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John Luby, 1924-1957, despite suffering from Hodgkin's disease most of his adult life, never flagged in service to his community. Named after him, Luby Park - on Northeast 128th Avenue and Brazee Street in east Portland's Russell neighborhood - was dedicated in 1961.
Luby's granddaughter Taylor, fourth from left, staged birthday parties in the place named for her grandfather, who died before she was born.
A new merry-go-round was installed this summer in the children's playground portion of the park.
The hundreds of Douglas Fir trees covering the 11 acres of John Luby Park keeps it cool on hot days.
Taylor Luby, age 17, at the park. According to her father, Jeff, it was special for Taylor growing up with a park named for her grandfather, especially since she was unable to meet him.
Park commemorates valiant life


Who is John Luby and why does he have a park named after him in east Portland?

Few neighbors can cite what Luby - whose name graces the 11-acre park at Northeast 128th Avenue and Brazee Street - did to achieve this honor. He held no government office, settled no outpost and led no movement. Yet, though far from a household name, Luby's character inspired others to immortalize him in this small patch of green space in east Portland.
People whose achievements have earned the dedication of a public space, street, building, monument or park are usually public figures familiar to most. These established monuments remind us of their contributions long after they have passed. Though the years shrink some milestones, the testaments remain.

John Roderick Luby, born in 1924, grew up in Oregon City during the Great Depression. The third of five children, Luby's father died in WWI. In WWII, Luby served in the Merchant Marines, his eyesight too poor to qualify for the Navy. Returning to Portland, he attended Vanport College where he met Doris Jean Donovan. They married in 1949 and settled in a house next door to Donovan's mother at 118th Avenue between Sandy and Prescott streets. He worked for the Portland Planning Commission, and in 1952, joined the Metro Jaycees, becoming president of the organization. The United States Junior Chamber - more commonly known as the Jaycees - is a leadership training and civic organization for people between the ages of 18 and 40. The Jaycees have provided opportunities for young people to develop personal and leadership skills through service to others since their inception in 1920. They have built parks, playgrounds, hospitals, ball fields and housing for the elderly while conducting service and support programs in communities nationwide.

Those raised in Mid-county may remember the extravagant Easter egg hunts that ran for years and held at Parkrose High School, organized by Luby and the Jaycees. During the hunt, the Easter bunny descended in a helicopter, and kids scoured the area for hard-boiled eggs with real coins taped to them. For one lucky youngster, the taped goodie would not be a coin, but a ticket for the grand prize bicycle. A food drive followed the event, where a canned good earned attendees a free movie.

Though he also took part in other Jaycees events like Christmas food baskets for the needy, Luby focused most of his charitable efforts on children. He orchestrated junior golf and tennis programs as well as a teenage road-eo aiming to teach driving skills.

Luby's son, Jeff, credits his father's economically deprived upbringing for shaping his own resourceful nature, “because he had this rough upbringing during the depression with no father; they had to fend for themselves. He would never take no for an answer. If he wanted something, then he would just go after it and keep trying and trying and trying. If he wanted a job, he would go in there every day and just drive them nuts until they hired him.” This mindset helped maintain his dignity of character in the face of inexorable hardship, traits that his fellow Jaycees admired to the extent that inspired the dedication of the park.

Throughout his years as a Jaycee, from 1952 to 1957, Luby was dying of Hodgkin's disease, from which he suffered most of his adult life. Though he submitted to experimental treatments at OHSU, his health decline accelerated during this time, depriving Luby the use of his legs. Luby, ever refusing to accept failure, installed parallel bars in the backyard to practice walking.

An avid fisherman, he also ran a side business selling bait to Fred Meyer. Jeff recalled gathering nightcrawlers with his father after a fresh rain, which they sold to the store in Chinese takeout containers. Even shortly before Luby died at the young age of 33, Jeff, then 6, remembered his father taking him on frequent trips to the Sandy Boulevard drive-in, where attendance earned them raffle tickets toward the drawing of a free boat.

“I think just because he was so well liked by the other Jaycees and they were a pretty close group of guys, and because he was so valiant and just refused to give up and fought right to the end and always kept a good attitude, that they felt that they needed to do something,” Jeff said of the park naming.

Upon Luby's death, the Jaycees first established a John Luby memorial award, bestowed to the individual in the club who had given his efforts to the betterment to the club and community in John's spirit. The club's highest esteemed award, it recognized one's total contribution to the club as a whole. They also created a plaque commemorating Luby that hung for some time in the Parkrose branch of the Oregon Bank.

Even two years after his death, the Jaycees still sought to create a lasting memorial in his name. They contacted the Multnomah County Parks Office and discovered that the plot of land that now holds Luby's name was listed as 43rd on the county's development list. The Jaycees offered to assume responsibility for developing the park, upon the condition that the county would then name it after Luby.

“The county didn't expect Jaycees to follow through,” said Earl DeKay, Luby's friend and fellow Jaycee. The Jaycees enlisted the help of the National Guard, who provided manpower and equipment and cleared away the brush and trees. Portland General Electric donated lighting fixtures, and others pitched in for labor and materials for the water fountain. The county had not anticipated such a quick turnaround and, once complete, invoked the requirement that personages be deceased for a minimum of five years before giving places their name. The Jaycees petitioned for a hearing that resulted in a waiver, and John Luby Park became an official county park in 1961, until the city of Portland assumed ownership in the 1985 annexation.

According to Portland Parks & Recreation's Web site, the park's amenities include disabled access, a play area, paved and unpaved paths, picnic tables and a playground. What it doesn't mention is how the stand of hundreds of mature Douglas Firs covering the park's 11 acres give the park visitor a unique glimpse of what Portland looked like over a hundred years ago, before adjacent land was cleared for farming and housing.

“I think that he would be totally shocked by it,” Jeff said of his father. “He had no idea that this would have been done in his honor.” Still, it exemplifies how his father's spirit influenced even those in his small circle to do big things. “The reason they did it was even though he was having so many problems with his health, he still continued to be very civic minded and perform civic duties and just didn't give up. He was very inspirational to people.”

In this regard, may the park that bears John Luby's name live on, and may the spirit that created the park live on through the space's enduring contribution to the neighborhood.
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