The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Pat Reser Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

April 24, 2015


Patricia Valian was born in 1938 in Windsor, Ontario Canada. The daughter of a sheet metal worker and a housewife, Pat spent the first nine months of her life in Windsor before her family moved to Regina, Saskatchewan, where she spent the next eight years. In 1947 her family moved to Vancouver, B.C. where they stayed for another eight years, and in 1952 the family emigrated to the United States, settling in Portland, Oregon.

Valian graduated from Cleveland High School in 1956, and entered Portland State College that fall. It was there that she met a fellow student, Al Reser, in an introductory English course. A good student, Pat had been enrolled in the course by mistake but, after meeting Al, chose not to switch to a higher-level class. Al and Pat soon began courting and eventually married in June 1958. That fall, the couple transferred to Oregon State College.

The move to OSC was prompted by Al's interest in taking courses in Food Technology. His new wife moved with him and completed her degree in Elementary Education. Their first child was born in 1960, right before their graduation.

Once he had completed his studies, Al bought his parents' company, Mrs. Reser's Fine Salads, and changed its name to Reser's Fine Foods, Inc. Pat and Al decided that only Al would work at the company and that Pat would hold her own job in order to earn a second income, follow her passions, and keep work-related disagreements from entering into their relationship.

Pat took her first job at a junior high in Forest Grove shortly after graduating from OSC. She was soon asked to leave however, as she had become pregnant with her second child and it was believed that a pregnant teacher make for a poor influence on female students. Reser left for the remainder of her pregnancy and then applied for a new post in the Hillsboro area, where she worked until she became pregnant with her third child. After leaving the Hillsboro job, Reser stepped out of the workforce for fifteen years in order to raise a family that ultimately came to include five children.

During her time as a stay at home mother, Pat became increasingly involved in her family, church, and the local community of Beaverton. She volunteered as a room mother, den mother, Girl Scout Brownie leader, and Sunday School teacher. It was also in these years that the Resers slowly came to be involved with OSU athletics, purchasing season tickets for football, hosting tailgate parties and eventually becoming donors of increasing consequence.

It was also during this time that Reser's Fine Foods began to steadily grow into an industry leader in the manufacture of refrigerated food brands for distribution in both restaurants and supermarkets. Propelled in part by a new line of dips developed by Al himself, Reser's Fine Foods expanded from a potato salad company founded in 1950 in the Reser family kitchen to an international corporation employing over 3,000 people and operating some twenty facilities in the United States and Mexico.

As her children moved on to college and as the Reser's company continued to flourish, Pat returned to school herself, receiving her master's degree in Special Education from Portland State in 1980 and re-entering the workforce. Her first job was as a math teacher at Beaverton High School. Two years later, she switched to an elementary class for a year and then became the school's lead on learning disabilities. After five years in that position, Reser moved to the district office and worked as a Learning Disabilities Program Specialist, where she worked for nine more years before retiring in 1995. Once retired, Pat entered the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program at Marylhurst University, although she did not intend to return to the workforce. During this time, she took care to schedule classes that allowed for her to care for her husband, whose health was declining.

In June 1999, the Reser family announced a major gift to OSU Athletics which came with a new name for the OSU football stadium, now known as Reser Stadium. By the time that significant stadium renovations had been completed in 2005, the Resers had donated over seventeen million dollars to the project.

In 2003 Pat and Al Reser were both named Most Honored Members of the OSU President's Club and Pat joined the OSU Foundation Board of Trustees. Pat also served as a co-chair of the Campaign for OSU when it was publicly launched in the fall of 2007, and the Reser family made lead gifts to two cornerstone campaign facility initiatives, the Linus Pauling Science Center and Austin Hall, the new home of OSU's College of Business. It was during this period that Pat also began receiving treatment for cancer. As she confronted her illness, from which she ultimately made a full recovery, the symbolic pilgrimage of labyrinths became an important part of her spiritual and emotional health, so much so that she had a labyrinth built on the family property.

By 2006 Al's health had declined significantly. While Pat spent increasing amounts of her time caring for him, her son Mark took over Reser's Fine Foods as company president. In 2009 Pat and her daughter Mindy traveled to Spain to walk part of the Camino de Santiago. Pat and a larger group of family returned to Spain in 2010 to complete another segment of the hike, and it was during this trip that they received news of Al's passing. Al Reser died in his sleep on April 12, 2010.

In 2011 Pat Reser received the Heart of Washington County Award for her contributions to the community, and that same year she helped establish an endowed professorship in the Chemistry Department at OSU. In 2013 she also endowed a professorship in the OSU Music Department. That same year, Oregon State University came under the governance of a dedicated Board of Trustees. At its first meeting in January 2014, the Board elected Pat Reser as its chair.