The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Jean Starker Roth Oral History Interviews

Four life history interviews conducted by Maia Fischler.

September - November 2007


Margaret Jean Starker was born in Portland, Oregon in 1920, the youngest of two children. During Jean's early years, her father, T.J. Starker - a member of the first student cohort to graduate from the Oregon Agricultural College forestry program in 1910 - worked for Western Pine Manufacturers Association and traveled frequently. In 1922 he accepted a faculty position at his alma mater and moved his family to Corvallis, the town that Jean would call home for most of her long life.

Once of school age, Jean attended Harding School for her first year of elementary education before moving to Franklin School after a change in Corvallis' school boundaries. She was also involved in 4-H as a girl, participating especially in the domestic aspects of the program, including crochet and cooking. At the age of ten, she and her family moved to State College, Pennsylvania as her father took a sabbatical. They returned to Corvallis the following year.

During the Depression years, T.J. Starker invested in timber, buying up tracts of land with his business partner, Rex Clemens. He also became involved in finance and construction work, all while continuing to teach at OAC. Jean attended high school in the 1930s - Corvallis High School burned down during her sophomore year, and she graduated from the rebuilt and relocated CHS in 1938. In high school, Starker developed a love for home economics, contributed to the school newspaper, and took up knitting.

After graduation, Starker expressed her wish to attend college. Her father preferred for her to begin work as his secretary and to write his correspondence. However, her mother supported her interests in higher education and eventually her father became persuaded as well. Jean began attending Oregon State College in 1938 while living at her parents' house, an arrangement that she resented. Nonetheless, she performed well as a student, particularly in her final two years of college, excelling in her home economic courses and finally getting a chance to live in the dorms during her stint as a student teacher. She graduated from OSC in 1942 with a degree in home economics.

In the fall of 1942, Starker began teaching at a small Lane County high school, located along the McKenzie River. While there she taught home economics and history, and supervised the school lunch program for two academic years. During the summer of 1943, Starker also returned to Corvallis to support the military build-up at Camp Adair. In this capacity, she worked closely with the food purchasing staff to incorporate more local produce into the camp menu. Her father and brother were also involved with the war effort, serving on the draft board and in the Coast Guard respectively.

After completing her second year of teaching high school, Starker switched jobs, choosing to teach food preservation in Lane County as part of the OSC Extension Service. During that summer she found another job, located this time in Clatsop County and working as a war food assistant. She moved to Astoria and took the year-long position, only to be offered an extension at the end of her contract. She wound up staying in Clatsop County for four years.

It was after the war that Jean met Kermit Roth, who had worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Air Force before returning to OSC with an eye toward moving up the ranks in the military. The couple married in June 1948 and settled in Portland for the first few years of their life together. Their first two children, Kenneth and Kreg, were born in Portland. In 1952 Jean and Kermit decided to move to Corvallis to be closer to her family, and over the next seven years Jean gave birth to two more children, Kathy and Kim.

Upon his return to Corvallis, Kermit Roth was initially involved in the plywood business, but when the markets shifted he moved into a managerial role at a Philomath mill, eventually becoming its sole owner in 1967. Jean left the work force in 1949 when she gave birth to her first child, electing to stay at home to raise her family. Her two boys became involved with the Boys Scouts and each earned their Eagle Scout badges. And as with Jean, both of the Roth daughters were involved in the domestic aspects of 4-H.

Starker Roth traveled broadly with her husband and family, visiting Hawaii on a number of occasions, and taking trips to Asia and Australia as well. It was soon after returning from a trip to Mexico in 1979 that Kermit suffered a heart attack and passed away. In the immediate aftermath of Kermit's death, Jean busied herself with planning her daughter's wedding and hiring a manager to run her and Kermit's forestry concerns. A few years later, Jean took control of the lands herself, ultimately selling them to acquire other properties that provided her with an income.

Over the course of several decades, Starker Roth gave back generously to her community. She involved herself in fundraising and donating to many local organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club, the 4-H program, and Good Samaritan Hospital. Starker Roth also contributed to multiple initiatives at Oregon State University, including the Alumni Center, Athletics, and the university library. The Kermit & Jean Starker Roth Aquatic Fund likewise provides an endowment to support swimming lessons at the Osborn Aquatic Center, and the Kermit E. Roth Park Fund insures that Corvallis' Roth Gateway Park will continue to be well-tended and colorfully planted.

Starker Roth likewise served on advisory boards for OSU's College of Heath and Human Sciences, the Alumni Association, and the OSU Libraries, as well as Good Samaritan Hospital and the Benton County Museum. She was also a trustee of the OSU Foundation. She held season tickets to Oregon State basketball and football, and was recognized by the Athletic Department for her outstanding attendance record, having seen the bulk of Oregon State's football and men's basketball games since 1922.

In 2000 Starker Roth was named a Most Honorable Member of the OSU President's Club and she was awarded the E.B. Lemon Distinguished Alumni Award in 2001. She was also a member of the 4-H Century Club from 2006 to 2015.

Jean Starker Roth passed away on March 27th, 2015 in her home. She was survived by her four children - three of whom were OSU alumni - as well as ten grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.