In 1965 Wilford and Mildred Gonyea donated 105.81 acres of land from their 900 acre parcel for the creation of Lane Community College. Their portraits now live in the school archives. Both are original framed oil paintings commissioned in 1968. Their combined value appraised at $1750 in 2013.
Lane Community College Board of Education member, Bob Ackerman worked on the Gonyea farm in 1957, bucking bales of hay. The Gonyea farm was where the current Oak Hill School stands today.
Wilford Gonyea’s portrait was painted by Keith Ward. It measures 40” x 30”. In the appraisal report produced by Parke-West, Gonyea was described as a “prosperous West Coast lumberman and owner of the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company.” Mildred Gonyea’s portrait was painted by Alfred Jonniaux. It measures 36” x 28”.
The black poodle in the painting of Mr. Gonyea was called Moosie. “Wil adored that dog,” Mrs. Gonyea said, “The kids hated the dog as teens. But,” she said, “look what that dog does to ‘Pops.’ She greets him with happy news — learn from that dog, and don’t greet him with problems.”
Prior to ownership by the Gonyeas, the George Haskell family owned the land in the early 1920s. His son Harold Haskell gave an account of his life on the land which can be found in the oral history section of LCC’s archive pages.
The land was originally owned by William and Eleanor Moore who came to Oregon by oxen team from Ohio as pioneers on the Oregon Trail. The obtained the land in 1853 with a donation land claim before the Homestead Act to use for farmland.
The ground breaking for the main campus was held in January 1967. US Senator Wayne Morse came from Washington to turn over the first shovelful of soil. The first classes on campus were held September 1968. At the October 1969 dedication of the campus, Governor Tom McCall used a chainsaw to cut a log instead of cutting a ribbon.
Later in 1972, Joe Romania and Lew Williams donated 127 additional acres to college development fund, doubling the potential size of the campus.
The current main campus is situated on a total of 301 acres.
Wilford Gonyea was born in 1911 and died in 1992. Before his retirement in Indian Wells, he acquired numerous lumber mills throughout the country, including Timber Products Company, of Springfield, Oregon which serves as the corporate headquarters for the Western Office of their International division. Currently the family owns eight manufacturing facilities in the U.S.
The Art on Campus Committee will decide where to place the Gonyea portraits in consideration of the 50th anniversary of the college.
An interview with Mildred Gonyea
After donating the land for the college, the Gonyeas continued to live on the private school site and watched the construction. When Mr. Gonyea developed Parkinson’s disease they sold the Oak Hill home and moved to Firwood in Eugene. Later they moved to Indian Wells California where he died in November1992.
Mildred Gonyea was born Mildred Ramey in 1925 in Long Beach, California. She was a graduate of the University of California in Santa Barbara, as a political science major. In Riverside, California she worked as a first stringer columnist at the Riverside Press Enterprise. She then became the editor of Palm Springs Villager Magazine, until it sold.
During that time she met Wilford Gonyea in Palm Springs and they were married in 1964. “I have very, very good memories,” she said. “Mr. Gonyea was an absolutely wonderful man, I miss him terribly.”
Both the Gonyea’s valued education. Mr. Gonyea attended the University of Washington, majoring in business. His family was from Tacoma WA. He was a strong supporter of the University of Oregon.
“When the opportunity to further develop education in Oregon came along, we jumped at it,” Mrs. Gonyea said. “We offered to help out wherever we could, so we gave the land.” She remembers the ground breaking, Mr. Gonyea, she and Governor Tom McCall were there. She said, “It was a cold wet blustery day.”
The Gonyea’s didn’t want their names on the library or any of the buildings. However, they agreed the road being named after them. She said they were glad to donate the land. To them it was a minor thing and they were pleased that the college has maintained and exceeded its reputation.
Today, Mrs. Gonyea is confined to a wheelchair and walker and doesn’t drive. She said that she has wonderful staff and four dogs who keep her out of trouble.
She is an avid reader and has what she calls a whole library of books. She keeps up with news and watches Fox News and reads four daily newspapers: the NY Times, LA Times, Wall St Journal and the Desert Sun. She has several magazine subscriptions and as she describes it, a whole library of books.
She enjoys biographies and autobiographies, mostly non-fiction. She likes to write notes on her books, and turns down the pages to mark her place, things she can’t do with her Kindle. She loves her iPad.