Nancy Crawford is trying to adapt to life without Tauno Alanko.
Each time she visits Magda’s Adult Care in Vancouver to teach art classes there, she still thinks she’ll share an embrace with Alanko. The Magda’s resident died on Memorial Day at age 99 after endearing himself to the staff who took care of him.
“I want to give Tauno a hug, and he’s gone,” Crawford said. “I know he’s in heaven. I know that he’s saved, but I miss him terribly.”
Crawford spent part of Thursday in the entryway at Three Creeks Community Library in Vancouver, informing inquisitive passersby of who Alanko was, and why he had his paintings of birds in a small display near the library’s front doors. Alanko, along with his fellow residents at Magda’s, spent the past year painting with Crawford. The adult care home honored those residents with an art show that doubled as a tribute to Alanko.
“I get to tell them about Tauno,” Crawford said.
Alanko’s son Gary Alanko, 70, attended the art show, and said his dad loved to engage folks with stories of his childhood on a La Center farm and tales from the sea. Alanko sailed for the Merchant Marine on the S.S. Star of Oregon, one of the first three Liberty ships built in the U.S. and the first to be launched off the West Coast.
According to Columbian archives, the Star of Oregon was on a zigzag course in the Caribbean in 1942 after taking on cargo in South Africa. Suddenly, a German undersea boat, or U-boat, torpedoed the ship. One person died, but Alanko and 51 shipmates survived, squeezing into four lifeboats. The U-boat surfaced, and the German commander asked if everyone had gotten off the Star of Oregon, before asking a few more questions.
“Have a good voyage, boys,” Alanko, in a 2012 Columbian story, recalled the commander saying.
Mera Cosgrove teaches an exercise class at Magda’s called Sit and Be Fit. Cosgrove is certified to work with senior residents through the Functional Aging Institute, and said the art class brings a lively, more youthful environment to Magda’s. Cosgrove explained that the class gives residents a chance to “wake up” the creative parts of their brain.
“The brain tends to slow down, and you stop learning, and that accelerates the aging process,” Cosgrove said. “Getting to draw out things on paper, and to express yourself uses parts of the brain that create an anti-aging effect. It helps you stay youthful.”
Crawford said residents usually surprise themselves with how good their artwork turns out. Crawford said it’s satisfying for them and that she’s her grateful for the opportunity.
“I want them to know that they are still important,” Crawford said. “That there’s still life left in them.”
Gary Alanko said his father was good at relating to others and enjoyed Magda’s art class.
“It’s fun to see what they do,” said Gary Alanko, who still has his father’s art from previous years. “Nancy is tremendous at finding ways to challenge them in a way they can still enjoy the art.”