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Making history
Making history

ROBERT K. "BOB" SUTTON MA '73 has gone from historian for Oregon State Parks in the 1970s to an appointment this fall as chief historian of the National Park Service.

Sutton is only the ninth person to occupy this top post with the park service since it was created 76 years ago. And he credits Portland State's History Department-in particular the late Prof. Gordon Dodds-with launching his career.

"I just became completely absorbed in history while I was there," Sutton exults. "My classes in history at PSU were hard, but they gave me the discipline I needed to succeed."

While Sutton was pursuing his master's degree, he worked part time as a ranger at Fort Vancouver, a job Dodds steered him towards. He also was a curator at the Oregon Historical Society. Sutton completed his Portland State degree with emphasis on the Civil War and Western history and later obtained a Ph.D. from Washington State University.

For the past 12 years Sutton was supervisor of the Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia, which attracts more than 800,000 annual visitors. At Manassas, Sutton emphasized not just the battles and soldiers but the experience of civilians and slaves, as well as the causes of the War Between the States.

From his new office in Washington, D.C., Sutton provides direction to the national parks interpreting the significance of America's historically designated places. There are two major projects on his to-do list: the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War (2011-2015) and the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service.

A native Oregonian, Sutton often visits his parents, now in their 90s, who are still in good health and living in Salem. When he can, he stops in at Fort Vancouver "happy to see much that is familiar, and much that is new and wonderful."

By Cliff Collins