Octave and Mary Jo Levenspiel

Mary Jo, Nana, Mom, MJ

Mary Josephine Levenspiel
February 2, 1928 – March 24, 2024

This webpage of my mother, Mary Jo, is a work in progress. She has 80 years of diaries I am gleaning information and stories from. -Bekki

On March 24, a Sunday, mom passed away peacefully with her family by her side. She celebrated her 96th birthday on February 2 and had a fun, lovely, party with family and friends. Mom had a very full, rich, long life and made everyone she knew, a better person, just by being her generous, loving, self.

Mary Jo was born February 2, 1928 in Independence, Oregon. During the 30’s her family moved around, with her father, Frank Buren Smiley, getting work as a carpenter, and her mother, Phyllis (Davis) Smiley working as a seamstress, in the Portland area.

Mary Jo’s early years were spent in Bandon, Oregon where her brother, Jack, attended junior/high school and Mary Jo was in elementary school. The family had to flee Bandon during the terrible fire that destroyed the town in 1936, eventually ending up in Corvallis. Mary Jo played trombone and played tennis in high school, graduating from Corvallis High School in 1946.

Mary Jo-3 yrs old
3 yr old Mary Jo
Bandon Fire of 1936. All of the town burned.
Friends at the beach
Mary Jo, her mother, Phyllis and Joan and Sandra (cousins)

During the summers, Mary Jo and her friends, Margaret and Nancy spent a summer working at the Oregon Caves. She and her high school friends would often drive to the beach for a weekend.

Mary Jo started college at Oregon State University, where in 1947 she met Octave (Tavy) Levenspiel, a graduate student. They met at a square dance on campus, thus starting a five year courtship.

The story goes that Tavy was calling a square dance and he saw Mary Jo and her friend, Nancy, at the dance. He first asked Nancy to dance but she rebuffed him, so he asked Mary Jo, who happily accepted.

While Tavy was studying Chemical Engineering at OSU, Mary Jo went to nursing school at OHSU in Portland. Tavy would drive his jalopy up to Portland to visit her, to play in soccer tournaments and attend square dances. Because making phone calls was expensive in those days, all the girls in Mary Jo’s nurses dorm would know the ‘code’ Tavy set up for calling Mary Jo. If the phone rang once, then stopped, it meant Tavy was going to call back to talk to Mary Jo, so there would be a big flurry “Mary Jo, Tavy is going to call, quick, get to the phone”.

A date on the Willamette
An OHSU visit
Another Soccer game!

After 5 years of dating Tavy, he finally proposed and they were married in 1952 in Berkeley, California, where Mary Jo was working as a nurse and Tavy was conducting experiments for his PhD in Chemical Engineering. After the ceremony at the Justice of Peace, and a few photos, they went to a dinner being thrown for Tavy at his favorite Chinese restaurant. During the dinner, Tavy announced to the group that they got married by pulling a button off his jacket and saying “Wife, sew this button on for me!”

First, Mary Jo called her parents to tell them she got married and her father said “Well, it is about time!” Then they called Tavy’s mother in LA. She insisted they come to LA for a big wedding reception, so after a ‘2nd’ wedding (white dress, bridesmaids and all), she and Tavy went on their honeymoon (which basically was Tavy visiting universities looking for a job). The honeymoon included Tavy’s cousin, Michel Vasheron, who hiked the Grand Canyon with Tavy while Mary Jo drove around the rim to meet them. During their cross-country adventures, Tavy got a job offer from Oregon State College, so they moved back to Corvallis.

Married July 13, 1952
In the parking lot after the ceremony
Wedding reception in LA
Grand Canyon honeymoon

From 1952 to 1954 Mary Jo gave up nursing to start raising a family. After Bekki was born in 1954, they moved to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where Tavy taught at Bucknell University. Two sons were born: Barney (Joseph Bernard) in 1955 and Morris in 1958.

In Lewisburg the winters were so cold Tavy would droop the clean wet diapers on the porch and just pinch them, no clothes pins, because they would freeze hard within minutes.

Shortly after Morris’ birth the family moved to Evanston, Illinois, where Tavy taught at IIT in Chicago and Mary Jo was busy raising three little kids.

When first moving to Chicago, the family rented an apartment that Mary Jo just hated, so she went out and bought a lovely brick home in Evanston. Mary Jo became fast friends with her neighbor, Shirley Rubenstein and her 6 kids.

Later in mom’s life, she became very ‘health conscience’ – cooking nutritious dinners and snacks. But when we were growing up, I remember her giving us Twinkies and Hostess Cupcakes for after school snacks, yumm!

First dog – Fizzy
Barney, Morris, Bekki
Marty and Shirley Rubenstein

Bekki had bad hay fever in Chicago, so once school was out, the family would pack up their VW bus and drive to the west coast to visit relatives.

Mom would fly or take the train out west with the kids until one summer two jumbo jets collided above the Grand Canyon and she never wanted to fly again. Which is why, when the family went on sabbatical to England, we had to take a steamship and not fly.

In the early 1960’s Mary Jo asked her parents, in Corvallis, to please find a place for them to rent on the Oregon Coast for the whole summer, making it easy for relatives and friends to come visit THEM. That was when they fell in love with the little cabin they rented, built in 1917, in Otter Rock. Shortly after their first summer there, they bought the place and named it “Wentletrap”.

A Wentletrap

Wentletrap is a name for a small, white seashell that the kids found on the beach. In order to identify it, Mary Jo took the kids to Cape Foulweather where there was a radio station and asked the announcer what kind of shell it was. He exclaimed “Wow, you kids found a rare treasure!” (not really rare…) so every summer we would keep track of the number of Wentletraps we found. We felt very special.

Every summer thereafter the family lived at the Wentletrap, entertaining a steady stream of visitors from all over the world. Mary Jo cheerfully enjoyed hosting July 4th picnics, Smiley family reunions, and Chemical Engineering picnics. Mary Jo always said “Purchasing the Wentletrap was the best decision we ever made”. It was her favorite place in the world.

Mary Jo’s Wentletrap
Gull Rock – view from Wentletrap
Summers at Otter Rock
Roses in full bloom at Wentletrap

In the summer, when the roses were in bloom, the cabin was spectacular. Mary Jo spent lots of time gardening, planting veggies and flowers, playing with the kids and having picnics on the beach, while Tavy chatted up everyone living in Otter Rock and invited them over for a meal and to challenge them to a game of ping pong.

The family took their first of two, year-long sabbaticals to Cambridge, England in1963. The second, in 1968. In Cambridge Mary Jo became very good friends with the Lilley family. Mary Jo and Elsie Lilley took a winemaking class. She attempted to make rose hip wine, storing it beneath the stairs. It was coming along pretty well until the bottles all exploded.

Between those two sabbaticals, Mary Jo was involved with and worked at the Peace Center in Chicago. She also was a big advocate for Civil Rights and attended the Women’s March in Washington DC in the 60’s.

It was freezing cold in Washington DC that winter so Mary Jo wore a fur coat, since the march was outside. A reporter wanted to talk to her about why she was there and where she came from. She said she was so nervous, she almost “peed in her pants!

Mary Jo played the recorder and piano with her family. She enjoyed book clubs, and discussions of political events with friends. She even took Bekki and Barney who were only 6 or 7 years old, to listen to Martin Luther King Jr. at a church in Chicago, in the early 60’s.

After returning from England in1969, the family moved to Corvallis, Oregon, where Tavy taught Chemical Engineering at OSU. The kids all attended the same Corvallis High School that Mary Jo attended in the 40’s.

Great Shelford, Cambridge UK
Punting on the Thames in Cambridge
Everyone played an instrument.

Bekki and Barney were out of the house when Mary Jo decided to go back to school. Morris was still in high school but remembers Mary Jo coming home from class with homework to do. Between 1975 and 1983, Mary Jo earned a PhD in Guidance & Counseling from Oregon State College and taught Psychology courses at Western Oregon State College. Tavy and Mary Jo were photographed in the newspaper as Dr. and Dr. Levenspiel at a graduation ceremony.

Excerpt from Christmas letter, 1975: “Mary Jo is the most newsworthy of our group, receiving her PhD in Guidance & Counseling, breaking precedent here in Oregon, by being the first person without a teaching certificate to do so. With 3 others, she started a corporation to help individuals and school districts – successful, then took up a full time tenured position at a nearby college teaching Psychology, of all things. Pretty versatile for a nurse I’d say. ” -Octave

Intermittently, over the years, Mary Jo would get together with her nurses friends who graduated with her from OHSU. They would spend a long weekend together, nonstop talking, and in their later years, the ladies would bring their daughters with them.

Dr. and Dr. Levenspiel
Nurses Reunion
Nurses Reunion 2014

In 1976 when Bekki and Barney graduated from college and Morris was just starting college, Mary Jo accompanied Tavy (NO KIDS) on a year-long sabbatical traveling around the world, westbound, starting in New Zealand, lecturing at universities and visiting family and friends.

In 1984, Tavy and Mary Jo embarked on their last year-long sabbatical, heading eastbound, starting in Europe, around the world, stopping many places to lecture and visit family and friends.

Mary Jo had to figure out how to pack for 2 people, in a few small suitcases, enough clothes for a year. Tavy filled his suitcase with books, which Mary Jo promptly removed for more important things, like underwear and socks.

Mary Jo’s passion was genealogy, which she studied into her 90’s. She did extensive research into the Levenspiel and Smiley families, both very different. The Levenspiels were Jews dating back to the 1800’s, originating in Poland. After WWI the family fled to many parts of the world. Mary Jo found relatives in France, South Africa, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and Spain.

Levenspiel family tree
Smiley – Kelly family tree

The Smileys were originally from Isle of Man, Ireland and Scotland. They emigrated to Nova Scotia, then made their way across the US, settling in California and Oregon.

While passing through Central Europe during a sabbatical, Mary Jo would often take detours to find out more about the Levenspiel family history, all part of her love of genealogy!

Bekki married Keith Levien in 1987 and soon gave Mary Jo three grandsons: Kyle, Cody and Quincy. Mary Jo and Tavy were very active, attentive grandparents.

Mom was always available to come babysit, take the kids to a park, and entertain them all summer long at the beach. When we moved into our new home in 1995, it was only a few houses from Nana and Papa. Mom would invite the kids to her house after school for ‘tea’. It was always a treat to go to her house for cookies and milk.

Toddler, Kyle and baby Cody. Quincy came along 4 years later.
Grandsons, 1999
Grandsons, 2010

In Corvallis Mary Jo enjoyed gardening, playing recorder, participating in her ‘Book Club’, and was involved in the League of Women Voters and other Civic groups.
Mary Jo had many gifts. Everyone who knew her would say that she was kind and polite and genuinely interested in the people she met. She was described as a “gentle-lady with a most pleasant disposition”. She was very generous and made her home a welcoming place for her childrens’ friends and her husband’s students and colleagues.

She didn’t really have a choice, Tavy constantly brought new folks he met, home for a meal. Every Memorial Day the entire Chemical Engineering Department would come to Otter Rock for a big picnic.

Mary Jo’s garden at the beach
Smiley Potluck at Wentletrap
A rare game of ping-pong with Tavy, who always wins.

In 2003 her son, Barney, passed away due to complications with a kidney transplant. This devastated Mary Jo and Tavy, they seemed to grow old overnight. Mary Jo didn’t have a ‘religion’ but she wasn’t going to rule anything out – that there isn’t life after death. She’d often talk about how she always felt she had lived a previous life (as royalty)! This is what she posted on her facebook page:

In 2014, Mary Jo decided that she and Tavy were getting old and needed more help than they could receive living in their home, so they gave up driving (thank you mom and dad), sold their home and moved to Willamette View, a Continuous Care Retirement Community in Portland. There were several friends they knew from Corvallis who lived there, so it was a good/easy transition.

In 2018, she attended her grandson’s (Kyle and Teo) wedding at Otter Rock and her second grandson’s (Cody and Julia) wedding in 2020. In 2021 she became a great-grandmother to Wesley and then Emma in 2023.

Doris and Mary Jo enjoying Kyle and Teo’s wedding
Morris and Mary Jo at wedding
Cody and Julia’s wedding
Emma with Nana’s walker

After only 3 years at Willamette View, Tavy died in 2017. A year later Mary Jo moved back to Corvallis to be close to her family. She eventually moved from an Independent Living facility to an Assisted Living one. Wherever she lived, she was always interested in meeting new friends. Mary Jo continued researching the family history until she was in her 90s, when it just became too hard to keep things organized.

Mother’s Day 2023
96th Birthday
Her garden at the beach

Mary Jo was preceded in death by her husband; parents, Frank and Phyllis; brother, Jack Smiley; and by her son, Barney, in 2003. She is survived by her son, Morris (Teresa Clarke); her daughter, Bekki (Keith Levien); three grandsons, Kyle (Teodora Popescu), Cody (Julia) and Quincy Levien; two great-grandchildren, Wesley and Emma; and her cat, Daisy.