Within the halls of a small church in Redmond, Ken Cardwell held a memorial to remember three people society often tried to forget.
Their names were Sharon, Robert and Henry, who everyone knew as “Hawk.” Cardwell, a 73-year-old retired math teacher turned minister, met them while bringing water, fuel and other essentials to homeless camps in the shrub and juniper trees on the outskirts of Redmond.
Cardwell shared only their first names when he mourned them last Wednesday at the Church of God Seventh Day, in part to honor requests for privacy, but also because some last names could not be confirmed.
Instead of photographs, his friends were remembered with three vases of roses and sunflowers.
And in the pews sat roughly 30 people. Friends, former partners and service providers, who, without this memorial, would not have had a chance to properly say goodbye.
“We’re honoring these three people today because you’ve not been able to go to the memorials,” Cardwell said. “Now is your time.”
Over the past 10 years, Cardwell has provided services that most people take for granted to a community that lives on society’s fringes. He has held memorials, led a prayer at someone’s death bed and officiated a wedding.
In these acts, Cardwell seeks to give dignity to the people he has served in the scattered homeless camps of Redmond since 2007. To Cardwell, they are not only the homeless. They’re friends.
“I might not always be the best minister,” Cardwell said after the service. “But I’m their minister.”
Cardwell, who has lived in Central Oregon since 1972 and served as a minister since the 1990s, said he has done memorial services for homeless residents in Redmond when he is asked by friends or family to hold them.
A grandfather who serves as a minister for Community of Christ church in Redmond, Cardwell said he got involved with homeless outreach more than a decade ago because he enjoyed building relationships with the people and the feeling he could help them in some way.
He also has a background in wilderness training, which comes in handy when helping people who are camping on the outskirts of town without amenities like water and electricity.
Usually memorials are for individuals, but after three people in the homeless community died this summer, it was decided it was best to do one group ceremony, said Bob Bohac, who works with the homeless outreach nonprofit organization Jericho Road and helped organize the memorial.
This many people dying in a summer is unusual, he said.
“It’s been a difficult summer,” Bohac said.
The memorial came about after a partner of one of the deceased mentioned to Bohac that his family did not invite her, or other friends from the camps, to a previous memorial service.
Bohac, who has known and worked with the individuals for years, said his best guess for their causes of death lies with chronic illnesses. Service providers estimated they were all in their sixties.
“I think the general public needs to know life out there is really hard,” he said.
Sharon was a heavy smoker, and Bohac was told by others she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She had been living in an RV at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds two weeks before her death, but had to move before rental rates went up for the summer, Bohac said.
Robert and Hawk both had heart problems, Bohac said. Robert died amid a heat wave in July, Bohac said. Hawk, who service providers estimated to be in his 60s as well, died roughly six weeks ago.
Over the course of an hour Wednesday, pieces of the lives of Sharon, Robert and Hawk were shared.
Kerry Gillette, a physician’s assistant who serves the homeless population through Mosaic Medical’s Mobile Clinic, learned and performed the songs: “The Dance” by Garth Brooks and “Slow Ride” by Foghat. They were the favorite songs of two of the deceased, so Gillette decided to learn them.
Margaret King, a service provider with Jericho Road, said Sharon always greeted everyone as “sweetie.” She loved to read, and always asked for books when King would bring supplies to her camp.
Tim Fairbanks, a previous partner of Sharon’s, said she was stubborn and strong willed. They moved to Central Oregon from the Eugene area. She was short, had glasses, long dark hair and a deep voice, Fairbanks said. Despite not ending on the best of terms, Fairbanks was thankful for the memorial so he had a chance to say goodbye.
“I do miss her,” he said after the service.
Stubborn was also the word friends used to describe Hawk, who had been living on Bureau of Land Management land outside of Redmond for the past five years, according to his former partner, Jenny Gall.
He loved music, and going on long walks with his three dogs. He was known for wearing colorful bandanas, and was a veteran who served during the Vietnam War, Gall said.
Gall remembers feeling frustrated when he had an opportunity for housing but didn’t take it.
“He wasn’t willing to go anywhere without his dogs,” she said.
Robert was more private, according to several at the memorial. King, of Jericho Road, remembered him as polite and gentle. He took only what he needed when non profits would come to the camps with supplies. He was known for his home, lovingly referred to as the “pallet palace,” and his garden of tomato plants he would grow in old tires.
“(The memorial) was good closure for me,” King said after the service. “You get used to seeing folks every Friday and then, all of a sudden, you don’t see them.”
In the reception after the service, Cardwell couldn’t help but struggle to reconcile his fond memories of the people he just memorialized with the negative rhetoric he has heard from Redmond residents — and even the city council — when it comes to the homeless population.
“A lot of people are afraid of them. They act like they are really different in a certain way, that they don’t want anything to do with them,” he said. “They’re just people on the outs.”
Cardwell gets pushback from his friends and other people in the community about his work. Why does he continue to help people who don’t have jobs? Or won’t help themselves?
Sometimes Cardwell wonders why he keeps doing the work himself. But the answer comes down to one simple reality.
“These are real people, and they are grieved after they pass away,” Cardwell said.