The unofficial leader of the School of Journalism and Communication’s emeritus faculty members, Ken Metzler has had, in his words, three love affairs in his life: “flying, Betty Jane, and the University of Oregon.”
One of two children of German immigrants, Metzler was born in the town of Boring, twenty miles east of Portland, in 1929. His family endured many hardships during the Great Depression, yet Metzler remembers the Sandy River Canyon where he grew up as, in his words, “an incredible playground,” one that fostered an early love of the outdoors.
His childhood dream, fueled by his older brother John’s enrollment in the Army Air Corps, was to become a professional airplane pilot—the freedom and independence it offered appealed to him. He did learn to fly, but Metzler, who had inherited his parents’ writing ability and who had coedited his high school paper, chose a journalism career instead.
He enrolled at the University of Oregon in 1947, just as World War II veterans were returning to campus in droves. There, he worked on the Oregon Daily Emerald, wrote freelance articles for The Oregonian, and was a member of the journalism honorary fraternity Sigma Delta Chi. His roommate was Fred Taylor, who would later become editor of The Wall Street Journal.
He graduated 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—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.
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.
His observations on the tragic death of President Charles Johnson led to a critically acclaimed book Confrontation, which was published in 1973. The book was cited by the UO as “an important document in the school’s history.”
Metzler’s classes on magazines and interviewing were some of the most popular in the School of Journalism and Communication. All of his classes had the “Metzler touch,” including door prizes and other giveaways for students who needed encouragement. NBC’s Ann Curry still has a Linotype slug she received certifying her as a “Genius, J321, 1977.”
Of Metzler’s five books, Confrontation and Creative Interviewing are still in print. Creative Interviewing is still used widely as a textbook.
In the opening to his autobiography, his son Doug describes him as a “rippin’ whitewater rafter, brilliant teacher, boring storyteller, damn good with a chopsaw, cool dad. Knows his Goudy Old Style type from his Bodoni, and his embellishments from his baloney.”
Although he retired in 1990, Metzler continues to write and remains active, 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 is currently compiling a history of policing in Lane County.