The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

Sort Interviews by Affiliation or Theme

Roger Werth Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Janice Dilg.

June 16, 2014


Roger Alan Werth was born in 1957 in Portland, Oregon. He lived there until the age of twelve, when his family moved to the small town of Rainier, near the Washington border. As a boy, Werth nurtured a love of the outdoors and also fostered a passion for photography - he began taking, developing and printing photos by the time that he was six years old.

Werth graduated from Rainier High School in 1975, having also completed several college courses through an area "Running Start" program. He lived in Corvallis and attended Oregon State University from 1975-1978, first majoring in Forestry but eventually settling on Liberal Studies, with concentrations in Journalism and Photography. During his time on campus, Werth also served as a member of the Beaver Yearbook staff, filling the roles of photo editor and chief photographer.

In the Spring of 1978, Werth began a three-month photojournalism internship at the Longview (Washington) Daily News. At the conclusion of this internship, Werth accepted the offer of a full-time paid position, and he has remained at the newspaper ever since. Once employed, Werth completed his OSU education in a piecemeal fashion, earning his degree in June 1980.

Werth and the Daily News were thrust into the spotlight in the Spring of 1980, when Mount St. Helens began venting steam. The mountain's devastating major eruption, which took place on May 18, 1980, was both initially and most completely covered by the Daily News staff. Roger Werth was the first photojournalist to arrive on the scene, capturing images of the erupting mountain from his vantage point in a small aircraft.

Over the course of that day and in the weeks that followed, Werth photographed the mountain and the disaster from multiple viewpoints, recording stunning imagery of ash clouds, debris avalanches, and mudflows flattening the Toutle Valley. Roughly one cubic mile of material was blown off of Mt. St. Helens on May 18th, and the destruction that ensued became a story for the Daily News that lasted for several years.

Werth's iconic photographs of the erupting mountain graced the covers of numerous publications, including National Geographic, Time and Life. In 1981, he and the Daily News staff received Pulitzer Prizes for their coverage of the event.