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Bennett, Cooney, Dickson honored as Lake Oswego heroes

Bennett, Cooney, Dickson honored as Lake Oswego heroes
by: SUBMITTED PHOTO Elaine Dickson was one of three unsung heroes honored by the city of Lake Oswego this week.

The title of the awards is 'Unsung Heroes,' but that doesn't mean the recipients are unappreciated.

Elaine Dickson, along with the late Colleen Bennett and Marjorie Cooney, were honored as Lake Oswego's Unsung Heroes for 2011 by the Lake Oswego City Council at its Tuesday night meeting.

Dickson's reaction when she learned of her honor was shock, followed by gratitude.

'Really? Wow!' she said. 'I think I had better sit down. (With) so many wonderful people in the community, I am honored I was nominated and selected.'

Dickson's nomination came from Andy Harris, co-chairman of the Lake Oswego Meals on Wheels program, and he has only superlatives to describe what Dickson has accomplished in helping to serve 18,000 meals to senior citizens and disabled people this year.

'What makes Elaine so unique is that she is a problem solver,' Harris said. 'When an obstacle is thrown in her path, she figures out a way to rise above it.

'Her heart is bottomless. She never ceases to give.'

Not only that, but Dickson brought remarkable qualifications to the job when she arrived at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center. Prior to moving to Lake Oswego, she had been a professor at Cal-State University at Sacramento, where two of her specialties were food service and gerontology.

At the ACC, she has spent many, many hours assisting on nutritional value assessment, menu assessment and as a consultant on upgrading kitchen equipment. One of her biggest accomplishments was in the changeover from Styrofoam meal containers to molded fiber trays that allow for reheating and freezing of meals.

Harris laughed when he noted that Dickson's contributions have even extended to the color coordination of dishes for Meals on Wheels.

Dickson has done all of this despite huge challenges in her personal life. She has twice overcome bouts of ovarian cancer, and she is the full-time primary caretaker of her husband, Tom, who has advanced Parkinson's disease.

Of her work with the meals program, Dickson said, 'It has to do with giving back. I have received so many gifts here.'

When it came to voting, reading or simply helping people stay warm in the winter, Bennett's contributions to the citizens of Lake Oswego and the state of Oregon were enormous. Her death from a heart attack in January came as a shock to this community.

Bennett's most high profile position was probably working for 30 years with the League of Women Voters, and she may have been democracy's best friend in Lake Oswego. Besides developing many innovative programs to promote voting, Bennett even helped start the production of Voter's Choice Tea, which proved to be a big fundraiser for the LWV.

She was also one of the greatest friends for Friends of the Library. When Bennett arrived in Lake Oswego the library was woefully small. Thanks largely to her efforts, the library was able to move to a larger building, and it is now recognized as the finest city library in Oregon.

Even with her busy life with her husband, Joe, and three sons, Bennett had time to benefit her fellow citizens in other ways. One of them was serving as the first executive director of Oregon Heat in 1991.

Marjorie Cooney lived to be nearly 100 years old, and she filled her long life with action. Up until a few days before her death she was taking an art class. She constantly sought to improve herself and improve this community, especially the environment and kids.

She won the nickname 'Grandmother Trillium' for her dedication to protecting the wooded areas of Hallinan Heights from development and environmental damage. To accomplish this Cooney enlisted the services of Girl Scout Brownies and Cub Scouts.

Cooney could work fast when she had to. One time she quickly gathered 100 signatures to present to the city council, proving that an area had not been vacated as claimed by a person petitioning to develop the plot. She told the council the land was used by children 'and the trilliums.'

Her other activities included the Luscher Farm dog park, Ladies Golf Club, and being a patron and student of the arts.

However, the most fitting memorial for Cooney will always be the beautiful flowering trilliums that grow abundantly in the Hallinan neighborhood.