Off Beat: Students woke up late to go to school

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

The 1972 tornado was an important chapter in local history, as The Columbian noted Sunday. Turns out that women in two of Sunday’s photographs were able to tell us about other historic milestones earlier in their careers.

One was a teacher, Connie Oppel, who was photographed a few days ago at Ogden Elementary.

The other was Clark College nursing instructor Veda DeColon, shown in a 1972 photograph while comforting a little boy; DeColon died in 2008.

While Oppel had plenty of memories of the April 5, 1972, tornado to share, she also mentioned her first teaching assignment in this area. She came out here from Minnesota during World War II to teach in a school for the children of Kaiser shipyard workers.

You’ve heard of year-round school? Oppel’s classroom, on Portland’s Swan Island, was part of an around-the-clock school for kids up through the second grade.

“We had three shifts of classes,” matching the shifts of the shipyard workers, Oppel said.

“They were on their parents’ schedules.” So even if they got to school in the middle of the night, the retired kindergarten teacher said, “It was their morning.”

Remembering FDR

DeColon told her story in 1995, when The Columbian marked another anniversary. She was part of our story about the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose tenure as our longest-serving president ended on April 12, 1945.

DeColon was one of our readers who responded to a call for 50th-anniversary memories. And her story echoes another Vancouver elementary school, which was named for former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

“I was a registered nurse working at the Columbia Lying-in Hospital in Washington, D.C.,” DeColon wrote.

“Because there was a shortage of nurses, many wives of senators, congressmen and Cabinet secretaries volunteered their time in hospitals as nurses’ aides. My aide that day was Mrs. Harry Hopkins, whose husband was a former Cabinet secretary and an adviser to President Roosevelt.”

But DeColon’s aide couldn’t stay long.

“Mrs. Hopkins said, 'I must go to dear Eleanor and bring her a pair of black silk stockings to wear to the funeral,’” DeColon wrote.

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.