The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Gloria O'Brien Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

October 13, 2016


Gloria A. O'Brien was born in 1960 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and raised in Lawrence, Kansas, where her father worked as a professor of civil engineering. While O'Brien was a child, her grandmother lived with the family and sparked in Gloria a lifelong passion for plants and gardening. O'Brien enrolled at the University of Kansas in 1978, studying classical antiquities and art with a focus on intaglio printmaking. While a student, O'Brien pursued an interest in social justice activism by joining a group called Kansans Against the Draft, where she also met her husband. Early in her college career, O'Brien found a job working for the Lawrence city parks department and enjoyed it so immensely that she dropped out of school.

In 1986, O'Brien and her husband moved to the West Coast, ultimately settling in South Beach, Oregon. There, O'Brien worked for a series of nurseries while her husband found employment as a SCUBA diver. The couple raised two children while living on the Oregon coast and, later, on a property in the Coast Range that is located near the community of Burnt Woods.

After relocating, O'Brien began working for nurseries in the Willamette Valley and also taking classes at Linn-Benton Community College. In 1998, she transferred her studies to OSU's Horticulture Department, and in 2008 she was hired by the university as a Biological Science Technician in the Department of Greenhouse Operations. One of four employees in the department, O'Brien's primary focus has been on integrated pest management, as well as student supervision and greenhouse consultation with OSU researchers.

Almost as soon as she was hired, O'Brien decided to become involved in the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, initially by attending every rally and public action sponsored by the union and, later, by attending union leadership meetings. O'Brien eventually became a union steward and, in 2010, she successfully ran for president of sub-local 083, which represents OSU employees. In 2014, near the end of her term as president, O'Brien also participated on the bargaining team that representing OSU's classified employees in their contract negotiations with state higher education authorities.

In 2015, after seventeen years of part-time study, O'Brien completed her OSU bachelor's degree in Horticulture. She remains active in union affairs and continues to work for the Department of Greenhouse Operations.