Southeast historian retires from day job in Post Office
If you are looking for Dana Beck, who was until recently counter clerk at the Sellwood-Moreland Post Office, now you won't find him at the Brooklyn branch he transferred to, either.
After forty years of service with the U.S. Postal Service, Dana's final work day was Friday, November 2. Although is will no longer be in ZIP Code 97202 on a daily basis, he will continue to write for THE BEE, as he has "about 25 story lines" to pursue. In the meantime, he and his wife are downsizing before putting their Montavilla home on the market. Once it is sold they will move to Manzanita, on the Oregon coast.
An only child, Dana was raised by his mother in Spokane, Washington, before moving to Northeast Portland at the age of five. Their home was next to the line that divided two school districts; Dana recalls that the boy next door attended Parkrose High School, while he went to David Douglas. He has not moved far; he and his wife live just two blocks from his boyhood home.
Dana has always liked history, and took the subject every year in high school, although he only needed one year's history credit for graduation. He mused that his interest may have been spurred by stories told by his maternal grandfather in Nez Perce, Idaho, where Dana spent his summers – as a roustabout, during the hay harvest!
As soon as he could get a work permit, he found after-school employment at the Dairy Queen on San Rafael Street, which he recalls at the time was the "only drive-in DQ east of 82nd Avenue". That, and the nearby Taco Bell, were hot spots on Friday and Saturday nights for students from both Parkrose and David Douglas High Schools. Muscle cars cruising 82nd Avenue was a weekend activity, he observed from behind the counter.
Following high school graduation in 1974, he stepped onto the bottom rung of the Post Office career ladder – sorting letters by typing ZIP Codes onto the mail. After four years on a keyboard, he was ready to "break out, and be with humans". Although not a stamp collector, he became "Mr. Philatelic", organizing and staffing specialty stamp shows. Leaving that position, he was able to become a temporary relief clerk at branch offices. "Some people are better at operating machinery and not dealing with people; I wanted to work at the counter because every day is different", Dana commented.
Accepting temporary assignments was a good way to become familiar with the dynamics at each post office, and he spent time at Oak Grove, St. Johns, Midway, and Sellwood-Moreland. At this last station he found that both fellow workers and customers created a congenial atmosphere, and when an opening occurred there, Dana bid for the position. In 1992 he began his 21-year run at S.E. Bybee Boulevard and 16th Avenue.That time marked the beginnings of the internet, and at the time it was a very busy postal station, with eight employees (four at the counter, and four more in sorting packages and mail, and performing other tasks). There also was a crew of mail carriers.
In 1996, the carriers were shifted to the brand-new Detached Carrier Unit at S.E. 17th and Ochoco Street, and as First Class mail continued to dwindle, so did staff at the Sellwood-Moreland Post Office. Finally, in 2013, number of personnel at Bybee were reduced to two employees, and Dana decided to try for a job at the Brooklyn Post Office, at S.E. 14th and Powell, facing the 17th Avenue eastbound offramp. And that is the office he has just retired from.
So how did Dana begin writing on neighborhood history for THE BEE? Over the years, he heard tidbits of history from his customers, who he confesses he often remembered not by name but by their stories. In addition, he began volunteering for special events through SMILE, the Sellwood and Westmoreland neighborhood association, coordinating the music for "Holidays in Sellwood" for three years, and for "Sundae in the Park" for five years. He also acted as Master of Ceremonies (the man behind the microphone) at Sundae in the Park.
Dana spent his time at Sundae in the Park, when not on stage, in the SMILE History Committee booth, with this writer and others. When he was elected to the SMILE Board, he often proposed story leads to SMILE Secretary and BEE editor Eric Norberg, who encouraged Dana to follow up and submit the stories himself.
Subsequently, Dana spent his lunch break, evenings, and weekends, developing his articles. His research included reading past issues of THE BEE, which is now 112 years old, on microfilm at the Sellwood library, and delving into other resources (especially City Directories, maps, and photo collections) at the Oregon Historical Society and Central Library. When he had any free time on weekends, he attended antique malls and expositions, seeking additional historic photographs. He shared his discoveries by putting framed prints with captions on the walls of both the Sellwood-Moreland and Brooklyn postal stations.
His first story described the history of the Staff Jennings Moorage at the west end of the old Sellwood Bridge. Dana learned that the 75-year old business was closing to permit the construction of the new Sellwood bridge. When he retrieved the original (1960's) mail box application, he found that Jennings was required to have two neighborhood residents testify that the applicant was "reputable". He followed through with an interview, and in his story revealed that Staff had begun as a lawnmower mechanic, living above his business on Macadam Avenue. When people began purchasing power boats and needed mechanical help, he expanded his skills to service them. The family also loaned historic photos for the story.
Asked which stories gave him the most pleasure, Dana mentioned one that involved the Gottschalk family, who opened and operated the café and tavern by that name a century ago at the corner of 17th Avenue and Umatilla Street. When the story appeared he got a call from one of the descendants, who said that their mother was very thrilled to see her family written about.
One of his most elusive subjects was Chester Keller, who at age 100 died in the house in which he had been born, at S.E. 13th & Marion Street. Dana knew that Chet must have had a lot of stories to relate, but he evaded giving a formal interview. After his death Dana had to talk to a lot of neighbors in order to tell the story of Chet's century in Sellwood, but he felt honor-bound to do it. "Some people do not realize how their 'ordinary' lives contribute to a community's history, but the stories always help build a bigger picture," he explained.
In Dana's quarter century in the SMILE and Brooklyn neighborhoods he has been more than a friendly face and efficient Post Office employee. He volunteered a lot of his non-work time to the benefit of its residents – through SMILE, and later, through his stories about its history.
If we have benefited from his years with us, he also did so personally. In his bachelor years he ventured to the foot of Tacoma Street for an evening of dancing at the Rockin' Rodeo bar and dance club. He was soon approached by an attractive woman who asked if he would like to dance. Happily he did, and he ended up marrying LynAnn!
Although they will both be moving to the Oregon coast sometime in the near future, for the present Dana will continue to work on his stories for THE BEE, and he and I will continue to lead walking tours of the neighborhood for the Architectural Heritage Center in the summertime.
And finally, now that he is retired, he and I will both have time to begin work on our History of the Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood.