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Two special birthdays are celebrated by an entire neighborhood -- planned again for next year, too

RITA A. LEONARD - Robert Woody Wood and Joan Gilbertz shared memories at their neighborhood 91st birthday party in Westmoreland. On Thursday afternoon, July 23, at 6 p.m., a neighborhood birthday party was hosted by Suzanne Kruze at S.E. 15th and Ellis Street in honor of the 91st birthdays of two local residents, Joan Gilbertz and Robert ("Woody") Wood.

The pair had each lived in Westmoreland for 50 years – in fact, only a short distance from each other, as it turned out – but they met for the first time only last year at their 90th birthday party in the same yard. Friends and relatives hope this will become an annual tradition.

The Kruze home and yard, surrounded by a four-foot-tall chain link fence, was decorated with balloons, flowers, and large signs painted by neighbor Blaine Rowland. Due to the pandemic, most guests chatted with the duo from outside the fence, and "no-touch" cupcakes and soft drinks were offered. The two guests of honor chatted and recalled memories that covered nearly a century.

Joan's father worked for the railroad, and Joan went to St. Agatha's School. "Churches were the tallest buildings at the time," she recalls, "Unlike now. My daughters taught swimming at Sellwood Pool, and I remember when there was a horse-racing track at Sellwood Park. I also remember seeing the historic Inman house (twin to the Poulson House) North of Powell Boulevard, which was torn down in 1958 to make way for a parking lot."

Joan, who long has been associated with St. Agatha School, has many memories from the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood – including Doc Nicholson, who used to drive around with his pet cheetah in his covertible.

"I had a German Shepherd that we named 'German', who occasionally picked me up at school," she remembers. "I took piano lessons after school, and he wanted to make sure that I got home okay.

"German used to stop by a meat market on Milwaukie Avenue, run by a Mr. Griffiths, who would wrap up a bone for him to take home. One day, my German brought a package of meat home instead, and was enjoying the treat. My mother called the butcher and asked how our dog had ended up with a package of meat. The butcher exclaimed, 'Oh, no! I gave a customer the package of bones instead of her meat order!' That was a favorite story in my family."

Woody, who formerly lived at S.E. 15th and Rex Street (and now lives near where the party took place) recalls the 1948 Vanport Flood, which destroyed a workers' city up west of what is now the Jantzen Beach area. "I was working at SP&S Railroad at the time, and we were putting in some new switches for the trains nearby," he recalls. "In 1952, I joined the U.S. Navy, working with Naval Air Force sea planes. When I got out in 1956, I went back to the railroad job, then transferred to Pacific Northwest Bell, where I worked for 31 years. I was working there when the 1962 Columbus Day Storm blew through the Willamette Valley," he continues. "I was working in North Plains on a phone outage, when I saw the wind blowing a rowboat end-over-end down the street. It was pretty impressive."

Woody has felt earthquakes in the area; but in May 1980, he was at Pine Hollow Campground with the Elks organization. "About 8 a.m., I heard a big bang. That was when the Mount St. Helens volcano blew. I knew what it was right away!"

Joan Gilbertz and "Woody" Wood have lived through historic times in Oregon, and are now dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and Oregon's economic uncertainty. However, wearing face masks and sharing memories at this special birthday party, the pair approaches the future with resilience from the past.


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