Keepsakes evoke memories, celebrate black walnut tree that towered over family farm

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Rod Gradin marvels over one of the commemorative bowls that the city of Gresham had made from a black walnut tree that was removed from the family farm. Friday morning Rod Gradin held his childhood in his hands.

The longtime East Multnomah County resident, who grew up on the eponymous Gradin property, was given a commemorative bowl crafted from the towering, 100-year-old black walnut that used to loom over his family property.

As a youngster Gradin loved to sleep under the stars nestled in the roots of the tree.

"I would build a fort and stay out there all night," he remembered.

And in the warm summer afternoons his friend Edward Palmquist would come over for walnut fights, with the youngsters whipping the projectiles at each other.

"They sting!" he said with a chuckle.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Rod Gradin watched as the towering black walnut tree had to be felled in 2015 because of disease.  Seven years ago that black walnut tree had to be removed. It was rotting from thousand cankers disease, leaving the exterior soft and brittle, and was posing a danger to visitors to Gradin Park, which was beginning its transition into a sports complex and arboretum.

So in 2015 Gradin watched as the 60-foot, moss-covered behemoth with sprawling limbs was felled on a rainy afternoon, from the top down to the stump. Many neighbors stood alongside him in what was an emotional goodbye to the popular tree.

At the time the city planned on doing something special with the wood, and asked Gradin to stay tuned. After several years curing the wood, and delays from the pandemic, that promise was fulfilled.

During a ceremony Friday, May 6, the city presented Gradin and his wife, Myrtle, with seven commemorative bowls — one for each of the Gradin siblings who had so many memories on that property. They were made by Goby Walnut Hardwoods, and the city also plans on turning the remaining slab of wood into a table that will be placed somewhere within City Hall.

"The call from the city was totally unexpected," Gradin said. "The whole family is excited to get a bowl."

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF GRESHAM - The bowls brought up a lot of memories for the Gradin family. The 33-acre park was sold to the city for a great deal in 1990 by the Melvin T. Gradin Trust. The family had a lucrative offer from a developer who had designs on the land, but they knew Gresham was seeking a location for a new sports park. The one caveat to the deal was allowing patriarch Melvin to remain on the property through the end of his life. He died in the same room he was born in within the small farm house that stood on the property.

For Gradin the land still has a lot of memories.

There is the Douglas fir, which continues to thrive, that began its life as a Christmas decoration. The tree was in a clay pot on the dining room table for the holidays until Melvin decided to move it out into the yard in the late 1940s. The Douglas fir's roots broke through the pot.

A few years back Gradin and his wife visited to walk around the property. That afternoon they picked up countless walnuts — though they resisted the urge to throw them at each other.

Most recently the family gathered at the park last fall to spread his brother's ashes underneath a lance leaf maple, a tree that 15-year-old Gradin had to move at the request of his mother, Amy, because it was encroaching on the heart-shaped garden she lovingly tended, which is still at the Gradin property.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - The city of Gresham presented the Gradin family with bowls that marked their time living on the 33-acre property.  For a long time, Gradin lived just a few miles away from his family home in Boring. He taught at Barlow High School when it first opened back in 1968, and raised his children in East Multnomah County. And though the couple is a little farther away — they recently moved to Ellensburg, Washington, to be closer to their six grandchildren and newly born great-granddaughter — Gradin Park will always tug at the heart strings.

"It is a special place," Gradin said.

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