February 7, 1924 - October 11, 2016
Mom was born Gertrude Evelyn Folk in Shaw, Oregon, in 1924. Her parents, together with their seven children, arrived in Shaw from Odessa, Russia, by way of Argentina and British Columbia. Eventually the Folk family settled in West Salem on the Wallace Ranch (the current site of Salemtowne). As a child Mom spoke a rough colloquial German and very little English, but when she enrolled at Brush College her first-grade teacher, Ruth Bennett, took her aside and spent countless hours, in school and out, helping her master the English language. Thereafter, Mom's command of English was flawless.
In 1939 Mom went to work at the Grand Theatre in downtown Salem. She started as an usherette showing patrons to their seats via flashlight, and soon became the box office cashier, selling tickets from the glass booth in front of the theater. She was just 15 years old, and theater policy required that employees be at least 18; however, she was attractive and intelligent and the theater manager was eager to hire her. Those days at the Grand were among Mom's fondest memories. She was responsible not only for selling ticket but for reconciling the money received against the total number of tickets sold. Admission was a quarter for adults, ten cents for those under twelve. At the end of the day, Mom had to carry the money, usually in the dark, to the Ladd & Bush night deposit drop. As a precaution she would call the Salem Police Department, located a block north of the theater, and they would send an officer to escort her to the bank. (Those were the days!)
In her Grand days, Mom enjoyed a once-a-week "big meal," consisting of a tuna sandwich and milkshake, next door at Wild's Drug Store (later site of Grand Vines wine shop), now Paradiso restaurant. The Grand didn't sell food in its lobby, so theatergoers typically bought snacks at Wild's before going to see a movie. Mom saw a lot of great films while working at the theater, including "The Grapes of Wrath" with Henry Fonda and "Blood and Sand" with Tyrone Power. However, when "Gone With the Wind" came to town, it played at the Elsinore, a bigger venue.
While working at the Grand, Mom lived with two of her brothers on Center Street out past the State Mental Hospital. After work, walking home late at night, Mom was spooked by the ominous Hospital, which even then had a scary reputation (long before "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"). In the dark, the tall pampas grass around the Hospital blew and rustled in the wind, so she would take off her high heeled shoes and run past the Hospital as fast as she could to the safety of her brothers' apartment. She ruined many pairs of nylons on those wild runs.
Mom eventually left the Grand Theatre to get married (female employees had to remain single), but she continued to live and work in Salem, where she raised her five children (Jim Spendal, Linda Callaway, Ron Spendal, Kent Spendal, Kay Miller), and enjoyed the love and affection of nine grandchildren (Kellie, Jill, Sarah, Clair, Jim, Chad, Dylan, Kenzie, T.J.) and ten great grandchildren (Anna, William, Gus, Tate, Hayley, Cody, Adam, Eisley, Sophia, Norah).
Howard Steen, Mom's husband from 1978 until his death in 1984, was her greatest love, rivaled only by her lifelong affection for children (her own and all others).
We will miss Mom every day, not least for her astonishing memory. She was especially good with names (of just about everybody she ever knew) and floorplans (of just about every house she ever lived in or often visited). No event in family history was lost on her; she remembered, in wonderful detail, the happenings of our lives, seemingly undimmed by the passing years.
In keeping with Mom's wishes, there will be no formal service. Donations in her name may be made to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital www.stjude.org. Assisting the family is Virgil T. Golden Funeral Service.