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A Little-known Oregon Artist Passes On

December 14th, 2007 -- If you are in your Sixties, and began your journey in the Portland area, you remember his work.  Not that you ever knew his name: Paul Srofe.  But, most likely, you knew and loved his work.  Before television in the 1940's, it was a Christmas family tradition to visit downtown stores at night so that the kids could see the holiday department store windows.  Meier and Frank, Lippman Wolf and others during that WWII era turned their sidewalk windows into miniature landscapes.  Railroad trains, tiny forested mountains, beautiful little towns and farms, and so forth.  If memory serves, there was a competition involved, and awards given out.

Paul Srofe no doubt won some of those awards for his M&F windows, but more importantly added to the richness of the season, delighting thousands of kids, including me.  It was decades later that by accident I found out the name of the artist who made those wonderful displays.  His daughter, Chris, became a Jantzen model and married a friend I made in the advertising business -- the Dutch commercial photographer who chose Oregon as his home, Sjef Wildschut.  (Shef Vildskoot)

Oregon attracts artists, for whatever reasons.  I've met a great many during my six-plus decades here.  One of the best was a man whose name I didn't even know for most of my life.  He made displays for store windows that sent the imagination of children soaring.

Here's the obit provided by the former Jantzen model:
 

Paul Hylton Srofe, our beloved father, grandfather and friend passed away peacefully on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2007.  He spent his last two months living on his daughter's farm in Helvetia being loved and cared for by his children, grandchildren and friends.

Paul was born Feb. 7, 1921 in Tabernash, Colo.  He moved to Oregon as a toddler with his parents, Jesse Hal and Irene Srofe, and his brother, Hal.  He attended Fernwood Grade School and Benson High School, where he was stage manager for their many productions.  In 1941 he worked at the Oregon Shipyards in Portland building Liberty Ships (one every 24 hours) for World War II, and was proudly the youngest foreman on the crew at age 20.

He married Bernis Johanna Sacarisen on April 16, 1942, and served in the U.S. Coast Guard for three years being discharged in 1945. 

He then took a position at Meier & Frank Co., as a window trimmer and retired in 1986 as assistant display manager for the downtown Portland store after 40 years of service to the company.  He was responsible for all of the store displays including the fashion  extravaganzas of the 1960s, the very memorable animated windows, Santaland, and the live animal windows which drew hundreds of Portlanders downtown each year to view from the sidewalk. 

He was widowed in 1977 and never remarried but spent his retirement years carving, painting, gardening, helping neighbors, traveling with family, working on his daughter's farm, and spending time with his four children, Sandra Srofe, Chris Srofe Wildschut, Tim Srofe and Kelly Srofe.

He leaves behind his four children; daughters-in-law, Susan Srofe and Janice Rothenberger; grandchildren, Heidi Sullivan, Rein Wildschut, Paul Srofe and Ken Srofe; great-grandchildren, Quinn Wildschut and Esme Wildschut; and extended family and friends.  There will be a gathering of friends and family to celebrate his life after the holidays.

He will be sorely missed by all of us and we're grateful for his love, support, and gracious life. "You betcha....." 

Charitable contributions to Defenders of Wildlife and Washington County Hospice. Arrangements Entrusted to: Springer and Son Aloha Funeral Home 503-356-1000

So long, Paul.  I hope they have display windows for you up there.

(LL)

© 2007 Oregon Magazine