Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Love Story - Mel and Eleanor Lofton

                          Mel and Eleanor Lofton 1979, with my first child.

For over twenty years our family lived next door to Mel and Eleanor Lofton. They loved children and yet were never able to have their own. They literally became close friends to many of the children and families in our neighborhood. In their home were a number of dogs, cats, birds and other animals. This is a story of their great love for each other, the people of our neighborhood and their animals. As our lives went on, we shared many memorable events with them, but she was most happy when we brought by our newborn babies.

We lived on N.E. Roselawn Street, us on one side of them and her parents on the other side. The streets in this area of Portland are straight rows of cookie cutter houses, with nice yards in front and spacious yards in back. The fences between our yards became frequent meeting places. My best childhood memories of them are working in their flowerbeds and two green houses. With four children in our family, I am sure the Lofton's provided much appreciated relief for our parents.

They had two workshops. In the one behind their house were two organs and many other curiosities. The one behind her parent's home was where they conducted business and her father had his shop. Access to it was much safer, as at their house the dogs were always greeting you at the gate. So, what made this generous couple such a curiosity for me? For one, Eleanor never drove a car, preferring to ride a bicycle or walking. She seemed rather reclusive, especially in later years, though she would go places with her friends. Her greatest enjoyments were her artwork, music and yard work. Mel in my younger years, while very friendly, was working for Tektronix and we did not see him as much.

Even with as much time as we spent with them, there is a great deal we never knew about their lives. I being a young child, who became a teenager, served a mission, went away to college and then married in that span of twenty years, have a rather slanted view of their lives. Her letters to me when I was away from home are personal treasures. She did make the Swedish cookies for my wedding reception, but did not attend.

In the last few days I did some research so I could write this post about their lives.
The Oregonian newspaper index brought up seventy articles about them. They help to fill in the gaps of our understanding. Even my mother, who was one of Eleanor's closest friends, has learned many details about her friend's life. The following are key pieces of what we learned:
1927 Eleanor took piano and/or violin lessons from Helga L. Hansen. Mel graduated from Benson Polytechnic School with a Technical Diploma.
1928 Eleanor was a member of Camp Fire and achieved the rank of Wood Gatherer. She probably was in the 4th grade at Rose City Grade School.
1934 Eleanor won a prize in a public speaking contest, probably as a senior at Grant High School.
1934-1946 Over the next several years their family attended weddings for Elsa Margaret, Ellen Victoria, and Signe Marie, the Eklund sisters. Eleanor was the maid of honor for Ellen, which would suggest that they were close friends.
1936 Eleanor was attending the Portland Unit of Albany College. She was President of the Women's Association and a member of Beta Alpha Gamma sorority. She participated in the Albany College Students Debate, giving extempore and oratory presentations. On April 21st Eleanor, at a speaking contest, spoke on "My Heritage." That is certainly something I wish I had a copy of.
1937-1939 Eleanor continues in her activities with the Beta Alpha Gamma group.
1940 Mel is listed on the voter precinct list.
1949 One of the highlights of their life. Victor and Mel helped to design a complete nightclub to be shipped to Alaska. The bar, booths and tables were from designs drawn by Victor and Mel. The murals were painted by Eleanor, who used fluorescent paint for black-lighting treatment. The article includes a picture of Victor and Mel.
1954 Eleanor's parents were admitted to citizenship, after living in the United States for 52 years. He was 71 and she was 70.
1961 Eleanor was awarded prizes as a Professional Artist in two art contests, Multnomah County Fair and Oregon State Fair.
1962 Eleanor began exhibiting her work at Shannon's on SW Fifth in Portland. She was awarded prizes at Holladay Park Fair and Oregon State Fair.  She had other shows at Longview, WA, and Opening Your Gallery on SW Broadway in Portland, where her father also presented his work.
1963 Eleanor exhibited with the Oregon Independent Artists at the General Mills offices.
1967 Eleanor had a one-man showing of her work of pastels, graphics and wood sculpture,  at Oregon Mutual Savings Bank on SW Broadway in Portland.
1968 Eleanor's mother passed away. She now took on more responsibility for the care of her father, who was 85.
1971-1979 There are three articles about Victor Rosene, two with pictures. In one article about his poem "Santa's Tailor" Eleanor comments, "He wrote it for me when I was in the second grade and had to bring a poem to school one day, ..He can do anything, and has taught me to think positively and never give up on things." We often attended the Swedish smorgasbord at Christmas, held in his shop. His last job in designing was for the nightclub, the Iron Horse, at Union Station in Portland.
1981-1983 Eleanor had several showings of her work at Ye Olde Yankee Pedlar at SE 41st and Holgate, in Portland. One article shares some insight into her artwork, " Eleanor Lofton's intriguing bas-relief carving "The Boy Carver" is included. The piece shows a youth at a workbench, chasing a detail in the hem of the robe of a standing image of the Virgin, who is extending her hands above his head in a gesture of blessing. It's a lovely metaphor for the satisfaction an artist derives from the process of creation."

Victor Rosene, born 2 Jan. 1883 in Sweden, died 19 Dec. 1981 in Portland, OR.
Hilma Elizabeth Westling, born 1884 in Sweden, died 22 Dec. 1968 in Portland.
Eleanor V.E. Rosene Lofton, born 16 July 1916 in Portland, died 27 March 1996 in Portland.
Melvyn F. Lofton born 30 July 1909 in Portland, died 2 Jan. 2000 in Portland.
The Rosenes were married 16 May 1906 in Portland. The witnesses were Siguard Byokeland and Hilda Carlson. They were married by Erick Soherstran, Pastor of the 14Ser. Baptist Church. Eleanor was their only child.
The parents of Mel, Frank Lofton and Blanche Degood, were married 19 March 1907 in Portland. The witnesses were J. Worthein and Jennie Weaver. They were married by Clarence True Wilson, Pastor of Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. Mel had two brothers, Laurence and Jack.

After a bit of searching the marriage certificate of Mel and Eleanor was located in the Washington State Archives online database. They were married on the 11 January 1942 in Vancouver, WA. by Stuart Gande a Congregational Minister. The witnesses were his brother Larry Lofton and his wife Frances Lofton.

For 54 years Mel and Eleanor were blessed to enjoy life not only with each other, but also with family and good friends. We were blessed to have the good fortune of moving in next door to some of the best neighbors one could hope for. Eleanor always gave us gifts for birthdays and holidays. She had goodies and treats for us when we helped her with her work. Some of us even posed as subjects in her paintings. I have two wonderful paintings of myself as a child and once was the subject of a magazine advertisement. Her artwork can be found in many of our homes. Our time with them was a gift from friends who were significant parts of our lives. A favorite family memory is skating in our backyard in the winter and them coming over to join us.

I think I could go on forever, but I will leave other details to another time. Do you have significant people in your lives that should be incorporated into your family history? Take the time to learn about them and explore the dimensions of their lives. If they are people without posterity to record their history, please take on that responsibility in honor of their love and affection towards you.

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