The Third Thirty

A Community Story Project by Window Seat Media

The Third Thirty:
Honoring + Amplifying the Voices of Our Elders

"This class was an exploration of a different kind of listening and a different type of interview. Through the specific class assignment and Elaine's expert coaching, I was able to produce a compelling narrative from an interview with someone I admire deeply."​

-Kris Tucker, Fall 2018 Cohort

What Is The Third Thirty? 

The Third Thirty is an oral history project that gathers and shares stories from South Sound elders. The purpose of the project is invite people between the ages 60 and 90 to reflect on a question or theme and to share a bit of their truth in relation to that question or theme with our community. The stories are gathered by Thurston County residents – many who are also in their “third thirty” years of life –who enroll in an eight-week long project based course taught by WSM Curator, Elaine Vradenburgh, through Senior Services Lifelong Learning Program. Participants learn the art and practice of oral history, build their listening and interviewing skills, and consider the ethical issues of gathering and sharing other peoples’ stories. Each participant interviews a community member, transcribes the interview in full, and then edits the transcript into a short, cohesive story. We share the stories (with permission from the person whose story it is) at a public reading and conversation hosted and facilitated by WSM, and they live on in the WSM archive.

2020 Focus

2020 welcomes our third cohort of community oral historians with new guiding questions?

What ingredients are needed for creativity and innovation to flourish – in ourselves and in our communities? What have we gained as a community from welcoming new ideas and people in this place?  

We’ll explore these questions from the perspective of our elders who have contributed to the creative, socially engaged spirit of Olympia - from the arts to agriculture to public policy and community organizing. More specifically, we’re curious about those elders who were either living here or were drawn here between the late 1960s through the 1980s. The community went through a significant transformation during this time – from a community rooted in its place as the State Capitol, a transportation hub, and its traditional waterfront industry, to an incubator for creativity and social engagement that Olympia continues to celebrate as a central part of its identity today. Beloved institutions, such as the Olympia Film Society, Safeplace, K Records, the Olympia Farmers Market, and Evergreen all came to life during those years. We’re curious about what made this time so fertile, and how reflecting on this moment can help us understand who we are and how we want to live together in Olympia today.

This year's project will culminate in a conversation series in partnership with Senior Services and the City of Olympia, an exhibit and series of audio stories.

What Makes This Oral History Project Unique? 

Oral history offers a method to amplify local knowledge so that we can problem-solve in ways that are more inclusive and just. Contemporary practitioners are focused on gathering and sharing stories from people who have been left out, marginalized, or misunderstood in our largerAmerican narrative. The stories serve as an invaluable primary resource that feed into our institutional memory and expand our understanding of our shared history. WSM is part of this community of practice, and its founding staff, Elaine Vradenburgh, has an advanced degree in the field.

The peer-to-peer nature of the project offers seniors in our community with an opportunity to explore and validate shared experience while gaining insights into the ways in which their particular histories and identities shape their outlook and circumstances. Our stories include community members from different racial, ethnic, socio-economic, and religious backgrounds, as well as regional differences. As one participant reflected, "Olympia is a diverse community, and capturing the stories of our seniors helps illustrate this point in a very tangible way. I was amazed by each of the stories captured in our class. The experiences of the narrators were varied and unique. When we listen to them all at once, it gives us a sense of the tapestry of history that makes up the community of the South Sound. " We find that by focusing on a broad theme and carefully curating a public gathering to share the stories, we were able to surface and engage with challenging and often polarizing issues with safety and respect – for our oral historians, their narrators, and the public who came to listen to the stories.      

We are not only building a collection of stories that people can access online to understand the unique challenges and gifts of this generation, but also a community of practice that is grounded in deep listening, asking transformative questions, and honoring the knowledge that comes from our lived experience. Through the process of both gathering and sharing stories of their peers, seniors have the opportunity to deepen their connection to each other and honor the life and work of their peers.

How To Get Involved

If you'd like to help gather stories, our next oral history cohort will meet every Thursday, 10am-noon, beginning January 16 through March 5 at the Olympia Senior Center in downtown Olympia. Cost is $98 general/$92 members. To register, contact Senior Services at 360.586.6181. You do not need to be a senior to enroll.

Click here for the Lifelong Learning listing on Senior Services website.

If you'd like to share your story and for more information, please contact Elaine Vradenburgh at elaine@windowseatmedia.org.