Monday, May 18, 2015

Orphaned children stay together with help from local service clubs

Janet Goon was determined to keep her family together.

Janet, just 18 years old and a Pendleton High School senior in 1970, became the head of the household in February of that year when her mother died after a two-year battle with cancer and her father, deeply depressed over the death of his wife, apparently took his own life. With the help of a guardian, Roberta Furlong, Janet found a small house where she could take care of her siblings Dennis, 16, Lydia, 10, and Garry, 5. Another sibling, Ruby, 12, lived with her godmother in Canada.

The family home on Southwest Goodwin Avenue had been damaged by a fire and was falling down. Furlong found a little house the Goons could rent, bought some used appliances and helped the family get settled. Janet participated in a head start program for parents over the summer where she learned to sew, got good nutrition advice in cooking, and learned to swim.

By October Janet was attending Blue Mountain Community College on a scholarship, working toward a career in computers. At home, she was in charge of the cooking, making sure her siblings were getting their homework done and taking care of the laundry. Every child did their share, even Garry, whose talent was folding sacks.

The struggling family lived on Social Security benefits and eventually veteran’s benefits, but were determined to avoid welfare, which would split the siblings up into foster homes. So the Pendleton Jaycees and the Veterans of Foreign Wars stepped in to help the Goons. Volunteers, including boys from the Umatilla County Boys Ranch, organized a huge rummage sale and auction for the benefit of the Goon children that brought in almost $1,100.

An email from the wife of Janet’s son Samuel Catherson tells the rest of her story. Janet joined the Army and became a special investigator for San Francisco, and a martial arts master. She had two sons, who were 12 and 15 when she passed away in 1993 from cancer. Her sons went to live with their father after their mother’s death, and both eventually served in the Army as well. Samuel read his mother's story in a faded copy of the original East Oregonian article on May 8, 2015 — 21 years after her death — when the family received a box of her belongings that had been “lost” for years.

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