The Power of Encouragment

Gene McIntyre, class of 1960, in the Heart of Oak yearbook. (Photo by Heidi Hoffman)

TODAY HE MIGHT BE CALLED "AT RISK," uninterested in school and unsure what to do with his young life. But Gene McIntyre '60, found unexpected encouragement and used it to fuel a long and successful career in education.

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Astoria, established in 1811 as the Astor Fur Trading Company, 38 years before what became Pacific University was founded, is one of Oregon’s oldest and most beautiful cities. It’s also my birthplace. My family was among the ranks of that coastal city’s middle-class. We lived in our own home, perched with a view of the Columbia River out to where it meets the Pacific Ocean, and enjoyed a desirable location.

My early years were rather conventional, undistinguished really. Persons of Finnish descent with the surnames to match surrounded the home neighborhood. My mother’s father had come to the U.S. from Finland in the late 1890s. Her mother was a Norwegian immigrant but may have felt a little less out-of-place than my father did, he of Scots-Irish ancestry. His grandparents on both sides, as my own, of course, had come to the U.S. during the Irish Potato Famine of the mid-19th Century and then crossed the prairie by wagon train to settle first in Portland and later in Clatsop County.

My family and I lived in a tight-knit society where the families were as close to something resembling a single unit as may be possible in the U.S., not unlike many other immigrant neighborhoods founded in the 19th and 20th centuries. In short, it was a place where everyone looked out for everyone else.

I characterize myself as a blithely happy kid during my early childhood as well as grade school years. I enjoyed a lot of friends and participated in a load of school activities, including school sports, school plays, Cub Scouts, and other school-kid interactions common at that time. My getting “lost” began when I entered high school. A major part of it, I’m sure, was due to my level of maturity or lack of same. So, for whatever reason or reasons, I became a disenchanted student, uninterested in high school except for its access to the opposite sex.

I did manage to get to school on a regular basis but it was unheard of in Astoria to do anything but attend in those days. Meanwhile, I did not take my studies seriously and cannot now recall having ever taken a textbook home or read anything except the “funnies” outside of class.

With a healthy economy in the mid-1950s that readily provided jobs without a college degree, I had decided by senior year that I’d find work of some kind in the Astoria area. Back then, a young person could handily secure employment in the fishing industry, forest products, military service, retail operations or transportation field. And I was, after all, able to read, write and cipher at my age level and I had held part-time jobs since I was 14-years-old so I knew how to work and harbored no fear of it.

It was my mother who insisted I go to college. She believed then, and she was right about it, that before long a college education would be the path to securing a job with a future. Whenever she brought the matter up, however, I’d ask what she thought I should study, given my less-than-stellar a high school academic record. She didn’t know and I didn’t either; hence, our conversations on the subject always ended in impasse and inaction.

However, something that seemed incidental at that time, but was quite auspicious as it turned out, occurred on a Sunday morning in mid-March, 1956. It happened at the Finnish Congregational Church we attended. At the service, there were two guests from Pacific University. They were Mr. Charles Trombely, Director of Admissions and Dr. Meredith McVicker, Dean of Students. They sought recruits.