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Art Chenoweth

Our greatest moment of high drama at the Ione Plaza occurred when a young man attending a party suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. As it eventually developed, he had been walking around on the roof at night when he fell to his death down a ventilation shaft.

For a personal feeling of tragedy, that didn’t compare with the case of Kathie. Kathie was a popular, outgoing woman who spent her professional career at Portland State. She retired at a relatively young age from Millar Library and looked forward to adventure. She was going to China. She went there and the next we knew, she had passed away. We were told she had suddenly contracted meningitis in China and never recovered.

Residence at the Ione brings home the reality that life involves a passing parade, some coming, some going. The present tenant population numbers about 15 percent PSU students. Many of the other tenants are retired. A business that sells canes could enjoy prosperity here. The courage and cheerfulness of the wheelchair-bound reminds me to count my own blessings. There are dozens who push walkers or walking carts.

Some of our best beloved fellow residents suddenly leave us, never to be seen or heard from again. We had two lovely sisters living in a penthouse. One, Rebecca, was the outgoing, talkative one. Her name on the entrance to a room at Central Library proclaims that she sponsored the room in honor of her family. Her sister, whose name I never knew, was as quiet as Rebecca was sociable. The two went out for dinner most every day on the number six bus, which stops at the Ione door. Oddly, they never sat together, Rebecca sat near the front door, the sister back further in the bus. Eventually, Rebecca began not feeling well and suddenly her time had come, to everyone’s shock, since she had seemed so vital and active. The sister, too, disappeared from the Ione. We wondered if the shock of Rebecca’s passing crushed the sister’s world.

These unexpected departures are not rare. The life of one popular woman, apparently in good health despite pushing a walker, flickered out suddenly right in the lobby.

Some of the poignancy of passing years becomes dramatized at the Ione. One of my favorite tenants was a man whose name I never knew but who was friendly and charming. I learned he had recently become a widower, after many decades of marriage. He salved his loneliness by sipping a bit at the bar, then eating in the restaurant and singing in a pleasing voice some of the remembered songs of his youth.

One day someone noticed this well-liked man had not been seen for some three days. The management opened his door to discover him resting comfortably on the floor. When asked if he was all right, he said, yes. When asked why he didn’t lie in bed instead of on the floor, he replied he didn’t want to disturb his wife. Sadly, he was convinced to move to a facility where he could expect closer care.

The individuality of lives in this microcosm continually impressed me. We used to have one woman who looked as if she could easily be close to 100. She didn’t talk much. What she did do was eat full meals in the restaurant five or six times a day, without gaining weight. “Where does she put it?” one of the waitresses asked me.

Not everyone, by some distance, is in the latter stages of life’s journey. There are babies and growing children. There is a vibrant mixture of colors and cultures, all co-existing in harmony. To see this disappear would represent a loss. I see women wearing the head coverings of Muslims. I hear tenants conversing in Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, German and French. We seem to have in one building a snapshot of the larger population.

I find myself wondering how it would work out, if PSU did acquire the building. As more students moved in and the number of older people diminished, there may have been conflicts. Some students who live there now are too lively to suit some of the older residents. The oldsters particularly complain about loud music, which goes with being young and a college student. This never bothered me, although there was one musical performer who made me uncomfortable. This man filled the hall with endless hours of chanting in a weird minor key. I like almost any music in moderation but his mournful wailing left me off balance.

I am sorry PSU won’t be adding more rooms for students at the Ione. Yet, maybe keeping the Ione as it exists contributes to that picture of harmonious diversity we are striving for.