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Memories still burn brightly with ‘the originals’ of 1950s Oregon youth group

As she enters her retirement years, Jeannie Deen of the Woodburn, Ore., church, is a woman with a mission.

After leaving her job with the city of Woodburn Jan. 1, her first priority, she says, will be completing a book of memories of her youth and those that shared it. She has set her deadline as Jan. 31.

The memory book chronicles the original youth group at the Tenth and Washington church, Eugene, Ore., — back then, their lives in the years hence, and today.

“In the late 1950s and early 1960s, we had a strong youth group of about 20 people. We did everything together. We met for Bible study every Saturday night, and, of course, our parents served as chaperones. As we went to college, married and started families, we tried to keep in touch,” Deen says.

And keep in touch they did. In 1972, in 1975, and again in 2002, members of the original group met to renew memories and share their lives. At the 2002 reunion, which was small, Deen, Deanna Patton, John Strobeck and others pledged to get more of the “originals” together.

Patton, whose father, Jesse W. Stephens, was minister of the congregation for those years, said the positive response to phone calls about the event was “just amazing.”

Consequently, on Oct. 17, more than 75 members of the original youth group, their families and others from the groups a year older or younger met in Eugene.

They came from five states. Missionaries Tony and Leslie Coffey, of the “originals” traveled from Dublin, Ireland, for the event.

Dean said, “The members of this group started their Christian walk together more than 40 years ago as youngsters, and most of us are still ‘walking the walk’ today.” Fifteen are church leaders or elders.

Deen, whose husband, John, is an “original,” says, “Most of us married sweethearts from that group and are still ‘happy-ever-aftering.’”

Five of the original chaperones came to the October reunion — even though they are now in their 90s. “They came to make sure we stayed out of mischief,” she says.

The “originals” brought scrapbooks filled with photos and memorabilia of youth activities — outings in the snow, beach trips and birthday parties. Deen is compiling much of that along with photos of the reunions, a directory and biographies into her book.

Plans are now underway for a reunion meeting again in 2005.

Patton said, “It is incredible to witness and experience the ‘tie that still binds’ the youth group together after all these years. Our reunions make a statement to church members everywhere about the importance of investing in young people.”

Filed under: National Staff Reports

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