As a child Kristine Route used to climb on each of her grandmothers’ laps and ask them to tell her stories. “I used to listen intently to everything they had to say; hanging on to every word, my imagination creating the words into images.” Through this experience Route came to love history and the stories people have about a time and a place. This love of stories gave Route the idea of preserving the stories of Cooper Landing, one of the communities in the KMTA area.
With the help of the Cooper Landing Youth Group and a KMTA grant, Route, owner of Best Route Productions, brought the idea to fruition over the course of 2018 and 2019. Five youth, ages 11-16, met many times over that year, learning interviewing skills, conducting interviews with Cooper Landing residents, and then compiling and editing video to turn it into a finished product.
The first step in the process was accomplished through a partnership with KDLL Public Radio (91.9 FM). Shaylon Cochran, who is a news reporter for the station, came to Cooper Landing several times in the fall to teach the kids interviewing skills and how to conduct your body language when speaking with someone.
Once the youth had polished their interviewing skills they went in search of people to interview. The original plan included sending out a handwritten letter to potential interviewees, but that plan was scrapped when they realized people have a hard time writing about themselves. Instead, 100 plus invitations were sent out to community members, asking for their participation. Those who were willing just needed to answer and return a ten-question survey.
In preparation for the interviews, the youth took several trips to the Cooper Landing Museum in hopes of finding moments in time that piqued their interest. The elders were encouraged to bring photos to share as they told their stories. The youth also took trips to the museum afterwards to see if anything on display matched up with the stories they were told and to see if there was anything that they would want to include in their video.
The youth enjoyed many aspects of the process including learning about the formation of the Cooper Landing School, “It was really neat so see how it came to be,” said Linnaea Gossard, 16. She also enjoyed an interview that included three longtime residents: Mayme Ohnemus, Theresa Norris and Mona Painter. “It was fun to see them tell stories and fill in for each other.” Gossard and her brother, Cooper also enjoyed working with the video software and learning how to edit and compile footage.
The project was intended to be a once a week thing that took place at youth group but it morphed into an everyday project that the students were able to work on at school. Virginia Morgan, the Gossards’ mother was impressed with how involved her kids became with the process. They would come home two hours after school had ended, that extra time being spent on the project.
Morgan, a long time resident of Cooper Landing herself, enjoyed seeing old photos and footage from her youth, some of which included herself in a school musical. “An unexpected benefit of this was that old VHS footage was converted to DVD.”
The project brought together many people in the Cooper Landing community, as well as various organizations, including the Cooper Landing Community Club, the Cooper Landing Museum and Historical Society, and the Cooper Landing Senior Citizens Corporation, Inc. The shortened version of the film was presented at the 70th Birthday Party of the Cooper Landing Community Club, which was established in 1949, the oldest non-profit in the community.
The project is a reminder to us all about the importance of stories. “My grandmothers’ storytelling taught me to spend time with my elders and take the time to listen. Really listen,” said Route. “Everyone has a story, and in telling that story we can shine a little light in the world.”
The Cooper Landing Storytelling Project was a recipient of a KMTA Grant. KMTA awards grants to community projects that recognize, preserve, and interpret the historic, scenic, and natural recreational resources and cultural landscapes of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm historic transportation corridor. Projects promote and facilitate public enjoyment of these resources. For more information click here.
This story was updated in Fall 2022