Pete Burk of Keizer: Putting his stamp on history

Of the Keizertimes

A new exhibit at the Keizer Heritage Center features a rather unusual stamp collection.
Its owner, Pete Burk of Keizer, has been collecting stamps since he was a six-year-old child living in southern California. When the July 4 holiday left him feeling rather patriotic last year, he decided to combine his lifelong hobby with an interest in his country and its history.
The result is a 50-page stamp book, with one page representing each state. The stamps highlight the achievements of its local heroes – the Wright brothers in North Carolina, Lewis and Clark here in Oregon, presidents, inventors and leaders.
The exhibit will be on display at the Keizer Heritage Museum through February and March. Hours are 2 – 4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
And, at age 89, Burk has had plenty of time to collect the hundreds of stamps used in this collection.
But what inspired him to put it together was an epiphany of sorts.
"I got started to thinking – China has been going for centuries, others go back a few thousand years," Burk said. "This country's less than 300 years old."
And over the 200-plus years of this nation, much of its history has been documented in stamps. Burk said the U.S. Postal Service went above and beyond the call of duty.
"It's amazing, and wonderful, that our post office has put our history on stamps instead of celebrities, or people who can yell the loudest in a microphone," he said. "There's hardly any part of history that isn't depicted in a stamp."
Flipping through the collection, one could learn quite a bit about U.S. history. The pages are neatly organized – one state per page, in order of statehood – and each and every stamp comes with a story of the history behind it.
For example, he learned that the U.S. Constitution, penned in 1787, wasn't ratified until June 21, 1788, when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document. George Washington, America's first president, was inaugurated in New York City on April 30, 1789, because Washington D.C. was little more than a dream then.
He focused on individual states, he said, because each and every one has its own government, its own history and a unique culture.
"We're 50 states, and each one is highly governed by themselves, which is different than, say, the provinces of Mexico," Burk said.
Included in the Oregon collection – appropriately placed on page 33 – are stamps depicting the Oregon Trail, the meadowlark, the big horn sheep and Lewis and Clark's journey across the frontier. A pair of older stamps, from 1936 and 1939, show an old map of the Oregon Territory and a photo of Crater Lake.
Burk has been smart about assembling his collection through the years. He usually buys used stamps in bulk, carefully soaks them to remove the glue, lets them dry overnight and places them in his collection.
Burk said he "gets grouchy" when a stamp costs more than $1. But he turns around and admits maybe he shouldn't have gotten so grouchy.
"I should have collected the $1 stamps," Burk said. "They're worth $100 now. The one-cent stamps are still worth one cent."

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