Vlasta Becvar Barber

[Editor: Vlasta Nora Barber, age 95, of Tigard, Oregon passed away on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Vlasta was born December 7, 1926 in Maplewood, Oregon.]

Garden Home Grade School September 1934 – May 1939

[Editor’s note: Vlasta wrote the following about her time at Garden Home School, approximately 2013.]


The original Garden Home School elementary building was a two-story structure which probably resembled most other grade schools which were built in the early 1920s or earlier.

The bottom floor had kindergarten space, separate rest rooms for boys and girls, and a concrete indoor play area where children could roller-skate during inclement weather. It no doubt contained heating equipment, but no air-conditioning. The latter was taken care of by opening one or more windows.

Upstairs there were four class rooms, each of which held two classes. The principal, Edward T. Taggart, taught seventh and eighth grade classes. If he had a separate office where he completed necessary paper work or talked with parents was not something I ever knew.

In the late thirties, a new auditorium was built to the north of the existing building, and an overpass allowed passage from one building to the other. The auditorium was used for assemblies, entertainments, and indoor sports such as volley ball. Some decades later, the old building was razed, a new one erected, and it, together with the auditorium form the venue for one of Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation centers.

For outdoor sports, there were teeter-totters near the school, and a few swings a little further away. There were two ball fields – one along Oleson Road for boys, and the other for girls abutted private residences to the west and woods to the north. Children played “Simon Says” and “May I”, two games that are remembered as being fairly similar. A May-pole-like piece of equipment had about five thick ropes attached to it. A child would grab one of the ropes and swing around the pole.

The woods were a wonderful mixture of tall fir trees, huckleberry bushes and ferns, with purple violets, yellow Johnny-Jump-Ups, white trilliums and waxy Indian pipes all growing in profusion. We never knew who owned the woods, but we played there, picked the lovely wildflowers, and followed the path to the railroad tracks which divided our small homes from the Aaron Frank estate. The Portland Hunt Club was also situated nearby.

The space in front of the school was used sometimes by children to play a game with two teams, each comprised of perhaps 15 students, who would face each other. One team would then try to run through the opposing team and gain a foothold at the opposite end of the yard. No scores were kept, teachers weren’t usually involved, and most everyone had a good time. This unstructured play was ordinarily done at recess and/or lunchtime, so no parent had to be involved, no one needed to buy a uniform.


Reading and writing were stressed, reading in all grades and writing in the upper grades. In eighth grade penmanship was actually taught for a whole period at least once per week. We learned the Rice method, though some schools not too far away taught the Wesco method. The main difference appeared to have been in the way that the cursive small “e” was formed.

We were not allowed to use pencils nor fountain pens for penmanship class. Instead, each of us had an inkwell, built into the desk at the right side, and one or two straight pens. How “lefties” coped with the right hand inkwells, I don’t know. Probably anyone with a left-handed tendency would have been strongly urged to use the right hand.

Those who met the standards set forth were presented certificates that stated that they “had attained a satisfactory degree of skill in rapid muscular movement penmanship”.

Reading was considered so important that it was even used to reward good behavior. After lunch in some grades, the teacher would read several chapters of an interesting book to the class, before continuing with other subjects such as geography, history or math (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division).

Geography was made palatable by allowing – actually requiring – the students to make topographic maps of interesting areas. My sisters, Zora and Sharka remember making a three-dimensional map of North and South America out of flour, salt, water and Easter egg coloring.

We were assigned book reports in seventh and eighth grade. “Little Women” and “Talking Drums” are the titles I remember. What the second book was about has been expunged from my little grey cells (sorry, Hercule Poirot), but the title will remain forever.

During the summer vacation, a mobile library would come to the school grounds every week or two, and we would be allowed to take one or two books. This was most appreciated by parents whose finances did not easily accommodate bus fare into the big city of Portland.

In the upper classes, sometimes debates would be held certain students would be chosen for each side, and the pros and cons would ring out. One debate centered on “is rubber better then leather?” It’s doubtful that anyone logically won that debate, but it was fun anyway.

We seemed to have more respect for teachers in those days, and so did out parents. We addressed teachers as Miss, Mrs. or Misters. They in turn, dressed and acted like adult mentors. Ladies wore suits or home-made dresses, but never slacks and certainly not jeans. Our principal always wore a suit and tie.


Report cards from two separate years are attached. Notice how much they differ. The earlier one from 1938 has a choice of five grades, ranging from “Unsatisfactory” to “Excellent”. Even those had been changed in prior years so that no one received a “Failure” grade.

Awards included the afore-mentioned Penmanship certificates, the teacher reading “Heidi” or “Jungle Book”, etc. to the class usually after lunch, being allowed time to make Valentine cards, etc., and then pass them out to classmates.

If anyone in the class has been unruly, then reading to the class would be cancelled. The only other punishment remembered was that if a boy was unruly, he was forced to sit with a girl for the rest of the day. Somehow, that doesn’t seem as if it would solve anything in this day and age, but maybe it didn’t half a century ago either.


Plays, recitals, and grand entertainment like an operetta were faithfully attended by parents and anyone else they could corral. Admission fees are not a part of what we remember, but it is possible that a few pennies may have been charged.

Rarely a few students were taken to Tigard High School to participate in a special activity. As second Graders, Sharka and Zora, costumed respectively as a raindrop and a sunbeam were part of the high school’s May Day celebration in 1940. And sometime in 1942, we high schoolers gave a program at St. Anthony’s grade school: I played the violin, and Sharka accompanied me on the piano.

During summer vacation, besides the mobile library van, craft classes were available for either a very low cost or they were free. Pottery making was one of them. No one would have wanted any of the pots I made, but it was fun to work with the wet clay and the potter’s wheel. I did better at reed basket making. One basket turned out so well that my mother actually kept fruit in it.

As members of Camp Fire Girls, Sharka and Zora learned how to roast potatoes in the ashes of bonfires, and bake “dough on a stick”. The 4-H clubs were led by women volunteers. That’s where I first learned how to sew a zipper into a dress.

Zora and Sharka also engaged in an activity which was not sanctioned by anyone, especially our parents. When a road was newly paved, the sun would bring the tar bubbling up. The tar evidently called out to my sisters, because they scooped up some of it and chewed it like chewing gum. Their memory states that the tar wasn’t that bad tasting.


The center of the town was at the intersection of Garden Home and Oleson roads. On one corner was Upchurch’s grocery, the school diagonally across, a service station, and an apple orchard. Next to the grocery, where the Dairy Queen is now, was a barber shop owned by Mr. Tetrick, where once in a while my sisters would get their hair cut. The service station had a gas pump which required manual pumping. A bus stop of the Portland Traction Company was at this intersection, and the bus would continue on to Metzger or other alien worlds.

There was another grocery store about half a mile further east called the Red & White. Its greatest fascination to Zora and Sharka was its caramels which cost two for one penny. Whenever they had the rare opportunity, they would choose the dark over the light caramel. They managed to make themselves persona non grata one time when our older sister Millie had received a box of chocolates from a handsome Marine she was dating. The box on top of the piano was too great a temptation and they greatly enjoyed all the chocolates with white filling. We all believe that Millie was not amused.

Prices were, to our modern way of thinking, very low. But so were salaries. Bus Tokens for Portland streetcars were three for 25 cents. A hot dog and milkshake in downtown Portland could be gotten for 15 cents in the late thirties.

I picked strawberries for 2 cents per pound, but then hit the sweepstakes by getting 35 cents per hour for being a companion for an older lady in the evenings. Sharka and Zora washed dishes free of charge for a neighbor because our mother said it would be the right thing to do. They helped thin garlic for the same neighbor, also probably as an altruistic activity.

We had some interesting neighbors on Occidental (now 77th Avenue) where we lived, and indeed there were many interesting personalities in our small town.

Mrs. Blaker was a Christian Scientist who was able to eat puff ball mushrooms (toadstools?) without ill effect. Powell Boulevard was named for her father. She and her sister layered newspapers between their blankets to keep themselves warm in winter.

A girl who attended high school became pregnant in her junior year. The moral climate of those years forced her to leave school, and she was mentioned by wagging tongues and shaking heads.

Two dairies existed in the 1940s: Marugg’s and Feldman’s. In the 1960’s Vista Brook development was built on the Feldman dairy. About 1940 one of the Feldman boys was following his father while he plowed, and somehow the plow shear cut off his right heel. Thinking that he would not be able to make a living on a diary, his parents decided to give him violin lessons. For each hour I taught him, his father gave our family a quart of milk. At that time a quart of milk cost 11 cents. Harry didn’t earn his living playing the violin.

In those long-ago days when we attended Garden Home Elementary School, home owners didn’t lock their doors, they walked at night with no fear of being mugged, and a pair of golden Percherons [Editor: large draft horses] lived across the road from us.

Life on Occidental Avenue in Garden Home in the 1930’s

[Editor’s note: Vlasta wrote this memoir about her childhood in Garden Home approximately 2010.]

Life on Occidental Avenue, now identified as 76th Avenue, was interesting and mostly full of happy events. Our Becvar family lived there for about five years.

Beginning on Garden Home Road and proceeding northward on the east side of Occidental, the family names, as I remember them, were Elk, Becvar, Grant, Dale, Blaker and Replogle. On the west side of Occidental, the first name is forgotten in the mists of time, the second may have been Johnson, next was the Lindley family, then Billups and another family whose name has escaped me.

Only a tiny minority of families had a car, and since the houses had been built without garages that worked out well. Buses ran fairly regularly, and stopped at the intersection of Oleson Road and Garden Home Road for those going to or from Portland or going on to Metzger. The fare was about three trips for a quarter.

Elk: this family had a young boy about ten years of age, perhaps a couple of years older than I was. He was quite good-looking, in my estimation, especially when he wore a snap-brim hat. The house was a two-story and the property may have been an acre in size. They usually raised several long rows of strawberries, and sold them to neighbors at three pint boxes for a quarter.

Becvar: our family moved into this one-story house probably during the summer of 1934. How our furniture was moved from Maplewood is a mystery to me. We had a large, old upright piano which Daddy had purchased second-hand just after he married Mama, and an almost equally large leather sofa that made into a bed. We certainly could not afford a professional mover, so it must have been Daddy and his friends. The property abutted the lower west border of Garden Home Grade School, so my twin sisters Sharka and Zora and I easily walked to our back chicken yard and directly on to school grounds.

The house had a dirt cellar which flooded one foot deep every winter. But attached to it was a wood shed and a well house. The latter was where we cooled our milk and butter. Towards the back of the property was a huge barn with a hay loft and a chicken house. Two pie cherry trees, an English walnut tree, a seedling black cherry tree and a very old flower garden which Daddy tended during his “spare time.”

Our sister, Millie, had finished high school at Lincoln, and spent part of her time taking care of Mrs. Julia Fishburn who lived just back of Lindley’s.

Grant: Mr. and Mrs. Grant had a son who attended college either at Willamette or another private college. When I acquired a summer job in 1942 at Willamette Iron and Steel Company on Swan Island, I was offered a ride to WISCO  by Mr. Grant. Their son Robert was the proud owner of all the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. Being a book worm, I was delighted that Mrs. Grant lent me each of them and the Wizard, Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Lion became a delightful part of  my life.

Dale: Mr. Alan Dale was born in England, how long he had been in the U.S. we didn’t know. He lived by himself and raised a fantastic garden on property that must have covered at least two acres. Beside the normal vegetables, he raised eggplants, black caps, currants, grapes, and in his front yard had a quince tree. Our mother made the most exciting preserves from the quinces Mr. Dale gave her. I was privileged to call him Uncle Alan, and as such I could borrow his books  including one called “Talking Drums.” Sometime in the past he had had a wife and an adopted son.  Neither was around when we lived in the neighborhood. His son was a stamp collector, and since he had left his collection with Uncle Alan, who had no use for it, I was lucky enough to inherit it.  At Halloween, his house was the only house we went to.

When Tom and I married in 1949, Uncle Alan sent us a Sheffield carving set which he had brought from England. We still have the set.

Blaker: Mrs. Blaker had a very strong faith in Christian Science. When I managed to become the owner of a really bad case of acne, she talked to me about it, and after a couple of years, my complexion did clear up. Her faith may have also saved her life, for she talked about often eating puffball mushrooms. She had started eating them when she as a young girl living in Alaska with her family. Mrs. Blaker said that Powell Blvd. was named after her father.

At times Mrs. Blaker’s sister lived with her. Neither lady had any money to speak of and in cold weather they slept with newspapers between their thin blankets to help keep themselves warm.  They were very proud and would accept no help, so our parents would buy eggs from Mrs. Blaker, though we raised chickens ourselves.

Replogle: David Replogle attended Garden Home Grade School during the entire five years that I did. He and I were friends though we did not  agree on everything. One time in eighth grade, we were the debaters on the subject “which is better – leather or rubber?”  He chose rubber, and I was left with leather. It’s doubtful that either of us persuaded anyone else. He was the object of envy, though for an absurd reason.  He suffered from asthma, and smoked what we thought were cigarettes to relieve it. His obituary appeared in the Oregonian a few years ago, listing asthma the main cause of his demise.

Of our grade school graduating class of 13 in 1939, David was the only one who went on to Beaverton High School. At that time, many of us were of the opinion that only rich kids went to Beaverton, and the rest of us went to Tigard or some other school.

Unnamed: first house on the west side. We knew very little about this couple, though we heard gossip that they had a mild rivalry with Mr. and Mrs. Grant as to who had the better house.

Johnson (?): the lady of the house was very kind, allowing several  kids to play “statue” in her yard. In this game one person would swing several other kids around, let them go and they were to remain in the position in which they fell. The one that remained in that exact fallen position longest was the next one who did the swinging.

Lindley: Mr. and Mrs. Lindley had a son Howard and daughter Marian. Howard joined the marines during WWII, and when he came home after boot camp wearing his dress uniform, all of us were very proud of him.

The Fishburn residence was directly west of the Lindley property. Because our older sister Millie helped take care of Mrs. Fishburn at times, we used the Lindley property as a short cut instead of walking down to Garden Home Road and then up what is now probably 77th avenue.

Empty lot (?): if there was a house just north of Lindley’s house, I don’t remember it.

Billups: Mr. & Mrs. Billups lived alone.  We understood that Mr. Billups died soon after we moved into the neighborhood. We heard that their house had a finished cellar, somewhat a singularity compared to most of the houses on our street.

Unnamed: it is truly sad that I can’t remember the last name of the people that lived in the last house on the west side of Occidental Avenue. A son was named Robert, and unfortunately he had tuberculosis.

Robert’s mother was a sweet lady who took me to Portland to see “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” when I was about nine.  This was really quite an adventure. Though we visited downtown Portland several times a year because Daddy had a tailor shop there, our movies were usually seen in Multnomah where the fee was about 10 cents. To see a first-run picture in the big city was big indeed.

Vlasta and Tom Barber were married in the 1949. She went on to work for the Internal Revenue Service for 30 years, retiring as the Disclosure Officer for the State of Oregon, IRS.

Vlasta Becvar Barber featured in Oregon Voice exhibit at the Washington County Museum

[Editor’s note: in 2018, Vlasta Becvar Barber was featured in a display of Oregon Voices at the Washington County Museum.]

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5 Responses to Vlasta Becvar Barber

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