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Ivan Newton Oral History Interview, November 21, 1985

Oregon State University
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Susan Brumley: This is an interview with Ivan L. Newton, retired agriculture advisor from Corvallis, Oregon. Mr. Newton has been working in the field of agriculture since 1948, helping people in underdeveloped areas to grow food. He is well-traveled, having worked in Afghanistan, India, Iran, Nepal and several other eastern countries. His military experience with the Air Force in the Military Sea Transportation service during World War II and Vietnam has taken him around the world several times. This interview is being conducted November 21, 1985 in Waldo Hall on the Oregon State University Campus. The interviewer is Susan Brumley representing the Oregon State University Anthropology Department Oral History program. Can you start with where you grew up?


Ivan Newton: Yes, alright. Is it on? Well, I was born on a 200-acre farm halfway between Corvallis and Philomath December 1, 1917. I spent my first 19 years on that farm, and then we moved to the city. In the meantime, I attended a one-room school at Plymouth, with one teacher and 20 students and the next four years we took a bus everyday and came to the old Corvallis High School that was located in Central Park in downtown Corvallis. When I graduated from high school, that was in the depression times, I worked for the forest service for one year. At that time I joined a labor union and was sent to Toledo to help pave some 00:02:00streets in Toledo, Oregon. About halfway through I straightened up one day and held my back and looked at my feet that had been in that hot asphalt all day and said this wasn't for me, because I'm going to school. So that fall I took off for Southern California because the rates were cheaper down there and you didn't have to have so many clothes. It wasn't so expensive to go to school. When I arrived down there I was made foreman of the grounds. I worked my way through 2 years of junior college and about that time, it was 1941, the war came along and during the summer school I had learned to fly at Oceanside junior college. So I 00:03:00enlisted in the Glider Corps. I had 70 hours before, so they made an instructor out of me. In two years with teaching and instructing glider pilots that was finished, so I was let go, and then I joined the merchant seamen in 1945. In that time we had traveled to Karachi, India, not Pakistan, but Karachi, India, at that time and came back. I made two other trips: one to Belgium and one to the Philippine islands of Manila.

At the war's end I came out and the GI Bill put me through my first two years, 00:04:00or my second two years of college. And at that time I worked for two years for the extension service here at Oregon State University. I had been married before I started back to school, and there were two children, Michael and Patrick, and I was married here, not here, but I was married at Oceanside, California, in 1945. When I stopped work with the extension service I worked with a private consultant for one year, a horticulture house over at Tidewater raising strawberry plants. During that time the Korean War came along and I went with 00:05:00the MSTS, Military Sea and Transportation Service, for the next year carrying soldiers from Seattle to Pusan, Korea, and Yokohama, Japan.

After that time it was 1953, so I came back to Oregon State University again and received a Master's Degree in 1955. At that time they were calling for agriculture people overseas, so I sent in my application, and was assigned after about 6 months to Afghanistan. This was with what is now known USAID, at that 00:06:00time the name had been changed 2 or 3 times, but it was with the state department and it was an agriculture advisor. I worked for 2 years in Afghanistan down in the desert settling nomads in an area where they had had water for the first time and were building their homes, and our job was to get them settled. From there, I came back to Washington for about 2 weeks and was assigned to Korea. I spent 2 ½ years in Korea working with men, women, and children. The men, the agriculture program; with the women, home demonstration agents trying to get them out on the field for the first time; and there was a 00:07:00huge program in 4-H, what we call 4-H here, and that really worked in Korea. From there I was sent to Iran. Up in a city called Rash, near the Caspian Sea, I spent 4 years there. Most people think Iran is a desert but it is not. Where I was it has almost the same climate as Oregon, with 7" of rain. There is 500,000 acres of rice, and they raise oranges, vegetables, and fruit, the same as we do here. I was in charge of the agriculture program, the community involvement program, the health program, and the education program. It was almost too much for one man, but they had been going for 2 or 3 years and I was finally closing 00:08:00some of them down because they had gotten as far as they could.

From Iran I was transferred to Nepal. A Hindu kingdom up in the Himalayan Mountains. There is no steamship ride. There is one little railroad that goes in 15 miles. There is one highway up to Kathmandu, and it is a nation where transportation is by foot or by one or two small airports where small planes could get into. It's an agriculture subsistence nation and it needed lots of help. So I spent two years there in agriculture programs getting in new seeds, new crops, and a little better way with our extension stations and experiment stations to show them how to farm a little better. From Nepal I came back to 00:09:00Washington and went through more 8 weeks of school and was then sent to Vietnam. Most people wondered what are you doing in Vietnam in the middle of a war? There were...1969 there were 3 ½ million refugees, and they were settled in camps. My job was to show them, if they had land enough to grow gardens, to provide seed for them, to show them how to plant, and we were training a cadre to stay at these places where we had got started, and it was a method of helping them raise food for themselves and not have to rely on their government or our government so much to furnish food. After my first tour I came back to 00:10:00Washington and they sent me to Nigeria for a while because this was the end of the Civil War between the nationals and the Igbos and there was some problems in agriculture and food distribution.

I worked there for 6 months to a year trying to straighten them out to get food out to the people who really needed it. When my job finished there I went back to Vietnam for another year and a half. This was up in the northern section to a place called Da Nang which was only about 35 miles from the DMZ [De-Militarized Zone]. The work that... you had to be very careful because you didn't know who you were working with. Maybe someday you was working with a farmer in the daytime but at night he might be out there sending rockets into the city. They were all dressed the same. They all looked alike, so it was very difficult to 00:11:00get your job done, but we did succeed in getting thousands and thousands of refugees into camps where they had a roof over their head and they weren't bothered by the Viet Cong or those type of people. Now when I finished there, this was in 1972, I came back to Washington for a year and a half and they were phasing the program down so at that time I thought, well, I had 25 years of service in, I had been 6 times around the world, and there wasn't any other places to see or work in except maybe in outer Mongolia, but they didn't need help. So I retired and came back to my home here at 1710 Brook Lane that I had 00:12:00had for years, and it was near where my grandparents had came and settled years before, and it is in the city, but it's just like out in the country because there is an acre and a large garden and a huge lawn and it keeps my busy.

Now you'll ask me about friends. Well, at one time, yes, I knew a lot of people and had many friends. But I was gone for 25 years, and in that time many of the friends moved away or passed on and the only time we did get to see friends was just in July where we had our 50th anniversary reunion from Corvallis High 00:13:00School. Those who graduated in 1935. In this reunion there were 75 of the ones who graduated from high school in 1935 came back to Corvallis, and we had a 2-day celebration, getting to know each other again, and try to recognize each other after not being able to see each other for so many years.

SB: How about the first wife? Where did you meet her?

IN: With my first wife, I met her at Oceanside, California. She was going to high school and I was going to community college, and then when the war finished we were married and we came here to Corvallis where I was going to school, and I 00:14:00was gone so long overseas where there was no place for the children to go to school. She decided that she wanted to separate, so she did. And I was single for several years until I met this girl in Iran, and I corresponded with her for several years until 1971 and we were married that time in Iran and of course she couldn't go with me to Vietnam because there were no dependents allowed at that time, so she stayed in Iran until I came back to Washington, and then she came to Washington to meet me there. We have bee, together since. We have one 00:15:00daughter, Frances, who is now 9 years old and going to Adams School.

SB: Is there anything else you want to touch base on?

IN: Well, I had traveled, I worked in 8 different countries. I traveled in many others from Vietnam. We had what is called R & R, which is Rest and Recreation. You could build up these days and go somewhere. One trip I left and went to Sydney, Australia for a week and came back to Vietnam, and the next time on R & R I went to Taipei. You flew from Vietnam to Hong Kong, from Hong Kong, to Taipei. And from all these countries there still wasn't a place for me that was 00:16:00any better than Oregon. Any country that was nearly the same would be New Zealand where the rain and the grass and the shrubbery and so forth looks like Oregon except the 3 million people and 60 million sheep is just a little different than Oregon. But it is the closest climatically to Oregon than any country I have been in. Some of the other countries visited or worked in from your regular job. I came to India several times because you had to change airplanes in the New Delhi, India, to take a small plane to go into Kathmandu because the airports were so small, and in Kathmandu they couldn't take a large 00:17:00plane. So I had what they called TDY [temporary duty] in New Delhi. I left Vietnam and went to Bangkok in Thailand, and those were some of the places that I visited other than my job. And of course later on and across the country you got to stay in places like London and New Delhi, Iran, Rome, Hong Kong, and Tokyo.

SB: What about the languages? Do you speak most of these?

IN: Most of your tours were for two years and in that two years' time if you took time to learn the language you wouldn't have time to do your job. So most 00:18:00of the time I had an interpreter or a translator with me, and if I was giving instructions or giving a talk I would give 2 or 3 sentences and he would translate. But remember in extension work most of your work is by demonstration, so all they had to do is just to watch if they didn't understand too much about the language. They could just watch the results and if your results, and most of the time they were, better, you could have them farm right alongside of where you were farming and when you shared that there were better methods that could produce more food then that was left with them and I'm sure they're still following it. So there are some people we trained overseas that are still there, so they are taking what we taught them and taking it out to the field. This was 00:19:00one thing that is a little different than some of the countries than here. Many college graduates in some of the other countries would like to after they graduate have an office where someone would bring seed to them and not get out on the field. So it's a little different than our way of doing extension work.

SB: What did you do now? Are you retired, is that right?

IN: Yes. I retired in 1973 and came back to Corvallis. As I said, we have an acre out here within the city limits, but there is a ½ acre of lawn to take care of. There is a huge garden to take care of. I do carpentry work so I have been adding a room now and then, or porch, or a patio and so forth. I have half a dozen hobbies, including photography, leather craft, wood work, anything to do 00:20:00with my hands, even the needlepoint. These are some of the things that keep me busy now. My wife is at Oregon State College right now. My daughter is going to Adams School. So half of the time I am alone at home. But I keep busy.