In 1982, the Ilwaco Telephone Utility Company was acquired by Pacific Telecom. Shortly thereafter, the Telephone Utility (TU) building in Ilwaco was vacated, with most of the local employees relocated to Vancouver, Washington. Several months later, Pacific Telecom deeded the former TU property to the City of Ilwaco. Reportedly, Mayor Les Peterson turned to City Council member Noreen Robinson at the time, and said, "Do something with it, Noreen."
Today's Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum began with brainstorming sessions over breakfast at Red's CafÃ© in Ilwaco. A few persistent phone calls to the Smithsonian Institution were made by Noreen. They led her to get an intern from the University of Washington museum studies program. The intern traveled to Ilwaco and spent a period of weeks instructing the fledgling museum's all-volunteer staff in the basics of museum management. After that, they were on their own.
In the early days, Noreen literally ran the museum finances out of her purse. When there wasn't enough money to do what needed to be done, she paid for it herself. She bought tables and chairs. She bought adjoining property. She bought all kinds of things. But, not insignificantly, she also bought a hot dog cart. Noreen sold hot dogs at high school sports events and town gatherings - wherever there might be an opportunity to raise a few dollars. Never shy about poking a little fun at propriety, she delighted in calling the cart her "wiener wagon." And, boy, did she ever have fun.
Some of the changes in the next several years included acquiring the old IR&N freight depot and moving it adjacent to the museum, and getting a significant grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust to give the old TU building a facelift. Collections were growing, and a collections storage building was begun. After awhile, finances were strong enough to contemplate hiring some professional staff. The museum was growing.