School Teacher and Community Leader
A long-time resident of Florence for over 57 years, Roger McCorkle is someone who has devoted much of his life to community service and the history of Florence. Born in Vancouver, WA, his parents (Dean and Alice) moved to Oregon in 1939 where his father worked on dairy farms and mills. Their beginnings were humble, as the family lived in a converted milk shed on the farm. Roger spent his years growing up and attending school in Grants Pass, Oregon.
For as long as he can remember, Roger admits being a teacher was always what he believed he could do, and wanted to do. He obtained his Bachelor’s Degree from Southern Oregon University in Ashland. In 1965, he married Sherrie Pritchard and after graduating from SOU, accepted a teaching position at Siuslaw High School. He was 23 years old.
When Roger brought his family to Florence in 1967, it was a town with no traffic lights, and about 2,000 residents. He remembers thinking it was a somewhat isolated community, and was uncertain whether he could be happy “living in a community this small”. At the time, the high school was located across from what is now the Florence Event Center. As Roger described it, Bay Street had the appearance of being ‘abandoned’, and “there wasn’t much there”. Besides the Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant, there was a pool hall, and a post office. He soon learned the post office was the primary reason folks came into town. During his first few years as a teacher at the high school, Roger spent the summers completing his master’s degree while also teaching night classes. In 1971 he obtained his Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, History from the University of Oregon. Roger’s entire 31 years of teaching took place at Siuslaw High School, teaching Social Studies and History. His students were primarily juniors and seniors, grade levels he particularly enjoyed teaching. Without hesitation, Roger says the best part of being a teacher was working with students on a daily basis. As a teacher, he was often reminded at unexpected moments of the wonders of small-town living. Roger recalled such a moment on an ‘away’ football game day. Spectator buses were used to transport students to out-of-town school games. On game day, one particular student seemed overly excited about the game. It was then Roger learned why. The student had never been out of town before, and the 30-minute bus ride to Reedsport was an extraordinary event he looked forward to with great anticipation.
“Off the water tower in 15 fathoms [90 feet] of water and we’re going down”!
In the summer of 1972 Roger was commercial fishing for salmon with his friend, Jim Smith. Jim had just purchased a 24-foot commercial troller (The Grizzly). On a good day they could bring back 2 dozen or more salmon after fishing up and down the coast. They easily sold their catch at the dock. In June of 1973 however, their season abruptly ended. On the 3rd day of the season, the boat sank. They were returning to shore, off the water tower, about ¼ mile from the beach when the boat began taking on water. With life jackets on, they called in a mayday, moved to the bow of the boat and hung on while in the frigid water. After some time, they were ultimately rescued by the Coast Guard. The evening after their boat incident, they received a call from the Police Department and were informed The Grizzly had washed ashore! Roger and Jim secured the boat from the tide and worked all night to remove the engine and whatever else they could salvage from the vessel. Needless to say, Roger’s summer commercial fishing days came to an end.
While a school teacher, Roger became involved with city government and maintained active roles as both a City Councilman and Mayor. He was first elected to the City Council in 1974 for the term beginning in 1975. In 1979 he began his first term as Mayor. During those years Florence experienced growth and development, yet managed to hold on to its small-town character. Roger participated in the community in other ways as well. He coached softball teams during the summers, was a Board member of Western Lane Community Foundation, and a member of the Elks Lodge. In 1969 he was the Esteemed Leading Knight and in 1970, he became the Elk’s Exalted Ruler, a position he repeated in 2020.
ROGER & SHERRIE MCCORKLE SCHOLARSHIP
Roger and his wife Sherrie created a scholarship endowment fund for Siuslaw High School graduating seniors pursuing careers in education. Recently, the scholarship evolved to assist another group of candidates. The McCorkle’s learned funding for students is often more difficult to obtain after the 1st college year. As such, their endowment was recently changed to a continuing education scholarship in the field of education. The recipient must be from Florence, have had some college experience, and now includes post-graduate applicants, and individuals returning to school to further their education.
For several years, the 70-mile “Mail Run” was an annual event featuring 8 dog mushing teams that traversed the Oregon Dunes from North Bend to Florence. The dog teams were from Oregon, Washington and California. The teams carried letters of acknowledgement for the event from city managers and mayors along the route. Commemorative envelopes were sold as a fundraiser to support Oregon teams in long-distance races like the 1,000-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Alaska. Envelopes were postmarked and stamped at the start of the route in North Bend, with stops in Lakeside, Reedsport, and ended in Florence. The museum is pleased to include in its collection, a number of these commemorative envelopes and letters donated to the museum by Roger.
The logistics of the dog mushers event was organized by Jim Tofflemire of North Bend, who had sledded for Oregon in a prior Iditarod race. The mushers maneuvered specially built 4-wheeled carts using airplane tires for use on the dunes instead of a ski sled. Mushers stopped at designated locations to rest the dogs and answer questions like: “How do you tell them apart”, “How much food do they eat?”
Mushers spent a night in the Dunes south of Winchester Bay. The following morning the teams were trucked across the Umpqua River for the last portion of the coastal route. They crossed the Tahkenitch Creek, and reached the South Jetty Road in the afternoon, then were trucked across the river to Rhododendron Drive. With Bay Street blocked off, the dogs and mushers settled along the street for up-close public viewing. The Mail Run was a celebrated event by all who had the chance to view a portion of it.
The many years of Roger McCorkle’s community service are inspirational and were important in guiding much of what has become our town’s history. It’s true, he initially thought of Florence as small, rural and isolated. However, he came to discover through being involved with the community, that it is much more of a vibrant town than he first thought. Perhaps the lesson is that sometimes you find the treasure, and other times, like moving to Florence, the treasure finds you.