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College of Forestry

Departments    Forest Engineering, Resources & Management | Forest Ecosystems & Society | Wood Science & Engineering

1946-1959: Optimistic

by Rex Resler, '53

POST-WORLD WAR II years were unique in many respects. the mood of the country was one of optimism. People were unified; they had experienced the trauma of global war, the challenge to the nation's industrial capability and to its democratic system, and the exhilaration of success at the end of a long and difficult struggle. It was a time for mending, for recovery, for growth -- for the nation and for the individual.

The G.I. Bill provided veterans an opportunity to either continue their disrupted education or to commence an education that many could not otherwise have afforded. the vets flocked to campuses across the country in search of their future. Having "snapped to" during five years in military service, they were as a group older than their peers coming directly from high school. Older than their years and matured by experience, they were an unusual bunch of individuals, unawed by authority and perhaps more driven by purpose than they would have been five years earlier.

During the late '40's substantial growth occurred in enrollment as the returning vet population added to the normal influx of high school graduates. the interesting mix of veterans and non-veteran students no doubt posed some problems for the professors but the experience was beneficial to both groups. Many of us were dismayed to discover how thoroughly one can forget the rudiments of high school education and more significantly, how to study. The ease with which "the kids" fell into the routine of college work was a very constructive, albeit competitive, influence on the mossbacks.

OREGON STATE College (the University was located 40 miles to the south) and the School of Forestry both grew during that period. The Quonset huts which many had escaped became classrooms as we outgrew the Forestry Building. Rumblings were heard that come some distant day we would have a new building to house the school.

Looking back over a quarter of a century, one can only recollect the strongest impressions and experiences. Thankfully, no basis exists for comparing what was with what is because (1) as societies mature and science expands, earlier generations suffer by comparison, and (2) none of us are ever as good as we thought we were.

What was it like in the late '40's and early '50's?

The world was simpler. Doubt was restricted to our own abilities. Could we master the intricacies of geometry that Bill Davies devised in his engineering classes to separate the boneheads from the eggheads? Could we outfox casey Randall and detect the ringers he always had up his sleeve in Tree Identification? Who on earth could remember that physics formula that Bill West expected us to remember in Bridge Design? An Bob Kenniston kept insisting that some dim correlation existed between forest economics and forest management. when was the last time anyone got a paper past Walt McCulloch's critical grammatical eye?

THE LIST goes on, as I'm sure it does today. But we had no doubt about the future. Jobs were plentiful. It was a matter of selecting between public or private employment, obtaining one's sheepskin, completing two terms of field experience and going to work in our chosen profession. We had no doubt about the adequacy of our technical knowledge nor our ability to perform successfully in the field of forestry.

Great emphasis was placed by Deans Paul Dunn and Walter McCulloch and their staffs on securing a sound general education coupled with top-flight "exposure" to the art and science of forestry -- forest management, forest engineering and forest products. Employers such as the forest products industry and the state and federal agencies wanted graduates with field experience who could light on their feet running.

Looking back, being a Fernhopper was just plain fun. We were different, even in as "Aggie" college. We had special points of pride -- the red tie, cork boots, tin pants, and all. A strong sense of camaraderie and purpose prevailed among students and faculty alike. Every member of the staff, from dean to janitor, was a friend; they demonstrated that friendship through their interest in us all. Of course, that strong interest gave them insights into our academic strengths and weaknesses that at times we would have gladly foregone.

THE ALUMNI were fewer in number then and were mostly well-known within the student body. they were people who were real and were present, and they helped shape our ideas. They were models by which we could judge and shape our won futures. Perhaps one of the most valued and consistent alums over the years was the omnipotent and omnipresent "T.J.," ever-pressing for the practical application of forestry knowledge and experience, always gruffly but benignly critical of student and instructor alike. He was always preaching the gospel of forestry (as he still does), but he was one of the rare breed that practiced what he preached.

A singular influence on our lives, aside from his persistent demands that we learn to use the written and spoken work (many of us obviously failed), was the intense and vital Walt McCulloch. His credo: first be a good citizen and secondly a good forester, excel in academic and field experience, advance the profession of forestry, and be of service to people and to the nation. these were some of the precepts that Walt instilled in those with whom he came in contact.

That was the philosophy in those days practiced by all of the staff -- deans, professors, and instructors alike -- working as teachers and friends to encourage growth of people in their chosen profession and way of life.

UTOPIA, it wasn't, but it was a rich and rewarding experience that shaped lives and intellects, formed lifelong friendships and convictions and led those people to advance in their profession.

Times were less complex. We had greater confidence in our knowledge and in our ability to cope with the vagaries of nature. The nation was preoccupied with recovery from the economic stresses of the recent war. Increased production was needed from the nation's forests; we had neither time nor serious inclination to contemplate possible adverse implications of some of the conventional forestry practices -- in timber harvesting, roading, regeneration and use of pesticides. Their effects on wildlife and fisheries habitat and various other refinements were not completly known.

Indeed, the complex interactions were taught and used, but it was assumed that all resource values would be given due attention in the planning of forest management activities. But it was also assumed that the forester had the capability to be an ecologist, a silviculturist, a hydrologist, a geologist, a wildlife and fisheries biologist, a logging engineer, a specialist in fire protection and in recreation use and in various other skills. Considering the magnitude and complexity of the job encountered upon graduation, the graduates of that decade (from 1945-1955) performed exceedingly well and have advanced to the top levels of their profession.

THE PROFESSION, however, has advanced immensely in the ensuing years. We have come to recognize that the natural world is more complex and inter-related than we thought in those "good ole days." We recognize that as good as foresters are, they now and then need some help from other professional disciplines. the demands of society have vastly changed the role of the forest manager; as a result, we have seen a constructive movement toward greater specialization in keeping with advancements in the state of the art of forest land management.

Some might contend that the profession has become too specialized, that today too many cooks are around in the kitchen of forest management and that we have lost sight of the essential responsibility to keep our forests productive. But as the profession has advanced in response to both internal and external influences, the mossbacks of our generation have been able to grow and to cope with those changes.

Acceptance of change no doubt has been reluctant at times, but perhaps that reluctance has also been a steadying influence that has caused innovations to be proved practical.

So I am proud to be an Oregonian and a Fernhopper and to have had an opportunity to pursue a most rewarding career as an outgrowth of my academic experiences at Oregon State College during the late '40's and early '50's. A person can't ask for much more from his alma mater.