The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

Sort Interviews by Affiliation or Theme

Dorothy Fenner Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Janice Dilg.

March 22, 2014


Dorothy Louise Harstad was born in Tacoma, Washington in 1917, the daughter of a one-time professional baseball player who became a successful dentist. Harstad was raised in Milton-Freewater, Oregon and graduated from McLoughlin-Union High School in 1935. She enrolled at Oregon State College the following autumn in pursuit of a degree in Home Economics Education.

Harstad was very active while at OSC. A member of Delta Delta Delta sorority, she also participated in the college choir, was well-known as a pianist, and was a member of both the Omicron Nu Home Economics Honorary as well as Phi Kappa Psi, OSC's most prestigious honor society. She completed her studies in 1939 and promptly re-enrolled as a graduate student, seeking a M.S. in Home Economics. It was during this time that she married fellow Oregon Stater John Fenner, a student in Secretarial Science one year her junior. She completed her master's degree in 1941, having defended a thesis titled "Federal and State Regulations as Aids to Oregon Consumer Buyers of Food."

With the onset of war, John Fenner was called into active duty. In 1943 Dorothy chose to do likewise by joining the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, where she was trained as a code-breaker. Based at Two Rock Ranch Station near Petaluma, California, Fenner operated as part of a team charged with intercepting and interpreting the Japanese Katakana Radio Code.

With the cessation of hostilities in 1945, the Fenners returned to Corvallis, where John had been named Executive Secretary of the OSC Alumni Association. The couple left in 1948 so that John could pursue further education and begin his career in law, but returned once more in 1954, when John established a firm in Corvallis. He later served as President of the OSU Alumni Association and, for eight years over two terms, as Benton County District Attorney. He also provided legal representation for the OSU Foundation for three decades and served the organization in numerous additional capacities, including as President and Chairman of the Board.

In the late 1950s, Dorothy used her two degrees to find part-time employment as an OSC faculty member in Home Economics. Mother to three children, she also made time for extensive volunteer service, with a particular focus on music. Dorothy is a founding member of the Corvallis Symphony Society and has contributed both time and resources to the OSU School of Music. For many years she was also the official piano accompanist for the singing of the OSU alma mater, particularly at alumni gatherings. In 2002 the Fenners received the Jean and Crawford H. "Scram" Graham Award from the OSU Alumni Association, in recognition of their long service to the university.

Later in life, the Fenners retired to Saratoga, California. John Fenner passed away in March 2013 at the age of 94.