Bob Carstensen and Jesse Crabtree '48

Oregon Vocational School (OVS)

Oregon Tech’s First Graduate and his Instructor

A reunion nearly 60 years in the making occurred at OIT in June 2006. A favorite instructor and the university’s first graduate sat down to reflect, reminisce and recollect two days after the 58th commencement exercise.

In November 1947, the inaugural year of the school, Robert “Bob” Carstensen entered what was then Oregon Vocational School (OVS). Like many of the university’s first students, Carstensen was fresh out of military, an honorable discharge from the Navy in hand.

Having returned to his home in Klamath Falls, Carstensen was aware of the new school being opened and was interested in continuing his education. “I was out of the service and it was winter time. It was an opportunity for me to get some education, and it was a new thing for Klamath Falls to have this school. The GI Bill of Rights, of course, paid the bill, so it all came together,” Carstensen said.

Student housing consisted of vacated marine barracks on the Old Fort Road campus. “One of the things I remember was the coyotes right outside the windows in those days. They’d talk to you at night just outside your dormitory window. It was pretty primitive,” Carstensen recalled.

Two months before Carstensen’s entry into OVS an icon educator began an illustrious career at a school that he would see evolve into Oregon Technical Institute (Dec. 1948) and then Oregon Institute of Technology (Oct. 1973) before retirement.

Jesse Crabtree moved to Klamath Falls from Portland, where he taught drafting at the war production training program at Benson High School. As Crabtree recalled, “This school (OVS) was set up for the purpose of training veterans from the war. If we could get 15 students, we could, as teachers, set up any class that we could think of that had practical applications.”

Crabtree had the innovation and flexibility to succeed at the new school. “I had my own material, which I wrote at night and put it into play the next day. If it didn’t fit, I changed it the next day and on down the line; it was a progressive thing,” Crabtree said.

At the time, students were required to complete a certain number of projects to finish the program. Carstensen wasted no time, completing his work by February, 1948. A well-worn photo from the Herald and News dated February, 1948 shows OVS President Winston Purvine handing Carstensen a certificate; Carstensen is identified as the school’s first graduate.

After completing the program here, Carstensen went on to San Jose State University, eventually graduating from Oregon State University with a civil engineering degree. He also obtained a professional license in civil engineering.

“The drafting that I got here is what initially gave me the start into the civil engineering field,” Carstensen said. His successful career included stints as the city engineer for Grant’s Pass, Ore., and 27 years as county engineer for Jackson County.

Crabtree and Carstensen reunited in the College Union on a campus quite different from their first on Old Fort Road. Crabtree brought his first roll book, with each student and their assignments listed fastidiously in draftsman’s script. Carstensen and his wife, Marty, were delighted to see Bob’s starting and graduation date precisely documented.

Of the many memories shared between Carstensen and Crabtree, the steep road to the old campus was a lively topic of discussion. Both commented on the notorious grade of the road and extra challenges under winter weather conditions. They also fondly recalled the close-knit “little city” that was the campus. The extensive and relatively isolated facilities that were built for recuperating marines, combined with the arduous trek into town, contributed to the atmosphere.

Those connections are still vital six decades later. Carstensen and his wife generously donated his graduation certificate to the Shaw Historical Library on the Klamath Falls campus, where it will be housed along with other important mementos of the very early days of the institution. Here it remains a reminder of the founding spirit of the university and tangible evidence that connection has always been the cornerstone of the OIT experience.