We occasionally get people in the NCU Kellenberger library that have no connection with our school, but are researching some building, person, or event that does have some connection. Someone bought a house that used to be owned by the school and wanted its history. Somebody wanted pictures from the founding of Sacred Heart Hospital (which was begun by NCU’s predecessor Eugene Bible University as Pacific Christian Hospital). A few weeks ago Russ showed up in the library wondering if we might possibly have information on James Bushnell and his family. Russ is a volunteer with the Luper Pioneer Cemetery. James Bushnell was a prominent pioneer and business person in the late 1800s in the Willamette Valley, specifically in the Junction City area, who is buried there, along with many of his family members. Russ had some information that James had helped found Eugene Divinity School (now NCU) and hoped we might have some additional information to add to his own about James Bushnell.
Unknown to Russ (until he came in that day), is that I had spent considerable time learning about James Bushnell myself during
my sabbatical last summer and following. James was indeed involved in founding what is now NCU. He was the first chair of the board of trustees. He was continuously elected to that position until his death in 1912, a span of 17 years. He gave generously to the library and other endeavors at the young college. His second wife, Sarah, helped support the founding of what is now the Sarah E. Bushnell Rare Book and Bible Collection, possibly the largest collection of rare Bibles west of the Mississippi. So yes, in fact, we had a little bit of information on James and his family in our archives.
Russ was delighted to gain additional information, including some photographs. I was delighted to discover that Russ had information in his folder about James that (to my knowledge) we did not have in our archives. Photographs of the Bushnell home. Letters to and from a brother. We exchanged information and copies, enriching the files for both Luper Cemetery and the NCU archives.
But it didn’t end there. Luper, normally closed to the public, was planning an open house during Memorial Day weekend. Russ and other volunteers have spent considerable time restoring headstones, laying a bark path, clearing brush, and in general restoring one of the oldest pioneer cemeteries in the Willamette Valley. Of course I had to go.
So on Memorial Day, my wife and I spent an hour or so at Luper. We found it appropriately enough off of Beacon Drive, north of Santa Clara. Russ and the other volunteers have done a marvelous job. Signs and information were posted at the entrance and throughout the cemetery describing significant persons buried there, many from the “lost” wagon train of 1853 (including James’ first wife and two young children). A clean bark path led visitors through the cemetery. Many headstones and other grave markers had clearly been reset or restored. Some work still remains to be done.
We found the gravesite for James and his second wife Sarah, one of the larger sites in the cemetery. Nearby we found markers for his first wife Elizabeth Adkins, and for children from both marriages, many who died very young. Other Busnells were found as well, possibly siblings, and other children and even grandchildren.
It was both sobering and inspiring to stand before the graves of these two who I have spent so much time learning and speaking about over the past year. And all because someone else was tracking down a small thread of information that led him to the NCU archives. It reminded me that while James and Sarah were incredibly important to the early history of NCU, they were important people with connections in their local community as well. They were much fuller individuals than simply their involvement with the young Christian college in Eugene.
Russ and I made one of those local community connections too. We helped expand the knowledge and information each had, and by extension expanded the knowledge and information our respective organizations and communities have. We have each other’s contact information and will be a resource for one another in the future I’m sure.
I am so thankful to work for a school that is connected to its local community. We’ve been here since 1895 on the same block. Our connections run deep, if we only look for them. Each one of us has connections in our local community in some way. May God continue to richly bless those connections and strengthen NCU and our neighbors through them.