Nancy and William (Bill) Donner moved to the Garden Home area in 1967 when Bill was transferred with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers from Walla Walla, Washington. Their large home at SW 62nd and SW Garden Home Road accommodated their five children: Nancy, William, Larry, Madeline and Susan. The home is just inside the Multnomah County line so their children attended Smith Elementary, Jackson Middle School and Wilson High School. One of the early family cars was a two-door Studebaker and more children later, a green Chevy station wagon, no seatbelts or car seats in the 1960s and early 1970s.
The Donner home was a voting precinct in the early days, down in the basement. They also hosted the Corp of Engineers’ annual picnic in the summertime. With their one acre, they had a volley ball court for lots of fun.
Today, a grandson lives with Nancy. Nancy is a participant in Garden Home activities and attends church in Multnomah Village. Her neighbors included Bruce and his mother Betty Koester and formerly, Jewel Lansing and Don Sackett.
Early on in their marriage, Nancy and Bill were stationed in Alaska for about ten years with Bill in the Army Corp of Engineers. During that period, Nancy and a friend enjoyed sending in recipes to enter the Pillsbury Baking contests. Unlike today, the only rule at that time was to use at least one-half cup of Pillsbury flour. Nancy sent in recipes for her Greek shortbread with Ouzo liquor which keeps for a year! Also other recipes for Swedish meatballs and macaroni and cheese with eggs. Her friend won a prize for her cookies.
Nancy knew a lot of Germans who settled Garden Home. Her neighbors had large platted lots with chickens (and still today), a sheep and big gardens and fruit trees. The abundance was shared around the neighborhood. Sometimes, a neighbor would load up a wheel barrow with fruit, especially pears and vegetables and wheel it down the Garden Home Road hill to Whitney’s Cannery for preservation in cans.
The family did their grocery shopping at Mr. and Mrs. Lamb’s Thriftway. Nancy purchased her pots and pans at the hardware store that was associated with the store. If they went to a movie, they went into Portland to one of the downtown theaters. These theaters gave you a plate with each ticket purchased so that with regular attendance, you could build up a set of dishes. Service stations also had this promotion and gave away “depression glass,” a clear colored glass popular in the 1940s and 1950s. Lamb’s Thriftway also enticed you with specially priced china or glass dishes.
For many years, the Donner family welcomed Portland State’s foreign students to come to their home to share in the holidays. As the Donner children grew up and left the bedrooms, she took in foreign students for about 30 years. She now enjoys the many contacts from these students. Nancy speaks French and an older dialect of Italian, the language of her family home.
Nancy fondly recalls the Sunday afternoon activity to go for a ride and visit the relatives, all unannounced ahead of time. Social times were spent playing Canasta, Scrabble or checkers. Doors were not locked and fences did not appear until the 1970s or so.
Social activities with women friends involved going downtown to the Meier & Frank store, sometimes to try on hats. The restroom use required that you pay a small fee to the attendant to unlock the toilet door. You could also summon your youngster to crawl under the door and unlock it to evade the charge. As a special treat, her mother-in-law would take her to lunch or tea in Meier & Frank’s Georgian Room, the ultimate in luxury in Portland. In those days, women dressed up to go downtown never wearing casual pants. The Hilton Hotel might allow a matching pantsuit but never the pants of today.
The Donner family continues to be part of Garden Home along with ties to the Multnomah area and Portland schools. Things are different now, it’s hard to cook for a big group because you have to plan for vegans or people with nut allergies or other special needs.