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LISTEN: KNKX Connects To Centralia And Chehalis

Heather Beaird was part of the effort to get a statue of George Washington, the founder of Centralia, (pictured above) commissioned. Washington was biracial and his father was enslaved. Beaird says that identity has influenced community conversations.
Ed Ronco
A statue of Centralia founder George Washington, his wife Mary Jane, and their dog Rockwood now adorns the park named for Washington in the city's downtown.

On Aug. 30, 2018, KNKX visited the twin cities of Centralia and Chehalis, in Lewis County, as part of our KNKX Connects project – a yearlong exploration of western Washington. You can hear our reporting from those places in the audio above. And below, we’ve linked to several of the individual stories.

In every place we’ve visited, the past informs the present. That’s true here, too. We learned about the founders of both communities, who have amazing backstories, and whose legacies continue to bring people together. We also talked with a current Lewis County commissioner about a serious flood more than a decade ago, and how its effects still echo today. And our environment reporter got a look at the site of an old coal mine that could soon be an enormous solar farm.

Migrant workers are among those who support the economy here, and the Centralia School District runs a summer program for their kids. The Chehalis schools are pushing hard on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM education. Besides state-of-the-art labs at W.F. West High School, they have a special partnership with researchers at the University of Washington.

And we learned about how people build community in these two cities – whether that’s by working on writing projects together, preserving a patch of nature in the heart of Centralia, coming together around a love for railroads, or banging into people on a roller derby track.

We even talked to a soprano who made her debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera, but found her love of opera in Lewis County.

There are so many stories in Centralia and Chehalis. We know we just scratched the surface. But we hope this – and all of our visits through KNKX Connects – open the door to learning more about communities across western Washington, for a long time to come.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.