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From Our Vault: 'Red' McVey played key role in Oswego history

Arthur Red McVey is on the left in this photo from the Lake Oswego Public Library's Worthington Collection. Arthur McVey — who was born Arthur but nicknamed “Red” because of his flaming red hair — left his mark as a janitor, power-plant construction worker, fireman, citizen advocate and preservationist.

There’s so much to say about McVey, in fact, that I’ll continue his story in next month’s “From Our Vault.” But for this part of the story, I gleaned some information from the Lake Oswego Public Library and some from my high school chum, Chris DeBellis Scotty, who knew McVey through her dad, Rocky DeBellis.

Rocky DeBellis was the proprietor of Rocky’s Shoe Repair and one of our first lake wardens. He and McVey knew each other because both were firefighters with the Oswego Volunteer Fire Department. McVey became the last charter member of the organization in 1911.

In addition to fighting fires, McVey also served as secretary/treasurer/receptionist for 43 years until his death in 1960 at age 83. Chris remembers that McVey used to love to talk politics with her dad to pass the time when they were on duty. She also remembers going with her dad to visit McVey at his home — a one-room structure at 144 Leonard St. that had no indoor plumbing! He lived in that house from 1917 until 1960.

Elva Meyers, whose parents lived across the street from McVey (where the Peg Tree is), told me recently that her parents used to see the “man with the red hair” walking through town waving and chatting with everyone he encountered, his hair blowing in the wind.

McVey was born in 1877 in England. His family came to New York in 1889. In 1909, McVey and friend John Hoye came to Oregon in search of work.

According to Rocky DeBellis, McVey wanted to work in the iron foundry, but there were no jobs. So he went to work building the powerhouse. He did work at the foundry for a short time, but it was his job as janitor at Lakewood School that he really loved. He worked at Lakewood from 1911 until his retirement in 1947.

“From Our Vault” is written by Nancy Dunis for the Oswego Heritage Council, using materials she’s found in the council’s archives; look for it on the third Thursday of every month. Have something you’d like to add to the vault? Leave a message for Dunis at 503-635-6373 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..