Remo Minato came into the world in a way that would suit a character in a novel, his parents naming him after the hotel where he was born more than 90 years ago.
The couple lived in Chiloquin, a town incorporated on a Native American reservation in southern Oregon. Anselmo Minato had come to Oregon from Italy in 1914, joining other Italians who’d settled in Chiloquin, many moving north from California. He enlisted in the U.S. Army, fought in France during World War I and for that earned his American citizenship. He returned to Italy, fell in love with a woman and started a family.
In the late 1920s, he left Italy and returned to Chiloquin, later sending for his wife, Maria, and their three children. They traveled from Italy to New York by boat and then by train to Oregon, finally arriving in Chiloquin. Eventually, all of them became U.S. citizens.
When they learned they were going to have another child, Anselmo and Maria Minato, old-school Italians, were adamant that only an Italian midwife should deliver their first child to be born in America. They found such a woman in San Francisco, traveled there by train and checked into the San Remo Hotel.
The baby was born on Feb. 12, 1930, in room No. 1.
The man he grew up to be died of COVID-19 on Oct. 30, 2020, in a Southeast Portland nursing home, room No. 109.
The family lived with other Italian residents in a section of Chiloquin called El Campo. Residents brought the old country with them. They bought pigs to make sausage and sent for California grapes to make their own wine.
“My father’s childhood wasn’t easy,” said Remo Minato’s daughter, Teresa Minato. “They were very poor. He only learned to speak English when he started going to school. He had humble roots with a blend of Italian and Native American cultures.”
After graduating from Chiloquin High School, Remo Minato joined the U.S Navy, served 18 months and then enrolled in what was at the time called Oregon Technical Institute in Klamath Falls, about 25 miles from Chiloquin. He married Joanne Weddle, a former high school classmate.
“My mother wasn’t Italian,” said Dena Minato. “But she learned to cook my father’s favorite dish, his mother’s chicken and polenta.”
Her father, who studied surveying for two years in college, never earned a degree, but had enough skills to be hired as a road inspector with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Klamath Falls. When the office closed in 1960, Minato was transferred to Portland. The family, with six children — three girls and three boys — lived in the Rockwood area. Minato’s job took him across much of the Western United States. He loved being outdoors and enjoyed meeting people.
But as the years passed, he longed to discover his Italian roots.
“My mother was a fifth-generation Oregonian,” said Dena Minato. “She had all kinds of family here. My father’s family, unknown to him, was in this faraway place called Italy.”
Finally, Minato and his wife made the trip to his family’s homeland.
“His family came from a small village in Northern Italy, about an hour train ride from Venice,” his daughter said. “Once there, his Italian came right back. He was connected to a family he’d never known and to the stories he heard from his parents when he was a child.”
A year after the couple returned from their trip, Minato’s wife died. She was nearly 56, two years younger than her husband. They’d been married 34 years.
“It was sudden,” said Dena Minato. “A brain aneurysm. She was playing her violin at a church dinner and collapsed. My father was devastated.”
Minato continued working, then retired and set off to explore the world, returning to Italy three more times for extended visits.
“His family never traveled,” his daughter said. “Neither did our family growing up. Traveling allowed my father to heal. He made new friends and he dated, but he never remarried.”
In 2000, Minato and some of his children returned to San Francisco for his 70th birthday in the San Remo Hotel. Once the staff heard about his connection to the hotel, they presented him with cake and Champagne, and made sure he stayed in room No. 1.
At 77, he made one final big trip, to Italy for a month.
He was slowing down and when he returned to Portland, trips were small outings with his family around Oregon. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but lived in the family home until 2015 when he fell and broke his hip. His family moved him to assisted living at Courtyard at Mount Tabor.
“He was mentally acute,” said Dena Minato. “But the Parkinson’s made him wheelchair bound and dependent on people. He told the nurse it was no way to live.”
In early October, Minato went to the assisted living center to visit her father in an outside courtyard, both masked and following the social distancing rules in place. A week later his daughters were told an assisted living employee tested positive for COVID-19. Residents were then tested, and Minato, who had no symptoms, tested positive.
“He was doing OK the first 10 days,” said his daughter, Teresa Minato. “The staff got him to the window where we could wave and talk with him on the phone. Then he started having a hard time communicating and wasn’t responsive.”
Because he wasn’t eating and was losing strength, Minato was sent to the hospital. He had no breathing issues and was never put on a ventilator. After three days, he was discharged. Hospice was notified and he was sent back to his room in the assisted living center.
He died Oct. 30, 15 days after testing positive.
When the clan in Italy learned of the man’s passing, a distant cousin sent Minato’s children a message in Italian. Translated, it reads:
The souls of the good are in the arms of God. Remo will watch over the people he loved.
The Minato children expected their father to die from Parkinson’s, never COVID.
“I read the news and get the updates on the number of COVID cases and how many deaths,” said Dena Minato. “Before my dad died, it was all abstract.”
“I wonder what my father was thinking about those last few days he was alive,” she said. “We never got a chance to say goodbye.”
Until COVID, she said, her father still had some life left in him.
“I’d take another day,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s just too sad to think about.”
— Tom Hallman Jr; [email protected]; 503-221-8224; @thallmanjr