By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: If only the two sides talked to each other

Let’s break from discussing Evergreen-related legal entanglements long enough to take a peek behind the curtain.

We see well-intentioned people trying to stabilize an important nonprofit institution; we see them struggling to overcome deep-seated problems stemming from an eccentric, some might say abnormal, history of corporate and internal-culture circumstances.

Currently, two sides are embroiled in a series of legal maneuvers that will decide who owns the museum lands and buildings.

One side is the Michael King Smith Foundation, created by founder Del Smith to give himself an additional vehicle to control the museum he built. The foundation, which still owns three important buildings and surrounding lands, is run by three goodhearted trustees with decades of history tied to the late Mr. Smith and his unconventional ways of business and philanthropy.

The other side is the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, operator of the sprawling campus and programs through the efforts of a hard-working board of directors, a dedicated staff and a broad array of volunteers. Formerly a figurehead body, the museum board has devoted its best efforts to stabilizing the museum finances in challenging times.

Here’s the irony: Identifying these entities as “two sides” is an unfathomable situation. They profess to share almost identical missions in life: honor the legacy of the institution; provide the resources and leadership to stabilize museum finances; be an important contributor to the community.

So why, you might ask, do they communicate more through private affronts than public showings of solidarity? Good question.

I probably could write a short book containing some of the answers, but not without seeing how the tangle of current legal cases plays out. I probably could write a long book about 60 years of intrigue surrounding the Evergreen empire, but that’s not going to happen.

For now, as your community newspaper, we continue to report the hard, cold details of legal claims, complex motions and judicial decisions related to the house that Del built. But you should know that behind those often harsh-sounding stories, we have come to know and appreciate many of the individuals temporarily trapped in a seemingly neverending Evergreen web.

They all want the museum to succeed; some have creative, far-reaching ideas about how the institution could realize its full educational potential; they all talk about ways to engage and benefit the local community.

If only they were talking to each other.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com and 503-687-1223.

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