For more than two months, Rene’ Johnston Carroll was a history detective.
In February, the longtime Washougal resident signed a contract with Arcadia Publishing to write “Legendary Locals of Camas and Washougal.” Representatives from the company, which has published other historical books focusing on the local area in its “Images of America” series, contacted Carroll in January after discovering she is the editor of the Camas-Washougal Historical Society’s newsletter and reading online an article she wrote for the Post-Record.
Carroll, who is a member of one of Camas’ homesteading and pioneering families, said she was excited about the prospect of writing a book about local history — but also a little nervous.
“At first I thought, ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ I wondered if I could fill the book,” she admitted. “But then I was overwhelmed. I found so much more than what I could fit in the book.”
Carroll said she started by creating a list of people she hoped to include, by thinking of the streets, schools, parks and other facilities that are named in recognition of local residents.
“I included information about names that locals would recognize such as Doc Harris, Gudrun Jemtegaard, Gordon Washburn, Louis Bloch, and Alfred Omega Hathaway,” she said. “Then I asked people around town to name some people they felt should be mentioned. I did find that who is considered ‘legendary’ is definitely in the eye of the beholder.”
On her quest, she spent hours collecting photos and information while digging through the archives at the Two Rivers Heritage Museum in Washougal. She quizzed local historians. She made phone calls and contacted relatives and friends of legendary locals who had passed away, and when she could she talked to the living legends directly.
“It was like a treasure hunt for information,” she said. “I’ve been asked how many hours I spent working on the book. It’s so many, I just don’t even want to count.
“It was delightful and it was the best time,” Carroll added. “I met so many great people.”
The book is divided into five chapters including: Pioneers and Immigrants, Community Builders and Historians, Business Leaders and Professionals, Educators and Physicians, and Celebrities and Memorable Locals. There are 138 people featured in the book, with their stories and backgrounds told through photos and captions.
“It’s a great combination of facts and storytelling,” Carroll said.
Among her favorite people to research were the late John Fishback, who served for 20 years as the Washougal School District superintendent beginning in 1946.
When he first arrived in Washougal, he oversaw the construction of Gause Elementary School and later Washougal High School in 1958. Every levy put in front of voters during his tenure passed, except for one. He died in his sleep in 1966 while on a teacher recruiting trip for the district. Fishback Stadium at WHS was later named in his honor.
“All of the information I got about him was from his daughter [Jeffra],” Carroll said. “It was a really great conversation.”
The author was most impressed by medical researcher and clinician Dr. Roy Laver Swank. He was a person Carroll had never heard of before, and as it turned out Swank was a classmate of Carroll’s grandmother, Viola Buhman Johnston.
Swank, born in 1909, grew up in Camas and graduated from Camas High School in 1926. He went on to become an accomplished physician who studied multiple sclerosis and its link to geographic location and diet. Many of his research papers and books on the subject were published. His ground breaking research an innovative inventions resulted in extraordinary contributions to the medical community nationally and internationally.
“I believe in my heart that Roy Swank probably contributed the most of anybody from Camas-Washougal,” she said.
In the end, Carroll hopes her book will allow local residents to have a new sense of pride in Camas and Washougal, and a better understanding of the people who have made it what it is today.
“I hope the book serves as a tribute to the amazing people that shaped the communities of Camas and Washougal, both past and present.”