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As COVID-19 restrictions cancel April 24 birthday party, Barbara Hannant takes it 'one day at a time'

Oregon City resident Barbara Hannant said she was looking forward to celebrating her 100th birthday next month with family and friends at her retirement facility, as well as voting in the upcoming primary election.

"Birthdays don't bother me as much as they do some people, and I just try to take it one day at a time," she said.

PMG PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Barbara Hannant works daily to keep up her strength by writing her memoirs in Oregon City.Hannant said she's doing her best to keep her spirits up amid increased restrictions ordered by the governor to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Although everyone has had to cancel visits with friends and birthday parties, COURTESY PHOTO - Barbara Hannant, now almost 100 and living in Oregon City, is seen in this high school graduation photo in 1938.most Oregonians can still leave for essential trips to the grocery store or walks in the neighborhood.

While her birthday party is canceled for now, Hannant said nothing can stop her from mailing in her ballot to participate in the May election, as she's voted in every election since turning 21. The minimum voting age in the United States was lowered to 18 in 1971.

COVID-19 restrictions have been particularly stringent for people living in care facilities like Meadows Courtyard where Hannant and other residents have been confined to rooms. Even her own family members are barred from visiting her at the facility, instead having to talk with her by phone or leave her care packages at the front door for sterilization and eventual delivery. Hannant said she would be allowed to walk outside or in hallways, but she and many other residents can no longer walk any significant distance.

"We're really isolated, and the staff here bring our meals to us, but people have to stay 6 feet apart, so I can only communicate with other residents by phone," she said.

COVID-19 in county

As of this week, Oregon has had more than 300 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus (21 in Clackamas County) with 11 deaths statewide, all seniors above 63 with other health conditions.

Hannant initially interviewed for this story in early March, when visitors to Meadows Courtyard's facility had to sign a statement saying they hadn't been experiencing cold symptoms or visiting the most COVID-19 impacted countries. State officials on March 17 increased restrictions on visitation policies for all licensed long-term care facilities to further prevent the spread of the coronavirus, banning all visitors except essential medical and emergency personnel and visitors to residents who are at the end of life.

"We know that these restrictions are a hardship for residents of care facilities as well as their families and friends, but they are essential to mitigate the spread of disease," said Oregon DHS Director Fariborz Pakseresht. "We encourage facilities to use technology to help residents maintain connections with their families and loved ones."

COVID-19 has been linked to 35 deaths at a single long-term-care facility in Washington state. The novel coronavirus has proven deadly among older populations, sickening 15 people at a veterans home in Oregon's Linn County, most of whom were over 70. State officials are worried that the coronavirus will appear at more long-term care facilities in Oregon; at a senior-living facility near Milwaukie, the Springs at Clackamas Woods, an employee tested positive for COVID-19 on March 19.

"The headline should be senior-living community protocols are keeping seniors safe," said Fee Stubblefield, founder and CEO of Springs Living. "Through testing every employee before each shift for elevated temperature, we were able to hold the line against COVID and protect our residents."

Tracy Darchini, a spokesperson at the Springs, said the company has been proactive in developing increasingly stringent protocols to keep its residents safe from the coronavirus. Even before required by the state, Darchini said the company has increased cleaning frequency, extended paid sick leave policies for its employees, offered to pay for employees' child care when schools shut down and limited access to residents from people outside.

"I do believe our protocols helped ID this COVID in the employee and get her out of the community," Darchini said. "So far, we haven't had any other employees or residents show any symptoms after eight days, so we're cautiously optimistic that no one else got it."

Surviving adversity

Hannant said that she has survived dark times before the coronavirus. Her first husband died of heart failure in 1963, leaving her to care for their 12-year-old child as a widow.

"The shock was almost more than I could handle, but for the sake of my girls and Chuck, I held up, letting my feelings go when I was alone," Hannant said.

Hannant's husband was a janitor at Gardiner Middle School and the family's main breadwinner at the time of his death. Hannant knew she had to enter the workforce when he first started having heart problems in 1956, so she started as a cashier at Sears, then transferred to the Jones Drug Store on Oregon City's Main Street, finally working at the Clackamas County Grange Supply co-op in Gladstone for 20 years.

Born on April 24, 1920, Hannant recounts a family legend about her mother returning to the family's South Dakota homestead by crossing the flooded Belle Fourche River in a cable-stayed basket used for mail delivery; Hannant, reportedly 6 weeks old, was entering South Dakota for the first time, having been born at her mother's parents' home in Sidney, Iowa.

One of Hannant's earliest memories involves climbing up onto her father's shoulders to watch President Coolidge give a 1927 speech in Rapid City, South Dakota. Another image seared in Hannant's memory bank is the 4-mile ride (yes, each way) by horseback that she and her younger sister shared to attend classes at a one-room schoolhouse.

"We had a big garden — mom would preserve everything for the winter — and we would butcher our own chickens, pigs and cows," Hannant said of life on the farm in South Dakota. "Dad would take grain into town in exchange for flour."

Hannant moved to Oregon City in 1957 and immediately became active in the community. In order to stay busy, she said she has been an active church member since moving here, but she has had to miss Sunday services lately due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Hannant eventually remarried in 1980, 17 years after her first husband's death. Her second husband died in 2010. Hannant was forced to move out of her own home and into a care facility after a series of health setbacks.

Hannant said she is working to keep her strength up by writing her memoirs. Although she is unable to walk much, she forces her lungs to remain toned by using breathing exercises. A few years ago she had to undergo surgery and nearly died, spurring her to write her life's story.

"If God wasn't my guide, I probably wouldn't be here," she said.

Hannant said she was disappointed that her birthday celebration this month was canceled but remains hopeful that it will be rescheduled this summer. In the meantime, she welcomes the community to send her letters at 13637 Garden Meadow Drive #204, Oregon City, OR 97045.

"I'll try to write back to as many people who write to me as I can, because I believe that letter writing is a largely lost art that needs to be preserved," she said.

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