Graduates walking in to graduation with O hill in background. Date unknown.
History of Oregon Institute of Technology’s Hillside “O” and “OT”
This history is based upon oral accounts from several long-time faculty, administrators and staff of Oregon Tech as well as alumni and students.
Hillside “O”s are associated with both the old and the new campuses of Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech). The old campus was located on the site of a former WWII Marine Corps recuperation facility in Klamath Falls. A faculty member reports that remains of an “O” above the old campus can be seen during light snowfalls. Additional information about this “O” is not available at this time.
The new or present campus of Oregon Tech in Klamath Falls was dedicated in 1964. The “O” on the northerly hillside above the present campus (later modified to an “O” with a “T” inside) was built by students around the time of the campus construction in 1964-1966. A long time faculty member remembers the “O” from when he started working at the present campus in mid-1966.
The original “O” above the present campus was constructed from whitewashed rocks. Whitewashing the rocks each year was traditionally a freshmen job. From its creation, construction and maintenance of the “O” was a student project, usually coordinated by a fraternity. Iota Phi Theta maintained the “O” in the 1970s. Phi Delta Theta took over maintenance responsibilities in the early eighties and continues today.
The “O” played an important part in Homecoming football celebrations until the early nineties when the football program ended. Students would illuminate the “O” by surrounding it with lights. In early years the students used lanterns or flares. After an windy Homecoming evening when a flare toppled over and set the hillside ablaze, plans were usually made with the school’s Diesel Technology program for generators to provide electric lights. No people or structures were harmed by that fire. However, it provided a vivid memory for members of the President’s Advisory Council, who were meeting on the campus that evening.
As a prank students would occasionally rearrange the “O” into other shapes. The most memorable re-arrangement occurred in the spring of 1976 when one night the “O” became the Playboy bunny symbol. The bunny was the last straw for President Winston Purvine. He ordered the whitewashed rocks scattered down the hillside. Students considered various options to rebuild the “O” so that it could not be rearranged; however, grass would not grow on the steep hillside and a cement mixer could not be brought up the grade. Eventually everyone compromised, and the students rebuilt the “O”.
During the jogging craze of the 1970s members of the campus community used the “O” as a workout goal. The elevation of the campus is over 4200 feet and the “O” is a few hundred feet higher up a steep grade. The Oregon Tech football team also incorporated the “O” into its workouts.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the current “OT” symbol. Phi Delta Theta Fraternity took over the maintenance of the “O” in 1981 and modified the symbol to the current “O” with a “T” inside using whitewashed railroad ties and gravel. The fraternity members still occasionally modify the symbol to represent their fraternity letters or even make the “OT” disappear.
Anne Hiller Clark, MS, MS LIS
Librarian and Assistant Professor
Oregon Institute of Technology
(Additional information about hillside letters can be found in Hillside Letters A-Z: A Guide to Hometown Landmarks by Evelyn Corning, published by Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2007. The Oregon Tech OT is included in this publication.)
Resources on OIT’s history
Oregon Institute of Technology, 1947-1997, The First Fifty Years, vol. 11 of the Journal of the Shaw Historical Library, (1997)
OVS, OTI, Oregon Tech: OREGON TECH’S FIRST 30 YEARS, 1946 – 1976 by Winston D. Purvine
The Owler, OIT’s yearbook from 1950 to 1983. Copies are available for use at the Oregon Tech Main Library Access Services desk and in the Shaw Historical Library.