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Portland accordion studio steeped in family's history

At Eileen Hagen Studios, students have been learning to play the accordion since 1961.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Diane Hagen doesn't remember a time when she didn't either play the accordion, or recognize the sound of one.

"I think it was because I was in my mom's stomach for nine months and she was teaching!" said 65-year-old Hagan.

Hagan owns Eileen Hagen Studios on Northeast Tillamook Street. Her mother, Eileen, opened the studio in 1961, though she had been teaching the accordion since she was 17. Hagen owns the studio now and carries on her mother's legacy.

"She was kind and she loved people, and people loved her," Hagen said. "She's always in my heart, she's right here with me."

Hagen began playing the accordion when she was two years old. By the time she was three, she was playing and singing on local television and radio shows. While her lifelong love of the accordion is steadfast, she knows others may have a different perception of the instrument.

"Like, it's a nerdy instrument," Hagen said. "But you know what? It's a go-getter, man! Some of the nicest, happiest people I've seen are accordion players!"

That includes one of Hagen's newest students, Russ Johnson.

"I wanted to do something to carry on my dad's legacy," said 56-year-old Johnson. "He meant a lot to me. He was a truck driver for 45 years. My dad was a very simple man, but the accordion is hard to play and he did it."

When his dad passed away in June, Johnson inherited his old accordion. He keeps a photo that shows him as a little boy watching his father play it.

"It sits at my desk, and I always give it a kiss to my dad, then practice," Johnson said.

Those feelings are not lost on Hagen. Her mother passed away three years ago, though dementia stole her away long before that.

"I had grieved her for years before she passed," Hagen said. "So when she passed away, it just kind of lifted all that ... Now, it's like I feel her. It's amazing."

Somewhere in heaven, there's a choir backed by two new accordionists. Both, very proud of their kids.

"Yeah," Johnson said. "Very proud ... Accordion changes lives!" 

This story is part of our new series, Pacific Storyland. From the ordinary to the extraordinary, we'll bring you the most heartwarming and inspiring stories from where you live. Know someone you'd like to see featured? Let us know! Email us at pacificstoryland@kgw.com or text your story ideas to 503-226-5088.

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