First Thursday Guest Speaker Biographies

February 2014 – Panel Discussion with Dr. Laurier Mercier, Dr. Erasmo Gamboa, and Sandy Polishuk

Laurie Mercier is the Claudius O. and Mary W. Johnson Distinguished Professor of History at Washington State University Vancouver (WSUV). Her research explores the intersections of class, race, gender, work, and region, and her recent publications include Speaking History: The American Past through Oral Histories, 1865-2001 (Palgrave/MacMillan, 2010); and Mining Women: Gender in the Development of a Global Industry, 1670-2000 (Palgrave/MacMillan, 2006 and 2009).
Her book in the discussion series, Anaconda: Labor, Community, and Culture in Montana’s Smelter City, received the Mining History Association biennial Clark Spence Award for Best Book on Mining History in 2003.


A child of Mexican immigrant parents, Erasmo Gamboa was born in Texas and spent his youth in the Yakima Valley of Eastern Washington. After attending Yakima Valley Community College, he enrolled at the University of Washington in 1968 where he quickly became a leading student activist. Gamboa helped found the UW Chapter of MEChA and was chairman of the University boycott committee supporting the United Farm Workers’ boycott of non-union grapes. Gamboa was also instrumental in the establishment of the UW’s Chicano Studies program. He earned an MA in History from the UW in 1973, and his PhD in 1984.
He is currently Associate Professor of Chicano Studies and Adjunct Associate Professor of History and Latin American Studies at the UW. Professor Gamboa is the author of numerous articles and books on the history of Latinos in the Pacific Northwest, including Mexican Labor and World War II: Braceros in the Pacific Northwest, 1942-1947; and Nosotros, the Hispanic People of Oregon: Essays and Reflections, which won the Helen and Martin Schwarz Prize from the National Federation of State Humanities Councils.


Sandy Polishuk is the author of Sticking to the Union: An Oral History of the Life and Times of Julia Ruuttila (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) and a producer of the Northwest Women’s History Project’s “Good Works Sister! Women Shipyard Workers of World War II; an Oral History” (www.goodworksister.org). Her articles and reviews have appeared in the Journal of American History, Oral History Review, Oregon Historical Quarterly, Notable American Women, Frontiers, and Bridges, among others. She has been an Oregon Chautauqua scholar and taught oral history at Portland State University.

March 2014 – Rene Johnston Carroll

Rene M. Johnston Carroll of Washougal has always had a keen interested in the history of the Camas-Washougal area. Her family includes Camas homesteaders and pioneers and she has written several personal works featuring family stories. Carroll was excited by the opportunity to compile this book for Arcadia. She knew she was right for the task with her deep connections to both communities having grown up in Camas and raised her family in Washougal.
Carroll is a 1980 graduate of Camas High School and graduated from Washington State University in 1983 with a degree in Communication/Public Relations.
An active volunteer for the Camas-Washougal Historical Society, Carroll has been a docent at the Two Rivers Heritage Museum for 13 years and has been editor of the society’s newsletter for the past five years.
After a 16-year career in marketing at PacifiCorp in Portland, OR, Carroll left to focus on her family and became an active volunteer in Washougal schools and the community. With her family now raised, Tom, 22 and Emily 20, she began Rene’ Carroll Consulting in 2012. Carroll is currently contracted to provide public relations and marketing assistance to the Washougal School District, Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association and The City of Washougal.

April 2014 – Jack Nisbet

Spokane-based teacher and naturalist Jack Nisbet is the author of several books that explore the human and natural history of the Intermountain West, including Purple Flat Top, Singing Grass Burning Sage, and Visible Bones. He has also produced two books that trace fur agent and cartographer David Thompson’s travels west of the Continental Divide: Sources of the River and The Mapmaker’s Eye.
Nisbet’s recent focus on the naturalist David Douglas resulted in his biography The Collector, which the PNW Booksellers’s Association named as a 2010 book of the year.
2012’s David Douglas: A Naturalist at Work is an illustrated collection of essays that aims to integrate Douglas’s vision of the Northwest landscape with our modern world. It also serves as the companion to a museum exhibit about Douglas that will run at the Tacoma’s Washington State History Museum through May 2014.

May 2014 – Harriet Baskas

Harriet Baskas writes about airports, museums and a wide variety of other topics for msnbc.com, USATODAY.com, AAA Journey and other outlets. She also maintains two blogs: StuckatTheAirport.com and MuseumMysteries.com. She produced a major radio series on hidden museum artifacts that aired on National Public Radio, with Smithsonian-based historians as her advisers. Baskas has a master’s in communication from the University of Washington and served as general manager for three community radio stations in Oregon and Washington. Baskas is the author of a half dozen books, including Washington Curiosities,Washington Iconsand Oregon Curiosities, and is finishing a book about hidden treasures in museums.
Baskas currently lives in Seattle.

June 2014 –

July 2014 –

August 2014 – Peg Willis

Peg Willis, a lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, grew up loving the Columbia River Highway. More than just a way to get from one place to another, it was a playground and an adventure. Since retirement from teaching, Peg has pursued a longtime dream of becoming more intimately acquainted with this historic beauty, its origins and its secrets. Her search has led her to volunteer with the Vista House and the Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway. Her work has been published in a number of magazines and regional newspapers. Peg and her husband, Jim, have three amazing sons, three perfect daughters-in-law and seven awesome grandchildren—all of whom also live in Oregon.

September 2014 –

October 2014 –

November 2014 –