|Dean and Molly Westbrook
MT. ANGEL - In 1994 Dean and Molly Westbrook moved their family of six from a large, comfortable home in the upscale Eastmoreland neighborhood of Portland to a tiny, 1,000-square-foot, rustic house outside of Mount Angel.
Like many of the events in their life together, the Westbrooks look back on this drastic change as purely divine providence.
"It was the Holy Spirit," Molly said candidly. "Dean came into the (Catholic) Church that year. I looked around and saw what life was like in the fast lane and I thought there must be something better."
They believe they found that "better" life in Mount Angel, and their 16 years here has borne much fruit, as the Westbrooks, prompted by their strong religious faith, have given an enormous amount back to the community.
St. Joseph's Dinner
St. Joseph the Worker Dinner
Sunday, May 2
St. Mary Parish Hall
Tickets to the prime rib dinner $50
Sponsored tables for eight $500
5 p.m. social hour, silent auction
One of the many recipients of their volunteer efforts has been St. Joseph Shelter, and on May 2 the Westbrooks will be honored with the St. Joseph the Worker Achievement Award at the sixth annual Shelter Dinner.
Since meeting shelter co-founders Sr. Adele Mansfield and Sr. Terry Hall, as well as current co-director Sr. Marcella Parish, the Westbrooks have constantly given of their time, talent and treasure to the shelter.
Dean has set up computer networks there and they have both worked regular stints at the reception desk, answering the phones, greeting visitors, and assisting residents.
Molly has worked at Mission Benedict, giving food baskets to families. They even helped cook at the shelter, when the regular cook took a leave of absence.
"We were so impressed with the shelter," Molly said. "The shelter is so important because they take in whole families and don't divide them up. You know, there but for the grace of God go I . . . it is truly a great cause to support."
In addition, the Westbrooks have been deeply involved with the schools, St. Mary's Parish and the city. Molly's striking murals are on walls all over town and Dean helped to create a college scholarship endowment fund for Kennedy High School students in memory of their daughter, Kate, who died in 1997 in a car crash.
Following the loss of their daughter, Dean and Molly began taking in special needs foster children for the state. Over a span of five years, they provided a home and family for 21 children, usually taking in two or three at a time.
About half of the children they had were infants, and all of them needed a great deal of attention. Molly credited their youngest daughter, Georgia, with being an incredible help in this venture, and said she never accepted a child without getting Georgia's approval first.
The Westbrooks also have enjoyed a special bond with the Hispanic community in Mount Angel, which stems in part from Molly's creation of an English as Second Language class for Spanish-speaking adults.
"We've had lasting friendships with the Hispanic community from those years," Molly said. As if on cue, Dean produced a resumé for one man they met through the ESL program. He is currently looking for work after losing his job of 10 years due to the economic downturn, and Dean is helping him in his job search.
It is hard to have a conversation with the Westbrooks, without talking about someone they have helped, or are in the process of helping.
Dean has worked to make it possible for several families at St. Joseph Shelter to get into their own homes as renters and homeowners.
They are both very proud that one of the families they helped get a home in turn helped another homeless family to move from the shelter. The couple knows that one good deed leads to another, and that good things can come from times of personal struggles.
They recall how difficult it was for their older children, Kate and Mark, to leave their friends and comfortable lives in Portland for the unknown world of Mount Angel.
"The kids were shell-shocked," Molly recalled. "After we told them about the move, I said you have 48 hours to scream, yell, whatever, and then it's done." Eventually, Kate, Mark, and Nancy Jo thanked their parents for moving the family to Mount Angel.
Molly believes that the year they moved "was the year we got our act together as a family." Dean recalled that Molly was so convinced the move to Mount Angel was right that she enrolled the children in school before he had even agreed to the move. He said it didn't bother him, though.
"There's only two people I can't say 'no' to," Dean said. "God is one and Molly is the other."