May Workinger, 1977

Miss Workinger defines "green thumb" as being able to follow directions.

John Bragg, Gazette-Times (File)

The following article ran as a "Monday Profile" in the Monday, Sept. 5, 1977, edition of the Corvallis Gazette-Times.

May Workinger, who is nearing her 90th birthday, meets life head-on and with tremendous verve.

Just now she is recovering from moving from the little house at 2651 NW Arnold Way which had been her address since 1918. In July Miss Workinger became a resident of Heart of the Valley Center.

"I was having blackout spells. My heart isn't what it used to be. So, I made the decision to move where people were around all the time. I like it here very much."

Many people miss the gourmet meals that Miss Workinger so frequently served, either by the living room fireplace at her home or on the patio in the back garden, which abounds with exotic and rare trees and plants. And they won't be the recipients any more of a jar or two of sweet pickled figs, which she used to make when her fig tree produced a good crop.

But Miss Workinger still can and does share the results of her "green thumb," which she defines as being able to follow directions. In the lobby of Heart of the Valley is an amaryllis with three exquisite pink and cream-colored blooms. It had six blooms earlier, she said.

Hundreds of school teachers about the world credit Miss Workinger for getting them started in their working career.

She was director of teacher placement at Oregon State University from 1914, when the position was created, until her retirement in 1955.

It took a year to set up a placement program at the university, Miss Workinger recalled. She visited other institutions in California and elsewhere to learn a system, but they were set up for liberal arts. OSU needed a vocational program to handle graduates in industrial arts, agriculture, commerce and home economics.

She had to find a market in those days for the vocationally trained graduates, so she began attending teacher association meetings all over the country.

In those days Oregon State had a student body of 300 and the population of Corvallis was 3,000.

"I think my job was much easier then, because I could get personally acquainted with the students in education. I prided myself on being able to judge people and to match the student with the job for the betterment of both."

Much of the success that she had in her work she credits to the high caliber of individuals who attended OSU and to the excellent education they received.

She remembers how she was criticized during those early years for placing so many graduates in the California school system.

Miss Workinger justified her actions. "That I did because the pay for California teachers was much higher than in Oregon."

She seemed to have been born with the spunk and spirit of a terrier, which is probably why she favored the Boston bull terrier breed of dogs. Until moving to Heart of the Valley, she always had a Boston bull at her side.

Through the years, May encountered various department directors at OSU who wanted to conduct their own placement service for their students. Bulldog-like, Miss Workinger would meet the opposition and prove that she could do the better job.

"This is a terrible thing to admit, but I really found myself hating one person on campus, who repeatedly made trouble for me. You know what I did? When her obituary was published, I cut it out. On days when I feel discouraged, I'd reread that obituary and I'd feel better."

Miss Workinger never leaves in doubt how she thinks.

"I've never seen so many big bottoms as I do today. Guess it's because most women wear pants. And there are so many bewhiskered faces around today."

Poor eyesight has made a television fan of Miss Workinger, because she can't read as much as she used to. She said that not one of her favorite programs is listed among the most popular.

"I prefer the Jacques Cousteau sea films and stories of animals. You know, if I was just a kid again, I'd study the field of oceanography."

During her childhood days on the family farm in Shedd, she remembers that she always had a book in her hands. She said that her father, [Gilbert] Lloyd Workinger, had to borrow books from neighbors after she had read and reread everything at home.

She graduated from Albany High School and was valedictorian of her class. She wanted to attend the University of Oregon and major in history, but there just wasn't enough money at the time. So she went to a business college in Portland and then became a secretary at OSU in 1910.

Her appetite for books, especially biographies, continued. She was an avid members of the OSU Book Club and after her retirement she joined the Daughters of the American Revolution. She became known for her book reviews.

When she had to break up her household, she gave three car loads of books, mostly histories, to a friend in Philomath for resale to benefit the preservation of the old Philomath College.

"I'm not able to read as much, but I still work a crossword puzzle daily," she said. She has given up her subscriptions to the Washington (D.C.) Star and the Sunday edition of the New York Times, newspapers she has read faithfully through the years.

"I do wish the Gazette-Times still published those nice little tidbits about parties, who was there and what was served. I miss that."

NOTE: Clata "Clytie" Mae Workinger died March 29, 1985, in Corvallis, at the age of 96. She outlived the Washington Star by nearly four years.

Sadly, her little house on Arnold Way is gone.

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