Health & Education

By the books: Kathy Cole hired as new Tribal librarian

04.14.2020 Danielle Frost Education, Tribal employees
Kathy Cole has been hired as the Tribe's new librarian, succeeding Marion Mercier in the position. (Photo by Timothy J. Gonzalez/Smoke Signals)


By Danielle Frost

Smoke Signals staff writer

A common piece of advice is to pick a career you love so that working is an enjoyable instead of depressing experience.

For Tribal member and longtime Chinuk Wawa teacher Kathy Cole, applying for the position of Tribal librarian was heeding that advice.

“I love to read and to promote literacy,” she says. “This seemed like a fun opportunity that I had never experienced before. I thought it would be yet another way to bring our language to the Tribe. I am not leaving the language behind in this job. I am taking it with me.”

Cole succeeds longtime Tribal Librarian Marion Mercier, who retired in early 2019. Harris Reibach served as interim librarian until accepting the position of TERO director in late 2019.

Cole has worked for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde for the past 16 years as a Chinuk Wawa language teacher, instructing students in preschool through adult classes, both on the Reservation and through the Willamina School District. Her love of the language has been lifelong.

“I always wanted to learn growing up, but living in southern Oregon, it was too far away to take the classes,” she says.

Cole earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Pacific University with a music endorsement. After settling in Dallas, Ore., she learned Chinuk Wawa from a Tribal language program.

Cole is the daughter of Tribal member Larry Cole and Darlene Wiles, and the granddaughter of Tribal member Edna Pichette and Albert D. Cole. She has five grown sons.

She officially began as Tribal librarian on Thursday, March 23, but due to the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, she has not had the opportunity to start her job onsite yet. The Tribal Library is officially closed through at least the end of April.

“I have a ton of ideas on how to promote reading and the library,” she says. “I also want to bring the cultural aspects with me and promote local artists. Additionally, I’d like to spotlight resources that are here in the community, and perhaps have displays at the library.”

Cole’s biggest challenge since taking the position has been, not surprisingly, how it began.

“I was really excited to get in here and start working, but that’s not how things have happened so far,” she says. “Right now, I am recording books in Chinuk Wawa and English, and will put together an education website for library users.”

Cole says the greatest mentors in her professional life have been Cultural Advisor Bobby Mercier; former Tribal Elder Jackie Whisler, who started Chinuk Wawa classes at the Tribe and walked on in 2007; and Henry Zenk, anthropologist and linguistic consultant for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

“Jackie was a big inspiration to me when I was just getting started,” Cole says. “Bobby has been huge in my life for language and culture, and I’ve learned so much from Henry Zenk.”

In her spare time, Cole enjoys reading, spending time with family and being outdoors when the weather is nice.

She doesn’t have a favorite book genre. “I love to read everything,” Cole says. “I have been researching the Holocaust, but when that gets to be too much I also enjoy reading fun fiction books.”

Cole was hired for the librarian position by Education Department Manager Angela Fasana.

“We are very excited to have Kathy as our new librarian,” Fasana says. “She will bring with her from the Language Education Program a vast amount of educational tools to further incorporate Chinuk in the daily lives of our students. Kathy is also very creative and I look forward to seeing the art projects she and Crystal (Bigelow) will launch in the department’s efforts to increase literacy, culture, art and the love of books.”