We moved to 7814 SW Occidental Avenue as it was called in those days, in 1947. Today it is 7170 SW 76th. My parents were Helene and Ward Nelson. We moved from Ardenwald, near Milwaukie, where my grandmother lived. Our property butted up against the Garden Home school woods. We could climb over the fence and play in the woods with lots of hiding places. The woods were next to Aaron Frank’s property. Frank was the owner of the Meier and Frank department store in downtown Portland.
My brother Bill was born about the time we moved. We had a large property; our house sat on the front half of it, and there was a huge pasture in back with a chicken coop and pig pen. We had an acre of land, and there was plenty of land to raise animals and to have a garden, which tied in with my father’s upbringing in rural Minnesota. Mother, who grew up in Ardenwald, was a city girl and was not too thrilled about living in the country! During the time we lived there we had, at one time or another, chickens, pigs, sheep, a cow, turkeys, geese.
At first, there was just the house; my father later built the garage which contained a large work space for his U-bolt business. Our property contained a number of apples trees, a peach tree, several pear trees, a plum tree, a filbert tree, cherry trees, and walnut trees. There was an enormous spruce, I think it was, in front of the house, and I used to climb to the very top, from which I could see the school.
My father worked originally for McCall Oil, driving truck, but he eventually went to work for Schwager Wood, a high-voltage manufacturing company in Multnomah. The plant was located at the corner of Multnomah Blvd. and 35th. Mother stayed home to begin with but worked at a variety of places: the Bank of California, Securities Intermountain, Inc.; Herlen Homes, and finally Bucher Realty. My parents were divorced in 1968, and she eventually married Wylis Bucher, the owner of Bucher Realty.
As a child, my brother and I stayed with Mrs. Anna Lindley, who lived up the street and who cared for a number of neighborhood children. She lived in what was then the third house on the west side of the street. She also had a large yard with a chicken coop in the back. She had a shed in the back that was not attached to the house, and one room was the proverbial woodshed where she literally had cords of wood stacked up, and the other end was her laundry room with an old Maytag wringer washer. It was the kind you had to crank.
“Lynn,” as we called her, had a huge garden, and I recall her growing kale, which she dried and fed to her chickens! (Some would say that that is the best use of kale.) She also had a stand of bamboo on the edge of her property, which she called “elephant ears,” and which she guarded zealously. They grew 6-10 feet. Woe to the wayward child who knocked any of those stalks down! She fixed us lunch each day, and it was nearly always the same: sandwiches, and Lipton chicken noodle soup, to which she added elbow macaroni or those little pasta alphabets. She had a wood stove on which she could cook anything, and she never owned an electric stove. Each day she listened to “The Romance of Helen Trent,” and “Nora Drake.” My most vivid memory is of the earthquake in 1949; she herded us into the middle of the living room, and we all stood there until it was over.
Our original neighbor was a woman named Ethel Fraley. Around 1950 or so, the Flowers family moved in: Dave, Elsie, Brad, Dick, Ann, Jean, and eventually Lynn, and Virginia. The four oldest graduated from Beaverton High, and Lynn and Virginia (Ginger) graduated from Parkrose High in the late 60s or early 70s. The Flowers lived there until I graduated from high school in 1962 at which point the Harmons moved in. The Flowers kids and I used to play First Bounce or Fly (a kind of baseball game) in the street because it was a dead end, butting up against Aaron Frank’s property.
The Billups, Lynn and Mrs. Thompson lived on the west side of Occidental along with the Goldsmiths and their son Tom, and the Holmes. On the east side of the street from south to north were Mrs. Replogle and her son Dave; old Mr. Dale who lived next door; the Grants who later moved to the Hunt Club; Mrs. Van Patten; the Potters whose house hasn’t changed a bit; the Bettendorfs and their son Bob; and the Slettlands (I think—something like that). There really was very little change in the neighbors over the years. My good friend was Clark Martin, who lived over on 77th, and we used to go back and forth using the empty field that was right across from our house. We decided to make wine when we were in high school as Clark either had gotten a kit from someone or a recipe; at any rate, suffice it to say that it never really turned out! Clark and I both went to Willamette to college, and he was the best man at my wedding.
I started school at the Garden Home Elementary School in 1950. My first grade teacher was Leone Santee; second was Helen McEwen; third, Stella Morrison; fourth, Margaret Brockhaus; fifth, Ruth Kaiser; sixth, Robert Polier; seventh, Frances Lawrence; eighth, Leonard Gustafson. I was the valedictorian of the Class of 1958. Wayne Thurman was the principal and Bobbie Henderson was the secretary for the entire eight years I was there. In the third grade, Mrs. Morrison would have one of her pet students, either me or Cheryl Eastman, go across the street to the corner grocery store to buy her a U-No bar! I can’t imagine that happening today, to be sure.
That store, owned by the Throckmorton’s, burned in 1956. Mrs. Throckmorton apparently fainted when she saw the store go up in flames. It was really a dramatic event in a small community. Right across the street was a gas station owned by Gust Johnson, whose daughter Dorothy went on to become the first runner-up in the Miss America pageant, which everyone watched in those days.
Starting in the second grade, I took piano lessons from Jim Bastien, who lived on Oleson Road, near the intersection, in a house that is still there today. I recall vividly the time Jim played a piano concerto with the Portland Junior Symphony, as it was called in those days. He eventually married, and he and his wife went on to produce a very popular series of piano method books and ancillary materials. In the seventh grade, Phil McGriff, who was the other seventh grade teacher and also the school band director, twisted my arm into learning how to play the tuba, and as a result, I played tuba through graduate school, thus making for a very musical upbringing.
My mother was president of the PTA in my eighth grade year and had been involved for several years. The PTA put on an annual carnival, the Frontier Frolic, as a fund raiser for the school. She worked with some really neat women: Jean McCarthy, Margaret Emmons come to mind, but there were others. She had a scrapbook that she had put together of her years in the PTA, and it is now in the hands of the Garden Home History Project. This scrapbook will be available to read in the library when they get their new space.
As a family, we didn’t have lots of money, and so we didn’t go on extravagant vacations, but we went to the beach frequently and camped. My favorite place was the federal campground at Cape Perpetua, south of Yachats. We also stayed in Wheeler in a motel while my father and his friends went fishing, crabbing, and clamming. Our best friends were Harvey and Grace Reinhardt. Harvey and his brother Fritz owned a construction business, and they built the addition to the school, and they also built Garden Home Enterprises as well as the new Methodist church. Harvey died when I was in the eighth grade, and Grace eventually remarried. Lamb’s Thriftway was the anchor, and there was also an ice cream shop; Dr. William Later, a dentist; a cleaner’s; a variety store; the post office; a drug store; and an office for Garden Home Enterprises itself. Mother kept the books for Garden Home Enterprises. Several people invested money in GHE, including my grandmother, Gertrude Herzog, not related to the Robert Herzog family from Garden Home.
We had a black lab named Skip, and one day, he followed Mother to the office, unbeknownst to her. He slithered into her office, still unseen, and lay down behind the door. Mom did not know he was there, and so she locked up for the night and left the poor dog there. When she went to the office the next day, Skip had tried to claw his way out of the office, leaving a big gouge in the door. We all felt awful about the oversight!
In 1956, I started an Oregonian morning paper route. The box where we picked up our papers was located at the corner at the intersection of Oleson and Garden Home Road. Don Woldridge was the manager. There were three or four routes in Garden Home. You had to get up around 4:45, head to the corner, rain or shine, pick up your papers, and deliver them on your bike. At the end of the month, you had to collect from your customers. The daily and Sunday paper cost $1.95, the daily only was $1.30, and the Sunday only was $.65. Daily and Sunday customers almost always gave you two dollars, and I always had the nickel in change ready. Some let me keep it, but many did not. This was a 365-day-a year job—no time off for good behavior! The route went down Oleson Road to the Hunt Club, into the Hunt Club and back around the corner on Oleson, then up Canby Street, eventually coming out at Whitney’s Cannery. From there, it was up Garden Home Road to 66th, down that street and all along those back roads, eventually coming back to GH Road and then to the Methodist church on Royal at Garden Home Road, down Royal Avenue (71st), back up and then down Jaeger (74th), eventually winding up in the new area that came out on Oleson Road on Stewart Street. It was a long route! I had 65+ dailies and 80+ Sundays.
There were some really interesting people who lived on that route: the Hunt Club group, the Porshmans, both the school cooks Isolda Steele and Ellen Norris, Aaron Frank, Rev. Wood, Therese Sutter, and many others. Clark would occasionally sub for me when we were gone. My parents would usually take me around on Sunday because the papers were so thick, but I also had to do it myself often, which meant having to go back to the box twice to pick up enough papers to take around.
I recall picking up the papers one morning and reading that the Russians had launched a satellite, Sputnik, and being scared to go on the route that day! Speaking of the Russians, we had a civil defense drill every Monday: the siren would go off at 12:05, and I recall always stopping when I heard it to make sure it was Monday and that it was 12:05. I had seen a super scary movie entitled “Invasion USA,” about the Russians invading and blowing up New York City. Those were the heady days of the cold war.
From Garden Home Grade School, I entered Beaverton High in 1958 and graduated in 1962. I then went to Willamette University in Salem, majoring in music and picked up the organ as my major instrument. All the time I was growing up, I attended the Methodist church, participating in the Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF), and playing the piano for Sunday School. They purchased an electronic organ around 1958 or so, and I took some lessons from the company that installed it, but it was never my thing until I discovered the pipe organ in college and went bonkers! In college, I played at the West Salem Methodist Church my junior and senior years, and I earned enough money for trips to Monk’s, a local watering hole in Salem! I always thought that if the kindly folks at that church knew what I was spending their hard-earned money on, they might not have been too pleased. I got $40 a month and had to walk from the dorm over to West Salem my junior year; my senior year, I had a ’54 Chev that got me around nicely!
From Willamette, I went to Michigan State to get my Master’s degree in music, returned to Oregon and became the organist at Valley Community Presbyterian Church in Raleigh Hills and the band director for the Vernonia School District. In 1980, I took the position of music director at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Beaverton, and in 1985, I switched teaching assignments from music to English, having picked up an English endorsement from Lewis and Clark. I retired from Vernonia in 1998, taught half-time five more years, and then subbed in the Beaverton district for another ten years. I retired from St. Bart’s in June of 2017.
Currently, my wife Pam and I live in the Claremont development at the corner of West Union and Bethany Blvd., and our son Mark and his wife Nia and their two children live in Novato, California.
– Ward Nelson, 2018