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Creston-Kenilworth remembers two, killed by a speeding drunk

by: FILE PHOTO BY RITA A. LEONARD - Hazel Knepper, 90, and son Paul, 55. The well-known pair died instantly on March 9th in a violent traffic collision with a speeding drunk driver at S.E. 28th Place and Gladstone Street.Hazel Knepper, 90, and her son Paul, 55, died on Saturday, March 9th, when their car was smashed into by a speeding and reportedly drunk driver, on S.E. Gladstone Street.

The well-known duo came from strong pioneer stock, worked hard, and lived simply. Hazel and her six siblings grew up around Condon, where her grandmother taught school. Her father, Dr. Lawrence Taylor, a veterinarian, helped clear up the cattle disease in eastern Oregon and later treated large animals in the Portland area – among them animals belonging to Sellwood’s eccentric “Doc Nickelsen”, who drove around with a pet cheetah in his car.

Hazel’s ready smile and sparkling personality endeared her to others, whom she usually called “Honey”. She loved to tell stories about her family history.

As a teen, Hazel attended boarding school at Mt. Angel Academy. Her first job in Portland was at the American Can Company, but she also enjoyed two years working as a welder at the Swan Island Shipyards during WW II. She was the first Y-Teen (YWCA) advisor to students at Hosford School, often taking them on outings to The Oaks’ Roller Skating Rink.

Hazel’s first husband died from complications following surgery, but after she remarried, she entered nurse’s training at age 50, and became an RN.

Hazel had two sons and one daughter. Her older son, John, passed on from cancer in February of this year, leaving a widow and four children Her daughter, Eleanor Hawkins, who now lives in California, attended Cleveland High School, where she was a Rose Princess in the Queen's Court.

Eleanor Hawkins married a mountaineer, and in 1983 was reported to be the first woman to ascend Half Dome in Yosemite National Park as a solo rock climber. Of her mother, Eleanor says she was a lively woman, walking every day and practicing yoga. Her daughter chatted with her every day by phone. Hawkins reminisced to THE BEE, “She was a wonderful woman, a total optimist. She was always helping people, and wanted to live to be 100.”

Hazel’s son Paul, who struggled with a learning disability, had nearly completed a college degree after taking classes for years. He lived with his mother, taking her grocery shopping and to doctor appointments.

In fact, they were on their way home from picking up items for a new diet regimen, when their car was struck by an SUV traveling at an estimated 60 miles an hour on Gladstone Street at S.E. 28th Place. Friends and relatives created a memorial for Hazel and Paul on a utility pole at the corner where the accident occurred. Notes bidding goodbye to “Uncle” and “Grandma” accompany photos of the beloved pair.