Profiles in Living History: William Henry Tebeau
February 25, 2010
William Henry Tebeau was born in 1925 in Baker City. His grandparents came west in 1885 and settled in Huntington just inside Baker County and later on to Baker City.
At age 12, he joined the Boy Scouts and worked his way up to the Eagle Scout designation and the Order of the Arrow. In 1943 Tebeau graduated from Baker High School and was admitted to Oregon State College (later renamed Oregon State University).
Tebeau’s arrival in Corvallis was unexpected since he had not indicated his race on the application and housing was an issue until he was befriended by several OSU staff members. He excelled in college and played trumpet in the ROTC band. Tebeau graduated from college in 1948 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering. He was the first African American male to graduate from the school.
He returned to Baker City with no job opportunities before him. Finding work in the Northwest as an African American was no easy task, but Tebeau was not discouraged by the doors closed to him by racial inequality. Instead, he chose to study on his own to become a licensed Civil Engineer. Tebeau eventually found a job with the State Highway Department where he carved out a place in history; leaving his mark on Oregon civil engineering for decades.
Bill’s career with the Highway Department is legendary. Tebeau was named Employee of the Year by the Oregon State Employees Association. Listen to these words about him from a 1988 article
“He was a cornerstone for the planning and research of Oregon’s highway construction and improvement programs and was responsible for mapping Oregon’s cities, counties and urban areas.
Bob Brotman, then Director of ODOT, said, “Bill Tebeau has had more influence on the education, professional development and mentorship of ODOT employees than any other individual.”
During the Christmas flood of 1964, the Highway Dept. asked Bill to organize and staff the Divisions first Hydraulics Unit which determines the size and type of drainage structures necessary for highways to cross waterways. He was also asked to work with a private consultant to determine the cause of the collapse of the John Day Bridge.
But his commitment to education did not stop at ODOT or Chemeketa. He was a part of a program at Jefferson High School in Portland which recruited high school seniors and prepared them to pass the engineering aide exam.
Bill Tebeau is now retired after an illustrious career of four decades and continues to live in Salem with his wife, Genevieve.
To read other articles in The Skanner's Black History edition click here