Bittersweet Tale Behind History Text Benefactor Died Just After History Of Spokane Published
Marcia O’Neill Schrapps knew a lot about children. Nancy Compau knew a lot about history. Neither knew a thing about publishing a book.
For three years, the nun and the library historian worked on a Spokane history textbook for third-graders, watching their publishing costs skyrocket beyond their original grant.
But their benefactor, Rick Scammell, vice president of Washington Trust Bank, was the calm, reassuring voice that kept the project on track.
“Don’t worry,” he would say. “I’ll take care of it.”
He promised the pair a $5,000 charitable donation. When the final bill of $13,500 was added up, Scammell paid it from Washington Trust coffers.
The book, “Our City Spokane,” was published last November on the same day a destructive ice storm hit the region.
Schoolchildren are just now cracking the covers, but the authors’ moment to bask in their accomplishment has been bittersweet. Scammell, 47, died earlier this month, two weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer.
“When he died, it just really took the edge off of everything,” Compau said. “He got to look at it, but he never got to enjoy any of the work.”
While the grant was intended to provide the books to Catholic school students in the area, Mead and Spokane school districts have added the text to their curricula, paying for the additional cost of printing. Spokane Valley school districts are considering using the textbook, too.
Eventually, the authors hope all third-graders in the region will read the book as part of their class work.
“This has turned out to be Rick’s legacy to the children of Spokane,” said Schrapps, a former elementary school educator and a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names. “There were times when he was the only one who thought this was a good idea.”
Compau, historian for the Spokane Public Library, had intended for years to write a history of Spokane for children. Schools are mandated to include local history in the curriculum for third-graders.
Every year, dozens of 8-year-olds drifted into the library’s Northwest Room looking for books to help with class projects. But Compau, also a former teacher, said most of what is written is difficult reading.
She was bemoaning that fact three years ago, during a presentation on local history. Schrapps, who was working on a master’s in history, was in the audience.
The two agreed to collaborate on the book, with Compau doing the research and Schrapps doing the writing. Scammell, who controlled Washington Trust’s charitable donations, agreed to give the grant to the Holy Names Sisters, since the organization was established as a non-profit corporation.
The two look back on their naivete and laugh. Schrapps thought the book would be finished in six months. Compau thought it would take a year.
Throughout the ordeal, Scammell was the voice of reason, the cheerleader, Compau said.
“The whole thing was one disaster after another,” she said. Entire chapters were lost from computer disks and had to be rewritten. The book was scheduled to be published in August, but delays pushed it back first to October, then to November.
When Compau previewed the first copies off the presses, the inside cover, which was supposed to be blank, contained a draft of the credits, which had been discarded because it was inaccurate.
Employees at Lawton Printing Company covered the error by hand-mounting a photograph on the inside page of each of the 3,000 books.
It seemed par for the course when the ice storm struck that same day, canceling the celebration party.
“We were running around here kicking people out because we were closing the library,” Compau said. “And here comes the sisters with two bags of champagne. And then here comes Rick right behind her. I said, ‘What are you guys doing here?’ They wanted to celebrate.”
Instead, the group posed for a few photos and went home.
Scammell took the authors to dinner at the Spokane Club the week before Christmas and gave them each an engraved crystal clock as a gift. He complained of back pain that night, but both women thought it was an injury from shoveling snow.
He checked into the hospital shortly after Christmas when the pain became unbearable. He died Jan. 8.
“I can’t tell you how stunned I was when I heard he was gravely ill,” Compau said. “I can’t look at the book without thinking that he’s dead now, he was so much a part of it.”
At Scammell’s insistence, his name appears nowhere in the book, although both authors tried to include it. If a second printing occurs, Compau said she hopes to mention him somewhere.
The 88-page book is the most expansive history of the Inland Northwest ever compiled, Compau said. It begins with the geological events that occurred millions of years ago and ends with a chapter on modern-day events like Bloomsday and Hoopfest.
The 37 chapters are brief and tell the stories of both famous and everyday people of the Inland Northwest.
“It’s really just what people want, even adults,” Schrapps said. “It’s readable, it’s accurate and concise.”
Scammell, whose mother’s family founded Washington Trust Bank, loved Spokane history.
“You would walk into his office, into his home and he had blueprints, memorabilia, old pictures,” said Pete Stanton, president of Washington Trust. “History, like art, was one of his passions.”
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