Gallagher: A father he never knew
What started out to be a column about growing up in the Hopewell House Hospice just off of Southwest Capitol Highway has morphed into a column about World War II and Veterans Day and how it's not just the men and women who serve that we should remember, but also those close to them.
Ted Lyster grew up in that house at 6171 S.W. Capitol Highway. Anyone who drives, bikes or walks in and around Hillsdale knows the location. He was the grandson of Waldemar Henningsen, founder of the Northwestern Ice and Cold Storage Company. His grandfather's estate donated the house and property to Hopewell Hospice in 1987 in the name of Henningsen Cold Storage.
"It was a wonderful place. I'm blessed that I was able to spend part of my youth there during a very troubled time," Lyster said. "You see, I never knew my dad. All I know is Mother was very upset. She was heartbroken."
Lyster, who is now 80, lives in Bend and sits on the board of the family business. He tells a story that sounds like it could be right out of the novel/miniseries "Winds of War." His parents met when the fleet came to Portland for the Rose Festival in 1937. His father was an ensign just out of the Naval Academy. He got orders to ship out to China and his proposal went something like, "Are we or aren't we? I've got to go."
Within two years, Lyster was born in Shanghai, and his mother was eventually evacuated from the Philippines. His father was shipped back to New York where they needed officers for the new light cruiser USS Juneau. It was launched and saw action in the Caribbean before being sent to the South Pacific.
"(The USS Juneau) went to sea and never came back. She was sunk on Nov. 13 in Guadalcanal, and he went down with a lot of his shipmates," Lyster said of his father.
Including officers and crew, there were 673 sailors aboard the USS Juneau.
If the name USS Juneau stirs some vague memory of World War II legends, it's probably because Lyster's father died alongside the five Sullivan brothers when the Juneau, which had already been hit once, was hit again by a Japanese torpedo and sank in 30 seconds. Of the 100 Juneau crewmen who didn't go down with the ship, 90 died in the water within hours, and of those 10 who did survive for a few days, only two lived.
Who were the Sullivan brothers? They were George, Francis, Joseph, Matt and Al from Waterloo, Iowa. They were descendants of an Irishman forced off that island by the great hunger of 1845, in which two million died and another two million were forced to emigrate. A movie was made about them called "The Fighting Sullivans."
When the brothers enlisted, they insisted on serving on the same ship. George had fatalistic Irish wit. When his mother objected to all of her boys serving together in harm's way, he told her, "If worse comes to worst, at least we'll go down together."
As a result of all five Sullivan brothers going down together, a law was passed protecting families who've already lost someone from losing another son or daughter. Servicemen have been sent home from combat when a brother is killed in action.
Ted Lyster never mentioned the connection. He's got his own memories of the war years and of what it's like when your dad never comes home. He and his mom, a widow at 30, lived in the big house in Hillsdale until the war ended, and they moved to Bakersfield, California, when she remarried. But memories of growing up in the woods of Hillsdale with a couple of cousins about his age endure.
"When you're 4 or 5 and playing in the ravine, and the trees are like a jungle, and you're looking for salamanders and frogs and catching snakes, it's a real adventure," he said.
In the 1980s, after his grandfather died, the house went to his estate and was donated to Hopewell Hospice Inc. Why such a generous donation?
"You've got to remember, in those days, the real estate market in Portland was different. There wasn't much of a market for homes that large," Lyster said.
The market's pretty strong now, so Lyster worries what will happen now that Legacy Health Systems has closed the Hopewell House Hospice.
"The problem is money. If it's not financially feasible, it's not going to fly. We'd like to have a hospice there. It's helping a lot of people. If it goes on the market, a developer's going to take one look at it and 'whacko' down comes the house. They'd carve the property into lots," he said. "You can't do that. The house is going to be 100 years old in just a few years."
Bill Gallagher is editor of the Southwest Community Connection, a sister paper of the News-Times.
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