The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Rollie and Laverne Bilyeu Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna.

March 26, 2015


Rolland Ralph Bilyeu was born in 1933 in Condon, Oregon, a small town located in the northeastern part of the state. He spent his much of his childhood there, living on a ranch outside of the town. With the onset of World War II, Rollie and his family moved north, to Klickitat, Washington. They spent the war years there before moving back to Oregon, to Tygh Valley. Rollie finished high school at Wasco County Union High School in Maupin, Oregon, graduating in a class of eleven students.

After high school, Rollie took a year off to work. In September 1951, he enrolled at Oregon State College as an Industrial Engineering major. He also began his mandatory two years stint in ROTC, and ultimately chose to stay for the whole of his college years and earn a commission. Rollie also pledged at Chi Phi fraternity, moving into the chapter house following his first term of college.

Rollie quickly realized that engineering was not his strong suit and switched majors to Business Administration after his second term at Oregon State. He was also involved with several campus organizations while a student, including the American Foundrymen's Society, the Society of American Military Engineers, and the Accounting Society.

Dorothy Laverne Key was born in 1932 in Milton, Oregon (now Milton-Freewater), also located in the northeast corner of the state. She grew up on a small farm outside of town and graduated from McLoughlin Union High School in May 1951. She began her higher education at Oregon State College that fall, studying Foods and Nutrition in the College of Home Economics. She spent her first two years at OSC living in Waldo Hall, the college's dedicated women's dormitory.

Though they were pursuing different courses of study, Rollie and Laverne took two classes together, both during their freshman year, but they didn't meet in either class. In fact, it wasn't until winter term of their sophomore year that they met, introduced by a friend of Laverne's who knew one of Rollie's fraternity brothers. The setting for their first date was a formal dance held at the Memorial Union ballroom. After that, they continued courting and eventually were engaged, marrying the summer after their sophomore year, in August 1953.

Following their wedding, the couple lived in a series of apartments in Corvallis for the remainder of their college careers. They graduated with the class of 1955, Rollie earning a bachelor's degree in Business Administration with an Engineering minor, and Laverne a bachelor's degree in Foods and Nutrition. Rollie also received his Army commission on the day of their graduation. He spent most of his military years in the reserves, at various points commanding a battalion and a division-level academy, and later becoming a provost marshal in the military police. By the time of his retirement from military service, Rollie had attained the rank of colonel.

The couple began their post-college life and careers in Portland, where Rollie worked for First National Bank. In the years that followed, the couple moved a handful of times, with Rollie finding employment at a family cannery, in the construction trade, and as an inspector for the state fire marshal. During these years, Laverne also taught sewing and food classes for several county branches of the Extension Service. Having ultimately settled in Albany, Oregon, Rollie retired from both his job as a fire inspector and from the military in 1986. All told, he spent thirty years in service to his country.