the University of Oregon and received a master’s degree in historic preservation in 2003.

In 2003, Rodgers was hired by the cemetery’s board to be the first Administrator/Sexton. Her marketing experience, her skills as a naval officer, her degree in historic preservation and her experience on the board well qualified her for this unique job. She recounts numerous projects that she either directed or was a key contributor to. Her love for the cemetery is evident!

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Interview with Charles (Charley) Wright

Charles Wright grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska. He joined the mathematics department at the University of Oregon in 1961, retiring in 1999. During his working years, he held various administrative positions and chaired innumerable committees, including several that focused on planning. After retiring, he joined the board of the Oregon Mozart Players, serving as secretary, president, webmaster, and database manager, while writing all the donor thanks letters. 

When he left that board in 2009, his friend Karen Seidel encouraged him to join the EMCA board, which he did in 2010. Charley helped to develop an EMCA long-range plan and to organize the Endowment Committee. He also manages the EMCA website, is in charge of the organization’s contact database, and writes the thanks letters. He even served as board president for a while. He has also played his bassoon several times in the Music to Die For series. His special EMCA interests include long-range planning and rehabilitation of Hope Abbey. In his interview, Charley discusses the importance of the cemetery, the relevance of donations in providing resources for the cemetery, and the need to plan for a time when sales of burial rights run out.

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Written Interview with Karen Seidel

Karen is a retired University of Oregon senior research associate with a special interest in historical research. She joined the EMCA board in 1997 after looking up the obituaries of everybody buried in the cemetery before 1900. That research, as well as other studies, led to her writing several brochures and most of the text that appears on the historic signs throughout the cemetery grounds. She has written several chapters of Full of Life, as well as a number of articles in the semiannual newsletter “Monumental News,” which she also edited for many years. In her interview, she describes some of her experiences collecting information for her writings.

In addition to her research projects, Karen’s contributions to the EMCA have included helping with a variety of events and serving for many years as board secretary, a role in which she excels. Her volunteer service has been recognized by several organizations, including the United Way of Lane County and the Lane County Historical Society. Karen notes that being on the board has been fun for her, and she hopes that somebody else will enjoy becoming EMCA’s historian, too.

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