How do you sum up 10 decades of living? Medford native Sheena Brittingham, a 28-year-old interior designer residing in Portland, found a way to honor her great-grandmother on her 100th birthday by creating storyboards of her life.
The photo time lines showcase Medford resident Catherine Coshow Hoover's centurylong journey from childhood to college, through marriage, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Each board shows the U.S. presidents who served, the best-selling cars, fashions and a major news story of each decade.
"The time I spent looking at her beautiful photographs and celebrating her amazing life was priceless," Brittingham said of her great-grandma. "I would be sitting on my computer at 1 a.m. with tears in my eyes at times, just so thankful for this amazing woman who had such a huge impact on all of our lives."
The storyboards were a big hit with the matriarch and 130 guests at Hoover's 100th birthday party, held at a Portland hotel Dec. 28 — about two weeks before her death from a stroke.
Granddaughter Kami McNeill's favorite board was the 1960s, when she entered the picture.
"Sheena worked on the 1960s board and sent it to me to surprise me," said McNeill, a preschool teacher. "It was so wonderful it made me cry."
The whole family pitched in to get the storyboards ready in time for the birthday party. McNeill collected photos and magazine covers for a shared folder of data accessed online. Roberta Muggerud, one of four daughters, scanned photos. And Medford resident Kathi Ehrlich, Hoover's firstborn, chauffeured her mom from Rogue Valley Manor to Portland regularly so the great-grandchildren could hear stories from the daughter of an Oregon pioneer.
"The last several years she started reminiscing, and it really brought our history to life for us," McNeill said.
During these visits, the family looked through photos, asked questions, laughed at their Nana's quick wit and marveled at her accomplishments.
Hoover was a vocalist, earning a scholarship to what is now Oregon State University, and a starter on the Crook County High School championship basketball team. She ran the 75-yard hurdles in 11.2 seconds, played drums in a band called Sagebrush Syncopators, took lead roles in most of the high-school musicals and narrowly lost the state debating championship to Medford High School. The platform of the 1931 debate wasn't much different than a topic of today: "Resolved that chain stores are detrimental to the best interests of American Society."
Hoover and her husband, Myrl Hoover, who started a bus company that merged with Pacific Trailways, raised four girls and two boys. He died in 1970, and she never remarried. She may have been too busy playing with grandkids. Photos show her hiking Mount Jefferson, playing pingpong, riding a scooter, canoeing in the Metolius River near the family cabin, bicycling and swimming. To her last days, she was surrounded by children.
"She was always there for us, and she was so much fun," McNeill said. "We had campouts at the cabin, sleeping under the stars, and she would sing with us. I wanted to be like her when I grew up. Now that I'm 50, I still want to be like her. I want to be the same kind of Nana to my grandchildren."
For Brittingham, working on the storyboards was a labor of love that took 40 hours of evenings using Adobe InDesign software. The 1930s poster depicts Prineville farm scenes during the Great Depression. The 1940s shows a fashionably dressed Hoover shopping on Northwest 23rd Avenue in Portland. The 1990 and 2000 posters show Hoover as active as ever, despite her advanced age.
"She was so healthy, and she didn't take any medications," said Ehrlich, who brought her mom a "snowy mocha" coffee every day. "She had a good appetite. Her favorite breakfast was three pieces of crisp bacon, a buttermilk pancake with syrup and three scrambled eggs with cheese."
The storyboards capture the joyful vitality of the centenarian.
"The vision my mom and I had discussed earlier in the year had come to life, and that was a good feeling," Brittingham said.