Moths, 1943

Two girls dressed as moths, 1943. This image comes from one of Dorothea Lensch’s scrapbooks. Lensch served at the Director of Recreation from 1937 to 1973. As the first Director of Recreation, she revitalized the Parks Department by expanding existing programming and developing new programs that included the arts, dance, and other forms of play. During a time of economic, political, and social upheaval, as well substantial growth within the City of Portland, Lensch was a leader within the community by promoting her belief that recreation was central to a strong and healthy community.


City of Portland (OR) Archives, A2001-013.7.


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4 thoughts on “Moths, 1943

  1. I remember Dorothea Lensch as the master of ceremonies at the evening programs presented in Washington Park’s Rose Garden Theater every August in the 1950s and early ’60s. She always wore a white suit, often with a red rose in her lapel. Ms. Lensch was a tall, impressive woman with a very positive attitude. We all adored her! To us kids she was the Park Bureau. What a cute picture! Perhaps these girls were in one of the youth pageants presented in the outdoor theater with children from parks all over Portland.

  2. Dorothea Lensch certainly touched a lot of people in her long life of ninety-three years.
    It would seem fitting to commemorate her contribution to the community and good life by naming a street after her or something. I for one would find a Lensch Parkway much more meaningful a name than say, Naito. Politicians in suits and wealthy citizens looking for tax breaks are certainly overrepresented in this regard.

  3. From the Oregonian, October 19, 1943 (p. 17): “PARTY TALKS [I]NTEREST: Portland parent-teacher members are interested in the “party clinic” to be conducted Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at the YMCA by Miss Dorothea Lensch, recreation director for the Portland park bureau, in which Halloween parties for children will receive considerable attention. Each association in the city has been invited to send a representative to the meeting to collect ideas that could be used in their own schools and neighborhoods for Halloween parties.”

  4. Dorothea M. Lensch, the grand dame of Portland parks who expanded recreation programs and facilities to include the arts, music and drama, died Thursday. She was 92.

    Lensch was a Portland native who circulated as comfortably among the upper crust of the West Hills as she did among low-income families for whom she fought to expand recreational opportunities. She was the city’s first recreation director, serving from 1936 to 1972.

    “She was a huge, huge figure for Portland parks, and she always will be,” said the Parks Bureau’s deputy director, David Judd. “She was the creator of many of the programs you still see today.”

    During her tenure, the city increased its number of community centers from two to 18, and she lobbied for adding many nontraditional facilities such as the Community Music Center, Pittock Mansion and the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center. Lensch also introduced summer outdoor concerts to Washington Park.

    Although Lensch was an enthusiast of tennis and modern dance herself, she developed recreation programs in theater, music and the arts at the same time she pushed for more ballfields, gymnasiums and recreational sports teams.

    “She had no children of her own,” Judd said, “so she created programs that served an ever-increasing, vast number of kids. She was the grand dame of Portland Parks and Recreation, and she always will be.”

    After retiring in 1972, Lensch continued to be active in community activities, serving on the boards of many educational and cultural organizations, including the Portland Opera Association, Chamber Music Northwest, Japanese Garden, the Eugene Opera, the Portland State University Foundation and the 40-Mile Loop Trail. She also was a founder of the Children’s Museum.

    Lensch served as a member of the Regional Arts and Culture Council as recently as two years ago, when she quit because of declining health.

    In a retirement interview in 1972, Lensch summarized her public recreation strategy: “Our philosophy, then and now, was that there be in recreation a blending of physical, cultural and social programs, community centers and playgrounds.”

    Lensch was born Oct. 5, 1907, in Portland. She graduated from Grant High School and received a bachelor’s degree in physical education from the University of Oregon. She later added a master’s from Wellesley College and a doctorate from Oregon.

    After teaching stints at Rockford College in Rockford, Ill., and George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Lensch returned to Portland in 1936, when she joined the Parks Bureau.

    She also returned to her parents’ home in the Alameda neighborhood of Northeast Portland. She resided there until three years ago, when she broke a hip in a fall while gardening.

    Among her early duties as city recreation director, Lensch developed programs for the Vanport area, which was built to house World War II ship-building workers. As she did throughout her career, she promoted sports activities for girls and encouraged racial integration.

    Lensch paid special attention to children with mental and physical disabilities and low-income families as she developed programs throughout the city.

    “We still have what we call the ‘Dorothea factor’ around here,” Judd said. “When we look at how much we should charge for activities, we always ask what Dorothea would have wanted. She wanted to be sure we weren’t pricing low-income families out of anything.”

    Throughout much of her career, Lensch raised money from private and charitable sources to pay for programs she started.

    Lensch developed a wide reputation in public recreation circles. The U.S. State Department sent her on a mission to Germany after World War II to help establish recreation programs, and she later served on another government-sponsored mission to Australia.

    After retiring at 65, Lensch maintained a hands-on interest in many activities, including giving tours at Portland’s Japanese Garden and serving refreshments at theatrical and musical events.

    She received numerous awards during the years. The most recent was her induction this year into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. In 1981 she won the George Russill Community Service Award for her work for the community’s benefit. She also received the Aubrey Watzek Award from Lewis & Clark College.

    Oregonian, The (Portland, OR) – July 29, 2000

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