Elena Rodriguez Lorenzo was born on March 18, 1932, in Havana, Cuba.
Her father Emilio emigrated to Cuba from Spain in 1916, and married Luisa in 1928. Elena was their second child. In the Latin tradition, Elena took her father's surname, followed by her mother's family name.
Cubans stress education. Elena completed her schooling at Our Lady of Lourdes College. Excelling at numbers and details, she gained employment in bookkeeping. Including at Peleteria California, a fashionable Havana shoe store. (Her sense of style was already emerging - so spending her pay to buy shoes from the store was not unheard of!)
Castro took over Cuba in early 1959. It soon became clear that he would impose communism on her country. Like many other Cubans, Elena deeply loved her homeland – but she could not abide living without freedom.
On February 2, 1961, at the age of 28, Elena flew from Havana to Miami. Unable to find work there, it wasn't very long before she was offered a job by Father Morton Park – in far-away Oregon! Where she would work for Catholic Charities, initially on the “Pedro Pan” program – the Flights to Freedom of Cuban children, to the United States.
On March 25, 1961, Elena boarded a train for Portland. She often told vivid stories of her long 4-days trip through the heart of America, and how huge and how different it all seemed to this girl from a tropical Isle! Her coming to Oregon was a big deal, and the newspapers greeted her at the station. Mark Hatfield was scheduled to be there also– but sadly her train was late, and she missed out on a handshake from Oregon's Governor.
After the Bay of Pigs and Cuban missile crises, it became clear that Castro was not going away soon. Elena settled into her new life in Portland. She became an American citizen and made many new friends. She sponsored the immigration of her parents, as well as her brother and his family, who all settled in Portland. She bought a home in Oswego, and was married for a time. She lovingly cared for her mother and then her father, during their final years.
After a long time at Catholic Charities, Elena moved on. Through Susan Jerstad – a chance acquaintance who became a life-long friend – she found bookkeeping work. At her niece's wedding, Elena chanced to meet another Cuban-American, Rolando Parajon – as she later put it, “He is the son I would have wished for.” They became devoted to each other for life. Elena made several big trips with Rolando and his family, including to Miami and Greece. And Rolando always looked out for her.
Elena had hobbies, especially sewing and exquisite handwork. She could work wonders with needle, thread, and cloth – even making her own lace by hand! She often gifted family and friends with her beautiful creations. She also did volunteer work at Catholic grade schools, and Albertina Kerr.
Elena eventually retired, and in 2015 moved to Calaroga Terrace. She was happy there, once again making new friendships and becoming the Queen of Bingo. Gradually, though she fought the good fight, Elena's health declined. The Lord brought her home on March 1, 2020 – just seventeen days short of her 88th birthday.
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