By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

A man and his bike

If you live in McMinnville the odds are you know who Kaillen “Pel” Montgomery is even if you’ve never met him. He’s the quiet man who rides a shiny blue, three-wheel bike around town and has a smile for everyone he encounters.

Behind that crooked and endearing smile is a meek, unpretentious 46-year-old man who has survived adversity that would likely bring down many of us lesser beings.

His younger brother, Devon, who is also his guardian, provided a basic description of what Pel has had to contend with since birth.

“Pel was born with holes in his heart and his spine,” Devon said. “He had a cleft palate. He was nearly deaf and wasn’t expected to live. Doctors refused to operate because they thought he wouldn’t be able to take the trauma.”

He somehow managed to survive. He was born in Hayward, Calif., and lived with his family in San Jose until 1982 when they moved to Oregon.

“San Jose had grown like mad. It had become a crazy place, busy and overcrowded,” Devon said. “Our folks wanted to get away from that. My father had an aunt who lived in Salem. He really liked the area and they found a house in Hopewell.”

Hopewell is a far cry from San Jose in just about every way. Its sparse population and quiet, country atmosphere were conducive to a much more laid-back lifestyle.

Pel liked it there, but he still had to be careful. His fragile body saw only stunted growth as he matured. He couldn’t overexert himself.

But he persevered with a smile on his face and the will to live.

He went to school and proved to be a competent student, graduating from Amity High School in 1986.

Apparently, some of his most serious health problems were at least partially healing themselves.

Anyone who got to know him soon realized that physical stature did not make the measure of the man.

All it took was a little time and patience to listen to him carefully and get past a minor speech impediment. Pel, himself, becomes impatient sometimes and spells out words he has difficulty pronouncing.

The bottom line is that he was honest and reliable, and could effectively and efficiently perform a broad range of tasks. In other words, he could hold down a job.

Enter Mid-Valley Rehabilitation. Our area is most fortunate to have such an exemplary vocational services organization providing meaningful employment for workers with disabilities.

Pel works for Mid-Valley’s Industrial Services division at its 14,000-square-foot facility in McMinnville Industrial Park. He, along with more than 50 other employees and eight supervisory personnel, carry out a dizzying array of assembly, collating and packaging projects each year.

Insurance broker Chris Browne, who serves on the Mid-Valley board of directors, has known Pel for years. “He would ride around the neighborhood on his bike,” she said. “He loved dogs and had a beagle of his own.

“Our dog got lost and we asked Pel if he could keep an eye out for him,” she said. “He not only did that, but I think he made it a mission to scour the neighborhood on his bike to find our dog. And he did.”

Pel’s snazzy, three-wheeled bike had been his near-constant companion for some years. He kept it in top condition and stayed in good shape pedaling everywhere on it.

Then, when he was in the hospital last fall for a surgical procedure on his cleft palate, tragedy struck. He emerged from the operation just fine, but his bicycle did not. Someone had stolen it.

Parts of the bike were eventually recovered near the high school by McMinnville police, but there was no way to put it back together. That’s when Pel discovered someone out there was looking out for him.

Word about the Pel’s plight got around the St. Barnabas Soup Kitchen where Pel spends much of his spare time. It’s a home away from home.

Before long, the story filtered upstairs to the church congregation. And on a single Sunday, enough money was raised to buy a brand new bike.

Pel was stunned, elated and, needless to say, appreciative. The St. Barnabas Episcopal Church congregation, led by the Rev. Kathleen Galvin, could not be more pleased.

A photo of Pel and his new bike is included on the church website. Matt Meador, who designed and maintains the site, said, “Now Pel has discovered he has real friends, and rather a lot of them.”

Pel currently lives in a group home owned by Mid-Valley. The brick apartment building on Fifth and Davis streets has provided a comfortable, close-in location for residents, but its two-story layout has prompted a move.

“Several of our clients have had difficulty with the stairs,” Browne said. “So we recently sold the building and purchased two, large, single-level ranch houses in the Grandhaven neighborhood.”

That arrangement will undoubtedly be better for residents in the long run. But it means a considerably longer bike ride to the soup kitchen on Southwest Second.

Soup kitchen operations manager Howie Harkema has only positive things to say about Pel and how the whole thing worked out. “What the congregation did was wonderful and we are so happy for Pel.”

Harkema knows the soup kitchen played at least a small role in the story with a happy ending and it’s just the kind of thing that gives him such satisfaction in his job.

“Pel is one of the regulars here,” he said. “There are from 50 to 60 people we try and watch out for at any one time. They come to the soup kitchen for more than a meal.

“It’s about support and companionship. connecting with other people. Right now, we are looking into what we can do to help Pel get here after he moves, when the weather is bad or if he has problems.”

Looking at another aspect of his routine, however, his new home is closer to Mid-Valley’s Industrial Services location, where he spends the first half of every weekday.

When asked his opinion on politics, Pel said, “I know enough about it to know I don’t want to have anything to do with it. I’ll stick with sports.”

He is, in fact, an avid pro basketball fan. “My favorite team is Detroit,” he said, not discounting the fact that the Portland Trail Blazers have been on a roll this season.

Of course, if you’ve been rooting for a team over a lot of years, it’s difficult to give up on them. Even if the Pistons are 17-24 halfway through this season, they had a great run from 2001 through 2008 including the NBA championship in 2004.

Despite the fact that the team he has supported for years has become an underdog, Pel Montgomery continues to root for them all the way.

And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT — learning a lesson from a quiet man that life is what you make of it no matter what your circumstances.

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 503-687-1227.

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