Remembering Sally, "the Person, Not the Building"

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

This is one of Central City Concern’s favorite photos of Sally McCracken, a founding board member of ours who died last month. The photo is from 2010 when we honored Sally and longtime board president Dean Gisvold, at our annual luncheon.

The luncheon also featured a story about a successful client, Felton Howard. We showed a video about Felton’s life that included a reference to his time spent as a resident of the Sally McCracken building. After the video, Felton came to the podium to say a few words. Although he had prepared remarks, he first stammered out his absolute amazement to learn about the existence of Sally McCracken. “I’m so glad to meet the real Sally McCracken,” he said, gazing over at her. “I never knew there was an actual person! To me, it was only the building.”

No one laughed harder than Sally herself who, for years, would call Central City Concern and state: “This is Sally McCracken, the person, not the building.”

The building in question is, of course, the Sally McCracken on NW Sixth Avenue and Everett. Before CCC purchased the building, it was a notorious old flop house known as the Athens Hotel. We renovated it and reopened it in October 1991 as the Sally McCracken. It took significant persuasion to convince Sally to allow us to name the building after her but finally, she consented yet insisted we not use neon in the sign. (We didn’t.) It was CCC’s first alcohol and drug free residential space and has been a safe haven for nearly 1,500 individuals to date.

After the luncheon in 2010, the awareness of the “real” Sally McCracken swept through the building after staff posted the photo of Sally and Dean on a lobby bulletin board with a cheerful caption, hand written with a thick marker: “The REAL Sally McCracken!”

Sally’s history with CCC runs long and deep. (We detailed what she did for CCC in a 2010 blog post.) As a founding board member, and strong advisor to our early Executive Directors, she was key to many conversations of what the core mission of CCC should be.  At her memorial service this weekend, past Executive Director Richard Harris recalled how it was Sally who urged the organization to go beyond managing the city’s “drunk tank” and providing a little housing to becoming a real service-provider that could offer what people needed to truly reclaim their lives. It was a massive leap and daunting endeavor but Sally’s confidence and passion coaxed the board to go forward.

The obituary in the Oregonian beautifully accounted for all of Sally’s volunteerism in the state of Oregon – it’s worth a read and we think you’ll be left speechless at the number of organizations Sally aided during her life.  She retired from Central City Concern’s board in 1990 though she remained an active supporter of the agency along with her late husband, Paul.

CCC has spent the past few weeks reflecting on Sally’s many gifts to our agency and community and we found a few, lesser-known facts that made us smile:

  • Sally was a frequent host to early CCC board meetings where the agenda included a gentle reminder to bring a dish to pass and a swimsuit for a dip in the pool after the meeting.
  • Sally was identified in an early list of board members as “housewife, civic leader and member of several social service committees.”
  • Sally favored “The Sally Mac” as the name for her building.
  • Sally was an avid and skilled fly fisherwoman and made 70 trips to a favorite spot in Canada.
  • Sally hated to be late and she would only accept a ride to an event with you if you promised to pick her up early enough to ensure an on-time arrival.
  • Sally and her son John watched the 1991 video from the inauguration of the Sally McCracken building just a few weeks ago. Her son, Peter, had recorded the video. At the memorial service, John recounted how the building still made her proud because she believed that, with the right help, everyone had the potential to overcome addictions and poverty.

In the past weeks, tenants of the Sally McCracken have joined the CCC community in expressing their condolences to her family. It seems fitting that once again, her photo is up in the lobby of the building that bears her name – a reminder for all to remember Sally McCracken, the person, not the building.

Sally’s family has requested that remembrances be made to the Paul and Sally McCracken Fund at the Oregon Community Foundation or to Central City Concern.