DANA MERRYDAY/ THE CHRONICLE

John Hogan planted these dawn redwood trees.

While it feels good to have 2020 in the rearview mirror, it is important to reflect and remember the losses and lessons this past year has brought us. It was just one year ago that my wife and I were dancing in faux flapper and fedora fashions from the closet at the “Roaring ’20s Disco Dance” held at The Axe & Fiddle on New Year’s Eve 2019. Downtown was vibrant with people and the promise of a new start was in the air. 

How different was this New Year’s Eve. We had no plans other than to watch a couple of movies, but decided to see if any restaurants downtown were open for takeout. After wandering up to Main Street, we found it quiet and deserted in contrast to one year before. Everything was closed except Bartolotti’s and we managed to get a pizza order in before they too put up the shutters for the night. While waiting for the pie to bake we watched the cars drone by and the occasional pedestrian navigating the dark streets.

While it was sort of melancholic to experience the silent historic district, it was comforting to know that folks were staying home and keeping safe.

Even before we got home, we began to hear the first celebratory fireworks. These sounds are not our cats’ favorites and they were glad to get to safety. As the evening progressed it seemed that the intensity of the barrage was steadily increasing. I guess since folks were sheltering in place they wanted to have the feeling that they were blasting the virus out of their lives with fireworks. The cats went into hiding as explosions, some of them quite hefty, reached a crescendo. 

We made it until midnight still conscious, but just barely.

Thinking back over 2020, the overwhelming feeling is one of loss. Probably the prime mover of that emotion was saying goodbye to my father following a brief illness. He was 93 and until becoming sick, was in pretty good shape for his age. At least he got to be at home, thanks to hospice, and we could make him comfortable in familiar surroundings. He didn’t really suffer too much and kept his mind till the very end. May we all be so lucky when our time comes. 

The doctors never really gave us a good explanation, but a lot of the symptoms seemed Covid-like. They weren’t doing much testing then and it was the end of February, just before things started getting crazy with the pandemic, so I wonder.

As losses to this scourge begin to mount, I did know people that were taken as a result of the virus. Often they were alone, isolated from their loved ones, in a strange place, drawing their last breath through a ventilator. This is horrible enough but the restrictions on gathering didn’t allow the natural grieving process to happen. The cathartic function of having friends and family gather at a memorial service was not possible, leaving survivors even more saddened and isolated.

In Cottage Grove we said goodbye to pillars of our community, not necessarily to Covid, but they were robbed of having their laurels publicly proclaimed by the ones who they had served so well.  

John Reuben “Pat” Patterson, who had been a longtime City Planning Commission member and City Councilor. Known as “Our Rascal” due to his child-acting days, but it was his service on many fronts that made him memorable. This included volunteering with the Jaycees, American Legion, Harrison Elementary School, and particularly with the Boy Scouts. His passing in January led to a memorial gathering that filled the Cottage Grove Armory as testimony to the many lives he touched.

As the pandemic became more of a concern many of those passing later in 2020 are still waiting for their public memorial.  

In April, Cottage Grove lost one of its visionary artists. Susan “Sujo” Tryk quietly laid down her paintbrush, ending a second generation of championing art in the Grove. Her mother, Helen Tryk, was one of the area’s first art teachers and a professional artist as well. Both mother and daughter did much to promote art through the Cottage Grove Art Guild. Also, they were tireless in promoting local galleries and exhibitions. Sujo in particular was known for lending her art and talents to local preservation causes such as Dr. Pierce’s Barn, Chambers Railroad Bridge, Cottage Grove Carousel, and the Swinging Bridge. She lives on through her art.

City Councilor Bob Ehler lost his fight with cancer in May. Ehler was another citizen who did many things for the community besides representing Ward 2 on the City Council. He had served on the Budget Committee and Planning Commission before being elected Councilor. He was a natural when volunteering for Bohemia Mining Days, gregarious and outgoing. Bob was elated when outgoing Bohemia City Marshall Gary Williams pinned the star on Ehler’s chest, passing the torch into good and willing hands. He was especially known for his self-appointed mission to rescue any bike he could. In the end he had reclaimed over 1,300 bikes and repaired and got them to worthy recipients.  

The City of Cottage Grove recognized his service at a Council meeting and by dedicating the bike-repair station along the Row River Bicycle trail, to which a structure had been recently added. Family and friends who gathered used the outdoor, socially distanced dedication as an impromptu public memorial to a great community member who left us too soon.

Our congregation at First Presbyterian Church lost several dedicated members during this time when we have had to resort to Zoom and prerecorded worship services. It has been hard not to gather in person to offer comfort and prayers to the family members who are hurting. You read about Audrey Stewart in The Chronicle a few weeks ago, a very sweet and lovely person, who we miss very much.  

Another member who left us was John Hogan, who had quite a way with plants. He had created a number of organic farms in his days and had a particular affection for the dawn redwood. This member of the Sequoia family is known from the fossil record but was miraculously rediscovered in the mountains of China in the 1940s. Hailed as a “living fossil,” John in his many plant trips found a way to get some seeds and to cultivate them, making it his mission to spread its range. Due to the altitude and latitude of its native range, this redwood is unusual for not being evergreen like its American cousins, but had evolved into being deciduous, losing its needles in the winter. A row of dawn redwoods stand as a living memorial along the southern edge of Bohemia Park. John not only did the hard work of planting them in rocky reclaimed rail yard soil, but hand-carted the water to keep them alive during the first few critical years of their putting down roots in Cottage Grove. It is a true optimist who plants a tree, especially one who will probably outlive us all. I will think of John Hogan every time I visit his little grove.

And while I didn’t know him personally, the passing of musician John Prine due to Covid complications got to me. I had seen him live and always loved his songs. I have been listening to a lot of his live shows on YouTube.com, marveling at how down-to-earth he was. The stories he tells while playing his brilliantly honest songs are revealing of his true humanity. Dang John, we are really going to miss you.

Besides churches, many civic clubs and organizations have had to take a break from their in-person meetings and gatherings. For many of those groups, the gathering was the lifeblood of their organization, so it has been an especially challenging year for them. Trying to hold the fire through online meetings may work for the younger set, but for some of the more traditional organizations it has been a hard transition. They are counting the days when they can meet in person!

Large gatherings are out too. It was hard when I learned that the Bohemia Mining Days had to take a year off. After years of wanting to participate in this annual festival, I had finally made arrangements to have time off from my usual obligation of putting away the Oregon Country Fair. Having fixed things to be able to do both of these summer activities, it was disappointing to see both being canceled due to Covid. I mean, I get it and agree with the decision, but sometimes it sure hurts to do the right thing.

Many bright ideas came together to help salvage some of the joys of a high school graduation. This included banners with the seniors’ names flying over Bohemia Park, a virtual ceremony, and a drive-through diploma presentation. Necessity is the mother of invention, and thank you to all who had a hand in making this unprecedented year special to our well-deserving Class of 2020!

Despite the hardships of the year of the pandemic, there have been bright spots. The Cottage Village dedicated its tiny homes and turned keys over to the new residents in September. On the other side of the river The Legion Cottages welcomed four formerly homeless veterans to come in out of the cold and become residents of this tiny home cluster behind the American Legion Hall. I would like to personally thank all those who put in a lot of hours and tremendous effort to help make a difference in the lack of affordable housing for those most at risk of homelessness. Now let’s see what else we can do to help alleviate the curse of not being able to find a place to live.

In the field behind the Post Office, the City of Cottage Grove set up a Warming Center. This standalone group of shelters was planned to pick up the role that the local nonprofit “Beds for Freezing Nights” has traditionally served. Concerns about Covid for the volunteers who facilitate the warming center for the unhoused in Cottage Grove caused the organization to find an alternative solution. This led the City to use some of its emergency Covid money to purchase 18 heated and self-contained portable shelters and set them up to serve as a refuge when the temperatures drop below 29 degrees. Now we are just waiting for those freezing temperatures to arrive before opening the doors to these Pallet Shelters. And, hopefully, the easily assembled shelters and permanent infrastructure will be available for the next time the Grove experiences a natural disaster such as Snowmageddon.

Lastly, on Dec. 10, the J. Polk Currin Swinging Bridge was recognized a second time for engineering excellence. The Engineering News Review-Northwest gave the project the Award of Merit in the Best Small Project (under $10 million) category. The award was presented virtually and showed a video showcasing the construction and finished product of our already prize-winning bridge. The new bridge, dedicated Nov. 30, 2019, was a collaborative effort by the City of Cottage Grove, Ausland Group, Hamilton Construction, and the citizens of Cottage Grove. The resulting structure was previously awarded Best Public Project by the American Society of Civil Engineers, Oregon Division.  

If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to get into shape, I recommend taking a nice walk that carries you over this historic river crossing and two-time prize-winner. May all things get better as we head into this new year armed with a vaccine and a new resolve to see things ease back to normal. Welcome 2021!

Email: [email protected]