Decades after death, former firefighter's love of toy drive continues
The old Stutz engine immortalized inside Hillsboro's downtown fire station bears special memories for Pat Joyaux.
It was the department's first truck, bought for $8,000 in 1924 to replace a horse-drawn pumper. It was in service until 1962 — several years after Joyaux and her husband, Hillsboro firefighter Richard Christensen, lived in an apartment above the old fire station.
Surrounded by grandchildren and great-grandchildren at downtown's Station 1 last week, Joyaux proudly told of Christensen's work on the Stutz pumper and its appearances in parades with Christensen in the driver's seat.
Christensen died Nov. 22, 1969 of a heart attack while responding to a call. He left behind his wife and five children, the oldest of whom was born before the family moved from the firehouse.
"The whole city was in shock," Joyaux said. "People were in grief; it was a big, sad thing. There was a huge funeral, and 400 people couldn't get into the funeral parlor. They had a fire truck escort all the way down Main Street."
Firefighting was always more than just a job for Christensen, Joyaux said. Christensen devoted his time to running Hillsboro Fire Department's Toy and Joy program — a tradition in Hillsboro Fire Department which continues to this day. The department plans to deliver toys and meals to hundreds of families across the city over the holidays.
Joyaux, who works at Valley Catholic High School in Beaverton and recently moved back to downtown Hillsboro, said Christensen loved the Toy and Joy program, which, in the 1960s, looked different than it does today.
"He loved repairing toys for kids," she said. "There was a big space in the back of the station where they painted toys."
Though Toy and Joy didn't become an official Hillsboro Fire Department program until 2005, the history of the toy drive dates back to the 1940s.
Over the next 60 years, Toy and Joy has grown to a major annual event in the department. Each December, firefighters buy $10,000 and 15,000 in new toys to supplement toys donated by businesses and at each of the department's fire stations.
Hillsboro Firefighters Random Acts was formed in 2005. The organization performs acts of kindness across the community throughout the year and partners with local organizations to provide gifts and meals to hundreds of families each winter.
"It's about being able to do something for the community other than the normal emergency response," said Dan King, a firefighter and organizer of the Toy and Joy program. "As firefighters, we're in the unique position where we're invited into people's homes and have an opportunity to assess those needs."
Christensen worked as a volunteer for the department in the late 1950s before being hired fulltime in 1960. A Hillsboro High School graduate and Marine Corps veteran, Christensen handled the night shift for Hillsboro Fire for years, living in an apartment upstairs until eventually settling into a home a few blocks away.
Christensen had a hand in battling plenty of big fires during his 11 years in Hillsboro, including a large church fire while the two lived above the fire station, and the rescue effort following the collapse of a reservoir on Main Street.
In 1967, Christensen took a job as fire chief of the rural stations in North Plains, Orenco and Midway — the district eventually became Washington County Fire District No. 2, which merged with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue last year.
But Christensen always maintained close ties with his hometown, Joyaux said.
"I don't remember what the population was then, but it was a lot smaller," Joyaux said. "When he had a call, when he was chief, he would just leave from our home near Northeast Fourth Avenue and Northeast Grant Street and drive to Orenco or Midway."
Jeffrey Christensen, Joyaux's son, grew up to become a first responder like his father, serving as a cadet with Hillsboro Police before volunteering as an EMT in Cornelius and eventually moving to take a position with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
"I remember riding with him in the car on Sundays, and he would take me around" Jeffrey Christensen said. "One time, somewhere out of town, some many was burning his field illegally and I remember him calling in North Plains and Orenco and they came and put it out."
Jeffrey Christensen was just 6 years old when his father passed away, but he said he still remembers his aunt waking him up to bring the news.
Nearly five decades later, his father remains on watch, Joyaux said. He is buried at Fir Lawn Cemetery at the western edge of Hillsboro.
"He's buried at the top of the hill, and he's still looking down on Main Street," Joyaux said.
By John William Howard
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