Innovators, Advocates, & Controversy
2019 has brought its fair share of positive and progressive action and discourse to the Corvallis community, as well as some controversy and divisiveness. Leading these affairs were key individuals whose actions and interests serve a wide range of community-wide endeavors.
This year’s Most Impactful persons of Corvallis — a roundup we annually deliver — highlights individuals who have made considerable impact in our community, for better or for worse. From advocates and innovators to those whose words and actions struck a controversial chord in the community dialogue, here are our top picks for Corvallis’ Most Impactful People of 2019.
Doug Pollock was returning from a night-time run in the forest in late May near Baker Creek – north of Corvallis – when he happened upon an awful sight. Roughly 16 acres of old growth, with scores of trees 200-400 years old, had been cut. Pollock would soon find out that Oregon State University’s College of Forestry was the culprit behind this harvest, an act in direct violation of their own guiding principles, which claim to protect old growth.
“These were trees that generations of neighbors and recreational users of the forest knew and cherished,” says Pollock. “I couldn’t fathom how OSU could destroy these amazing, old trees… The oldest one we were able to verify was at least 420-years-old. That’s roughly 3 times as old as OSU!”
In response to an email from Pollock, OSU forest manager Brent Klumph wrote that he and forest director Stephen Fitzgerald had been planning the harvest for two years due to “signs of mortality.” This didn’t add up, says Pollock, noting that aerial photos showed very little dead crowns, “and most of the stumps were also sound.”
After talking to neighbors and researching OSU forest management, Pollock organized the group Friends of OSU Old Growth and began a petition asking for the preservation of unprotected old growth in OSU forests. “Most people do not realize there are substantial sections of old forest and lots of old-growth trees that are not currently protected.”
“We were especially concerned about the remaining 36 acres of old growth near Sulphur Springs, adjacent to the cut,” Pollock continues. “The College had put in a new road and was clearly intending to log this stand of old growth in the future.”
The deeper Pollock dug into OSU’s forest management history, the more he discovered gross violations of the College’s 2005 forest management plan.
“We found that roughly a dozen recent cuts in the southern zone of the forest destroyed nesting/roosting/foraging (NRF) habitat for threatened northern spotted owls — something the plan promised to protect. Also, 10 large cuts, ranging from roughly 15-30 acres in size, violated a key provision of the plan limiting cuts to 1-4 acres in size.”
Pollock then found that the bulk of the College’s funding comes from the timber industry, including funding for the new forestry building, a $5 million endowment for the Dean’s position, plus most of the 14 endowed chairs.
“The College also receives money from the Oregon forest products harvest tax,” says Pollock. “This substantial industry funding leads to enormous conflicts of interest at all levels of the College.”
Thanks to Pollock and Friends of OSU Old Growth, the 36 acres near Sulphur Springs were promised protection in an announcement from the Dean of the College of Forestry in late October. The 2005 management plan was also reinstated, along with a commitment to utilizing a collaborative approach in developing the next forest plan.
“While these are monumental changes, they are also long overdue,” Pollock says.
“I don’t think the OSU administration really understands the full extent of the tarnishing of their image and reputation,” he continues, pointing to feelings of anger and shame among faculty members and would-be students that have since abandoned any interest in the forestry program. “When the story of OSU cutting a 420-year-old tree is on the homepage of CNN.com, it has a lasting, negative impact on our entire community.”
Pollock condemns OSU’s lack of transparency and accountability in the wake of these violations. “Neither the Dean nor the OSU administration have been willing to answer fundamental questions I emailed them months ago. They ignored repeated requests that they not burn the enormous slash piles at the cut, an unnecessary practice that releases huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.”
On November 15, forestry staff burned the slash piles, further undermining their goals aimed at reducing carbon emissions. Pollock says that neither the Dean nor the administration ever issued an apology for what was done to the old growth, and that those who harvested them are still employed at the University.
“Problems like those in the College of Forestry are not going to be solved by the same people and system that created them,” he says. “It takes people who are willing to think outside the box and make the folks in power uncomfortable.”
Friends of OSU Old Growth has reached over 600 supporters. Pollock credits Kathleen Dean Moore for her pivotal role in their efforts, and recognizes Oregon’s Poet Laureate, Kim Stafford, for writing poems for a forest memorial service. The group is in the process of releasing a video and planning an art exhibit on OSU’s cutting of old growth, and is helping develop the next research plan.
“The diversity of support has been humbling and gratifying. I believe it is what brought about the changes we’ve seen,” he says.
Pollock encourages anyone interested in getting involved to join the Friends of OSU Old Growth email list and to sign the petition on their website, www.friendsofosuoldgrowth.org.
Doug Pollock was Hewlett-Packard’s first “product steward” for inkjet manufacturing in the early 90s, where he developed HP’s recycling process that has reportedly processed over a billion used cartridges. In his spare time, he enjoys cycling and running with his sons, ages 13 and 17. He thanks his family for their support during his efforts in protecting the old growth.
2. Reverend Jennifer Butler
Reverend Jennifer Butler of The First Congregational United Church of Christ in Corvallis made waves for the local houseless community this year by spearheading Safe Camp, a designated camping zone for houseless community members that sprung up overnight on the church’s property this summer.
The church has managed an active Houseless Communities ministry team for years, and uses the word houseless instead of the more commonly used term homeless, “because home is not necessarily four walls and a roof,” says Butler.
Prior to Safe Camp’s establishment, the church’s ministry team worked with the city and country to find ways to support the local houseless community. The church was aware that people were camping in the tree farm property owned by David Lin, and in response, supplied amenities in their parking lot, including portable outdoor toilets. Meanwhile, some members of the houseless community became active attendees of the church.
In July, Butler received a call from a camper who was being arrested for trespassing, after Lin requested that law enforcement clear his property of trespassers. Pending a discussion with law enforcement, she marked the 1.34 acre property belonging to the church, so people occupying that space would not be arrested for trespassing. Within a week, 23 people set up camp on the church’s property.
Butler says the church’s governing board met and decided to take things one day at a time. They immediately sought advice from local agencies who work with houseless populations. As a result, the church required each camper to sign a code of conduct. According to Butler, they modeled Safe Camp’s day-to-day operations after Opportunity Village in Eugene. They recruited a camp manager and established ground rules.
Since, eight of the original campers have transitioned into more permanent housing, while the ministry team continues to work with the county and city governments to find ways to shelter folks at other congregations safely and legally. The steering committee is also exploring ways to expand the project.
The emergence of the camp provoked and inspired conversations and debate within the community about issues and solutions.
For updates about Safe Camp, visit corvallisucc.org/safe-camp.
3. Genesis Hansen
Genesis Hansen is a fourth-year student at OSU where she double majors in English and Philosophy and is a columnist for Orange Media Network. She is also a woman of color, and her arrest by the Oregon State Police shocked the Corvallis community.
On October 13, Hansen was pulled over by OSP Trooper Kelly Katsikis for riding her bike on the wrong side of the road, which he classified as a traffic violation. As revealed by bodycam footage, Katsikis called for backup from the Corvallis Police Department after Hansen asked him to cite legislation.
The exchange continued for roughly 15 minutes, attracting a small crowd. After she refused to produce her identification multiple times, Katsikis presented her with an ultimatum: “I need you to either give me your identification now, or you’re going to be placed under arrest. Which do you want to do?”
Hansen responded, “I don’t answer questions,” at which point Katsikis and Officer Donald Sheldon of the CPD wrestled her to the ground and handcuffed her, to the horror of the onlookers. She was charged with interfering with a peace officer and resisting arrest.
Video footage captured by bystanders went viral, and the arrest was denounced on social media and by the NAACP. By October 28, the charges against Hansen had been dropped.
OSP announced on October 23 that they we would be terminating their contract with OSU, citing staffing shortages.
4. Angel Harris
Angel Harris is the current president of the Corvallis/Albany branch of the NAACP. A registered nurse and mother of three, Corvallis has been her home for 24 years. She joined the NAACP alongside her husband in 2014, and was elected branch president in November 2018.
Harris was highly active in the wake of OSU student Genesis Hansen’s controversial arrest. She and her organization advocated on Hansen’s behalf, facilitated conversations with law enforcement, and held the press accountable for their coverage of the incident.
“I really want to serve the community that I’m in – to be a contributor,” she told The Advocate. Her current projects include the Bias Response Initiative, and identifying and coaching persons of color to run for office.
5. Philip Bressler
Rabbi Philip Bressler presides over the new Beit Am synagogue building. The $2.9 million project measures in at almost 7000 square feet, and serves as a much-needed hub for the various needs and activities of the Mid-Willamette Valley Jewish Community.
A graduate of Hebrew College in Boston, Bressler was ordained as a rabbi in 2018. Only in his mid-30s, Bressler brings exuberant leadership and a casual personality to the community of Beit Am, with the desire to foster a pluralistic environment in which individuals can form a personal connection with their Rabbi.
Beit Am serves around 150 families, and is currently the only synagogue between Salem and Eugene. Bressler was raised in the Reform-Judaic tradition, and with the help of others, has created a place for Jewish families of all traditions to come together.
6. Freshwaters Illustrated Trio
Jeremy Monroe, David Herasimtschuck, and Matt Kellam are the faces behind Freshwaters Illustrated, a Corvallis-based nonprofit dedicated to exploring freshwater ecosystems through film and photography. Monroe acts as an award-winning photographer, Herasimtschuk, a sound designer, and Kellam, a recordist.
This October, FI’s hour-long documentary Hidden Rivers of Southern Appalachia premiered at the Whiteside Theatre in Corvallis. A work ten years in the making, the film showcases the waterways of the Southeastern United States, home to a myriad of species including hellbenders and chubs.
According to Monroe, “Hidden Rivers is our best example yet of why we do what we do – showing that freshwater ecosystems are beautiful, full of life and wonder, and that they deserve all the care and protection we can give them.”
7. Paul Cauthorn
Folks who frequent social media will recognize Paul Cauthorn as the creator of the controversial Facebook group Corvallis Looks Like Crap. Visible to the public, the group claims to serve as a place where community members can post images and voice concerns about “drug addicts camping and destroying our parks.”
The About section goes on to state that the group seeks to “wake up our elected officials to the reality of their inaction.” While many valid concerns and worrisome images are posted, the page often devolves into conversations that use stigmatizing or unconstructive language toward the Corvallis houseless community and elected officials.
Corvallis Looks Like Crap continues to stir divisive conversations in the community, and remains a place where prospective solutions are rarely discussed. These conversations distract from efforts for cleaner parks and enhanced services for people experiencing houselessness, who currently lack proper waste and hygiene resources.
8. Dr. Melissa Cheyney
Dr. Melissa Cheyney is an associate professor at Oregon State University in anthropology and an advocate for reproductive justice (RJ) in the Corvallis community.
As a licensed midwife, Cheyney guides mothers through the process of childbirth during home sessions. She is the current Chair of the Division of Research for the Midwives Alliance of North America, a professional midwifery association that strengthens midwives across the continent.
9. John Parmigiani
Engineering professor John Parmigiani is the founder of OSU’s Prototype Development Lab, where he leads a team of engineering students in building prototypes for businesses. Parmigiani and his team collaborated with Oregon sex tech startup Lora DiCarlo to develop their prototype of the Osé personal massager. The Osé gained national attention when they won a CES Innovation Award only to have it taken away, and for the company to be disinvited from showing on the floor of the CES. Eventually, the CTA issued an apology to Lora DiCarlo and reinstated the award.
The drama surrounding the CES Innovation Award brought Parmigiani and his lab into the spotlight, including mention in the New York Times. As a result, other start-ups have contacted him about project ideas, and the PDL is now working with eleven companies – eight of them Oregon-based.
“We want to find more Lora Haddacks that have great, marketable ideas,” says Parmigiani. “There is an opportunity there since there is a very vibrant start-up community in Oregon.”
Lora DiCarlo CEO Lora Haddock says she was impressed with the innovative ideas that came from PDL. “We found that [freedom] in a group of students – in a group of people who have never really been told no you can’t do that before.”
Parmigiani says he founded the PDL for three reasons: “[His] personal passion for building things, a desire to help entrepreneurs achieve their dream of starting a company, and to provide students with an educational experience.”
10. Brandy Fortson
Brandy Fortson was inaugurated to the Corvallis School Board in May, after running unopposed. Campaigning as a voice for LGBTQ+ youth, Fortson was internationally recognized for being the first non-binary elected official in the country. A parent of two, co-chair of the local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, and community organizer, Fortson is well-known in the community for their activist work in supporting minority groups and advocating for universal healthcare.
On November 8, the school board disavowed a tweet by Fortson on their personal account stating, “Hey kids, remember all cops are bastards.” This was in relation to a prior post criticizing a Texas arrest. A Facebook post signed by School Board Chair, Vice-Chair, and Superintendent condemned Fortson’s tweet, stating that “Board members are expected to conduct themselves with appropriate deference to the position to which they were elected,” and further claiming that Fortson’s comments were “not in alignment with the guiding principles set by the Board.”
Fortson soon resigned and continues to be the subject of threats and divisive discourse on social media. These include graphic death threats targeting their young child, and a number of posts by conservative journalist Andy Ngo. Since, many have come out in support of Fortson, condemning these threats and what some call the School Board’s lack of support or championing of free speech. Forston has since stated that while all cops are not “bad,” they are part of a flawed system that needs to be changed. They also recognized the Corvallis Police Department’s support pending the death threats.
11. Irene Zenev
Irene Zenev is the executive director of the Benton County Historical Society. Passionate and proactive about preserving the Valley’s storied past, Irene is often hard at work organizing the various lectures and exhibitions that come to the Historical Society’s museum in Philomath.
This year, Irene has been notably heading the construction of the Historical Society’s new Corvallis Museum, with the goal of giving locals of all ages a new space to experience the rich cultures that have come to call the Willamette Valley home.
In Irene’s own words, the Historical Society hopes that the new museum will bring the community opportunities “to learn about our history and culture through interesting exhibitions and interactive programs drawn from the Society’s extensive collections.”
12. Samantha Lewis
Samantha Lewis is the owner and founder of Studio Lumos, a tattoo shop in Corvallis. Opening earlier this year, Studio Lumos is moon-inspired, with witchy vibes and a feminine aura.
“Our goal for this shop stands out: a sincerely safe environment,” Lewis explains. “When we tattoo someone, we change their lives, and we are understanding of the responsibility of how big of a deal that is. We welcome everyone with open arms and try to make them feel as comfortable as possible, all while emphasizing feminine energy.”
Lewis regularly welcomes guest artists to her studio, and clients rave about her methods and techniques, claiming her art is unmatchable.
“It’s been wonderful to have powerful women in here, who have made my shop a spiritual sanctuary, and have helped me grow in my own strength and spirituality – by holding space for these people and their stories.”
13. Dr. Melissa Bird
Dr. Melissa Bird was the keynote speaker at OSU’s Take Back the Night and Take Back the Day events in April. The events are part of an international incentive to end sexual and domestic violence and assault. Dr. Bird brought her knowledge from previous work in changing conservative policy affecting women, as well as her ability to facilitate difficult conversations in courageous settings, where people from various backgrounds can speak constructively.
Dr. Bird is the owner of Natural Born Rebel, a professional project based in Corvallis dedicated to empowering women through literature, coaching, and powerful public speaking events. She believes many of us are “natural born rebels” — individuals who are meant to go against the grain and revolutionize the world around them. Dr. Bird seeks to turn this world, Corvallis included, into a space where women can rebel gracefully and rise from the silence that surrounds oppressive issues.
Is there someone we missed? Send your thoughts or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.