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A brief bio and personal introduction:

Finn John, writer and editor
Finn John

Brief? Who am I kidding? This is probably much more information than you ever wanted.

My name, as you've no doubt gathered, is Finn. I'm an old newspaper guy, now an instructor in the New Media Communications department at Oregon State University. I live just south of Albany, Ore., with my wife, Natalie, and our son, Nathaniel – along with a couple noisy beagles, one silent cat and 17 fruit trees. Our place is just across the road from the Calapooia River where it snakes deep and slow – well, as deep and slow as a river that small can snake – across the valley floor.

The early stuff

I was born in the Willamette Valley in 1968, and grew up in a deep, primordial forest a few miles outside the tiny timber town of Molalla. That was during the “good times,” when good-paying jobs as a logger or mill worker were practically there for the asking. Of course, it couldn’t last. We were cutting trees way too fast; sooner or later we’d run out.

But before we did, my family moved to Beaverton, and a couple years later to southeast Portland – where I went to high school. So when you hear about the “urban-rural divide” in Oregon, I can tell you something about both sides.

I graduated from the University of Oregon in 1991, just after Ballot Measure 5 delivered the second installment of a one-two punch to the Oregon economy – the first was the virtual shutdown of the state’s independent timber cutting and processing outfits in the late 1980s. Big outfits like Weyerhaeuser and Willamette Industries were fine; they owned huge tracts of forestland; their supply was unaffected. But smaller “gyppo” operations, and even some mid-size operators like Bohemia Inc., Lane Plywood, WTD Industries and W.A. Woodard, couldn’t keep up without access to public timberlands. One by one, they sold out to the big dogs or simply shut down.

Newspaper career

After graduating, I went into the timber industry myself, after a fashion. I took a job as a reporter for the Silverton Appeal-Tribune – which was printed on paper made in Oregon City. It was the beginning of a career in newspapers that spanned the following 17 years, with brief interruptions during which I launched a successful real-estate advertising magazine and bought an ultimately unsuccessful “regular” magazine.

By 2008, though, I knew I needed to make a change. Increasingly, I felt like the loggers had in the late 1980s. My industry was changing – and shrinking – fast. I started looking for grad-school options.

Graduate school

I ended up applying to, and being admitted into, the literary nonfiction program at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication.

It was, and is, a fantastic program. I strongly recommend it. Here are some of the heavy hitters I've had the opportunity to take classes from:

The head of our program is Lauren Kessler (Dancing with Rose; Stubborn Twig; Clever Girl; Happy Bottom Riding Club; Full Court Press; After All These Years; When Words Collide)

Tony Horwitz (Confederates in the Attic; Blue Latitudes; A Voyage Long and Strange; Baghdad Without a Map; One for the Road)

Ed Humes (Mean Justice; The Eco Barons; No Matter How Loud I Shout; Monkey Girl; Over Here; School of Dreams; Baby E.R.; Mississippi Mud)

Carol Ann Bassett (Galapagos at the Crossroads; Organ Pipe: Life on the Edge; A Gathering of Stones)

Thomas Hager (The Alchemy of Air; The Demon Under the Microscope; Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling; Aging Well)

Mark Blaine (Whitewater; To The Sea)

Teresa Barker (one of the three authors of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, among others)

The book project

My final project for my master's degree, although obviously finished and submitted, is in a sense still developing. While doing some research for one of my Offbeat Oregon History columns in 2009, I learned that one of the U.S. presidents lived in Oregon once. Actually, he grew up here, from age 11 to 17. His name: Herbert Hoover.

A truly amazing life ...

Somewhat disappointed that it wasn’t a more glamorous ex-president, I followed up to find out more about Hoover’s time in Oregon – and stumbled onto one of the best kept secrets of American history. Specifically, that this “boring, stodgy” ex-president actually was personally responsible for saving more people’s lives than Hitler and Stalin took – most likely, five to seven times more.

The man himself estimated his "life toll" at 1.4 billion, in the course of two world wars and one massive war-induced famine. That may be high, but the actual number is certainly no lower than 500 million.

... capped with a truly lousy presidency

Then he went on to become the president who was driving the bus when the Great Depression broke out. He came to represent not the concrete facts of what he’d achieved, but the abstract blather of a political viewpoint – to become, in essence, the darling of the anti-Roosevelt folks. And that’s his popular image even today: People may not remember the rescue of Belgium, Germany, Austria and Russia from starvation, but they sure remember living in a Hooverville, eating Hoover Hogs (armadillos), riding in a Hoover Cart (car with no fuel in it, pulled by a donkey) and sleeping under a Hoover Blanket (newspaper).

Now, except for historical interest, I couldn’t give two hoots about the New Deal one way or the other. But I do recognize this as an unfair characterization of this man.

For my project, I produced a book proposal and two sample chapters of the project that I'm still working on today (late 2010): the story of Hoover’s first foray into life-saving, in German-occupied Belgium in 1914. Few people know it, but everyone should. Regardless of your politics, it has to make you a bit proud to know that the person who holds the world record for life-saving – throughout all of history – is an American.

(As an aside: There is another candidate for this record. Believe it or not, it's another Iowa native, Norman Borlaug, the man who's primarily responsible for the Green Revolution. Because you can't count lives saved the way you can count deaths, we'll never know which of these two guys "won." But it's pretty likely that between the two of them, they saved billions of people from starving to death.)

Teaching

I graduated in June of this year (I'm writing this in late 2010) and am currently teaching classes in Oregon State University's New Media Communications department -- and, of course, maintaining my Oregon history-related newspaper column syndication service and its Website, and working on the Hoover project every chance I get.

So, there you have it. My story. And if it held your interest all the way to the bottom, we must have a few things in common. Drop me a line sometime and tell me yours!