Hunting for C.E. Mason

This summer I started the project of chronicling my school’s history from its beginnings as an elementary school in the late 1940s to its transformation into the arts magnet academy it is today. This meant historical research, which provided lots of information and some terrific stories about life on campus in the middle of the last century, but after much digging I was left with one blank that gnawed at me: The man the school had been named for, C.E. Mason himself.

Sure, I had the bare bones of a 1920’s era biographical sketch:

CURTIS EUGENE MASON.
A native Hoosier, born in 1880, the son of William and Isabella (Liggett) Mason, Dr. Curtis Eugene Mason, a prominent physician of Beaverton, spent his boyhood in Missouri after the immigration of his parents to that state, receiving his education in the public schools there. The Masons were of English descent and were Indiana pioneers and Dr. Mason’s paternal grandfather served in the Civil war, participating in Sherman’s march to the sea. Graduating from high school Curtis Eugene Mason matriculated at the University of Chicago and later at Rush Medical College from which latter institution he graduated in 1911 with the degree of M. D. He came to Oregon the same year and entered on hospital work in Portland, practicing for four years with Dr. Bodine of that city. Removing in 1917 to Beaverton he began his practice there. He was at this time enlisted in the Medical Reserve Corps and was prepared to serve in France should he be called. Fortunately for those dependent upon his medical services at home, and they were many, no such necessity presented itself during the war and Dr. Mason continued to devote himself to his practice.

In 1912, Dr. Mason was united in marriage to Bertha Clement, the daughter of a retired banker of Wisconsin now a poultry fancier in Washington county, Oregon. Mrs. Mason is a graduate of the University of Chicago and was for some years an educator. Their children are all boys: Herbert Eugene, John William and David Clement.

Dr. Mason is a deacon of the Congregational church and a member of the board of trustees. Fraternally his affiliations are several. He is a Mason in more than name and a Woodman of the World. He belongs to the Multnomah Medical Society, the State Medical Society and the American Medical Association. While his practice is a general one Dr. Mason has long been interested in the diseases of children and in a larger community would specialize in that branch of his profession. Though still a young man he has built up an extensive practice and stands high in the esteem of the people of Washington county, particularly among those who are his compatriots.

That he married the daughter of a “poultry fancier” …amazing.

Yes, I’d read the newspapers that gave me glimpses of the man, but even though he had been a civic leader for decades, served on the school board for close to twenty years, and had an elementary school named in his honor, as I researched my way through July, August, and September I could not find a single photograph of the elusive C.E. Mason.

Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 7.33.53 AM.pngThe usual internet search provided little more than Dr. Mason’s advertisement in Beaverton’s newspaper from the 1920s, which stayed particularly consistent for years.

A little more legwork, and the help of some kind souls, provided a bit more: he was Beaverton’s only doctor for a great many years, comforted and cared for the community through influenza epidemics, and delivered so many babies.

Elected to the school board in 1920, he was committed to improving education in Beaverton, hiring and keeping good teachers, and making schools in town as good as those in Portland.

pics

A friend at the district office brought out a manilla envelope with wonderful photos of the school named in his honor. From the 1960s and 1970s, they showed buildings, vintage cars, and no C.E. Mason.

I tried the local Masonic Lodge where the aptly named doctor had been a member, but didn’t hear back. My school librarian reached out on Facebook and got some leads, but still no picture. Internet searches of historical photographs led nowhere. The closest we got was a picture of his son as a youngster.

My office staff, an intrepid bunch, turned to one of those online ancestry websites, and over the course of a couple of weeks facsimiles of Curtis Eugene Mason’s draft cards (brown eyes, brown hair) and census found their way onto my desk, cool artifacts, but no photo.

My assistant principal, a sensible woman, saw our work, tilted her head, and said: “You’re stalking him.”

I suppose.

Then the day my receptionist leaned in to my office and said: “I have C.E. Mason’s grandson on the phone for you!”

He was calling from Alaska.

He remembered his grandfather fondly, proud of his work on the school board and as a doctor in Beaverton. He thought he had some photos …the holy grail!… and said he’d look for them.

By late September, he still hadn’t found them.

A phone call from a second C.E. Mason grandson, this one living in sunny California, yielded some fantastic stories.

He told us that his grandfather “was self-made and proud of it.  He was a teacher, but his principal at a school in Missouri encouraged him to go to medical school.” That care for education lasted a lifetime, where he was an active member of the school board, eventually its president, and a constant advocate for improving teaching and learning for all students.

He was also proud to be a physician and always ready to make a difference. As his grandson remembered, “when he attended church in Beaverton, his stethoscope often dangled out of his suit coat pocket.  That was not accidental. He had a home downtown, across the street from the Masonic Lodge which had an office downstairs. He saw patients all day, and again in the evening, after he had dinner. That’s the only time many local farmers could see him.”

Caring for others was a hallmark of C.E. Mason’s life. “During the depression,” his grandson remembered, “he accepted trade items for people who couldn’t pay.  A couple chickens or a hog or whatever. Some didn’t pay. Some took years. In 1960’s, he received payment for an operation he performed in the twenties.”

Did he have a picture? He’d look.

While we waited for a photo we kept digging.

I joined the “You know you’re from Beaverton…” Facebook group, which led to some marvelous contacts and great pictures from the school’s past, but nothing more on the good doctor.

As the leaves turned orange, red, and yellow, we had to imagine Dr. Mason from the few details we could piece together: his eyes and hair color from the draft card, his grandson’s description of him in his 80s, overwhelming appreciation for his work as a doctor.

September turned into October.

…and then, a breakthrough!

I should know that when in doubt, the best thing anyone can do is contact a librarian.

I’d reached out to the Beaverton Library early on and gotten some great leads on the early history of our school. Microfiche, still a real thing, offered up clues about life in the last half of the past century, and then, midway through October, Jill Adams, Beaverton City Library’s Adult Services Reference Librarian, sent an email with the short text:

From the title 100 People who shaped the century 1993 LHIS 979.5 ONE 1993

Attached was PDF.

Eureka! I fumbled with my phone, clicking on the attachment and waiting.

Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 7.40.33 AMThe circle spun, telling me the file was loading, and then…

An error message.

So. Close.

I hurried to a computer and pulled up the email.

There, in sepia and black, was a scan of an article on this “history shaper” described as “a busy doctor and community leader.” Much was information I’d read before, gathered here as a summation of his altruistic life. “According to his son, Mason, who died in 1976 at the age of 96, remained a member of the Chamber of Commerce until he ended his family medical practice in the early 1960s.”

It went on to say that “He delivered about 2,000 babies in Beaverton and Tigard.” It didn’t mention, I thought to myself, that some of those deliveries, in both homes and hospitals, were done for little payment, or (as his grandson had told me) for the payment of a chicken or what the family could afford.

And then, looking back at me with kind bespectacled eyes, was the man himself.

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Months into the search it was an emotional and satisfying revelation.

No monocle or handlebar mustache, no ascot or kooky expression, C.E. Mason looked the kind, sober fellow I’d been hearing about. I know that I’ll keep searching for another picture or two of Dr. Mason; I’d like to have a framed photo up in our new building, nothing ostentatious, just a simple conversation starter about someone who cared deeply for education, his community, and making a difference through kindness.

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Feathers/Wings

IMG_8703We started them on the first day of school, the day when all students new to ACMA came to campus a day before returning students. After a welcome in the auditorium students fanned out across campus in groups, visiting the library, participating in some theatre games, and making art. That art was simple in design, but big in idea. Feathers.

Each student got to choose a bright cardstock strip to draw or write on any way they thought represented them. Faces, quotations, animals, the choices were as different as each individual student. Next, they cut these into the shapes of a feathers, and by the end of the day hundreds were piled on the art studio table.

IMG_8704Over the next couple of weeks we added to the pile of feathers. Staff took turns making their own during our preservice week, parents got to make feathers at my first principal’s coffee, and our intrepid assistant principal set up a table for returning students to make their own at lunch. The feathers filled a wicker basket to overflowing, and then…

On the wall outside my office at the front of the school those feathers became wings. On a rich blue background two swooping collections of feathers reached toward the butchers paper clouds. On those clouds, drifting about the rainbow wings, were written: “Attitude determines altitude” and “Commit to soar, ACMA.”

IMG_8701We figured it would be a nice photo opportunity for any souls willing to stand in front and make the wings their own. It was also a metaphor that captures at least a bit of who we are as a school.

Individually we are creative, divergent, and wildly individualistic. Some of us draw, some of us write, some of us express ourselves in music and movement. Those feathers showed all the colors of our rainbow, gave each person their own personal space to create, and the freedom to be themselves. And…

Together those individual feathers coalesced and created something magical and greater than any one individual. Alone we are feathers; together we are wings.

So too at our little art school. The painter, the poet, the percussionist; the dancer, the director, the dreamer; each left to our own devices can create something marvelous and individual, but how much more when the sculptor and the screenwriter, the filmmaker and the photographer, the actor and the artist support each other?

Art unifies us. Art lifts us up. Art, and each other, helps us soar.

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Get on the Bus

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 8.47.04 AMThe decade of the 80s was a transitional time for C.E. Mason’s campus. District programs filled the building, young scholars visited campus for special programs and child care was established for teenage students with babies of their own.

One of those elementary aged students, G., who spent every Thursday at C.E. Mason is now an innovator for our district, a teacher on special assignment and happy collaborator on our BSD Future Bus. G. remembered getting on a yellow school bus at Cedar Mill Elementary and driving to C.E. Mason for “enrichment” and active learning.

At C.E. Mason, he and students from other elementary schools dissected cow eyes, made stop motion animation, and once simulated a medieval city. Taking one day a week, 20% of his 4th, 5th, and 6th grade years, to come to this little school where he was challenged, inspired, and encouraged was life changing for for G. and the students from across the district given the opportunity.

As a participant, he remembered, it was “awesome” to do the extremely hands on activities; as a social practice, he reflected, “not so much.”

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 8.46.29 AMThe 1980s were a time of tracking in education, and G. recalled that while a handful of students from each class were allowed the bus ride to C.E. Mason for challenging curriculum and creative thinking, those who remained in their elementary classrooms were offered instead an extra chocolate milk at lunch.

The world of education has changed greatly since then. Heterogeneously grouped classes, hands on activities integrated throughout the curriculum, and innovators like G. hired to work with teachers to bring creativity, making, and doing into classrooms, show that while once certain kids were put on a bus to go to innovation, now that innovation comes to all kids …sometimes on a brightly painted bus.

At C.E. Mason in the mid 1980s, however, it was cadres of curious, hand picked pupils who studied mental abstraction and spatial reasoning, learned science by doing, and history through creative simulations. Technology loomed large for those students, albeit on floppy disks, and creativity using that technology was expected and encouraged.

For any who believe that education has slipped in the past thirty years, I’d suggest that many of those same approaches and activities that worked for the chosen few students can be seen on campus today …for every student. That, I’d argue, is progress.

Safe Haven

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 8.46.13 AMYear after year the kids filed in. Smiling faces, eager learners, tears, scraped knees, victories and defeats on the four square courts. From 1949 through 1974 C.E. Mason Elementary was home to neighborhood kids, a solid foundation for future Beavertonians.

Students at C.E. Mason saw lots of change around them, both nationally as events of the middle of the last century marched, lurched, and scurried this way and that, and closer to home with additions to their campus that included covered walkways and a couple of different colored paint jobs.

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 1.32.06 PMLooking back at photos of students from across the years is to see in youth what the country was like through the cold war and into the turbulent 70s. In school pictures, the collars widen, hair lengthens on both boys and girls, and formality gives way to a more colorful world.

By 1973, however, enrollment at C.E. Mason had dropped below 400 students, and in June of 1974 it closed its doors as an elementary school.

That’s not to say that C.E. Mason ceased to exist. In the fall of 1974 the building welcomed students from Five Oaks Intermediate School who stayed for two years as their new campus was being built. It was a new life for an old building, a renewal of sorts that would help to define our campus for the rest of the decade.

Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 9.13.31 AMOn September 4th, 285 students from Five Oaks moved onto campus determined to make it their own. They filled classrooms with music played on record players and doughnuts frying in electric skillets in culinary arts. The Quonset Hut became home to the basketball team, gymnasts, and wrestlers, and outside administrators bundled up to supervise in the rain. (That last one has been constant since Principal Esther Peer in 1949 and on up to today. I’ll be heading out for lunch duty in the rain soon).Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 9.16.05 AM

Five Oaks students had electives like woodcraft and tie-dying, and students from 1974-1976 remember wearing the brightly colored hand made t-shirts in the hallways.

The Bicentennial year saw students doing pull ups on outdoor metal bars, sampling soup in the courtyard, and studying Spanish while wearing the groovy designs our kids dress up in on 70s day during Spirit Week.

All in all, Five Oaks made C.E. Mason their own for the two years they were here, and the photos from the time suggest it was fabulous! When they moved back to their home campus, I have to imagine that a few missed the place they spent 1974-1976.

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Greenway Elementary School followed Five Oaks, filling C.E. Mason until their school was completed in 1980. In these “in between” years our campus was, as Timberland Middle School will be for ACMA next year, a haven for students in need of a place to learn.

Leadership Wears A Cape

While I’d love to imagine myself Han Solo, daring, roguish, independent, I’ve come to realize that as a principal on my best days, and I mean my best, I’m cloud city Lando Calrissian.

landoBeing an administrator means being put in a position where every day involves balancing competing demands and trying to stay focused on a greater goal. Sometimes it’s little annoyances that get in the way of progress; we’re the proverbial “small outpost, not very self-sufficient, with supply problems of every kind, labor difficulties…”

Other times it feels like Darth Vader is breathing through our hallways.

There are more elegant ways to describe the sturm und drang of the business side of site administration, but for those of us with an affinity for George Lucas’ space opera, the fact remains that the patron saint of principals is Billy Dee Williams’ 1981 Lando Calrissian. We’re doing our best, trying to be charming, think we look great in that cape, and sometimes, in the face of stress and forces beyond our control, we make mistakes.

I was thinking about Lando this week when navigating some projects beyond my school’s control. As a principal, I do my best to advocate for my campus, my teachers, and my students, but find that sometimes my voice isn’t as powerful as others in the room. Like Lando, I work to establish relationships and build agreements that will help my school, sometimes feeling as optimistic as he did when he told Han and Leia: “I’ve just made a deal that’ll keep the Empire out of here forever.”

Lando entersYeah. That.

And just like cloud city Lando, sometimes I see those deals fall through, or get changed. It’s not unusual for someone of authority to play the part of Darth Vader, saying (perhaps in a more subtle way): “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.”

So we adjust.

Being a principal often means searching for the best contingency, finding footing the face of shifting sands. If all goes well, we might end up on the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca; at worst Han ends up in carbon freeze. Sometimes both.

The secret, if there is such a thing, that I’ve found is looking for little places to make a difference (“Having trouble with your droid?”), staying optimistic (I look great in this cape), and trying to keep things in perspective (I do get to live in a cloud city).

worseThere will always be times when things don’t go according to plan, when a budget is cut or a need goes unfilled. Tempers will flare, sometimes justifiably, folks won’t communicate clearly, or decisions will get made that benefit someone other than your school. There will be a point when any principal would be tempted to swish his cape and mutter: “This deal is getting worse all the time.” And that isn’t the wrong reaction, at least in the moment, but if we remember our Empire Strikes Back properly we know that at some point Lando activated Lobot, hustled Leia and the gang to the Falcon, and set about the hard work of rescuing his friend.

Not defined by his mistakes or his misplaced alliance, cloud city Lando made the best of things. Principals everywhere could do worse.