Ervin C. Reiman was born March 22, 1899, in Ontario, Canada, to German immigrant parents. In 1903, the family moved to Michigan then to Idaho, where they settled in St. Maries. Ervin attended schools in St. Maries with his brother and sister. The area was devastated in 1910 by the largest forest fire in American history, known as the Big Blow-up. Reiman and his family survived it only by lying down along the St. Joe River bank for three days and nights while the fire raged on all sides. After attending Idaho College for one year, Ervin and his sister moved to Corvallis to attend Oregon Agricultural College. He graduated with a degree in animal husbandry in 1922.
While at OAC, he met Helen Barratt, a home economics major from Heppner. She was born November 10, 1901, and graduated from OAC in 1923. A year later, she and Ervin were married and eventually moved to Rosalia, Washington, where Ervin ran a small meat market and fur farm. It was here that he began experimenting with the preservation of foods by freezing, especially meats. While in Rosalia, Ervin became fire chief, city councilman, and finally mayor of Rosalia. The Reimans’ children were born there: Robert Ervin in 1924, William Carl in 1927, and Helen Elizabeth in 1928.
The Reiman family moved to Corvallis in 1935. Ervin founded and operated a frozen food locker business, renting freezer lockers to consumers for family use and selling and wrapping meats for freezing. They built the Modern Lockers plant on Madison Avenue between First and Second streets. In 1948, in partnership with their sons, they built the Modern Freezing and Storage plant on Northwest Ninth Street, with expanded commercial refrigerated warehousing facilities, a retail grocery store, a wholesale food marketing operation, and larger frozen food lockers. This was Corvallis’ first “supermarket,” with a large parking lot available for customers. The Modern Freeze grocery store featured the city’s first retail frozen food display cabinets. Mr. Reiman organized the Oregon State Locker Association and served as its president for eleven years. He also published the first booklet on how to process food for home freezing preservation, working closely with the Food Technology Department professors at Oregon State College.
His children, all of whom graduated from Corvallis High School and OSC, were involved with the family-run business, as was Helen, who served as bookkeeper. When Ervin and Helen retired, both sons remained in the business. His daughter and son-in-law took over an affiliated frozen food processing operation and successfully operated the company as Corvallis Packing Co. for many years. After retirement, Ervin and Helen took up financial and estate planning work out of the home and began extensive travels all over the world.
Ervin was named Lion of the Year in 1957, and the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce chose him as Citizen of the Year in 1959. In 1961 the Corvallis High School yearbook was dedicated to him for his “special service and dedication to the youth of the high school.” He was a founding sponsor of the Youth Employment Service, which helped high school students find part-time work. He had also served on the Corvallis School Board for 12 years.
“Erv” was also recognized and honored by the Kiwanis Club and Corvallis Rotary Club for his outstanding work with youth and community projects. He was a founding director of BCF, serving on its board of directors for several years during its formative period. He also served on the board of Open Door, a work-training organization for people with disabilities.
Ervin and Helen were devoted parents, active in the community and especially in all areas of endeavor in which their children were involved. Both were avid sports fans. Erv was active in his church and served as a reader for a number of years. When he joined a club or organization, he was always a very active member.
After Ervin passed away in 1975, Helen remained active as a member of the Corvallis Garden Club, the Order of the Eastern Star, the American Legion Auxiliary, and the Lady Lion’s Club. She died at the age of 91 on September 22, 1993, leaving three children, ten grandchildren, and nineteen great grandchildren.
The Ervin C. & Helen C. Reiman Memorial Fund supports programs for the youth of Benton County through BCF’s annual grants cycle.