A great man & a great steward of Oregon’s coast

Wilbur Ternyik leaves a legacy of leadership, vision, passion and integrity

April 7, 2018 — Wilbur Ternyik, longtime resident of Florence, passed away on Monday, April 2. Ternyik was a central figure in Florence, particularly during the 1970s and ’80s, when his conservation and restoration work formed the national framework for merging environmental and development efforts.

Ternyik attracted further attention of political leaders from both parties, statewide and nationally, when he worked with then Governor Tom McCall to establish protocols for saving Oregon’s beaches and coastal recreation areas from environmental degradation.

He was often seen around town wearing a buckskin coat and he famously gaveled official meetings to order with a tomahawk.

While Ternyik was known for these symbolic displays, he will be remembered primarily for his thoughtful, attentive manner, coupled with the ability to bring opposing philosophies into alignment. 

Ternyik was born Jan. 26, 1927, and graduated from Warrenton High School, near Astoria, Ore., before enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1944. He was proud of his heritage, which included both Native and European ancestry.

Ternyik was seriously wounded in the leg during a battle on the island of Okinawa in 1945, for which he received a Purple Heart Commendation. He returned to Astoria for convalescence before moving to Florence in 1947.

It was at this time that he turned his attention to the endeavors that would make a permanent impact on the coastal communities of Oregon: constraining the inexorable spread of the coastal dunes.

Ternyik had a lifelong interest in plants, which he grew into a vocation in 1953, when he established a dunes stabilization business called Wave Beach Grass Nursery.

He had spent considerable time as a young man working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service to learn the best ways to use native plants and grasses to minimize beach loss to erosion.

He employed these experiences, making modifications that took into consideration local circumstances, to develop effective ways to mitigate the spread of coastal dunes.

This was the beginning of what turned into a decades-long effort by the young Ternyik to safeguard the beaches of Oregon from destruction.

Ternyik’s work to stabilize the dunes included the development of erosion control techniques that have subsequently been embraced by coastal towns across the country and around the world.

 In 1971, Ternyik was selected to provide advice and strategies to the newly formed Oregon Coastal Conservation and Development Commission (OCCDC).

Ternyik’s advice was held in unusually high esteem by legislators concerned with coastal development, particularly McCall, who, with other civic leaders, came to trust and rely on the advice and council of the man from Florence.

“Wilbur worked with Governor Tom McCall in the 1970s to create the beach and land use plan, specifically to meet the needs for the Oregon coast’s unique ecosystems,” State Sen. Arnie Roblan said.

Roblan considered Ternyik a friend and described him as one of those iconoclastic individuals who has made a difference in the state, most importantly in the areas of ecology and environmental stewardship.

OCCDC spent four years developing management guidelines for a wide array of ocean and water related ecosystems, ultimately passing laws addressing difficult issues, due in large part to Ternyik’s gravitas.

Ternyik was selected to head the group that eventually consisted of public officials, environmental advocates and representatives of the business community.

He was a forceful presence on the committee, and his extensive knowledge and experiences working in the field were persuasive and often formed the basis for the group’s policies.

Many of the protocols suggested by the group were adopted, with many still in use, and currently overseen by the OCCDC.

In the 1980s, Ternyik was employed by the federal government to teach marsh and wetland restoration techniques to individuals working in state and federal agencies, sharing his wisdom and passion.

He and his wife Joyce were married in 1962, raised five children and worked together on many of Ternyik’s projects. The couple spent their retirement years working with state officials to rehabilitate injured wildlife, fostering and caring for a menagerie at their home.

During his work on the OCCDC, Ternyik became a close friend and confidant to U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield and the two maintained a friendship until Hatfield’s passing in 2011.

Ternyik shared his observations and techniques for beach restoration with the public in 1979, with the release of his book, “Beach and Dune Implementation Techniques,” which is widely regarded as a primer in the field of beach restoration.

Ternyik also served the City of Florence with distinction in a number of important capacities over a 30 year period.

He served on the city council for 16 years and on the Port of Siuslaw Commission for 29 years. He also served twice as mayor, first from 1985 to 1988 and then from 1991 to 1992.

Florence Mayor Joe Henry, now in his second term, regrets that he did not get to know his predecessor better.

“In reading about this incredible man, it strikes me that too often the accomplishments of those in the past go unnoticed until they depart this earth. I for one had no idea of the history and accomplishments of this man and I am humbled,” Henry said. “I think that it serves as a reminder to all of us that regardless of how much we are accomplishing today, we need to look to the past and remember people like Wilbur who have helped Florence to become Oregon’s premier coastal community.”

In 1971, Ternyik was honored with the distinction of becoming the Florence First Citizen. He also later served on the Lane Council of Governments and with the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association.

Roblan said he fondly remembered the manner in which Ternyik conducted himself on a personal level, appreciating the colorful man’s ability to listen to others and still figure out a way to come to a common solution.

“Wilbur was a gentleman and a scholar that helped establish our coastal environmental practices, which became a model for the rest of the world,” Roblan said. “Additionally, he had a unique ability to bring people together, to find common ground.

“Wilbur was a great man who will be missed by many of us that were fortunate enough to work with him.”

Roblan gave a tribute to Ternyik’s work in 2009 in the Oregon House of Representatives, saying, “He has been an integral part of the City of Florence. ... I just want people to recognize his ability to bring people together, especially the coastal communities.”

People can view the brief video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jBBJ9ooq6s.

The Siuslaw Pioneer Museum in Florence has an extensive collection of Wilbur’s correspondence, photographs and a bronze bust that captures Ternyik’s spirit and fire.  It was sculpted by Lorenzo E. Ghiglieri with a pedestal by Rainy Arago and dedicated May 27, 2006.

The sculpture shows Ternyik from the waist up in his buckskin jacket and holding his combination tomahawk and peace pipe.

Public services for Ternyik will be held at the Florence Events Center, 715 Quince St., on Sunday, April 29, at 1 p.m.

According to Rosie Shatkin, Legislative Policy Advisor to Roblan, the senator plans to sponsor a legislative memorial honoring Ternyik’s service, which could be the naming of a highway.

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