51 years of teaching U.S. history has ended for Allen Epp
He learned a German dialect before English and can tell you the historical significance of just about any American town.
Allen Epp, a southwest Portland resident, has been an instructor for 57 years, the last 51 with Portland Community College. Epp is now calling it a career, officially retiring in June. However, the mark that he has left on the college will remain.
'He made an impact on my life,' said Kathy Alzner, history instructor at PCC and a former student in Epp's U.S. History class. 'His classroom was a joy. The jokes he told were interesting. Students would be writing what he said down, including the joke. He would let them write and write until they realized it was a joke.'
Epp's teachings have spanned generations. One colleague remarked that he had a student who recently took his course because his mom had been a student of Epp's as well as his grandmother.
He has taught history part-time at each of the comprehensive campuses of the college and finished as a history instructor at the Sylvania Campus. Epp was the longest-serving staff member at PCC.
He was born and raised in a small Nebraska town during the Great Depression. Epp is full of stories about virtually everything. Ever wondered about the Dust Bowl? With a smile, he'll relate stories like the one when his family had to light a lantern at 3 p.m. in the afternoon due to the dust cloud's blanketing darkness.
Epp began his teaching career in Iowa before moving to Portland. Some of his jobs included teaching English and social studies at Roosevelt High School and a three-year stint at Kennedy Grade School, now a McMenamin's pub. Since 1966 he has taught nothing but American history at PCC.
'I enjoy the Colonial days of American history,' Epp said. 'I love teaching about religion in the United States because there was a lot of religion involved in those early days.'
Epp has followed most portions of the Oregon Trail, studying significant spots and walking the same rutted paths that settlers used during the migration West. His favorite part is the South Pass in the Rocky Mountains because, 'you can visualize there the people moving through, on to Oregon, California, and the Mormons to Utah. It's a thrilling place.'
During the summer, he's gone on excursions to the Santa Fe Trail, to Canada and to Alaska to analyze the old churches and brothels, which were signatures of the Old West.
'I enjoy looking up historical places,' Epp said. 'I have been to every state except Mississippi.'
Besides traveling, Epp can be a valuable resource for those needing research. His most satisfying moment came during the bicentennial in 1977 when he produced 20 historical programs for OPB. He used most of them to help illustrate topics in his classes.
Epp became interested in history through his grandmother, who told him stories of the good old days in Germany, Holland and Russia and his family's immigration to the U.S. This helped stimulate his desire to learn about history.
In all, Epp knows his history and has seen quite a bit of it, and appreciates how things have changed.
'What is most enjoyable is teaching to students who are more intrigued and better-behaved than those in high school,' he chuckles. 'I came from a one-room country school in Nebraska that consisted of a total of 28 students. That's smaller in size than the classes I taught.'
From his insights into the Japanese war balloons that floated over the Oregon Coast during World War II - including the one that killed several people in Klamath County - to recounting the history of a person's home town, he'll be missed.
'What struck me about Allen was when he first came to my office to chat,' said Brooke Gondara, dean of PCC's social science division. 'I came here from the extreme and remote corner of Montana, but he knew everything about it. He has been a great teacher and will leave a wonderful legacy.'