Blue Zones: Winston Purvine


Klamath Falls is currently participating in a readiness assessment to determine if the city is well-positioned to begin work toward implementing Blue Zone principles. Personally, it’s made me imagine a time before I was born and a local touchstone: Winston Purvine.

Blue Zones are the six international areas known for longevity of residents. Places such as Loma Linda, Calif., Ikaria, Okinawa and Sardinia.

Dan Buettner and his team of scientists have researched these regions and determined there are nine principles uniting them. To paraphrase they are eating a plant-based diet, moving naturally and often, a sense of purpose, faith, reduced stress, a sense of belonging, having a drink now and again, putting loved ones first, and associating with positive people.

Since the thought of Blue Zones entered local consciousness last November, I’ve thought the Klamath Basin was a Blue Zone of sorts. Saturday’s Herald and News featured an obituary for Nelle Cheyne Takacs who lived to 108, and many of our elders have had amazing lifespans.

Yesterday, I could not get Winston Purvine out of my mind. He was the founding president of what is now Oregon Institute of Technology and his life seemed to be in the Zone.

Now I admit that I did not dig out my old source materials, so this is off the top of my head. I am, however, confident in having retained the facts as I was told them by his family.

As a youngster, Winston was diagnosed with osteomyelitis which led to him being bedfast for an extended period. He fed his mind with all of the books he could obtain and started feeding his body with milk. The disease affected one of his collarbones, and many photos show one shoulder taller than the other.

He made frequent trips to what is now Oregon Health and Science University, but was not held back in his pursuit of a meaningful life. In his early teens, Winston began managing the family hop farm. He had an innate sense of how to get people and equipment to work efficiently. Other writers have often mentioned his strong communication skills.

In 1933 Winston graduated from Albany College, which would become Lewis & Clark College. The Great Depression found national unemployment at 24.9 percent, and he began helping his father build new homes in the Independence area instead of trying to put his English degree to immediate use.

Following World War II, Purvine knew that returning soldiers would need vocational training. He understood there would be surplus war machinery available from the government and only needed a place to provide such an education.

The Marine Barracks in Klamath Falls was a reasonable location. Veterans who had contracted tropical diseases in the South Pacific were sent to the facility to recuperate. One alumna once told me that OIT’s microscopic slide collection was much envied, because it included samples from those men.

He was 36 when the first students enrolled at Oregon Vocational School in 1947. Winston would stay with the school through its move to a new campus in 1964 and retire with emeritus status in 1976.

I had the bittersweet honor of arranging his Klamath Falls memorial in 2009. He had lived to be 98 and his life was one worth regarding with awe:

  • He chose Christmas songs as part of the ceremony.
  • He embraced a simple diet. Jean Underwood once said that she edited his history of OIT and all she received in compensation were the egg salad sandwiches Mrs. Purvine prepared.
  • He had strong relationships within the community. The Klamath County Chamber of Commerce raised $500 toward the purchase price of the new campus.
  • His tie to the institution was lifelong. He routinely called the President’s Office for short conversations and status checks. The first public building built with Oregon lottery funds is Purvine Hall at OIT.
  • He was so very proud of his family’s accomplishments. His son Liston was the first OIT graduate to go on and earn a master’s degree. His granddaughter holds a PhD.

So I aver that a search of vital records will find that there are many long lived Klamath pioneers. Let’s see if we can help current and future generations live in the Blue.


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