Memories find a home
A woman who found a treasure trove of old family photos along the Bear Creek Greenway in February was able to deliver them to descendants of the family in Texas last week.
Belinda Glenn flew to San Antonio Wednesday to hand-deliver the small stack of albums and bag of loose photos to onetime Medford resident Cathy Spangler.
Holding onto the photos for more than six months, Glenn said, made her “even more adamant” that she put them in the right hands.
Glenn, a SkyWest flight attendant, went for a run along the Greenway during a layover in Medford in early February. Near Harry & David Field, she found a bunch of old photos discarded in a wooded area strewn with campsites and trash.
Glenn was a former Ancestry.com employee, and the damp and fading photos tugged at her heartstrings. Primarily from the 1930s and 1940s, the images seemed to document the lives of a family. A chubby cheeked toddler sat on a stool in a fancy dress. Young adults posed with a new car. An older gentleman grinned from a lake with a cigarette in hand.
Glenn said a slew of false leads, but also some help from amateur and professional history sleuths, preceded Wednesday’s happy ending.
“I had gotten in contact with what I thought was a good lead, and he had mentioned that Dolores, who was the baby in the photos, was in the hospital. That lead didn’t work out in terms of returning the photos, but I kind of had this feeling. I wondered if Dolores would pass away soon,” Glenn said.
San Antonio resident Cathy Spangler was raised by two of the adults pictured – her aunt and uncle, Helen and Harry Frye. For her part, Spangler had been waiting for updates on her cousin, Dolores, pictured in many of the images as just a baby.
When Spangler heard Dolores had passed away, she was trying to search for information regarding a memorial service. Instead, she found the February Mail Tribune story about the lost photos.
“One of my cousins in Sacramento told me Dolores had passed. I’m in Texas and wasn’t going to be able to get a last-minute ticket to come out. I have a brother in Salem and was trying to find out details so he could represent our branch of the family,” Spangler said Wednesday.
“When I looked up her name, all of a sudden these family photos of mine jumped out at me, and I was shocked. I couldn’t figure out how these family photos were even on the screen.”
After hearing from Spangler, Glenn said she immediately knew it was the perfect connection for the photos.
“I sent her some of the photos that I had, and she sent back some of her own. You could tell they were either identical or from the same roll, that they had been taken only moments apart,” Glenn said.
“I knew I had to visit her.”
Spangler, who lived with the Fryes as a child, later spending summer vacations with them, said the images gave her precious reminders of childhood memories.
“I had never seen so many of these photos. I had no idea that my Aunt Helen, who I lived with for several years, that she and my uncle had traveled. My mother and father were divorced when I was a baby, and my aunt and uncle wanted to adopt me, so I went to live with them before my grandmother intervened,” Spangler said.
Spangler’s Uncle Harry is pictured in one of the old images: in the lake with the cigarette. Spangler said her Aunt Helen worked for many years for Providence Hospital and was the photographer for most of the images found along the Greenway.
“Some of my fondest memories were listening to the radio in the ’40s with Uncle Harry. He was very dear to me. He showed more love to me than anyone else in my family.”
Spangler remembered the Fryes’ home on Saling Avenue and being friends with the daughter of late Congressman Robert Duncan, who lived in Medford.
“One time, I got to have my friend, Nancy Duncan, come over to lunch. Her dad was a big deal — and my Aunt Helen was a professional baker and cook and host. She went all out and had little sandwiches cut in triangles, white cupcakes with pink icing,” Spangler said.
“A week later, it was my turn to have lunch at Nancy’s house, and she brought out just a plain tuna fish sandwich and tossed it onto the redwood picnic table. I remember we laughed so hard about that.”
Spangler said her aunt and uncle adopted a daughter in later years, and it was likely the daughter of that child could have lost the images while cleaning out items after Helen’s death. Nonetheless, she’s excited to share them with extended family and touched by the kindness of a stranger.
“It’s really phenomenal because, in our day and age, people seem far less likely to get involved in something that involved any effort or investing of their precious time,” she said.
“When I first got in touch with Belinda, I certainly didn’t expect there would be this many. It’s a huge bag of loose photos, real classic ones. A lot of them I had never seen before because they were taken before I was born or when my mother had no longer lived there. ... I’m just so grateful to have them all.”
Glenn said she felt protective of the photos and almost like she’d become “extended family” given the amount of time she’d been perusing the faces of Spangler’s family.
“I’m just so grateful I was able to help out. Maybe not everyone is interested in old family pictures, but every family has one or two people who get really excited about old photos and genealogy,” Glenn said.
“They’ve all just been sitting in my room, so I have to admit it was a little sad to see them be gone. It felt a little bit like I’m giving away part of my own family — I’d become so vested.”
Spangler said meeting Glenn and being gifted memories from her past had given her hope for humanity.
“This whole experience has been amazing. It’s allowed me the opportunity to relive the happiest parts of my childhood.”
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal