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Clara Storvick Oral History Interview, June 2, 1983

Oregon State University

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´╗┐SL: You came to Oregon State University in 1945?

C.S: 1945, yes. My first research project then, well, two of them really, was to study ascorbic acid metabolism in adolescent children at the Children's Farm Home. The children there were court committed children. It is the same institution as we have there now, except it's now managed under an entirely different organization. I had done the very same sort of study on adults, but not on children that young. Before I came, Dr. Fincke had written a proposal to do research on dental caries. She had cooperated with the Women's Extension Council in preparing this proposal and I think that, although I would not say 1:00our dental research program was the most important research program we had in nutrition, I would say it was the most unique because we had a full time dentist the whole time. Other than that, it was merely a part of our whole nutrition program. It would be difficult to say what was the most profound aspect of our nutrition research program, but I think it would be fair to say that it was Vitamin B6. The Vitamin B6 study was based on some very interesting observations in infants who had developed convulsive seizures. These infants had been fed a proprietary mild formula where the milk had been processed at such a high temperature the Vitamin B6 had been destroyed. Because of this, these infants were rendered Vitamin B6 deficient, and they developed convulsive seizures.


I think one of the very interesting things, perhaps the foundation of that research program, was the observation of a woman who had an infant that developed convulsive seizures while he was on the formula. She ran out of it so she fed the baby cereal and the seizures stopped. She was a nurse by training and apparently, not a very shy person. She wrote to the Food and Drug Administration and told them what she had observed. A man who worked in the Food and Drug Administration said, "Well, that's very interesting, we see this same sort of thing happening in rats that are on a Vitamin B6 deficient diet." Here was someone who recognized something analogous in the human subject which he had 3:00observed in the experimental animal. We were interested in establishing in our laboratory here some criteria for assessing vitamin B6 nutrition, whether it was of blood level or urinary excretion or a metabolite, cinimino acid metabolite, for example. I consider this perhaps to be the most elaborate nutrition research program we had here. It involved the most people, microbiologists, chemists, and so on.

SL: And that research project still has a big impact on what people think today?

CS: Oh, it is still true. Oh yes, it's still true. One example is--vitamin B6 is 4:00essential for the development of the immune system and if they do a transplant they don't want people to be immune to the transplant so they give them vitamin B6 antagonists to deprive them of immune qualities. On the other hand, if they want to develop immunity against, let's say something like cancer, then they want to be sure that people have enough vitamin B6. If they give people isoniazid in the treatment of tuberculosis, those persons must be given vitamin B6 right along with the medication or they develop profound macroscopic anemia, and if it goes far enough, they also develop seizures. Adults are not as susceptible to seizures as infants. Infant's vile and sheaves are not very well developed, that is, the nerves are not surrounded by an intact substantial vile 5:00and sheaves so they become very susceptible to convulsive seizures whereas the adult is not so susceptible to convulsive seizures.

SL In 1965 you were appointed to be chairman of Home Economics Research at the Oregon State University Experimental Station. Can you tell us what that involved and what your responsibilities were?

CS: Well, before that I was involved with nutrition research. Since food research was in the same department, you could hardly separate the two, and of course, I was very much interested in what the foods research people were doing. When I became head of Home Economics Research I needed to give some attention to encouraging the establishment of research programs in other areas of home economics as well. The orientation for research is not as commonly found in the 6:00other departments. Because we already had research in foods and nutrition, and in clothing, textiles and related arts, I would like to read one section here about the objectives of home economics research which was written about that time. "The objective of home economics research is to contribute to the advancement of human well-being through research in the selection, preparation and preservation of food, the determination of human nutrition requirements and the role of food maintaining optimal health, and the selection, construction and care of clothing and household fabrics". At first the work in research and clothing was primarily in clothing construction. The next thing was research on 7:00the use of Oregon linen in weaving fabrics. Then later, of course, in textiles, when Dr. Petzel, who is very competent in the area of textiles, was available. The other clothing areas had not established research of any significance.

SL: You played one of the major roles in establishing the Cooperative Research at Oregon State University?

CS: No, not really. Dr. Fincke had established cooperative research before that. As she mentioned, there was Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Utah; those five states. With the establishment of the Research and Marketing Act of 1945, we added to that number. I think California was added before 1945. Anyway, it 8:00was well established before I came. We had the working mechanism for setting up meetings and so on. The Research and Marketing Act gave us a substantial amount of money to increase our undertakings in regional research. In Oregon we studied nutritional status. First we did another liminary study at the Children's Farm Home to see how our added facilities served our purposes. In other words, we had a mobile laboratory which was a huge thing, from the U.S. Public Health Service in Washington. D.C. We went to Clatsop County in Astoria, to the Coos Bay, North 9:00Bend area, and to the Bend and Klamath Falls area to study the differences in nutritional status and food habits among those four regions. So, although we did research in greater depths because of more money, cooperative regional research had been, in fact, established under Dr. Fincke.

SL: Through my readings I've learned about your research with elephants, and I'm very interested in what that involved and how you became interested in it.

CS: Well, that's one of those sort of extra-curricular activities in a research laboratory that you get called upon to do. It doesn't fall within a 40 hour week by a long ways. They called from the zoo when they had problems in feeding particular animals, and one of the problems they were worried about was what 10:00they should feed a baby elephant. For something like 40 years an elephant had not been born in captivity in this country, and they didn't really understand how to treat the pregnant female. They had isolated the pregnant female and apparently that is not what happens in the world. The pregnant female, when she is about to deliver, must have some way of selecting a couple of other females to be with her during the period. Otherwise, she just nearly goes berserk. She is frightened and fearful that something will happen, I suppose, to the baby. The director of the zoo was Dr. Mayberry, a veterinarian, and he called and said, "You know, we really don't know what to feed a baby elephant if something happens to the mother, or if the mother rejects the baby. We don't know." Well, 11:00it so happened that when this pregnant female was about to deliver, she did select other elephants to be with her and she objected strenuously if they tried to separate her from the others. When the baby was born, the mother was apparently quite delighted, and it wasn't long before the baby had its mother's milk. This was still kind of intriguing, and the zoo keeper, Dr. Mayberry, wanted to know if we would analyze the milk. Well, yes we would analyze the milk.

So two or three others, as I remember, and I went up there to get the milk sample. I had some glassware that had been cleaned properly; if you use a container, for example, that isn't absolutely, perfectly clean, chemically clean, you are not going to get good results at all. You are going to measure 12:00more contaminates than you are vitamin B6. I gave him the container and he asked, "Are you collecting the milk or am I collecting the milk?" And I said, "Dr. Mayberry, I just don't think I know anything about that, and I don't know if you know either." The milk supply of the elephant is not in the rear of the animal like it is for the cow; it's up in front between the forelegs, and when Dr. Mayberry got under the elephant to milk her, she crossed her forelegs. There were no mammary glands to get hold of. You had to encourage her to separate those forelegs, and she often did if the baby elephant came along. She worked so fast, we couldn't tell exactly what she was doing; whether she was taking the breast and putting it in the baby's mouth or whether she was lifting the baby's trunk so it wouldn't be in the way while the baby sought the milk supply. 13:00Anyway, Dr. Mayberry would go out there and get a couple drops and then the baby would push him out of the way. Then he would go around the elephant to get at the other side, and the baby, of course, didn't have to go around its mother, it went under the mother and just pushed him. It was an Abbott and Costello performance beformance before we got about a half milliliter of milk, I think, and came home.

SL: What did you discover about this milk?

CS: Well, it was high in fat. It was a very thick concentrated milk. In fact, the first time we got it, it may have been part Colostrum. We weren't sure of that. We got it periodically, going up there several times. This study made the literature in a separate publication, and it's also in a book on the milk of various species of animals. We've had a number of requests for it. Jean Peters worked with me on a microbiological assay and then wrote it up. She knows a good 14:00deal about it, and I also think she was there when the milk was collected.

SL: Did you do any other nutrition research involving animals?

CS: Yes, we did. We were interested in thiamin. We got interested in it because the hog has a remarkable ability to synthesize vitamin Bl thiamin. In other words, because the content of thiamin in pork is much higher than it is in other meats, that led us to study the thiamin content of the blood of various species of animals; so there again we had quite an assortment from the zoo; the lion cub, the bear cub, the mouflon sheep, the deer and so on. Also, with the cooperation of the Animal Science Department, we had domestic animals; we had cattle, horses, sheep and so on to study. We've been interested in studying various species of animals as we sometimes get an insight into what goes on in 15:00the human being. Another thing about our nutrition research laboratory was, in contrast with most of the nutrition laboratories in the country, our focus while I was there and also Dr. Fincke in later years, was on the human being. I had no rat lab or guinea pig lab. The work was focused on human subjects.

SL: Were there very many problems involved in experimenting with humans?

CS: No, we never had any. As long as you are willing to work, you can get it done, but it's a seven day week proposition, none of this "40 hour bit". We had subjects who were always very cooperative and were generally graduate students in nutrition or biochemistry.

SL: In the 25 years you worked at Oregon State University in the nutrition lab, 16:00can you tell me about any of its major changes in the way the research was conducted?

CS: I think it was different in scope and in depth, but the general plan, the general aims, were the same: "What is the nutrition of the human being?" One of our University of California people who came up here one summer asked her professor at the University of California just what was the difference between biochemistry and nutrition. He was a little startled by that question, but it was a very good question. They impinge on one another a great deal. We (nutritionists) would get no place without a good background in biochemistry, and the biochemists must give some thought to nutrition.

SL: Was there a change in student involvement? As the years went by did you have 17:00more and more graduate students interested in becoming involved with the research?

CS: Well, yes, but those who graduate in home economics have many opportunities; a good many of them marry upon graduation and some of them have opportunities to do other things. They may be with the National Dairy Council, or they may be with Pillsbury, or they may be with Public Health, or they may go into dietetic internships and so on. It was our feeling that in order to be practical in seeking and choosing graduate students, we should pay them one-half per year of what they would get if they were beginning instructors. This is always difficult because they are temporary and they are definitely learning, but they also 18:00produce. Graduate students are very stimulating. They ask questions that probably older people would not ask. It is something that frequently comes right off the top of the head - spontaneous. I hope the day never comes when they think it's unnecessary to learn something about skills because they'd get no place in a research laboratory if they didn't have skills. The same thing is true with food preparation and all of the other areas. I think that the information we have on inborn errors of metabolism and abnormal metabolism of any kind, whatever it's caused by, is also something very important to other fields of home economics. I don't know whether now in child development it is 19:00required that students take courses in biochemistry or not, but I think it would be a mistake if they were not. Students need to know that there are many things that go into the determination of behavior, among which perhaps nutrition is one of the most important.

SL: I think they are required to take biochemistry.

CS: That's good.

SL: You have spent such a large portion of your life helping others through your research. How do you feel you've benefited from all the knowledge you've learned?

CS: I didn't hear the question.

SL: How did you benefit from your research? You have helped a lot of others, but how did you benefit?

CS: Well, it is a tremendous personal satisfaction to be paid to do something you love to do, it is a tremendous thrill.


SL: Thank you. Do you think your health has benefited from all this knowledge you've learned?

CS: Oh, yes, I think so. Dr. Hawthorne, Dr. Hawk, Dr. Fincke and I went on a Sierra Club outing. All four of us had worked on ascorbic acid, and there we were, for two weeks, on a ascorbic acid deficient diet. Much of the food supply that was provided was prepared by straight chemists at the University of California who apparently had had no information on biochemistry or nutrition. I think they picked out palatable foods and high quality foods, but we were on a scorbutic diet. That's right. It was well selected except that he did not have any oranges; any ascorbic acid.


SL: Was it a two week vacation?

CS: Yes, we went on a burro.

Margaret Finke: We had 17 in the party that we traveled with.

CS: If it hadn't been for Dr. Fincke and Dr. Hawthorne we would have starved to death, because we had some student French majors doing the cooking but who didn't know anything about cooking.

MF: There were a couple of French majors who knew absolutely nothing about food preparation, absolutely nothing. They didn't even know that after you finished cooking you put your cooking pans to soak.

CS: No. Dr. Fincke and Dr. Hawk used to meander over and ask if there was anything they could do to help and before we knew it, they had sort of taken over; it was a rare experience. But we had some great times on bicycle, trips 22:00and mountain climbing. Dr. Fincke and I climbed Mt Rainer in 1946. The most gorgeous weekend you could imagine, just wonderful.

SL: Dr. Fincke mentioned you were the one who began the mountain climbing.

CS: Yes, I belonged to the Mountaineers in Seattle and I'd taken the mountaineering course. When I came down here I knew that she (Dr. Fincke) was physically active and that she would enjoy it too so, I guess, the first year I gave her a pack for Christmas. She came from New York City, you understand. Her mother was also from New York City, but her mother was born in London, and I think she thought that they had lived peacefully in Corvallis until I came along with my ideas about mountain climbing. But she's climbed many a summit.

SL: Have you been interested in the outdoors since you were very young?


CS: Oh, yes.

SL: Is that one of your interests?

CS: Oh, yes, that's one of our interests. Of course we are not mountain climbing now-a-days, but we are active.

SL: What have you done to replace mountain climbing?

CS: Gardening, I guess.

SL: I hear you are an expert on fig trees. Do you grow them around here?

CS: I'll show you. I'll show you my fig trees.

SL: Have you done any research on the fig trees?

CS: No, I haven't. I used the enzyme once to see whether or not I could squirt some vitamin B6 complexes, but that didn't work very well. Dr. Woodburn has done some research on them.

SL: We heard the funny story about Dr. Woodburn trying to find an overripe fig, a perfect fig, and an under ripe fig and she had quite a hard time doing that.

SL: Is there anything that you'd like to add that you think we've left out?

CS: There is one thing that I would like to add and that is about the great 24:00privilege of sabbatical leaves we have on this campus. Dr. Fincke mentioned that she was at Children's Hospital in Cincinnati and worked on inborn errors in metabolism. I had the opportunity of spending one sabbatical leave in two places. The first 3 months I was at Columbia University in the Institute of Sidorphysiology. Then the next sabbatical leave I had was at the National Institute of Health, and I was working on vitamin B6 there also. The last one I had was in the Cancer Research Hospital at the University of Wisconsin. I think these are very important opportunities we have at Oregon State: to be able to go off and spend sabbatical leaves where, if the phone rings, it's not for you and 25:00you don't have any committee meetings, conferences and so on. You can focus full time on a major interest. This is what Dean Hawthorne did at the Hormel Institute when she was working on lipids.

There's one other point that I would like to mention. It was perhaps around 1960 or so that we were asked to tell how many foreign students we had as graduate students. I think at that time we had had more graduate students obtain a degree of some kind at Oregon State, bachelors, master's or doctorate's in home economics than all of the other western states put together. I would say there 26:00were two reasons for this. Perhaps most important was the fact that Dean Milam had established home economics at Yenching University in China, and during Dr. Fincke's and my professional life we never had a dud, because Dean Milam picked them. She picked the graduate students who came over here from Mainland, China. They were very fine and they have really gone places since they left. Some of them have gone back to the Mainland, and some of them are doing very fine work in our country. The other important factor is that the experiment station has been willing for us to give research assistantships to foreign students. This is not true at the University of California; you have to be a citizen of the state, not only of the United States, in order to qualify. I know that for a fact 27:00because when Mei Ling Woo was here, I thought she might like to go down there for a summer or a year or so. No, she couldn't, she wasn't a citizen of this country and not a citizen of California. So I think both of these examples tell us quite a bit about the vision, not only of Dean Milam, but of the experiment station here that has been willing to take them on. Perhaps we went almost to the other extreme, I'd have more foreign students in the laboratory than I had American students. This becomes serious, because in the years to come, people may have to go back to some of those other countries for graduate work rather than have them come over here. I think we need to have some balance in selecting 28:00graduate students.

SL: Do you feel you have really learned a lot from the foreign students?

CS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Different kinds of things. We had one from Finland who did her graduate work in thiamin and who became a Finnish Vice Council in the diplomatic core in the Canal Zone. We had completed our work for the day and Dr. Fincke and I were just finishing up in the laboratory and we engaged this young Finnish woman in conversation. She had worked in a Finnish prison camp for Russians in Finland. She said one of the things they particularly feared was the lovely clear moonlight nights in the winter because that was exactly when the Russians might attack. She said the Russians in the camp found that if they had 29:00anything to work with at all they could make a musical instrument and put on a program. It was apparently a need they had to entertain each other, and so they'd make some kind of musical instrument or sing. She said before you knew it you were just captivated by what they were doing, and you'd better watch out about what was going on outdoors. She had had such experiences that we had never had and she was a very, very fine person. I think Dean Hawthorne had her as a student and she went from B the first week to C the next week to B the next week to A the fourth week.

MF: I bet she started with an F.

CS: Well, maybe son.

MF: She didn't know anything and she was taking beginning nutrition, but she got an A at the end of the course.

CS: Oh, yes, she was very able, very able. I think we've been very fortunate. We 30:00had one or two who were no good, but one of them, I think, was of the very top class in Korea, and I think she married someone in the diplomatic corps in Washington, D.C. She was not here to do graduate work in nutrition primarily. She had just came over and this was a stopping place. We have had one or two that have not been good, but they don't last, you know.

SL: You are now doing volunteer work at the hospital?

CS: Yes, we do volunteer work in the Medical Records Department, and although we weren't trained basically in computers, I use the computer quite frequently for 31:00retrieving data, and I think Dr. Fincke does too. We aren't program writing of course, but we do some very interesting things. Now for example, I have been going through the state lists of people who have died of cancer. The list is prepared by the state, and I check it against the list of cancer registrants here to see which ones are from this hospital, or who were patients at this hospital and then check them off. I also check the hospital register to make sure that we have all of the names recorded here, and it they aren't recorded on the state list, we call attention to that too. We are doing things that the hospital staff would otherwise have to do. They are a very, very fine group of 32:00young women, very professional and very discreet.

SL: You seem to have so much value for people - would you say that your main philosophy is caring for people?

CS: Pardon me?

SL: You seem to care so much for people? Would you say that that is your main philosophy in your work?

CS: Well, I think if you lose your interest in people you are dead. I think that is a tremendously interesting factor and Dr. Fincke does more than that. She does the - tell them what you do on Mondays.

M.F: I deliver meals to the elderly.

CS: Yes, she delivers meals to the elderly. She takes the noon time meal, and as a result, she knows much more about the streets and alleys in Corvallis than I do.

SL: Do they prepare a nutritional meal?


MF: Yes, they are. This was started as a national project under the Older Americans Act. I knew that the Act had passed Congress but the money had not been granted. We knew it was coming so a group of us nutritionists in the county got started planning. We began realizing that our county is very small in terms of total numbers so we took in Linn and Lincoln counties also. We then had a tri-county unit and then, eventually, the proper committees were formed. It is going to be locally funded much more than in the past, and the meals will be for 34:00only the two counties, Benton and Linn; Lincoln County is too far away. The meals are prepared in one place for Linn County and Benton Counties and sent out to different sites in the different cities. I think there are about 10 or 11 sites in the two counties. Our site is at the First Christian Church and so those who can, go there to eat. They also have social contacts there and that's very important. Then there are those who cannot get out; the incapacitated. Now, they told me this last week, they are sending out 40-50 meals a day. I deliver one day a week and I have about eight places to go.

CS: Other things we should perhaps mention are that both of us are active in our 35:00respective churches. Dr. Fincke wrote the history of the Good Samaritan Church here which was printed and published. That was quite an undertaking.

MF: There are lots of things you can do in retirement. It's a matter of choosing where you want to put you emphasis. We've both decided it's very nice to retire where your friends are, but retire in a university town because there are so many things going on that you can do. Lots of activities. We went to the concert last week of the Oregon State University Concert Band with the 7 year old cornetist. We thoroughly enjoyed that. We enjoyed the music series; the Oregon State University Corvallis series and the Chamber Music series so you see there 36:00are just lots of things you can do.

SL: So you are enjoying being retired?

MF: Oh, very much so.

SL: If there is nothing else you'd like to add I'd like to thank you very much for your time.