He was a geological engineer of such genius that his services were in demand worldwide by the time he was 30. He essentially saved France, Belgium, and Russia from mass starvation after World War I. He was involved in launching UNICEF and issued the world's first children's rights manifesto.
And, oh yes, he was president of the United States from 1929 to 1933.
Herbert Hoover, who was born nine years after the Civil War ended and died just as the Vietnam War burst into flame, was a most remarkable fellow. And although he was an Iowa farm boy by birth, he was an Oregonian during his formative years. It's the eager young Bert Hoover who is saluted today at the Hoover-Minthorn House, some 25 miles southwest of Portland, in the heart of the Willamette Valley.
In 1885, the 11-year-old and recently orphaned Hoover was sent to live with his uncle and aunt, John and Laura Minthorn, in Oregon, while his brother and sister remained behind in Iowa.
"Within minutes of his arrival he was put to work stirring a cauldron of pear butter," says Lorraine Hall, the cheerful curator of the Hoover-Minthorn House. "His Aunt Laura told him he could eat all the pears he wanted. He'd never eaten a pear in his whole life, so he ate a lot and . . . "
Thankfully, the spot where young Bert Hoover recycled the pear crop is not marked, but the humble Italianate house where he lived for five years has been carefully restored. Visitors to the seven-room home will see toys Hoover played with, original bedroom furniture, and the very seashells that sat on a whatnot. Pear trees still grow in adjacent Hoover Park. In fact, Hoover's birthday is celebrated every August 10 with pear cake.
Eventually, the Hoover siblings were reunited. Bert and his brother, Tad, attended Friends Pacific Academy (now George Fox University), a Quaker middle school where his aunt and uncle served as administrators.
From Oregon, Hoover went on to Stanford University, where he was a member of the first graduating class. Following a brilliant and lucrative career as an engineer, Hoover gained international fame for his famine relief efforts in Europe during World War I. As president, he suffered ignominy as the scapegoat for the Great Depression, but regained his former stature during the last three decades of his life as an author and international statesman.
Yet through it all he never forgot his years in Oregon. The keynote speaker when the restored house was opened to the public in 1955 was Hoover himself. He devoted his remarks to celebrating how the state helped shape him. "Here I roamed the primitive forests, with their carpets of flowers, their ferns, their never forgettable fragrance. There were no legal limits on the fish you could catch. No warden demanded to see your license. From those impressions on Oregon boys comes always the call to return to here again and again."
The Hoover-Minthorn House Museum is located at 115 South River Street in Newberg. For information, call (503) 538-6629.
Photography by Greg Vaughn
This article was first published in March 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.