Shirley Stirling is making history.

She’s also studying it, rescuing it, refurbishing it, writing about it and painting it so future generations can know and enjoy it.

Through her volunteer work with the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Shirley has led efforts to locate and restore Oregon Trail Markers and (along with chapter friend Della Stenstrom) rediscover the infamous Medicine Creek Treaty marker placed by her local DAR Sacajawea Chapter in 1922. But that’s not all.

Shirley was elected State Historian this month. She will serve 37 chapters and 2300 members.

Shirley Stirling DAR
Shirley (left) and Della (right) presenting National SDAR Historian and convention keynote speaker, Ginger Hudson Trader, with a copy of the “Historical Marker Review 1894-2016” book they co-authored.
Photo credit: Jane Vander Brook

“Shirley and I had such fun at the state DAR convention,” says Lanabeth Horgen, newly elected Washington State DAR Regent, from Bellevue. “Shirley is well respected on the state level and nationally for her exceptional work on the Oregon Trail Markers, her research book ‘Historical Marker Review 1894-2016’ and her creative ideas. She has accomplished so much in her two-year term as Regent of the Sacajawea Chapter and I know she will be an outstanding State Historian.”

Why Oregon Trail Markers? Shirley’s friend, Tumwater resident Chuck Hornbuckle, had written a book about them and reminded her that the 100th anniversary was coming up.

“It gave me this great sense of urgency,” says Shirley. So, they decided to clean up the markers and rededicate them. Shirley researched how and collaborated with Chuck, Historic Preservation Chair Diane Smith, many DAR members, and Mick Hersey, Historical Memorial Preservationist and member of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).

“Mick came and taught us how to clean them, mentored us and participated in most restorations,” says Shirley. “These markers were created jointly in 1916 by DAR and SAR so I contacted the Washington state SAR to see if they would partner with us.” Which they did.

Shirley Stirling with Lanabeth Horgen
Shirley with newly elected Washington State DAR Regent Lanabeth Horgen from Bellevue. Photo credit: Jane Vander Brook

“We had taken the lead in this project so at the end of it we were surprised when the SAR showed up one day to give us medals and thank us,” says Shirley. “That was very sweet. They gave me a medal of appreciation.”

“She has done so much for this chapter, leading us on projects we never would have known about,” says Jane Vander Brook, Chapter Historian. “These are only a couple of examples.”

“One thing I like is making friendships with people that I wouldn’t otherwise know,” says Shirley, “particularly some of the elderly ladies – seeing how they can be involved in a way that pleases them and helps us make use of their wisdom.”

“I love genealogy and history,” says Shirley. “This is another way to connect with elderly people – to hear their stories, which also helps us.”

Artistic Talent Runs in the Family

Another way Shirley shares American history is through beautiful paintings. She knows how to capture the elegance of the state Capitol or the whimsy of a fictional woman promoting the suffrage movement. The fictional woman artwork is in a League of Women Voters textbook and on display at Mount Vernon.

Shirley Stirling
Shirley, adorned with medals from her DAR activities, enjoys painting historical and patriotic landmarks in Thurston County. Photo credit: Anne Paxton Hammond

Shirley’s fanciful artwork is also on the cover of the historical marker book she co-authored and is displayed locally in SPLASH Gallery and at the Capitol gift shop.

Shirley’s artistic talent bloomed at a young age. Sadly, while in third grade, her father died.

“A relative came to the funeral and brought pencil drawings for me as gifts because he heard I was interested in art,” says Shirley. “These pencil drawings are just priceless.”

The drawings had been created by Shirley’s grandmother and aunt. The aunt also created an oil painting that Shirley acquired later on.

“Art was something I could do that was all my own,” explains Shirley. “I could create something and it was respected, even by adults.”

Family, Travel and Service

Shirley experiences history by traveling the globe with husband Bob and daughter Sara.

Shirley Stirling Australia
Shirley studies genealogy and history while traveling with her family to places such as Sydney, Australia. At current count, she has traveled to 30 countries. Photo credit: 2008 – “Bridge Climb Sydney, I climbed it!”

“We were in Egypt the day the Mubarak regime fell, and we narrowly missed getting out of the country – literally by a few hours,” recalls Shirley. “My love of travel started during a mid-career break when I volunteered in the Peace Corps for two and a half years in the Solomon Islands.”

Shirley spent her career in social work, eventually working in Washington State assisting senior citizens. She’s spent her life serving others. She has a love of history and country, wrapped in abundant compassion and expressed through artistic endeavors.

The residents of Thurston County have benefitted from her diligence, insight and dedication on so many fronts – history, education, art and especially service to others. Her positive impact will be felt for generations to come.

In the meantime, Shirley will undoubtedly continue quietly making the world a better place, one project or painting at a time.

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