Apr 062018

“Wilbur Ternyik, at home in Florence, 2017, with the prototype for his burial canoe. Clatsop Indians, very often, were buried in canoes raised off the ground.”

On Monday, April 2, 2018 at the age of 92, one of Oregon’s most influential citizens, Wilbur Ternyik, died in Florence, Oregon.

Twelve years ago, on May 27, 2006, a ceremony to honor Wilbur Ternyik was held in Seaside, Oregon. The event included the unveiling of an impressive bronze statue of Wilbur commemorating his many accomplishments. The statue is in the Florence Pioneer Museum.

When it was Wilbur’s turn to speak he gave credit to many people — some famous, some less famous — who helped him on his journey. Wilbur then said, “Many of you know I love plants. What’s the most important thing about plants? Their roots! Plants are a lot like people. When they’ve got good roots, they have a good chance of making it in life.”

Nobody’s roots grew deeper and stronger into the soil of Oregon than Wilbur Ternyik’s. Wilbur was a direct descendant of Chief Coboway, the Clatsop Indian Chief who hosted the Lewis and Clark Expedition during the winter of 1805/1806. Wilbur’s mother was a full-blooded member of the Clatsop Tribe.Throughout his life Wilbur proudly identified with his Native American heritage.

A signature accomplishment of Wilbur’s life was the key role he played as the Chairman of the Oregon Coastal Conservation and Development Commission (OCC&DC). Wilbur, working closely with Governor Tom McCall, took the lead persuading his fellow coastal leaders to undertake “coastal planning.” By all accounts, Wilbur Ternyik was the driving force behind that historic effort. Today, too few Oregonians know that the groundbreaking work of the OCC&DC — started in 1970 — made it possible to establish Oregon’s statewide land use planning system during 1973.

The work of OCC&DC also had a national impact. Senator Mark Hatfield and Senator Bob Packwood, Wilbur’s close friends, could tell their Congressional colleagues that back home in Oregon, Oregonians were already making coastal management a reality. It wasn’t a theory.

It seems like a cliche to note, as a World War 2 veteran, that Wilbur Ternyik was a member of the Greatest Generation. But, its true. As a young Marine, Wilbur experienced 40 days and nights of hellish combat at Okinawa. Getting wounded during the battle probably saved his life. That searing experience strengthened and prepared Wilbur for the decades ahead.

Wilbur Ternyik’s legacy, properly understood, should embolden all Oregonians, as we face our own sets of challenges, to recognize we have a grave responsibility, as members of this great democracy, to do our part. Wilbur, better than anybody, understood democracy is not a spectator sport.

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