Aug 4 2014

Gus DindiaHere is another sample from the collection of Kennedy School biographies we've compiled for the lodging rooms in the original school building. This one's really got some wild and unexpected Mc connections.

Gus Dindia and his family hold a special place in the McMenamins’ realm, not only because Gus served well and faithfully as Kennedy School’s final principal, but also because of his connections, direct and indirect, to other McMenamins’ locations, past and present.

Gus’s dad and uncle came to Portland in the late 1890s as young men fresh from their native Italy, starting and soon rising in the local produce industry. Gus’s cousin then went on to build the family business into a large distribution company, called Pioneer Fruit, located at Southeast 2nd Avenue & Alder Street, and was instrumental in developing that area into Portland’s expansive East Side produce district. Decades later, in 1974, and right in that very spot, Mike McMenamin opened his first pub, which he called Produce Row.

Gus and his wife, Joan, were themselves part of another important McMenamins’ “first.” In May 1983, Mike and younger brother Brian opened their first pub together, marking the start of McMenamins Pubs. Called the Barley Mill, it’s housed in a one-story, concrete commercial building at Southeast 17th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard, that Gus’ father purchased in the ’50s, and which subsequently passed along to Gus and Joan. So when the McMenamin brothers debuted the Barley Mill, their landlords were the Dindias, and still are in 2014!

Another Dindia-McMenamins connection: During the late 1940s, a branch of Gus’s family operated the storied Club Mecca, a celebrated place where cops went to discover which hoodlums were in town and everyone else went for a good night of eating, drinking & gambling. This legendary downtown Portland joint was transformed in 2011 into Café Zeus, the main eatery at McMenamins Crystal Hotel.

And then, of course, the one last link is that Gus Dindia was called upon to be last principal of Kennedy Elementary. Dindia’s service at Kennedy School only lasted a year and a half, from January 1974 through June 1975, but it was a difficult and emotional time for students and staff alike, as the school had been earmarked for closure due to budget concerns and declining enrollment. Gus’s upbeat, calm, and approachable qualities were perfect for leading this somber finale.

A lifelong educator, Gus began teaching in the late 1940s in various Portland area schools, and then in the late ’60s, moved into administration. He was dedicated to his profession, even participating in an educational case study while he was principal at nearby Rice Elementary, a published work entitled The Effects of Laboratory Training on Elementary School Principals: An Evaluation (1969).

Even before starting his career in education, Gus had learned much about patience and working calmly amidst chaos while serving in the Navy during World War II. In 1943, at age 20, Dindia was navigator, helmsman and signalman on a landing craft that transported U. S. infantry to and from beaches in the South Pacific. Incredibly, his convoy sustained 83 attacks and three typhoons.

So, in 1974, Gus brought not only useful life perspectives but also more than a quarter century of teaching experience to his position at Kennedy School. The School District had such confidence in Dindia that they concurrently made him principal of Rigler Elementary, another northeast Portland school.

At Kennedy, Gus definitely didn’t want to merely oversee the dismantling, packing up and closing down process. He knew the dedicated staff and students deserved better. “We’re really trying to put all the meaning we can into this year,” he said at the time. “If a doctor comes to you and tells you [that] you have a year to live, what would you do? You make the most of it!” And he saw to it that the most was made. Students of that last year fondly recall Gus’s pleasant and watchful presence around the school, greeting students, patrolling the halls and observing classrooms, and preparing them all for the transition to other schools the following year.


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