Untold Stories Guide

William Tebeau, OSU's First Male African American Graduate

Life was not easy for African Americans in the 1940s, yet William “Bill” Tebeau (pronounced “tee-bow”) proved that one could overcome any odds with hard work and perseverance. Known to be the first African American male to graduate from OSU, then known as Oregon State College (OSC), Tebeau was well regarded for his unwavering dedication and kind spirit. (1)

Born to Henry and Frances Tebeau of Baker City, Oregon, on November 23, 1925, Tebeau worked hard throughout his early academic career in order to achieve his dream of attending OSC. After graduating high school in 1943, Tebeau was accepted to study Chemical Engineering. Unfortunately, Tebeau encountered difficulties his first day on campus when he was refused a dorm room due to the color of his skin. (2) Tebeau had not mentioned his ethnicity on his application and upon learning the truth, administrators suggested he try attending the University of Oregon instead. Tebeau was adamant, however, and refused to leave, and instead, found lodging and work at a nearby fraternity, where he was given a room in the basement. (3)

Despite the housing issue, Tebeau found his time at OSC to be both educational and enjoyable. (4) An Eagle Scout, Tebeau, served as a member of the first ever Alpha Phi Omega chapter on campus, a fraternity for former and current Boy Scouts of America, belonged to the prestigious math organization on campus, Pi Mu Epsilon, and as an avid trumpet and violin player joined the OSC marching band and played for the KOAC radio station’s studio band. (5)

Upon his graduation in 1948, Tebeau discovered that few jobs existed for Black chemical engineers in the western United States. Wanting to remain in Oregon, Tebeau earned his license as a civil engineer and went to work for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), then known as the Oregon State Highway Department. (6) There, Tebeau would work for over
30 years providing excellent expertise in construction, surveying, and city planning. In addition to his work at ODOT, Tebeau taught as a part-time engineering professor at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon. (7)

Tebeau was a highly commended and appreciated member of his community, and received many accolades throughout his lifetime. For his dedicated work as a civil engineer and teacher, Tebeau was named Teacher of the Year at Chemeketa Community College in 1970 and the State of Oregon’s Employee of the Year in 1971. Prior to his death in 2013, Tebeau was awarded the first ever Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers Trailblazer Award and was inducted into the OSU Engineering Hall of Fame in 2010. (8)

In October 2014, OSU hosted the dedication ceremony for its new residence hall, Tebeau Hall. Tebeau’s family shared stories of his hard work and love for OSU and encouraged others to apply Bill Tebeau’s motto to their own lives: “Make it a great day!” (9)

Photos and Sources Cited

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  1. Bill Tebeau’s motto, Tebeau Hall, 2014.
  2. Portrait of William Tebeau, 1946
  3. Tebeau Hall, 2014