The Josephy Center—Tenth Anniversary

Yesterday the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture celebrated ten years of life as a non-profit, and a few months more of programming. Last year, at nine, we purchased the old log bank building that has been our home since the beginning. Anne Stephens, who first conceived of a new arts center in Joseph, was honored last night, as was Cheryl Coughlan, the Center director for over nine of our years. I too was thanked, and got to say a few words of thanks. And to report on a unique and wonderful gift from the Josephy family.

I’d been on the phone on and off all day with Diane Josephy Peavey, Alvin’s oldest child (and only a mite younger than me!). She’d been thinking about a gift to the Josephy Library, where I have been privileged to work since the beginnings. Diane was working from her phone, and was able to send the photo above, but somehow the message she wanted to send with it got lost—in the “cloud,” I guess. So last night, after I got home from the party, I got this:

“On behalf of my family and my brother and sisters I would like to gift you the typewriter that began my father’s life of writing.

“When Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. turned 12 his parents Alvin M. Josephy Sr. and Sophie Knopf Josephy gave him his first typewriter. It served him well to put together small bits of news and stories from New York City – the neighborhood and their apartment building – where he distributed his first writings to every apartment door.

“He used this typewriter through school and for many years into his professional life. I remember him pecking at its keys as he worked on yet another book late at night after a full day of work in New York City. Everyone was in bed and our house in Greenwich was still except for the sound of the keys tapping on paper in his beloved typewriter.

“This typewriter holds many stories, most of them poured into manuscripts that were published and respected by many over the years. I have cared for this machine of memories since our Dad died. But it needs a forever home and place of honor.

“With this in mind I would like to donate this important piece of family history to the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture and in particular to the Josephy Library of Western History. There its very presence might inspire the same interest in the history and people around us in the West that so inspired him. He would be pleased to know you will keep its history and its presence safe and inspiring to others as it has been to our family and especially to me.”

I teared up a little as I made my announcement, looking out at Alvin’s granddaughter, Amy Hobbs Ha, in the audience. I remembered Amy as a small child at her grandparents’ house on the backside of the west moraine of Wallowa Lake. Remembered her mother, uncle, and aunts, but mostly her grandmother Betty and grandfather Alvin. I remembered after-Fishtrap parties with Bill Kittredge and Annick Smith, Molly Gloss, Ursula LeGuin, James Welch, Craig Lesley, Kim Stafford, and hundreds more well-known writers of the West and the less well known rest of us, struggling to tell our own Western stories. I remembered services on that piece of the Wallowa country for Betty and Alvin, the Nez Perce drummers on that morraine,  and elders Allen Pinkham Sr. and Horace Axtell with their words of praise for the Josephys.

I told the audience that Alvin had not just left us books, but left us—me especially, though I am working to pass it on as I can—the task of retrieving and telling true stories of the West, and especially of the original people here. “Indians,” Alvin often said, “have been omitted from the American story when they have not been lied about.”

That is changing now, with Tribal people and stories of the past and of today being in the news and in the books of an America reconnecting to and reconciling with a tormented past. For me, it’s a balm in difficult times, a path forward that Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. and his wife, Betty, a partner in all of his work, set me on a half-century ago, when I appeared out of nowhere to take up residence on this ancient, marvelous, sacred Nez Perce ground.

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