Opal Whiteley
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In 1915, Opal -- newly elected as state superintendent of the Junior Christian Endeavor -- came to the attention of Elbert Bede, editor of the Cottage Grove Sentinel. He gave her a rather heady introduction in the May 5 edition of his paper: "Probably there is no one who is not familiar with the Bible story of how the child Savior, reared in lowly surroundings, stood in the temple and imparted knowledge to the wise men. In some ways the life of little 17-year-old Opal Whiteley reminds one of this incident in the life of the Savior. She too has risen from obscure surroundings and in those surroundings has developed most remarkable knowledge."

Opal then outlined her plan to teach children across Oregon about God by explaining to them the plants and trees, rocks and rivers and sea shells. "My nature study is of much help to me in my work with the juniors, for I find that the child's heart readily unfolds to the true and the beautiful," she said. "To me all God's out-of-doors is one grand cathedral."

"She is a product of the Oregon outdoors who knows that outdoors almost as well as the One who made it," Bede duly concluded.

This statement was shortly affirmed by officials at the University of Oregon. In Eugene for the Christian Endeavor state convention, Opal visited the university and astounded professors there with her knowledge of the natural sciences. Although she hadn't yet completed her high school credits, university officials unanimously agreed that Opal should be admitted. "Tutored by nature, a tiny, seventeen-year-old mountain girl, her hair down her back, has opened the eyes of the Eugene teaching profession and left it gasping for breath," announced the Eugene Daily Guard. "Entrance rules have been cast aside; scholarships are proposed."

"This experience happens but once in a generation," said Warren D. Smith, head of geology. "She knows more about geology than do many students that have graduated from my department."

But perhaps there was a higher motive to her scientific knowledge, wrote UO librarian Inez Fortt in 1969. "It was in a high school science class that Opal discovered the 'universal order' of nature," she wrote in Old Oregon, the university alumni magazine. "Through that discovery Opal began to adopt a 'universal order' for her own personal affairs, too. She began to plan in minute detail her own life, a factor that may help to explain some later events."

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