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Fifty-five years of friendships and fa-la-la-la-la

Residents in one neighborhood maintain holiday tradition

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - Gloria Weitzel, left, visits with Brittany Clark and her daughter Avery, 18 months, at a neighborhood holiday breakfast held Saturday, Dec. 6, at Heidis of Gresham.

A family, of sorts, converged on Heidi’s of Gresham over the weekend for its annual holiday get-together. Over pancakes and omelets, these folks chatted, laughed, talked about current affairs and shared news of those unable to attend.

Not exactly big news, given the time of year, but members of this “family” actually get along.

“We’ve got a great neighborhood,” said Dyann Alexander, 82. “People tell me all the time, ‘You’re so lucky — we don’t even know our neighbors.’ So it’s great because we like each other.”

For the past 55 years, neighbors along one street in northwest Gresham have gathered to share a meal and, more importantly, each other’s company. While holiday happenings among neighbors aren’t unusual, few people stay in one neighborhood long enough anymore to return to somebody’s open house for two years, much less 50-plus.

But for the folks in this group, whose ages range from 18 months to nearly 98, longevity means little when compared to being neighborly. Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - Dyann Alexander and her husband, Dick, have participated in an annual holiday gathering among neighbors along one block in northwest Gresham for more than 50 years. Dyann, whos 82, helps coordinate the affair using a phone tree to inform neighbors of the date each year.

The tradition began in the spring of 1959, when Gen Collins and her husband, Marv, invited neighbors to their home for an Easter brunch following church services. Over time, as more people moved into the neighborhood, a summer barbecue was added.

But following Marv’s death, Collins decided to dispense with her usual holiday gathering for family, opting for a “simple dinner” of soup and pie the Sunday before Christmas.

“A simple dinner — three soups and five pies,” said Collins’ daughter Peggy Hietpas, laughing. “Mom still wanted to get the family together, but there were a lot of leftovers, so she invited the neighbors over for that. After a while, the neighbors waited for the Sunday before Christmas because they knew they were going to get the leftovers the next day!”

Collins, 93, along with Marguerite Wiesinger, who will be 98 in January, are credited with starting the more than five-decade-old tradition. Being neighborly was what people did in those days, they both said, adding that it provides a sense of security up and down the street.

Brittany and Martin Clark moved into the neighborhood three years ago. This was their second year attending the breakfast with their children, Braeden, 7, Hudson, 4 and Avery, 18 months. It’s become an event they’ve grown to anticipate.

“Are you kidding? With three kids we never go out for breakfast,” Brittany said. “When we first moved in, everybody was really friendly. We feel real safe because we know they’re looking out for us.”

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - More than 20 people from one northwest Gresham neighborhood attended the 55-year annual holiday get-together over the weekend at Heidis of Gresham. Their ages ranged from 18 months to nearly 98. The group has been gathering at Heidi’s for about five years, Alexander said. She and Gloria Weitzel, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1979, use a phone tree to get the word out about the breakfast. Weitzel’s “cheat sheet” is more than just phone numbers, however. She also keeps track of the names of family members and move-in dates — sort of a Welcome Wagon/Neighborhood Watch-style combination.

So in true holiday fashion, literally and figuratively, 21 people sat down for breakfast Saturday morning to toast the season and each other.

“I don’t think many neighborhoods have this,” Weitzel said. “It’s an amazing thing when you can have a whole block of people who get along. It’s really a phenomenon.”

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