The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Mike Beilstein Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

July 7, 2016


Michael Allen Beilstein was born in 1951 in Normal, Illinois. The son of a dairy farmer and one of ten children, Beilstein was raised in the Midwest until the age of thirteen, when his family moved to Salem, Oregon. A graduate of South Salem High School, Beilstein enrolled at Oregon State University in 1969 and ultimately majored in Biochemistry & Biophysics, graduating in 1973 as a member of OSU's first undergraduate cohort in the discipline.

Upon the completion of his studies, Beilstein volunteered in the Peace Corps and subsequently spent two years as a high school teacher in Lesotho, a landlocked country surrounded on all sides by South Africa. His experiences living in Lesotho during the era of apartheid helped to spur a period of interest in world affairs that later assumed a central role in his life. Following the end of his stint in the Peace Corps, Beilstein moved to the Washington, D.C. area, where he worked in a series of laboratory jobs and devoted much of his free time to the U.S. Labor Party, a radical left activist group.

In 1978, discouraged by his job prospects and exhausted by the demanding involvement insisted upon by the U.S. Labor Party, Beilstein returned to Corvallis, where he had accepted a position as a research assistant in the laboratory of Philip Whanger, an OSU professor of Agricultural Chemistry. Beilstein spent the next two decades as a member of Whanger's research group, supporting the laboratory's work on selenium deficiency and white muscle disease. This period of Beilstein's life was largely devoted to work and family, with his political interests fading into the background. Upon Whanger's retirement, Beilstein switched into research positions in the Animal Sciences department, the College of Pharmacy and, finally, the Crop and Soil Sciences department. He retired from OSU in 2007.

In 1991, Beilstein became motivated to involve himself once again in political affairs as a result of his disagreement with the United States government's decision to initiate military action against Iraq during the Persian Gulf War. His interests pretty quickly spread beyond anti-war activism to engagement with a variety of environmental and social justice causes. His leadership of a successful living wage campaign in Corvallis prompted Beilstein to run for an open seat on the Corvallis city council, which he initially filled from 1998-2000. Following an unsuccessful campaign for a position on the Benton County Board of Commissioners, Beilstein returned to the city council in 2006, where he remained until deciding not to seek reelection in 2016.

During his six terms as a city council member, Beilstein focused in particular on issues related to housing, law enforcement and climate action in Corvallis. He was also an active member of the Corvallis chapter of the NAACP and made an annual trip to Cuba to protest the United States' trade and travel ban.