Former Governor Tom McCall's Message to Visitors


Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dick Sherk next to "Welcome to Oregon" sign (1961)

Courtesy of Mike Sherk

Dick Sherk next to "Welcome to Oregon" sign (1961)

Tom McCall, Oregon's chef executive from 1967 to 1975, may go down in history as the state's most productive governor.

A career journalist with a unique background, he was certainly the most interesting.

In the newest episode of Oregon Experience, we explore how McCall reinterpreted the role of governor. He championed Oregon's quality of life and battled anything that seemed to threaten it. He put environmental protection ahead of economic growth. And he articulated a sense of place that, to this day, informs the way Oregonians think of themselves.

Referring to Oregon's tourist industry in a 1971 speech, McCall may have first publicly voiced his famous "Come visit, don't stay" slogan: "I urge them to come and come many, many times to enjoy the beauty of Oregon. But I also ask them, for heaven's sake, don't move here to live."

Oregonians and others interpreted this message to mean many different things. But it did not stop people from moving here. (It might have even further enticed them!)

Many thought the slogan was anti-business. In fact, later-Governor Vic Atiyeh resented it so much that he removed the traditional "We hope you will enjoy your visit" from the state's welcome sign, leaving only "Welcome to Oregon."

While we were editing our "Tom McCall" program, editor Lisa Suinn Kallem and I realized we needed an image of the original "Welcome" sign at the Oregon-California border. I found a great photograph on the Flickr website. The picture's owner, a California man named Mike Sherk, gave us permission to use it, and he added an interesting bit of history.

"My grandmother, Doris Sherk, took [this photo] of my grandfather, Dick Sherk, during one of their trips across the border," says Mike. "My grandpa passed away about 10 years ago, and my grandmother (who just had her 90th birthday) was tickled when I told her that a public television show wanted to use a photo of Grandpa."

"My grandpa's father moved the family to Oregon from a hard scrabble part of Long Beach, California to look for construction work when my grandpa was about 5 years old," continues Mike. "When I was young, my grandpa told me stories about his father's car (while parked at job sites) repeatedly having its windows smashed and tires slashed by other workers who were infuriated that a Californian would be picked for a job over an Oregon native. He eventually began hiding his vehicle several miles from job sites until he was able to get Oregon plates. So our family certainly knows about the anti-outsider sentiment that fueled McCall's policies!"

To learn more about Oregon Governor Tom McCall, tune in to Oregon Experience on Tuesday, March 19 at 8 p.m. on OPB TV.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.