Posts tagged Vanport
A Place Called Home: From Vanport To Albina
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"Will anyone show up?" That is always the question when we host an event that deals with our appalling racial history, and with past and present community marginalization.  On Saturday, May 12th, the question is particularly relevant. It is a beautiful sunny day, one of those Portlanders wait all winter for, to remind us why this city is, after all, such a great place.

The Kenton Library is particularly quiet. The St John Street Fair, with its great arts, music and food, is calling. Would any of the 986 people who pressed the Interested button on Facebook show up? What about the 92 who committed on "going"? 

Slowly but surely, as it has been happening for the past 4 years, event after event, the room fills up. Race Talks director Donna Maxey, and artist Velynn Brown, both Vanport descendants, are here, ready to guide us and facilitate our journey into feeling and understanding. Henk Pander, the renowned visual artist who has been capturing the shipyards, Liberty Ships, and the Vanport Flood in his watercolors, is here too, sitting in the audience carrying his own painful memories of war, and "home" back in Holland.

Those who are meant to be here are here. And once again, we gather around the stories of those who share them as gifts: leaving the Jim Crow south just to find a more subtle but equally dangerous racism in Oregon, building a better life and a new community in Vanport, losing both in 1948 once a flood wiped all out in a few hours... the new "chapter" in redlined Albina: losing all, rebuilding stronger, losing all again; this time, not because of a poorly conceived system of dikes and irresponsible lack of evacuation plans, but because of racist city planning under the name of urban renewal.

Velynn Brown, Vanport descendant, performing her poem "Roots and Remnants"  (Photo by Andrew DeVigal)

Velynn Brown, Vanport descendant, performing her poem "Roots and Remnants" (Photo by Andrew DeVigal)

We share only a small selections of our oral histories, part of the on-going memory activism effort now in its fourth year, and then we sit quietly with our eyes closed to listen, truly listen, to Velynn Brown's words. Her poem, "Roots and Remnants," is a lullaby of memories. I cheat, and open my eyes for a moment. Tears are streaming down her face. My face. Everyone's face. She has embraced the responsibility and the honor of being the "Remnant Keeper," the one left to tell the story. We clap for long time. If my hands could speak they would say Thank you. I am sorry. Forgive us. Forgive me. What can I do? I made my home in your home. I don't want my story to bury yours. And how can we tell a different one together, one where we all belong?


Donna Maxey must understand the language of my hands, because she stands up, hugs Velynn as warmly and tight as I wish I could do right now, and answers my questions. See us, she says. See your neighbor. Let's truly see and meet each other. Ours and yours survival depends on it.




"First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew
Then they came for the communists and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.
—  Pastor Niemoeller, Victim of the Nazis in Germany

Race Talk Director Donna Maxey, Visual Artist Henk Pander, Artists Velynn Brown, and Story Midwife/Vanport Mosaic Co-director Laura Lo Forti ( Photo by Emmalee McDonald ).

Race Talk Director Donna Maxey, Visual Artist Henk Pander, Artists Velynn Brown, and Story Midwife/Vanport Mosaic Co-director Laura Lo Forti (Photo by Emmalee McDonald).

A PLACE CALLED HOME; FROM VANPORT TO ALBINA will be offered again on June 24th,  3-4.30pm at North Portland Library. Join us for a FREE screening of oral history documentaries, part of the Vanport Mosaic participatory on-going oral history project, with a facilitated dialogue presented in collaboration with Donna Maxey, Founder/Director of RACE TALKS, and artist Velynn Brown, both Vanport descendants. Through archival footage, historic photographs, and compelling first-person narratives, this collection of short films and audio oral histories traces the story of Portland’s African American community from the 1940s to 1970s. It is a story of struggle, perseverance, and resilience that continues today.

This program is part of the Our Story: Portland Through an African American Lens digital collection and project-
Made possible by The National Endowment for the Humanities Fund of The Library Foundation.

The Vanport Mosaic oral-history project is facilitated by Story Midwife Laura Lo Forti, made possible by Regional Arts & Culture Council, Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Historical Society, The Kinsman Foundation.
Thanks to our partners: University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, Open Signal, Stream PDX.

Bringing Vanport history into the classroom

We spent a week at the wonderful Oregon Episcopal School, where 3rd graders explored the history of Vanport and its legacy guided by their dedicated teacher Kiah Johnson Mousey.

We are so inspired by their reflections in response to our exhibit Vanport: A Story Lived. A Story Told! 

On February 27th, as part of the Oregon Episcopal School Exploring Our Oregon History Through Art and Experience series, we screened Lost City, Living Memories: Vanport Through The Voices of Its Residents, a selection of short oral histories documentaries part of our growing collection. The room was packed with families and community members, including Vanport Flood survivors who shared their own memories. Prof. James S. Harrison helped us understand the impact of this history, and Story Midwife Laura Lo Forti talked about our on-going "memory activism" effort.

We closed this beautiful collaboration by curating a panel with former Vanport residents: an unforgettable intergenerational exchanged that touched everyone lucky enough to be part of it!

Would you like to create a meaningful educational experience and bring community voices to your school or community group? Let's dream up something together! Get in touch with Greta Smith, our educational programming director, at, or comment on this post.

An "Out Of The Box" traveling exhibit about Vanport
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We are thrilled to offer a new way of learning about the transformative history of Vanport!  Vanport.  A Story Lived. A Story Told traveling exhibit  tells the story of the temporary city of Vanport and the vibrant community that called it home. Through archival material and oral history, it explores this chapter of history and its enduring impact. It is an essential and often forgotten story of migration, housing, displacement, and perseverance.

This is Vanport Mosaic first "Out Of The Box" exhibit, designed to travel to schools, churches, community groups and wherever there is an interest for this important history. Please come and see it, and drop us a line at to explore how to bring it your community!

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  • May 26-29: Vanport Mosaic Festival 2017
  • August 5th: Vanport Jazz Festival
  • September 28-October 5th: Oregon Historical Society 
  • October 15th: Portland State University/Portland State Of Mind in conjunction with Lost City, Living Memories oral histories screenings. Info here
  • November 8-10: Lewis&Clark College/14th Annual Ray Warren Symposium on Race and Ethnic Studies. Info


  • February 8th: Fair Housing Fair
  • February 20-March 1: Oregon Episcopal School
  • March 3 - 25: Oregon Children Theater
  • May 25-28: Vanport Mosaic Festival 2018


Our deepest gratitude to all the former Vanport residents who have shared their memories with us for the past three years, and informed this exhibit with their riveting stories. And to all the Vanport Mosaic oral historians who helped us capture, honore, and preserve these precious voices.

Special thanks to: Oregon Historical Society, City of Portland Archives, Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, Multnomah County Archives, Portland State University Special Collections and University Archives, Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources, Oregon Black Pioneers, Kim Moreland, James Stanley Harrison, Zita Podany, Thomas Robinson, Terry Baxter, Tanya Gossard, Norman Gholston, Jim Burke, Susan Barthel, Will Bennett, and Peter Marsh.

Made possible by the generous support of:
The Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Arts Commission, Portland State University and the Division of Global Diversity and Inclusion, Oregon Historical Society, The City of Portland, Prosper Portland.

CURATED BY: Laura Lo Forti, Greta Smith, A Fourth Act
DESIGNED BY: Paste In Place/

Join our memory-activism campaign #IRememberVanport!

2018 marks the 70th Anniversary of The Vanport Flood. From now until the Vanport Mosaic Festival 2018 (May 25-28), we invite you to join our memory activism campaign to keep this important history alive.

Thanks to all of you who joined us in our advocacy effort in the past three years, Governor Kate Brown, Senator Jackie Winters, House Speaker Tina Kotek, and Portland Mayors Charles Hales and Ted Wheeler, have proclaimed a Vanport Day of Remembrance on the anniversary of the flood. It is time for a permanent memorialization of Oregon's second largest city and its multi-racial and multi-cultural community!

"Make history" with us by sharing your thoughts on WHY we should remember, and ideas on HOW we can honor and preserve this important chapter of our past for generations to come.

Here how you can participate the collective conversation:

  • Leave your thoughts here in the comment section.
  • Take a photo of yourself in front of our traveling exhibit Vanport: A Story Lived. A Story Told and tag it #IRememberVanport. Share on social media or sending to us at Don't forget to add your thoughts with it!
  • Create something to commemorate this history in whatever art-form you like. Share on social media with #IRememberVanport, or sending to us at
  • Join at any of our events and share your ideas in person and/or on the form available at the event itself.

We will collect all the contributions and share them with you all as they come, and they will be part of the celebrations during the Festival 2018. 

Thanks for keep supporting this "history from the bottom up" effort!

A painting to remembering the Vanport flood

Artist Sarah S.Shay shared with us this beautiful painting she created in remembrance of the Vanport flood. You can buy a print at this link.

Here Sarah's thoughtful reflections:

I have lived in Oregon for about 15 years. However, I embarrassingly did not know *anything* about Vanport until about two years ago, and then learned more when OPB aired the Vanport documentary. I couldn't believe I hadn't heard about this, and that it wasn't more publicized. I'm from rural Pennsylvania, and our little town was flooded on several occasions, the Allegany River jumping the banks and completely flooding everything not on a hill. So, I grew up looking at old photos of people and their boats, ruined stores and houses...but that town still exists.

Vanport is one of those events that's, well, not just an event. It left me wondering how many other people here--in-and-around Oregon and beyond---had no idea what "Vanport" was. It wasn't an event, it was a community and work and a home for so many people. The tragedy of the flood and everything associated with that loss and deception somehow got named "Vanport," too. I was left questioning what other tragedies were named by their "home," like Columbine. I'm hopeful that the stories of Vanport as a home come out of art and stories and photos....While the flood definitely was a defining event, I would like to remember Vanport as I remember anyone else I loved who has been injured or who has passed: they have name, a story, and a relationship to so many people, some of whom never officially knew them.

May 30th, 2017: A Day To Remember

On May 30th, 2017 The Vanport Mosaic traveled to Oregon State Capitol to be part of an historical moment!

The Oregon State Senate unanimously voted on Senate Concurrent Resolution 21 to officially commemorate the anniversary of the Vanport flood and remember its survivors and the people who lost their lives. We are grateful to Senator Jackie Winters, who lived in Vanport and survived the flood, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, whose district includes the area where Vanport once was, for sponsoring this resolution. 

Watch a few clips from the moving day:

Join us at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem to commemorate the Vanport Flood

On May 30th The Vanport Mosaic will travel to Salem to participate to this historical event. 
Our collective is deeply grateful to Senator Jackie Winters and House Speaker Tina Kotek for their commitment to honor the experience of former Vanport residents and preserve this history for generation to come!

On Tuesday May 30th Senator Jackie Winters and House Speaker Tina Kotek are the Chief Sponsors of Senate Concurrent Resolution 21, memorializing the 69th anniversary of the Vanport Flood

Ceremonies for SCR 21 will take place at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem. If you would like to join, please meet outside the Chamber of the House or Representatives no later than 10:30am. Courtesies will be given during the House Floor Session followed by a vote on the measure by the members of the Senate during the Senate Floor Session. Following the close of the Senate Floor Session a reception will be held in the foyer outside the Senate Chambers on the second floor of the Capitol.

Please RSVP to AmyBeth Stevens at 503-986-1444 or email

"New Negro Migrants Worry City" - The Oregonian, Sept. 1942

"On September 29, 1942 the Oregonian ran a front-page  headline that read "New Negro Migrants Worry City" and another Oregonian article reported that some Whites complained that the Kaiser Specials were "bringing in an army of Negro workers" that "Portland didn't want."... Shortly thereafter the Oregonian reported Mayor Earl Riley's claim that Portland can absorb only a minimum of Negros without upsetting the city's regular life."

Excerpt from "A Menace to the Neighborhood": Housing and African Americans in Portland, 1941-1945 - by Rudy Pearson
Oregon Historical Quarterly
Vol. 102, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), pp. 158-179
Published by: Oregon Historical Society

Vanport Mosaic Receives a Spirit of Portland Award!

On Tuesday, December 13, 2016, Portland’s City Council will recognize and celebrate the winners of the 32nd Annual Spirit of Portland Awards. Vanport Mosaic is so honored to be included among so many committed individuals and groups “who make outstanding contributions to our community.”

The Vanport Mosaic is a collective of artists, historians, educators, storytellers, activists, and media makers. We joined forces and contributed our individual projects and efforts to re-discover and properly honor an essential and often-forgotten chapter of Oregon’s past. It is one of the many that never made it into textbooks and official records, relegated to the margins of our collective memories. It is yet another causality of the dangerous tides of historical amnesia.

This award means so much to us, and we are grateful to Portland’s City Council, and particularly to Commissioner Nick Fish who chose this project. It is, first and foremost, an official validation that this history does matter.

For our community-driven, artists-led organization fueled by creativity and idealism, this prestigious award is an invitation to keep doing what we are doing. Together with a generous grant from the City Special Appropriation Fund and the support from more partners and funders that I can list here, it makes possible to dream bigger. It galvanizes our commitment to surface the silenced histories that make this place we call home what it is today. We will keep using the power of personal stories, arts, and dialogue, as an invitation to all of you to join us in envisioning and building the community we wish to become. The Vanport Mosaic Festival 2016 was a glimpse of that possibility. Over the course of the four days over 2000 Portlanders of any racial and gender identity, age, and socio-economic background gathered to explore the history of Vanport, the catalyst of the racial mosaic that now exists in Portland and the region.

This short doc produced by Natalie Smith/Blue Chalk captures the spirit of the Festival.

On May 27-30, 2016 we honored the experience of the diverse community that was formed in Vanport, and we shared the personal stories and different perspectives through oral histories screenings, theater and poetry performances, an exhibit, and tours of the historic sites. We invited historians as well as community experts who lived there to help us understand the legacy of what used to be Oregon’s second largest city, and how the past continues to influences city dynamics today.  We captured more memories with those generous enough to share them with us. We hosted a reunion for former Vanport residents, and had the privilege to witness their long-standing connections. Their friendships and ties born in a time of hardship and common hopes are unvaluable lessons in building a strong and resilient community. 

Former Vanport residents reunion at Vancouver Ave First Baptist Church. (Photos by Julie Keefe)

Former Vanport residents reunion at Vancouver Ave First Baptist Church. (Photos by Julie Keefe)

On May 30th, the 68th anniversary of the flood that wiped out their city, in a moving ceremony at City Hall, Portland’s Mayor Charles Hales read our Proclamation and officially declared a Vanport Day of Remembrance.

Representatives of the Vanport Mosaic with Mayor Charles Hales and Portland City Council declaring May 30th a Vanport Day of Remembrance.

Representatives of the Vanport Mosaic with Mayor Charles Hales and Portland City Council declaring May 30th a Vanport Day of Remembrance.

The driving force behind this truly grassroots on-going effort is our collective desire to honor our silenced local histories, celebrate resilience, and create opportunities to become the inclusive, diverse, and compassionate community we aspire to be.

In gratitude,
Story Midwife Laura Lo Forti, and the Vanport Mosaic Team

 Save the date for Vanport Mosaic Festival 2017, May 26-29, 2017!



Vanport Flood Aftermath: the chance for a new Portland

Published on June 7, 1948 - The Oregonian: Mr. and Mrs. Leonard C. Davis of 4608 N.E. 88th avenue didn't let race discrimination enter into their choice when the opened their home to victims of Vanport flood disaster. Here they chat over coffee with Mr. Bertha Freeman, who once lived at 2408 Cottonwood street. She was one of six displaced African Americans taken into Davis' home. January 14, 1963

Vanport Flood: the aftermath

Published on June 20, 1948 on the Oregonian: SCHOOL DAYS: The family of Albert Sheely is now living in a school room at Whitaker school. They lost their gas range, furniture and other effects in the flood. Sheely, who works for the Rose City cemetery, owns some acreage, but cannot build on it right now. He is hoping to get a tent so that his family may live on their land during emergency. The family has five small children and has lived in Portland for 14 years.

Scott Piper's memories: Vanport, City of The Future
Scott and his father in Vanport, around 1946.

Scott and his father in Vanport, around 1946.

We were in Ft. Leonard Wood Missouri at war's end, and dad said he saw a Vanport sign on a bus, City of the Future, and decided to take his last airplane ride in the Army with mom and me out to Oregon, and Vanport.  We were West Virginia people.

I was a toddler, but I remember driving out of the Vanport flood in 1948, and distinctly remember the shattered faces of the Vanport people working in the mud and debris, one of my earliest memories.  By 1948 and the Flood, we were a 4 person family, my younger brother David was born during our years at Vanport.  David lives today in north Clark county.

We settled in the Vancouver Heights across the Columbia in Vancouver after the Vanport flood, on the high ground above the old Kaiser shipyards, for 3 years, until dad was able to have a home built north of Vancouver in Hazel Dell, Clark County.

Phil Corson's memories of the Vanport Flood: "The dyke has broken, the dyke has broken!"

Dr. Phil Corson was ten years old and one of the first to discover the dike had broke. He sent his memories to the Vanport Mosaic, and we are thrilled to share them with you! We are continuing recording oral histories of those who lived in Vanport, but we are starting to gather and publish essays and written memories in an effort to honor everyone's story. If you need our support to record yours or your loved ones' memories, please drop us a line at

We were no different than hundreds of other families  who moved into Vanport so dad could work for Kaiser Shipyards. The war effort was humming at top speed with one Victory ship created every day.  I was little brother at age six in 1944 and the five of us moved into a tiny little two bedroom apartment and mom cooked on a two burner hotplate.  It was kinda funny, but we really didn't know that we were poor.

When I was nine, dad made ice carts for my big brother and me to carry 50 & 100 pound cakes of ice from the ice house to ice boxes in other apartments.  Once or twice I dumped one on the ground but I wasn't big enough to put it back in the cart.  Us kids played marbles, carved wooden rubber guns using strips of old tire tubes and when we played cowboys and indians we used sticky stripes of paper from Swifts Meat packing plant for our makeshift headdresses. 

 But my most vivid memory was of Memorial Day 1948 when Vanport, the second largest city in Oregon, disappeared under ten feet of water from the Columbia River.  It was flood season again and rumors were rampant that the dyke might not hold that year and the city would be flooded.   My adult uncle Tom was visiting from the east coast and we got on two bikes that beautiful Sunday afternoon to ride about a mile north to check on the condition of the dyke.  What I saw is with me today, imprinted on the mind of a ten year old.  The railroad track which was on top of the dyke was now hanging over a gaping hole in the dyke and water from the Columbia River was rushing in with great force.

 Uncle Tom and I sped back home yelling the dyke has broken, the dyke has broken!  I will never know how many believed a ten year old, but it gave my parents several minutes head start on the rush to drive out.  Mom made my older brother and me promise to take Spot, the dog of our out of town neighbors, and ride our bikes straight to our favorite gas station on Lombard Street.  When we rode up onto Interstate Road, we stood and looked back at the most enthralling scene two young boys could ever see.  The dozens of 14 unit apartment buildings were beginning to float around and crash into each other. Wow! What drama!  Finally, my brother said, let's go! I will never forget my frantic mother standing off the curb at the gas station on Lombard looking for her boys. 

Officials said only a couple dozen were killed by the flood that fateful day, but we know that there were many more than that.  Just in our unit alone, two wonderful older ladies were killed. Mrs. Wonderlin was invited by her neighbor upstairs to ride out the flood, but they were never seen alive again.  I have a VCR tape of footage taken from the air by a friend of our family.  The film was so good that Newsreel paid him to use it on national television.  If you would like to see it, let me know. After 68 years, the Vanport flood is still a vivid memory. 


Digging History: Oregon's First African Americans
Artwork by Jeremy Okai Davis/Portland Mercury

Artwork by Jeremy Okai Davis/Portland Mercury

From Portland Mercury, December 11, 2013 - Oregon's First African Americans , by Joe Streckert:

"Vanport's construction was of the cheap and temporary kind (the locals called the prefabricated dwellings "cracker-box houses"), and for much of the 1940s, Portland's first sizable black population was separated from the town proper by economics, administration, and the river. The town was destroyed by a flood in 1948, and many refugees from the disaster settled in the Albina neighborhood. More than 100 years after initial settlement, Portland finally had an African American population of appreciable size. The influx of that population didn't come about, though, because Portland had liberalized or become more open. Portland's first large black neighborhood materialized because a force of nature destroyed an industrial ghetto."

Digging History: Tanya Gossard on Vanport Childcare Centers

The Vanport Childcare centers are not the same childcare centers that Kaiser opened at the shipyards-common mistake so I had to get that out of the way. PPS put Kx2 classrooms in the community centers/childcare centers" in Guilds Lake and I assume at Vanport. Back to the question about the Helen Gordon Center building, that history is connected to Fruit and Flower. Fruit and Flower served the victims of the Vanport Flood in the trailers at Guild's Lake. This image I believe has alot to to with the professionalization of nursery staff and school staff-federal government had higher standards on training education for those jobs and had conflicts with PPS. ~ Dr.Tanya Gossard (seen on her Facebook page)

Whose Story is History? It’s time to teach students about Vanport. Start with our curriculum!

Did you learn about Vanport in school? I grew up an hour and a half’s drive from where Vanport stood and I certainly never learned about it until well after I moved to Portland, and I’m far from the only one.

The story of Vanport is that of an instant and diverse community, one which came together because of World War II, and of the residents of this city that appeared almost overnight, who built the ships that played a pivotal role in winning the war in the pacific.

Even here in Portland where we are so close to the site of this historically significant place, people are surprised to learn that Vanport even existed. We hear from people of all generations at screenings of our short documentaries and in our workshops that they have not been taught about this chapter of history.

We all are left wondering why history books and curricula don’t even mention what once was Oregon’s second-largest city, home to 40,000 people who, between 1942 and 1948, came from all over the country to build a new life.

If Oregonians have heard of Vanport, they usually only know that it was destroyed in a flood; the many visitors to Delta Park, the Portland International Raceway, and the Heron Lakes Golf Course have little reminder of the city that once stood on the land they walk on.

“People in Portland should be proud that our city did something in the war in the Pacific,” Professor James S. Harrison who teaches history at Portland Community College, told me recently.

“There is such a great void in leaving that [Vanport and Portland’s contribution to the war effort] out,” he says. He is committed to filling that emptiness and is writing a book about Vanport’s place in Portland’s history.

We are lucky enough to have several historians and educators like Professor Harrison as part of the Vanport Mosaic team, people who are determined to make this forgotten piece of history available to teachers and students. These members include Tatum Clinton-Selin who, after learning about Vanport and attending one of our free workshops, was so inspired that she decided to devote her Master’s thesis to creating a Vanport curriculum for high school students as a resource for the growing number of teachers who want to share this history with their students.

You can download it here:


While writing her curriculum, Tatum thought about how much she would have enjoyed learning about Vanport when she was in high school. With her younger self in mind, she has created a beautiful and approachable way to learn about Vanport that offers students and teachers primary and secondary source texts, including excerpts from one of our stories, as well as projects, essays and presentations; there’s even an option for students to get involved in our on-going oral history project. 

Great endeavors are always the fruit of strong collaborations, and our Mosaic needs all the pieces that make up our beautiful community. So, a heartfelt thank you to Tatum for creating this curriculum and making it available here; to Concordia University Professor of Education Shawn Daley, and Amy Platt and Denise Brock  at the Oregon Historical Society, for their feedback; to Professor Harrison for his continued guidance; and finally, a note of gratitude to all of you who will share the history of Vanport with the young people in your life. Please drop us a line, here as a comment or at, if you use Tatum’s curriculum, or if you created your own and would like to offer it to the community.


Meredith Lawrence

Meredith is a journalist and multimedia producer with a background in narrative storytelling and education reporting. She's been part of the Vanport Mosaic since its inception, teaching multimedia production skills in our workshops, and producing several short documentaries based on oral histories interviews to Vanport former residents. Learn more about her here:



Vanport children gathered around maypole playground structure for photo publicizing efforts of Vanport citizens to raise funds for a summer recreation.

Names of children, from left to right : Nathaniel Hooper, Elgina Wholford, Ailene Akiyama, Robert Weitzel, Roger Dunn, MacAruthur School PTA youth organization and recreation committee chairman Mrs Edward Walters and Roosevelt School PTA president Mrs Marionne Hecker