Carolyn Micnhimer

Her Brooklyn accent all but gone, fledgling senior Carolyn Micnhimer can talk all day long about John Day, and does. As the leader of the interpretive tours at the Kam Wah Chung museaum for the past 15 years, Micnhimer has trained her voice to enunciate clearly for the benefit of the museum visitors. "When I first came to John Day, Francis Cole of the old Grant County Bank would ask me to repeat myself over and over. I was beginning to think there was something wrong with him when he finally told me he loved hearing my accent," says Micnhimer.

And just how did a New Yorker wind up in John Day? "This was our destination," she explains adding, "we really wanted to move out of the city. My husband had remembered a small picturesque town on a cross-country drive called John Day and he sold me on the idea."

So it was with that intent, a two year-old son and a home-built trailer that they began their trek westward. It may not have been a covered wagon, but this was pre-Interstate days and the obstacles were many.

When they encountered their first hill in Pennsylvania, the 1936 Jimmy pulling the trailer ground to a halt. With traffic piling up behind them and honking, they accepted a push up the hill from a Mayflower van. "We did the only thing you could in that situation, we lightened the load," remembers Micnhimer. Right there, her husband sawed off the back 1/3 of the trailer and left it on the hillside.

Traveling across the country for her became a series of comparing and contrasting as she would query husband Dwight, "Is this what John Day looks like?" or "How about this place, does it remind you of John Day?"

And on they went. At the Oregon border, in Vale, she asked again. "No" was the reply. Then again at Austin Junction, "No" was the reply.

"Well, I was just thrilled when we got here in 1949. I have never regretted the move; such friendly people and interesting times," she says.

In their first four days here they found and purchased land on which Micnhimer still lives today, found the registered collie puppy she had always wanted and Dwight found steady work.

She and Dwight raised three children and were active in Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and 4-H. Two of her children still live in Oregon and the third in Ohio.

Her biggest concern these days is learning to drive and getting her license. "Learning how to drive is by far the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," she states. Her lessons have tapered off since school started up again, but she is intent on independence.

Micnhimer has been back to New York only twice since moving. The first time with Dwight and the children. During that visit, they became engulfed in a traffic jam and she remembers Dwight saying, "Be sure to enjoy yourselves as much as you can because we aren't ever coming back."

The second visit was quite recent and a bit astonishing. "Upon returning to my old neighborhood, I was surprised to learn it had developed into the Chinese section of Brooklyn, and I sort of felt at home." Go figure.

Micnhimer stays out of the policy and politics of the museum here and knows where she stands regarding her position: "I look at it this way, I have been collecting information on the Chinese settlement here for the past 15 years. I know the building inside and out and have lots of ideas for the place, so basically I want to work here as long as I'm able and then one day I'd like to pass the knowledge on and let others staff it. I mean, it's six hours a day, six days a week for five months a year," she says adding, "and that way I would not have to talk all day."

Yeah, but I'd miss the sound of her voice.

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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