History lives on
Relatives of Gorge protector Gertrude Glutsch Jensen see to it that her legacy lives on
It was a simple question. "Where is my grandmother's plaque?" Keffer Jensen asked when joining the Portland Women's Forum organization last fall.
His grandmother, the celebrated conservationist and civic leader Gertrude Glutsch Jensen, was instrumental in preserving the views of Vista House from Chanticleer Point in Corbett. She also boldly took on developers and business leaders in her successful efforts to preserve the beauty and nature of the Columbia River Gorge.
Keffer was at Chanticleer Point, now known as Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint, in May 1970, when a stone-and-mortar drinking fountain bearing a plaque in honor of his grandmother was dedicated. So imagine his surprise four years ago when the then-Portland resident visited the viewpoint only to discover the fountain and plaque gone.
"Well, I was ticked off," Keffer recalled. "I was upset, hurt. I was stunned. I just couldn't believe it."
Tourists may have breezed by the plaque while getting a drink at the fountain, but it held a special place in his heart.
That plaque represented his grandmother's sweat, tears and quite possibly blood his grandmother was nearly run off the road several times by those who didn't share her vision of environmental protection.
It embodied how, after a horrifying Sunday drive in 1950 that revealed how logging and mills were ravaging the Columbia River Gorge's scenic beauty, Jensen rallied the 4-year-old Portland Women's Forum organization to dedicate itself to preserving the area.
How in 1953, she was named chairwoman of the new Columbia Gorge Commission created by the Oregon Legislature a role she served in for 16 years.
How with her professional background as a real estate broker, she helped the state exchange timber land in the Gorge for timber elsewhere.
How, after three years of heading up the state's gorge commission, the Portland Women's Forum organization that Jensen belonged to used profits from tea parties, fashion shows and other events to buy 3.71 acres overlooking Vista House and Beacon Rock the same acres that the Chanticleer Inn stood on from 1912 until 1930 when a fire destroyed it.
To ensure public access to the scenic vista's jaw-dropping views, the organization donated the property to Oregon in 1962.
Under Jensen's 30 years of leadership, 3,000 acres in the gorge came under protection, acquired by public agencies through donations to the state and land exchanges.
All of this and more earned Jensen the nickname "Angel of the Gorge." She died at the age of 83 on Dec. 27, 1986, just 39 days before the president signed a bill designating the Columbia River Gorge a National Scenic Area, protecting 292,500 acres from the mouth of the Sandy River to the Deschutes River.
The 265,00 people who visit Portland Women's Forum in Corbett a year may or may not have drunk up that history lesson while sipping water from Jensen's fountain.
But her grandson did. For his grandmother's memorial to just vanish was unacceptable.
He called around. State parks officials said the plaque had been vandalized. Nobody seemed to know what happened to the plaque.
A few years passed before fall 2012 when he stumbled upon a website for Portland Women's Forum, the organization that his grandmother belonged to and led for 20 years.
The website was new, having been launched the year before by the organization's then-president Teresa Kasner. Keffer emailed her and Kasner was thrilled to hear from the grandson of the Angel of the Gorge.
Before long, Keffer found himself asking that simple question: Where was the rock drinking fountain with his grandmother's plaque?
Kasner though it might be in storage. She contacted Kevin Price, district manager for the state Parks and Recreation Department. He recalled the fountain being removed about five years ago when it was replaced with a new handicapped accessible one. He invited Kasner down to the shop yard at Rooster Rock State Park to see if it was there.
"The poor thing was laying on its side. You had to go like this to read it," she said turning her head to the side.
With the missing fountain/plaque found, Kasner asked a simple question of her own. "Hmm, what could we do with it?"
She teamed up with stone mason Gabriel Weiss, who she'd worked with as president of the Friends of Multnomah Falls. Weiss suggested turning it into a monument. All it needed was a sizable stone placed on top, and he just happened to have an antique capstone that was a perfect fit.
With approval from the still-active Portland Women's Forum organization, Weiss got to work. And on Thursday, May 2, with the rip-snorting gorge wind threatening to snatch hats off heads under a turquoise sky, a crowd gathered at the scenic viewpoint. Kasner removed the Pendleton blanket wrapped around the monument to an eruption of applause.
Nobody clapped louder or longer than Keffer.
He drove down from his new home in Duncan, British Columbia, on the southern end of Vancouver Island for the occasion. With him joined by his mother, Joan, brother David, daughter Kristina and her children, a total of four generations were represented.
"All I did was get in touch with Teresa and she did the rest," Keffer said. "It is just a reaffirmation of her legacy and the fact that people still care."
As for Kasner, she is just glad the memorial now repurposed as a monument is back in its rightful place in the gorge.
"It is back home," she said.Add a comment