The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Jim Denison Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna.

September 24, 2014


James Monroe Denison was born in 1927 in Eugene, Oregon. When he was five years old, his parents separated and he moved with his younger brother and mother to Salem, Oregon. It was there that his mother married Arthur Denison, who was a railroad engineer and a firefighter. While growing up in Salem, Denison attended Bush Elementary School and Leslie Junior High, and was among the crowd who witnessed the capitol building burn down in 1936.

The family moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon, during Denison's high school years, and it was there, in his homeroom class, that he heard President Roosevelt relay news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Denison gained his first work experience in the woods as a high school student, spending his summers assisting the Forest Service with fire suppression and trail maintenance. He also set chokers for lumber companies during this time and learned the basics of surveying and laying out roads.

In December 1944, at the age of seventeen, Denison joined the Navy. He went through boot camp in San Diego, and then was assigned to a base in Gulfport, Mississippi where he went to quartermaster school for three months. His training completed, Denison was due to be assigned to a ship when the surrender of Japan was announced. Denison finished his Navy career on the USS Spangler, based primarily in San Pedro, California while the ship was being refitted. By 1946 Denison had returned to Klamath Falls and enrolled at Oregon State College to begin studies in Forest Engineering.

As a first-year college student in 1946, Denison found that most of the students in his Forestry courses were older than 18 or 19 and had prior military or job experiences. Indeed, Denison was part of a large influx of students attending OSC that Fall who were assisted by funding from the G.I. Bill. Denison's focus during his OSC years was on his Forestry coursework as well as Forestry-related activities, including rebuilding the Fernhoppers cabin in the McDonald Forest. During his senior year he lived off campus with his wife and their baby. He graduated in June 1950.

From graduation until retirement, Denison held a wide variety of jobs in the timber industry. He began as a consulting engineer based in Glendale, Oregon before switching to road location work for Cascade Plywood. He later located and ran timber lines, conducted timber cruises, consulted for numerous employers and eventually formed his own company, Denison Surveying, that was based in Newport, Oregon. In the early 1990s, Denison and his wife created a second company, Coastal Land Management, that administered land surveying, timber cruising and forestry consulting projects for another decade. In 2012, at the age of eighty-five, Denison finally retired, having spent more than sixty years working in the forests of Oregon.