Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
PORTLAND – Rumors to the contrary, Pete Villarreal is still alive and living at the Secora Rehabilitation of Cascadia facility in Portland, Ore., where he has lived since 2014.
But “Ragman Pete” – so named for the fanciful garb and headdress he wore during his time on the streets of Arcata – isn’t well. After complaining of discomfort and problems swallowing, he was recently diagnosed with throat cancer and has chosen to refuse medical treatment.
Pete roamed Arcata for many years before his family staged an intervention in January, 2008, and took him home to Hermiston, Ore. But his wandering ways and neglect of his health forced his family to commit him to the residential care facility.
His friend and mentor, Activity Director Monika Trujillo, told Pete of the Union’s asking after him, and he authorized her to speak on his behalf.
She said Pete had been requesting more of his favorite beverage, Diet Coke, for some time, saying the carbonation helped him overcome difficulty swallowing.
He gradually stopped eating because of the discomfort. Then, seven months ago, a cancerous lesion was discovered on his esophagus.
Though his family wishes otherwise, Pete has steadfastly declined any medical treatment for the condition, refusing even an IV and anything that feels invasive. He does accept medication from his hospice providers, which has helped restore his ability to eat.
Other than that, Pete finds comfort mainly in his Bible. A devout Catholic, he reads his Bible daily, Trujillo said, taking notes, asking questions and praying.
His faith has given him solace as he deals with his condition. “It’s OK, I know God,” he told Trujillo.
Pete, who has difficulty managing a face mask, doesn’t well comply with COVID prevention guidelines. After getting some in his eye and having it sting, he refused hand sanitizer as well.
Still, he somehow managed to escape a wave of infections which struck 36 of 47 residents at the care facility. He shares his meals with a trio of crows in the facility’s courtyard, Trujillo said. Due to his illness, speaking is difficult.
While receiving hospice care, Pete, now age 64, continues to participate in group activities at the care home, and keeps in touch with his family via Zoom calls. An “awesome” online family conference last week buoyed his spirits with music and parental contact.
By all indications, he’s doing well and is happy, according to Trujillo.
Those wishing to send Pete a card or letter may submit it to: Pete Villarreal, c/o Secora Rehabilitation of Cascadia, 10435 SE Cora St., Portland, OR 97266.