A memorial service will be held Monday, May 9, at 2:00 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, 1050 East 23rd Avenue, Eugene for Professor Emeritus Ken Metzler. Metzler, a member of the SOJC Hall of Achievement, died peacefully in his sleep Sunday night, April 10, at his home in Eugene. The cause of death is unknown.
Born in 1929 in Boring, Oregon, Ken graduated from the UO in 1951 and took his first full-time job as a reporter for the News-Review in Roseburg. A chance encounter with a woman named Betty Paterson was, as he has described it, “the start of something big.” They married three months after their meeting. Upon the couple’s return from a European adventure in 1953, Metzler began reporting for the Coos Bay Times.
Metzler returned to Eugene a few years later, becoming editor of Old Oregon, the University of Oregon’s alumni magazine (now Oregon Quarterly)—a title he would keep for fifteen years. As editor of Old Oregon, Metzler chronicled some of the most turbulent times on the UO campus. He also launched a successful freelance writing career that put his stories in Sunset, Popular Mechanics, Travel, Farm Journal, Family Weekly, and many other publications. He also published five books. In 1986, Metzler compiled anecdotes and experiences into The Best of Oregon, which provides “a fresh view of Oregon’s history, attitudes, and folklore.” Confrontation, published in 1973 about the tragic death of UO president Charles Johnson, was republished in 2001 by University of Oregon press. Creative Interviewing, now in its third edition, is still in print and still used widely as a textbook.
In 1966, he took a sabbatical leave from the UO and earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University. He began teaching full time at the School of Journalism in 1971.
Metzler’s love for the outdoors was well known. Many SOJC faculty remember rafting trips taken with Ken and Betty and his organizing of SOJC softball games in the 70s and 80s. He will also be remembered for his unfailing kindness, sense of humor, and engaging energy.
“Ken was one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever known,” Professor Tom Bivins said. Bivins provided the photo of Ken playing softball, noting that in the photo, Metzler is “doing what he loved the most—being active. It was the, then traditional, J-School picnic. He’s swinging for the fences, which is what he always did in life.”
“Ken was responsible for turning me into a whitewater bum, and we made countless river runs … on the uneventful flat water of the Willamette he’d share stories of raging rapids on the Rogue or Deschutes Rivers, and, later we’d make those white-knuckled runs,” Associate Professor Bill Ryan remembered. “Each was a wonderful celebration of life. Ken had a knack of making magic by fusing adventure with nature. Part of the magic of those trips were Ken’s stories … they were kind of like the rivers we ran: they just would go on and on.”
“He’s running the rapids again,” Associate Professor Debra Merskin said. “The water is warm, the sun is shining, and he is pointing out that patch of blue Betty always finds in the cloudiest of skies. A genuinely kind man, unwavering in his view of the richness of life, and the potential in people.”
“My first memory of Ken is a lunch at the Collier House with Roy Halverson during my interview in 1987. It was a sunny winter day — February if I remember correctly — and I was asked the most critical question of the interview: Did I favor drift boats or rafts? As I learned when I got to know Ken, that question, as was the case with many of the questions he asked, worked on several levels,” said Dean Tim Gleason.
Although Ken retired in 1990, he remained active in SOJC activities—attending evens and serving as the unofficial leader of the faculty emeriti. He continued to write, volunteering for AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) and the Eugene Police Department and serving as an official in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the UO. He recently compiled a history of policing in Lane County. He was inducted into the SOJC Hall of Achievement in 2008.
Metzler is survived by his wife, Betty; daughter, Barbara; sons, Scott and Doug; and several grandchildren.
More remembrances by SOJC faculty:
There are many things to remember about Ken: his booming voice, great enthusiasm for everything, faculty picnics and softball games, river rafting. Most of all I remember the many river rafting excursions organized by Ken. A good route on the river, with several cars divided between put-in and take-out points, a small flotilla of rafts, lots of energetic pumping up of the rafts to get them ready, loading the rafts with a tasty lunch, and then several miles of pleasant floating broken only by a sunny break for lunch on an island or a grassy area on the riverside. Most of the floating was calm and peaceful, with only an occasional quicker pace through some easy rapids. What fun—an enjoyable river float on a warm, summer day. Ken was usually the planner, the organizer, the leader of the group. Thanks, Ken, for those many pleasant days. —Emeritus Professor Karl Nestvold
Friends, I’m sure that Ken would appreciate the irony of quietly “slipping away” from a life that always seemed jam-packed with activity — even in recent years, when he stayed busy writing and traveling and checking on emeritus faculty members, to be sure they gathered regularly for luncheons. Tom Bivins’ photo of Ken slugging away in a softball game is a perfect representation of that non-stop pace. This makes me think, especially now that Allen Hall and its environs will “disappear” for a few years, that we should activate the J-school softball team of the mid-70s and early 80s. Great comraderie, there. And we could name the team the Metzler _______ (fill in the blank, alliteratively). And while we are at it, we should name bases and areas of the field with these remembrances: Rarick, Duncan, Winter, Crawford, Wales, Ewan and Nelson. See you, slugger. —Professor Duncan McDonald
I liked the choices Ken made, including the person he chose to become. He was ever so bright, but never mean. He was kind but never stupid. He was tough-minded but never cruel or careless with the dreams of the young. He had a fierce passion for justice, and he loved it when the good guys won. And he grieved when the good guys lost. I interviewed him for the documentary on the history of the U of O, and he spoke at length about his days as a student in the ’40s, as an editor in the ’60s and ’70s, and as a teacher. The camera never blinked, and the person he was illuminated his recollections. As an observer, his vision was clear. As a participant, his heart was engaged. Ken will be missed. As sad as that is, that’s a rather decent legacy for a life well lived. —Assistant Professor Rebecca Force
Ken was full of sage advice. He once told me to stop writing books, because it was an obsession. He said to call him whenever I was contemplating another book, and he’d come over with a bottle of scotch and talk me out of it. —Professor Tom Bivins
…When I retired from EWEB just over two years ago, I invited Ken to my retirement party; I introduced him to the crowd as my “Morrie” (from Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom), the professor who had the most profound influence on my life. He was my teacher, mentor and friend, and I will miss him greatly. But what I will remember most is that Ken Metzler stomped on the terra and influenced the lives of many in a positive and engaging way.—John C. Mitchell, Adjunct Assistant Professor
He referred to himself as “the boy from Boring” … and he was (homegrown, from Boring, Oregon), and of course, he wasn’t (as in boring). He was, instead, kind, funny, unassuming, Old School but not in the stuffy way, encouraging, enthusiastic and extraordinarily loyal to his former students, his colleagues and this school.
When I was a student here, Jim Lemert wanted me to do my thesis on source credibility, and Chuck Duncan was pushing me to do 19th century history. Ken said. “Don’t forget that you’re a reporter.” I needed to hear that, and it has informed my life inside the university ever since. A teacher can teach without teaching. I never took a class from Ken. I never GTFed for him. As a colleague, I never team-taught with him. And, although I’ve rafted many rivers, I only once went with Ken. Yet I would consider him a mentor.
It’s sad when someone dies. But to have climbed the Butte two days before (my husband Tom encountered Ken on the trail), to have worked in the garden that afternoon, and then to have gone to sleep…that is a good death. For a good man. —Professor Lauren Kessler
When I was interviewing for my job, Ken was one of the people I met with one on one, and I remember him describing the UO as “one of the few campuses where you can leave your office and be on high-quality whitewater within the hour.” I could see that he wasn’t kidding, and that this was a significant selling point. My second week in Oregon was spent on the Rogue River with SOJC colleagues. After a day or so on a raft, I got into a kayak for the first time in my life and immediately found myself saying, shhh, what’s that sound? It was a waterfall up around the bend. Despite some rollin’ and tumblin’ courtesy of what they call the Wild (they got that right) and Scenic section of the Rogue, the first thing I said to Anne upon returning home was, that was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Ken was a big part of those adventures.
I admired him as an inspiring teacher, a wise magazine pro, and a helpful, no-nonsense colleague. More than that, he was a lesson to me in being a man, in growing older with passion and dignity.—Professor Tom Wheeler
All the tributes to Ken Metzler are well deserved, and these warm memories are shared by all of us. From river-rafting to teaching to school service, Ken was an idol.
In my years as dean, no one was more willing to take on any task for the school. He never complained, and was the hardest-working faculty member we had.
But there is one more achievement that hasn’t been mentioned yet. After he retired, Ken wanted to keep the friendships alive for all retired faculty. So for the past decade, he organized lunches for the emeriti every few months. He’ll be missed, and not forgotten. —Professor Emeritus and former Dean Arnold Ismach
Indulge one memory that others no doubt share: The usually gentle Ken could exact revenge now and then. I recall several instances when, guiding his raft through the McKenzie’s rapids, he “missed his spot” and the ride got bumpy and he berated himself as an oarsman as we reached quieter waters.
That was always a decisive moment. A passenger in the bow who too weakly objected to Ken’s self-criticism would be rewarded with something between a laugh and a snarl–and then a thoroughly icy dousing as Ken, teeth clenched and eyes twinkling, steered him or her forcefully into the next sizable “wave.” And the one after that. And the next one too.
I confess to having enjoyed my punishment–can still feel the chill and hear the triumphant laughter, and miss Ken and those sunny, happy days with him on the river. —Professor Jim Upshaw
Ken was one of those rare people who made you feel you were a better person simply because you were his friend. And nearly everyone was a potential friend. When he called me for a telephone interview in Seattle, I had prepared for the usual search topics. Instead, he said, “I hear you’ve been a professional rafting guide.” Oregon already was high on my list, and that conversation moved it up. Not so much because of the rafting — although we had many glorious trips together over the years — but because I knew that a program where Ken was influential had to be a special place. And it was. And he was. He was a role model in many ways.
Beyond all the self-deprecating jokes about rafting and “priorities,” Ken cared deeply about teaching and, especially, students. He worked very hard at his teaching. I was sometimes surprised to find him in the hallway outside 221, listening and watching for ideas he could adapt. His suggestions made me a better teacher.
Ken moved into retirement with the same kindness and enthusiasm. More trips, more projects, books and, always, good company. Kathy and I were privileged to have lunch with him two weeks ago, when we were closing our house on the McKenzie. And, as always before, we felt better just to be around him. Thanks, Ken. See you on the river. —Associate Professor Steve Ponder
Ken’s was the text for the Journalistic Interview class. He graciously joined the class for a day last fall, a day filled with his spirited answers to the students’ questions and the stimulating discussion he led. The students loved it. —Professor Peter Laufer
I can’t claim to have been a close friend of Ken’s, though I wish I could. We shared a few river runs, some conversations over lunch or in the hallways, and I often invited him to talk to my writing classes about interviewing — “the man who wrote the book on interviewing,” I told the students. What I can add to this storehouse of memories is the way that Ken made me — a younger, part time adjunct faculty member for several years — feel connected to the J-school’s history and culture, by inviting me on the river trips and by sharing stories about the school and his own career. I know I wasn’t alone. He and Betty just radiated a natural warmth and welcoming spirit that made me feel like part of the school rather than just a peripheral contributor. And I could feel that same spirit in faculty members he mentored, like Tom Wheeler and Bill Ryan.
Most important, he made that same connection for our students, who (in my experience) learned from him, and adored him. In course evaluations, they regularly rated those guest appearances he made in my classes as among their favorite moments of the term. Even though he was long retired, Ken was still bringing them the useful fruits of his experience and wisdom, and doing so in his usual unstuffy, engaging way, complete with still-relevant anecdotes and humor. I learned from them myself. Any institution, academic or otherwise, can seem impersonal at times. Ken humanized the SOJC for thousands of students and faculty members over the years.
You could tell that even in his alleged “retirement,” Ken drew energy from his continuing association with the students and his work in the community, as well as from those river runs. As educators, we often lament students’ lack of awareness of history. By maintaining his involvement with the school, Ken Metzler provided students and faculty members — even part timers — a living link to the school’s, and the profession’s, rich history. In fact, he was a tremendous part of it. I hope the school can find a way to provide some kind of memorial to Ken that will continue to benefit the students and faculty who’ll never get the chance to share a classroom or a river with him. —Brett Campbell, Adjunct professor 1996-2005
When I began graduate studies in the 1970s, Professor Ken Metzler taught me how to interview, recognize news values and structure stories for audiences. He did it through engaging classroom discussions, of course, but many times through give-and-take classroom dialogue, hammy role-playing and planned skits with his old friend, Dean Rea.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s he was a regular guest speaker in my LCC classes; true to form, he easily engaged the students with entertaining stories and some charming (often goofy)conversation.
In the last 10 years or so, Ken became my friend. He drew me into teasing repartee over dinners and breakfasts at the Pancake House; he shared well-formed anecdotes during a few Obsidian hikes.
But when I asked him to perform in a church drama, I was surprised that he hesitated and was about to decline. I realized Ken Metzler was actually quite shy.
But he finally agreed. And of course he charmed the large congregation with his bold, hammy delivery.
Ken was so good at telling stories and getting people involved. He still makes me smile. —Pete Peterson, Snowden Internship Program Coordinator
I first met Ken in 1995 when he was retired from teaching and was editing the Lane County Historian, the quarterly journal of the Lane County Historical Society. I was a complete outsider to journalism; I had a master’s degree in English. Ken asked me over lunch to write a story on Opal Whiteley, the little girl from an early 20th-century logging camp who grew up to become a literary sensation. I came back with a standard 2500 words, a convoluted story and no lead. Ken gave me a thirty-minute crash course in magazine journalism, then told me to write what I had to say and not worry about the rest. “I can’t pay you a penny,” he said. “But I can give you all the room you need.” I returned a couple weeks later with more than 5000 words, and he published it as-is. That story led to paying assignments, editorships, radio and TV gigs, book contracts and more. In short, Ken launched my journalism career.
He became a friend and colleague. For fifteen years, we met for breakfast or lunch, traded stories, worked on books together, and made plans for more. He didn’t have to do any of it. But he did. He did it because that’s who he was. And I will miss him. –Steve McQuiddy, adjunct, 2004
Remembrances by Alumni and Current Students:
I read on our budget at work this evening that we are running a story about Ken Metzler’s recent death. I was very sad to hear that. Of all our speakers fall term, his lecture on interviewing stood out as one of my favorites. What a special guy he was and what a sweet journalist; kind and benevolent reporters are so
special to our business. —Lauren Fox, senior, intern at The Register-Guard
Ken was by far my favorite professor at the J-School. Hard to believe it was almost 30 years ago. He was always upbeat and supportive, but he always took you to task, too. A fantastic writer, journalist, and teacher, and a great man. I’ll miss him. —Larry Swanson ’84, Seattle, WA
Remembrances by members of the community:
On a lovely summer afternoon about two years ago, I was biking along the Greenway bike path when I came upon a spry-looking older man picking up litter as he walked briskly along. As a long-time volunteer in the adjacent park, I’d long wondered who the person was whose name was on the sign indicating he was the litter pickup volunteer for that segment of the path. I stopped and hailed the man: “Hello, are you the mysterious person who picks up litter along the path here?” I wanted to thank him and introduce myself as another volunteer.
It turns out it was not the designated litter volunteer, but Ken Metzler. He introduced himself with a bright smile and told me that he often walked this section of the path picking up litter as he waited for his wife who had a regular appointment in the area. He said he loved the river and enjoyed being able to help keep the area clean as he walked along. His light step and sparkling eyes illustrated the sincere feelings behind those words. He warmly thanked me for my work along the river, too, before he continued on his way. His engaging demeanor and obvious intelligence really captured my interest–I had a feeling that he was somebody important or well-known whose name I should know. I “Googled” him when I got back home to learn that he was indeed “somebody”–a professor emeritus, author, etc. I jotted a note to myself, wanting to acknowledge him in the next park newsletter (which of course I never got around to producing). Yet the note still sits in the file, and I smile thinking of my conversation with him on that sunny day along the river. Brief as our interaction was, I knew intuitively what so many have said here–that he was one of those special persons that others feel privileged to know and to be with. He surely brightened my day and made a lasting impression. On the days when I get tired of doing repetitious weeding or mowing, or feel cynical about the human race when I see the trash and damage to natural areas along the river, remembering Ken and his love for the river and positive attitude helps me change perspective and keep going with a smile, too.
I am glad to hear that he passed in such a gentle way, and was active and able to do the things he loved right until the last. —Becky Riley, River Road resident
I never met Ken Metzler, but I almost did, and I am very sad I didn’t leap to the opportunity. For years I carried around, on my list of books to read, the name of his book “Confrontation” — as a UO alumnus, married to someone with longtime Eugene connections, I was interested in reading it. Finally hunted down a copy (it was hard to find!) and could not put it down once I started reading it. Ken’s writing showed an amazing dedication to detail and a passion for the tragic subject he was writing about. I liked it so much I googled his name wondering if he was still around — and found a link to his email address on the UO website. We had the email exchange that is pasted in below. He invited me to have coffee with him some time after his return from his Thanksgiving trip to California — and sadly, I let it sit on the back burner while I got busy with the holidays and then just life… I gasped last week when I saw that he had died — the timing saddened me, because I still had his email lingering in my “to do” e-mail pile — and truly had wanted to sit down and get to know him for a few minutes.
Marianne Dugan, JD ’93
Date: Fri, 19 Nov 2010 12:23:30 -0800
Subject: Re: Your book “Confrontation”
From: Ken Metzler <>
To: Marianne Dugan <>
Would indeed enjoy having coffee with you sometime — we’re headed for
California for T-giving with our kids — back in another week or so….
On 11/17/10 10:51 PM, “Marianne Dugan” <> wrote:
Glad to hear you’re still active, lecturing and checking email regularly! I
actually did find some of your interview suggestions on the internet and may
use some of the ideas for interviewing witnesses.
Anyway- – thanks again for a wonderful book. Perhaps sometime we could have a
cup of coffee or something.
At 09:53 AM 11/17/2010, Ken Metzler wrote:
Well, bless you and thank you, Marianne! I retired from the faculty some 18
years ago, but a week or so ago one of the young journalism profs asked me to
give a presentation on journalistic interviewing techniques (subject of one
of my books), and I was surprised and pleased to that I could still do a
lecture, at age 81! I really appreciate your comments. That book,
Confrontation, seems to live on even though it was first published some 30
years ago. How time flies!
Best wishes, Ken
On 11/16/10 9:33 PM, “” < > wrote:
Mr. Metzler —
I was happy to see you’re still listed as faculty here at the U of O. I just
read your book “Confrontation” about UO president Charles Johnson and found
it very moving and very well-written and researched. I’m an attorney
currently teaching at the law school as an adjunct (and I’m an alumnus), and
my husband used to come through Eugene in the 1960’s and 1970s so there were
all kinds of reasons to enjoy reading this book (and be moved by Johnson’s
Are you still teaching? At any rate, just wanted to let you know how
enjoyable I found your book (and how sad the story).
Marianne Dugan, Attorney