The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Nancy Kerns Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

November 21, 2014


“An Attorney Makes Her Way in Eastern Oregon”  November 21, 2014  Location: City Hall, Pendleton, Oregon.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Kerns discusses her family background and upbringing in Klamath Falls, including her early interests in sports and her family connections to OSU. She then describes her enrollment at Oregon State, her adjustment to college, and her academic progression while an undergraduate. Of particular note are Kerns' memories of the American Studies program during her years of association. She also reflects on her social life during college, the climate on campus during the mid- and late-1970s, her internship in the Oregon legislature, and her initial thoughts on pursuing the law as a career.

Kerns next recalls her life as a law student at the University of Tulsa, and provides a detailed accounting of studying and taking the Oregon bar exam. From there, she outlines the early chapters of her career, including her first job working for Nike, her first legal position in Klamath Falls, and her clerkship for the Oregon Trial Court.

The remainder of the interview concentrates on the years that Kerns has spent living and working in Pendleton. In this, she reflects on her first arrival in northeast Oregon, the means by which she was offered a position as deputy district attorney for Umatilla County, and her activities while filling this position, including her early experiences arguing cases in court. She then shares her memories of her work in private practice and in teaching at Blue Mountain Community College; her service on the Umatilla County Mental Health Board and the Umatilla County Planning Commission; her return to the public sector as assistant city attorney for Pendleton; and her promotion to city attorney in 2011.

As the interview nears its conclusion, Kerns discusses the challenges that she has faced as a women attorney, the changes that she has observed during her years in eastern Oregon, and her continuing connections with OSU. The session ends with Kerns' advice for students considering a career in the legal profession.