Next-door neighbors of 70 years die within 2 days

PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) Jo Hodgdon and Evelyn Pulse lived next door to each other for more than 70 years, chatting across the fence as they gardened or hung laundry. Their children 11 in all played together. Their husbands shoveled each other's walks.

The bond stayed strong as their children moved out into the world to start their own families and, eventually, the women lost their husbands. As the friends' health declined, both insisted on remaining at home.

This month, they died a mere two days apart, first Evelyn and then Jo.

"They were neighbors in life and neighbors in death," said Loretta Stewart, one of Pulse's daughters. "They had an unspoken bond. They watched out for each other."

Their families gathered in Pendleton, attending both memorial services.

They weren't friends in the traditional sense, say their children. They didn't get together for coffee, shopping or lunch. Instead, they minded each other's children, exchanged gardening tips and recipes or chatted at numerous neighborhood birthday parties.

Evelyn's death on May 11 came as a shock. The 94-year-old had some dementia and other health issues, but still walked regularly. On the day she died, she kibitzed with neighbors Richard and Lee Crosby, neighborhood newbies who had moved in 43 years earlier.

Richard said he and Evelyn had a routine of exchanging light-hearted insults and banter when they retrieved their mail.

"It was all a bunch of baloney," he said, smiling. "Friday (May 10) was no different."

As was typical, instead of going back into her house, she continued on, walking around the block for exercise. The next morning, Evelyn's youngest daughter, Edie Allstott, found her mother in the backyard strawberry patch, surrounded by the flowers she loved.

Jo died two days later at age 90. She had grown extremely frail, surviving a rough bout of pneumonia in August. Her youngest daughter, Patty Alexander, had earlier moved in to care for her mom.

Having the two women depart only two days apart has left the women's neighbors and families feeling dazed.

The neighborhood is quiet of late.

During earlier years of child-raising, the block on Southeast 17th Street had throbbed with activity. The 20-plus children on the block, including the Hodgdons' five, Pulses' six and the Crosbys' five, rode bikes, threw rocks in the river, flew kites, played football and had campouts in one backyard or another. The kids spent plenty of time at the Little League field around the corner where Jo and Lloyd Hodgdon ran the concession stand.

The children formed their own lasting bonds. David Hodgdon, now a Baptist minister in Rome, Italy, has a lifelong friend in Richard Pulse.

"We went from playing Tonka trucks in the sandbox to drag racing on the freeway," David said, adding, "before it was finished." That was a story for another day.

David said his mother early on expressed a desire to move from their cramped home with its four bedrooms and one tiny bathroom. Over the years, she changed her tune.

"Where do you find better neighbors?" she said, whenever the subject came up.

David said his mother and Evelyn shared the ability to stay cool in emotional situations. Both, Stewart added, were fiercely independent early risers who ruled the roost.

"Both were stoic, but enjoyed life immensely," David said. "They were calm, cool and collected. Blood didn't bother them a whole lot."

Evelyn, said Stewart, maintained an hourglass figure that had caught the eye of hunky, 6-foot-4 George Pulse in 1934. George, a biplane pilot and Caterpillar mechanic, had flown his bride to La Grande in 1936 for their wedding. Evelyn worked in Pendleton school kitchens and volunteered, along with Jo, at the Umatilla County Historical Society and the Community Bargain Counter. Both women attended the First Christian Church.

Jo, who worked in the commercial printing field for 25 years, somehow found the time to sew her daughters' wedding dresses and hunt deer with Lloyd. She cooked and canned and played a mean game of Canasta.

And so it went over the years. They experienced the joy and bruises of life together.

Until last week.

David Hodgdon can't quite believe they are both gone.

"It's like fiction," he said. "It was like Adams and Jefferson dying on the same day 50 years after signing the Declaration of Independence."

"We dreaded the day we would lose those two," said neighbor Lee Crosby. "We loved them dearly."