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P.J. O'Gara had a way with plants

I enjoy reading the stories from 100 years ago, and I'll sometimes see articles about a Professor P.J. O'Gara and his sometimes out-there experiments. Who was he?

— Sam, Medford

Judging by the musty archives of the old Muddy Tributary, the science experiments of Dr. Patrick J. O'Gara were a fixture in what was then considered the Rogue River Valley.

From today's perspective, some of his experiments bordered on zany, such as when he studied the effects of electricity on plants (May 1, 1912), but most of his work that made our pages a century ago centered around more mundane horticultural topics, such as effects of cold storage and pest prevention.

We checked with our friends at the Southern Oregon Historical Society Research Library and the Rogue Valley Genealogy Library. According to SOHS records, the first mention of Dr. O'Gara was a Nov. 28, 1908, article in the Central Point Herald, when he came down from Washington state to speak to fruit growers about pear blight.

According to the book "Blossoms and Branches: A Gathering of Rogue Valley Orchard Memories" by Kay Atwood, O'Gara served in a variety of roles during his time in the valley. He took on his first job in the area in 1909 for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to educate growers about pruning, spraying and irrigation. In 1911, local fruit growers (namely Orchardist A.C. Allen, according to SOHS) convinced him to stay after his tenure with the government to work as the county pathologist.

During Dr. O'Gara's time as pathologist, the Oregon Agricultural College established a branch experiment station in our area — later to become the Oregon State University Extension Service.

According to his obituary, O'Gara left the area in 1914 to help the American Smelting and Refining Company in Salt Lake City, where he developed practices for smelting that avoided injuries to workers and prevented harm to vegetation.

According to the obituary we ran, he died on Sept. 17, 1927, in Salt Lake City after a four-year illness. His wife returned to the couple's hometown of Vermillion, S.D.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.