John M. McClelland III has deeper Longview roots than most: His grandfather and father ran The Daily News for the first half-century of its existence. His cousin, Ted Natt, ran it for nearly a quarter century after that.
And McClelland, 70, worked on the paper’s feature staff for about 13 years. Over time, he became a city historian of sorts, even writing a column called Longview Revisited. He still enjoys gathering in the basement of Longview Community Church for 23 Club meetings to talk, and learn, about his unusual hometown.
Throughout its good times and bad, the city “is a survivor,” he says. Its residents, no longer able to depend on just forest products and a largely unskilled labor force, are adapting through education and retraining, he says. And Lower Columbia College is one key.
“The community college must do everything possible to turn out young men and women with either the skills or at least the potential to obtain skill in order to make a living,” he says. The days are past when the city’s droves of uneducated blue collar workers could support a family.
A 1963 graduate of R.A. Long High School, McClelland then spent a year in the Peace Corps in Peru, then taught English in there, where he met his wife, Pauly.
With a young family ready to settle down in the states, he was determined to avoid the city of his dad and granddad.
“I’ll never come back to Longview,” he thought.
He wanted a “cosmopolitan” lifestyle, maybe work in the State Department or write for an international wire news service.
But after serving in the military, studying journalism at the University of Washington, working at newspapers in Port Angeles, Wash., and Albany, Ore. — as well as four years at Longview Fibre Co. — McClelland realized: “Never say never.”
He came to appreciate Longview’s unique history. It is one of America’s very few planned cities “built from scratch with private money.” He also appreciated the city’s open, welcoming attitude, which he said many communities lacked. He settled back in Longview in 1974.
R.A. Long’s planned city got off to a bumpy start. The Great Depression hit six years after the city was born. Long’s grand vision never quite materialized. But the young McClelland grew up in the bustling post-WWII years. On the back of old-growth timber, Longview grew.
“It looked like it was never going to stop,” he said. But by the 1970s, most of the valuable old growth was gone. The wood products industry, while never abandoning Longview, had changed. Fewer jobs. Far fewer low-skill jobs.
Longview didn’t lay down. It adapted. The Mint Farm, where the city built an industrial park, is an example of how the city is diversifying, McClelland says.
“I could never have imagined anything like that,” as a young man in the mill town, he said.
And LCC’s steady expansion is preparing a workforce for more changes in a global economy.
Culturally, McClelland says, “we’ve come light years.” He notes Longview’s thriving symphony, theater and concert scene.
“It takes my breath away,” he says.
He also noted Longview’s geographic advantages: on a river, a rail line and a key highway; not far from major cities and the Cascade mountains.
But it’s the people of his beloved hometown that boost his optimism.
“I see the entire county as more open and enlightened than it was during my youth,” he says.
“And the weather IS NOT THAT BAD,” he says. “You don’t have to shovel rain.”