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The Denton Women:the fun and the fury

Three generations make a real-life reality series under one roof
by: Vern Uyetake, 


The Dentons gather for a group hug on the doorstep of their home on Sixth Street, which was built just to suit their lifestyles.

Do you like Desperate Housewives or maybe The Golden Girls?

Then you really should meet the Denton Women of Lake Oswego. They are entirely real, but they are a sitcom waiting to happen. Or better yet a reality series.

The Denton Women - Dee Denton, Tris Denton-Johnson and Kristin Johnson - now live in the same Lake Oswego home, and the potential for high comedy and drama is enormous. With a cast like this, it is hard to see how they could miss as the next big entertainment thing.

n Grandmother - A woman of tremendous accomplishment, really something of a historical figure in Lake Oswego. Yet her advanced years have done nothing to quench her bubbling spirit. And truth be told, she's a bit of a rascal.

n Mother - The woman in the middle who keeps everyone together, the bedrock of the whole arrangement. Hardworking, self-effacing despite her many virtues, a Lake Oswego girl to her tippy toes.

n Daughter - Precocious, ambitious, talented, intelligent, political, hard working and a lot more conservative than her grandmother.

'It's like the generation gap got reversed with us,' Denton-Johnson said. '

Making this mix even better is the youngest daughter, Kellie, who often comes to visit and liven up the scene. She is an actress and so much different from her sister.

Put them all together and what you get is laughter, gales of laughter.

'We laugh so much I can't even tell you,' Denton-Johnson said. 'It is so cool to be in this situation. It's always fun to come home.'

'These are two of my best friends,' Johnson said. 'I'm lucky to have the relationship I do with both of them.'

Certainly, things are working out wonderfully well in a house that was specifically designed for all of their lifestyles. The house on Sixth Street looks like it has been there forever (or at least since the 1940s), but it went up only a few years ago.

'We had a great builder, Joe Hecker, and we told him our situation,' Denton-Johnson said. 'We wanted to stay in the theme of this area.'

While all of the Denton women have it good, only one of them has it the best. The sign on Dee Denton's bedroom says: It's Great To Be Queen.

'I have only one chore,' Denton said, nodding regally. 'I empty the dishwasher.'

Queen Dee is on the first floor of the house, with a 'fabulous' master bedroom, along with a washer and dryer. She also has an intercom on which she can summon Tris and Kristin. 'I ask them, 'Is there any coffee?'' Dee said.

In addition, the house is so well located that she can walk anywhere she wants - post office, church, store, library.

Also bridge games. Dee loves to play bridge, and whenever Tris or Kristin can't find her it's usually because she is at a bridge game that has gone into overtime.

Yet Denton deserves such royal treatment. After all, as her proud daughter Tris says, 'She is really a pillar in this city.' Denton helped bring about many of the events people most enjoy in Lake Oswego.

For 33 ½ years Dee was manager of the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce, from 1963 to 1996. She was the first female Royal Rosarian. She was one of first women to join the Lake Oswego Rotary Club. She started the Holiday Tree Lighting Festival and the Flower Basket Program and headed up floats for the Rose Festival and co-founded the Festival of the Arts. She was a member of the Lakewood Center's board of directors for 30 years.

Denton even earned herself a page in Ann Fulton's Lake Oswego history Iron, Wood and Water.

'What I love is that mom has made a lot of changes here,' Tris said. 'I'm really proud of her.'

All this, admittedly, has left Tris feeling a bit overshadowed at times. But in her own way she is a pillar of the community herself. Tris has been a real estate broker in Lake Oswego for the past 13 years and was an active PTA parent during Kristin and Kellie's grade school years.

Certainly, Tris must get some credit for being the mother of one of the youngest city councilors in the USA. Kristin pulled off that feat two years ago when she was elected to the Lake Oswego City Council at age 22.

This makes for a good Capraesque story: Ambitious young woman graduates from the University of Oregon Honors College (with a degree in political science, of course) and almost immediately decides to start a political career. And wins! Ms. Johnson goes to City Hall.

'When Kristin was a little girl she always wanted to be a politician,' Tris said.

Kristin said, 'I was always that nerdy little girl.'

It would be nice to report that Dee and Tris backed Kristin's not-so-impossible dream from the start. But that was not the case. Mom and grandma were like everyone else, at least at the beginning.

Tris said, 'When Kristin decided to run for city council, we said, 'You can't do that.' She asked, 'Why?' I said, 'Because you're too young.''

Naturally, Tris ended up putting up signs all over the neighborhood and serving as campaign treasurer. She also watched with immense pride as her daughter succeeded in her first political campaign.

Now, Tris and Dee's favorite TV show on Tuesday night is the broadcast of the meeting of the Lake Oswego City Council.

'I come back from the council meeting and then I get critiqued,' Kristin said. 'What I said or how I was sitting. Just everything.'

The Denton true-life reality series started when Tris brought her mother to come live with her after Dee suffered an accident in her former home.

'We're of Spanish heritage,' Denton-Johnson said, 'and the Spanish have a tradition of taking care of our parents.'

Then things got much more interesting when Kristin moved in last January.

'The best thing about living here is that it's cheap,' Johnson said. 'But I still have to pay rent.'

All three women are incredibly busy, going off in their different directions, but they still share much of life together in the house on Sixth Street.

'We all have the same sense of humor,' Kristin said. 'Sick.'

They eat together, drink a little wine, discuss Dee's driving and watch TV, even if their tastes radically diverge.

'I like light, humorous things,' Tris said. 'They like gory detective stuff.'

They reminisce over past adventures, like their 'Thelma and Louise' type road trip to California ('a blast!') or their vacation to Hawaii. They all went to the beach one day, and a wave came in so quickly that is caused Dee to lose her balance and she started being pulled out to sea. That made her start laughing so hard that Tris said, 'We thought we were going to lose her. We were all hanging on to her for dear life.'

Life as the Three Musketeers is not always so much fun. There are a few issues of contention, such as Dee's driving. She recently got a speeding ticket. ('I wasn't driving that fast,' she maintains.) Or Tris and Dee unknowingly making separate trips to the grocery store and coming back with too much food.

Kristin admitted, 'If I didn't have my own separate entrance here I'd probably kill you guys.'

But if you spend just a short while with the three women you can see so much energy, enjoyment and, best of all, the ever-present chance for big laughs.

'I could write a book,' Tris said. 'It would be the greatest reality series ever.'

But every reality series reaches an end, and the question must be asked, 'When will the party be over for the Denton Women?' Especially when Kristin is so young, ambitious and ready for adventures in the political world.

'It's great that we can have this now,' Tris said. 'But who can tell where we'll be in five years?'

'Probably still here!' Dee said.

Once again, gales of laughter fill the house.