Living Legends: Larry McClure

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Larry McClure works with Tualatin Elementary fourth-graders, who each year make butter, wash laundry on washboards, use slate boards in a one-room school, play jump rope, and plant gardens during “Oregon Pioneer Days” at the Tualatin Heritage Center. COURTESY/AL STEWART PHOTOGRAPHY

Larry McClure is still a small-town boy at heart so he and his wife Ellie hit the jackpot when they decided to settle in Tualatin in May 1972.

Larry McClure.

Born in Tennessee and living in several states before getting a teaching job in Portland Public Schools, McClure was accustomed to living in smaller cities. After graduate school in Eugene, “we were looking for a place between Portland and Salem that had handy freeway access,” said McClure, who worked 30 years for an education research firm in downtown Portland.

The McClures bought a one-story house in the first subdivision in Tualatin when it had a population of some 900 people, and they still live in the same house today. They moved here with a 1-year-old son who was followed by twins; all attended the only elementary school in town and later Twality Junior High and Tigard High School.

Having lived in Tualatin nearly 50 years, McClure has many fond memories of life in a small, close-knit town where neighbors help their neighbors, a trait still embraced today. “We soon joined the Methodist Church on Boones Ferry Road, which is now Tualatin Heritage Center on Sweek Drive,” said McClure, noting that much of their family life was centered there. 

Tualatin has dealt with wintertime high water for decades, “and after a heavy rain period, water would seep into the old church basement,” McClure said. “The Nyberg family had a filbert (hazelnut) orchard and would invite friends to glean after the harvest. We also U-picked walnuts from a farm on 65th (called Meridian Road then). I would dry our family’s basketfuls on the warm floor near the church furnace. One day after high water and the sump pump didn’t work, I found them all floating!” 

The congregation gradually outgrew the small 1926 country church and built the current building “up the hill” on Martinazzi. “I remember that July Sunday in 1982 when we moved,” McClure said. “We started the service in the old church and then people picked up the hymnals, offering plates and everything else they could carry, and we paraded up the hill, choir robes waving, to finish the service.”

Tualatin Methodist Church, built in 1926.

In the McClure family’s early days in town, Century Market was the only grocery store besides a food co-op until Ferguson’s IGA opened. “This was well before Fred Meyer, and there was no bank until First Interstate set up a trailer where Nyberg Rivers is now,” McClure said.

He recalled how the Nyberg family helped out their neighbors from their farm where Nyberg Woods (shopping center) is now. “They had dairy cows and would give away all the raw milk,” McClure said. “Clayton Nyberg and his son Arne would put big jars in the milk-house refrigerators for friends to take. Since the milk was not homogenized, cream floated on the top. At the grocery store, our kids would say, ‘Can we please get real milk, Mom?’”

After Larry’s retirement in 2001, the McClures joined the Tualatin Historical Society “because of a persistent lady named Loyce Martinazzi,” McClure said. In 2003 the original Methodist church’s then-owner asked the society if it wanted the building, which sparked a communitywide petition to move the sturdy wood building.

“We had to prove to the city there was support,” McClure said. “We went to work to raise money, and with generous help from the city, we were able to move and update it in 2006 to become the Tualatin Heritage Center, which is now owned by the city.”

Besides being a member of the society, McClure is active in the Oregon chapter of the National Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. “I joined in 1997,” he said. “We work to preserve and interpret significant places along the Columbia River which they described in their journals.” 

History is not McClure’s only priority. “I’m also proud to be a board member for Willowbrook Arts Camp for some 10 years now,” he said. “Hopefully, we will be able to open again in 2021 for a re-boot of the 38th season.” The day camp was founded by Althea Pratt-Broome and began at the Sweek House, where she still lives today.

McClure is also active in Winona Grange. An annual grange project is giving away seeds to other granges and community gardens around the state. The Methodist Church, in fact, plants many of these seeds in its huge community garden, which produced 3,700 pounds this season for the Tualatin Schoolhouse Food Pantry.

Larry and Ellie McClure recently drove to Eugene to fill their van with free 2020 seed packets donated by Bi-Mart headquarters that will be donated to area non-profits. BARBARA SHERMAN/TUALATIN LIFE

The McClures recently drove to Eugene and filled their van with still-viable 2020 seeds, a donation from Bi-Mart headquarters. The seed packets will be shared with area non-profits, including Neighbors Nourishing Communities, a Tualatin nonprofit that encourages residents to grow their own food and share some with those in need.

“What pleases me is that more volunteers are involved in giving food boxes and supporting programs like Family Promise for homeless families in our area,” McClure said.

Many of the buildings and sites standing when the McClures moved here have now vanished, but one constant remains: Neighbors are still helping neighbors.