By Kathy Cook Hunter
Jack Hande, who has carved airplanes since his boyhood, looks over one of his newest projects – replicas of Japanese warplanes from that era, which will hang from the ceiling in the renovated aircraft observation post outside the Silverton Country Historical Society’s museum in Silverton.
They are examples of a Japanese Zero and a Japanese G4M, also called a “Betty” by American soldiers, Hande said. Admiral Yamamoto was killed in a Betty, and Japanese leaders rode in them when they flew to the signing of the 1945 treaty that ended the war with Japan. “It was a significant plane,” Hande said.
At the age of 78, Hande is regarded by many as something of a town treasure for his interest in finding and preserving memories of Silverton’s bygone days.
A 1949 Silverton High School graduate, he is the descendent of early settlers, the Bagbys who came west in 1852, and his family owned and operated Hande Hardware for many years downtown in what is now called the Wolf Building.
Hande encouraged people to write down their histories, which he gathered into three volumes called Silverton Stories from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Long known for his cartooning skill, he added humorous illustrations to the tales and had them spiral bound, beginning in 2003.
“I’m working on Volume IV now,” he said. “I have about 16 authors and I want to get up to 20 this summer.”
After illustrating a bird book in 1984, Hande sought other illustration work but was unsuccessful, so he later cartooned his way through a self-published book, De Meaning of Words, Illustrated (1994), based on word puns. Then, in 2002, he wrote and illustrated It’s Time for My Life to Flash Before Your Eyes: Little Stories about Myself, Friends and Family. As it turned out, that book was a warm up for Silverton Stories.
He’d been attending informal breakfast meeting reunions of people who grew up in Silverton, and tales about memories, often hilarious and even touching, were a large part of the gatherings.
“I knew they would all vanish into air if somebody didn’t write them down,” Hande said. “When the person’s gone, the story’s gone.”
As one of the younger attendees, he eventually took over organization of the meetings, which take place three times a year at Home Place restaurant. “That had a lot to do with my starting these volumes of books,” he said. “It was fun. I get more out of doing these books than anybody else because I have to read the stories very carefully in order to figure out the illustrations. I have to get into [the story] so I can visualize it.”
Persuading people to write down what they remembered was difficult and took much cajoling and encouragement on his part. Each author is named, and many names are familiar, since a noticeable characteristic of Silverton is that generations of families have stayed in the area.
However, he said, “These people with the stories are dying off and I’ve had a dozen die since I started these three volumes. The men and women telling the story witnessed the event, and if we’re going to believe [the story], we need a witness.” Writing it down “fixes” a story in place, he said, but, he acknowledges, “It is human nature to embellish and even change their memories. But I want their style. I can doctor up the errors,” he said about spelling and grammar mistakes.
He cited the “Rolling Stones” story in Volume III – versions of which are told by two people, Ken Blust and Don David, and each is a little different.
“One guy now in his 90s can remember going to silent movies in the ’20s at the Opera House,” he said. The children in the theater would make plenty of noise before the organist entered to accompany the action on the screen, then ironically, they would watch the movie in rapt silence, Hande said. “Some [of the authors] lived here briefly and moved on,” he said. “Some of them still refer to Silverton as their ‘hometown.’ It’s that kind of place.
“I remember Silverton when I was a kid in the ’30s and it had board sidewalks and barns with cows near downtown. People during the Depression were trying anything to get food, so they’d have chickens, cows and horses.” Hande said the barn once owned by the Lloyd Moser family still stands on Third Street.
Hande was a teacher of biology, geometry and other mathematics classes at Silverton High School from 1957 through 1961, and spent 21 years in education. He owned a cross-country skiing and mountain-climbing shop in Salem and lived a very active outdoor life. His final career move was as a building contractor.
Then, at age 75 when he was playing basketball “with guys much younger than me” he was accidentally hit in the head by a ball. The effects of the finally-discovered brain injury took their toll with seizures and loss of feeling in his hands and feet. These days he’s recovered, and takes it with humor.
In compiling Volume IV of Silverton Stories, he seeks new authors with tales to contribute. “The younger people need to know what Silverton was like in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. It was a totally different world.”