Brooklyn resident recalls Oregon in the early 20th Century
- Rita A. Leonard
- The Bee - Features
Descent from 'Pioneer Stock' is what provides a strong backbone for 88-year-old Hazel Nepper, who still walks daily to the Brooklyn Post Office to pick up her mail.
'My grandmother and her husband drove hundreds of head of cattle east over the mountains to Nebraska,' she recalls. 'Six weeks after they arrived, she gave birth to my father.
'Those pioneer women were strong, and knew how to handle horses. When they returned from Nebraska to live in Condon, my grandmother taught school. One of her students was Linus Pauling, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1954.'
Hazel and her six siblings lived their early years around Condon. Her father, Dr. Lawrence Taylor, helped with rural electrification during the Great Depression, but became a veterinarian for large animals. 'He cleared up Bang's Disease (Brucellosis), a serious cattle ailment, in eastern Oregon,' she recalls. 'He was also a sheep inspector for Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.'
Dr. Taylor cared for the animals that were owned by Sellwood's eccentric 'Doc Nickelsen'. 'I remember visiting his home, and seeing all these stuffed exotic animal heads from Africa there - lions, tigers, and the like,' smiles Hazel. 'It was an impressive display. I recall his pet cheetah, too, although I don't know whatever became of it. When my dad became ill, Doc Nickelsen treated him at no cost, because of his fine veterinary services.'
Getting back to Hazel, at age 15, she moved from Condon to a boarding school at Mt. Angel Academy. One of her sisters joined a convent, and eventually graduated from Reed College. 'As Sister Mary Grace, she taught at Sacred Heart School in the Brooklyn neighborhood,' reports Nepper.
After Hazel moved to Portland, her first job was at the American Can Company. However, she also spent two years as a welder at the Swan Island Shipyards during World War II. 'The pay was real good - about $1.20 an hour. I really enjoyed the work,' she says.
Hazel was the first Y-Teen (YWCA) advisor to kids at Hosford School, and often took them to The Oaks Roller Skating Rink on outings. She married her first husband in 1946, but he died from complications following surgery. After she remarried, she entered nurse training at age 50, and became an RN.
Hazel's daughter Eleanor attended Cleveland High School, where she was a Rose Princess in the Queen's Court. After graduating, from CHS, Eleanor took a trip to Yosemite National Park. 'In 1983 she was reported as the first woman to ascend Half Dome as a solo rock climber,' remembers her mother. 'She married a mountaineer, and they both enjoy the outdoors.'
Hazel now lives near Cleveland High School with one of her two sons, Paul, who is a remodeler and Driver Training instructor. She still has a keen interest in people. 'Treat all others with respect and kindness, and the world will be a better place,' is her sage advice for everyone.