The Eastmoreland Golf Course "about us" page indicates that James O. Conville was key figure in the establishment of municipal golf links. The line comes directly from Paul J Keyser's tale in which he says municipal links were the brainchild of T. Morris Dunne and James O. Conville. That may be the case, though the record doesn't show that James O. Conville had direct hand in any of the efforts to build the municipal links.
What's certain is that James "Dad" Conville was Captain of the M.A.A.C. Football team leading them to muddy defeat at the hands of the Olympic Club in 1915. He served as the Superintendent of Parks from the end of 1914 to 1917. His years were marked by slashing budgets and cutbacks based on poor weather, a seemingly familiar tone which rings true with PP&R today. His most impressive accomplishments as Superintendent of Parks might just be somehow being the person given credit on the Eastmoreland website, since otherwise the record shows little if any involvement in golf, the municipal links, parks maintenance, or improving recreational activities. The only exception being regular play on the M.A.A.C. football and wrestling teams the very same years he held the role.
On April 2, 1917, just one day after one of the few articles even noting Conville's involvement in the municipal links, the US declared War with Germany ushering in the Yanks to the Great War. Conville remained as the Parks Superintendent a few more months before throwing his hat into the ring to enlist in the Army Officer's Reserve. Turns out that he had more friends in high places, as no other than Victor A. Johnson was the committee lead for the War Department's search for qualified officer training camp to be held in the Presidio of San Francisco.
Since the record is sparse, I can only imagine the conversations as Victor A. Johnson and "Dad" Conville regarding is application to the Officer's Reserve.
“Mr. Conville, what a pleasant surprise.” says Victor A. Johnson to the familiar face entering his downtown office. “Any new reports on the municipal links?"
“I assigned my best man, Paul J. Keyser to the project.” said Dad Conville hat in hand. Just yesterday he spent the day with that golfer fellow, Chandler Egan. They pour over the topographical maps with color pencils, surveying the land with that new gizmo you helped us acquire from the Olmsted brothers.
“Yes, the Theodolite.” notes Mr. Johnson. Then raising an eyebrow quizzically he asks “Is that all you came here for?
“Mr. Johnson, I’m here about my application for Officer’s Reserve." says Conville. "Send me over there."
"You are a leader of man on the football field already, undoubtedly qualified..." confirms Victor, "but what about the municipal links?"
“Paul is doing a fine job… and I expect it to proceed along without a hitch! Morrie wants me spending majority of my time on the football practice field and the wrestling mat anyway.
“Yes, yes. I know T. Morris Dunne had a hand in getting you appointed as Superintendent to provide you with ample practice time.” notes Johnson.
“Paul J. Keyser also submitted an application. We have to consider him as well.”
"He's not fighting material, Mr. Johnson!” shouts Conville. Then catching himself, he pleads in a calmer voice. “He’s more at home digging in the dirt with the laborers."
“I see, hmm. There are a lot of digging of trenches on the front lines you know."
"Just the other day I caught him peering into beaver dams and counting birds nests, when he should be working the men harder.”
"Should I be concerned then if you are not here to... ah... manage the operations?”
"Paul will be just fine I'll make sure of that... and if he doesn't, … Well after I come back from knocking out the Kaiser in Germany I'll come knock out this Keyser for you next, Sir," he says with a nod and a grin.
“Hopefully that won’t be necessary.” Victor Johnson rises to his feet reaching out an outstretched hand to shake. “Dad, you are on the short list to represent our city in the field of battle, just as you have on the football field. So don’t make any late summer vacation plans to the coast.” he concludes with a wink.
“Thank you Sir!” Dad shakes and then slaps his feet together standing tall and straight.
Victor comes around the desk to escort Conville out of the office. “By the way Dad, while you wait for the committee’s decision, may I suggest you spend a bit more time on the links and see what you can learn about the Theodolite. Officer’s training camp will include lessons on surveying for artillery so it might be useful for you.”
“Hahahha! The only tool I’ll need is the sharp end of my bayonet!” Laughing uproariously Dad slaps Victor Johnson’s back, nearly knocking him over.
By this time in July 1917, his protege Paul J. Keyser was already overseeing the golf course construction. As a golfer, let me say, thank the stars for that. Because looking at the historical record, Dad Conville's brief role as Superintendent is nearly a blank slate at best.
Paul J. Keyser would go on to become one of the most important figures in the advancement of Parks and Recreation in Portland. He oversaw growth of the parks system from 200 acres to over 5000. He set the stage for a Portland Parks system which all cities across the nation would seek guidance, who knows what little would have been accomplished. Paul J. Keyser is cited in more than 2000 different articles in the newspaper... whereas ol' Conville... less than 30. Perhaps James O. Conville started the policy that "no news is good news" which seems to reflect the PP&R motto of the present day.
Of note, almost a third of these 30 articles relate to his repeated classified ads hoping to sell off a Wade drag saw for the hefty sum of $125 in the precursor to Craigslist. That classified ad actually opened up a rabbit hole of fascinating history of the R.W Wade Co., founded by an Oregon Trail pioneer who started tent stores, and gradually became a primary distributor of all the farm equipment from plows, to tractors, irrigation systems and for a while the Wade drag saw shown below. Check out the video below to see the saw in action, as well as, an amazing timeline all about this Oregon company with more than 150 years of history.
Many people lost their lives in the war, and if to learn more, there is one and only one source Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast - Blueprint for Armageddon an incredible 6 part series. Was James O. Conville deployed overseas to participate in the Great War which concluded less than 15 months from when he enlisted? The record is not clear on this point. Only 50% of American troops even saw the front, and most arrived in the fall of 1917. It's an open question whether he was deployed after the training at the Presidio.
The record does show his involvement in the American Legion post-war calling up troops for musical parades and as administrator for employment benefits for returning soldiers. He did continue in a life of service, spending the remainder of his days in Astoria, where he served as City Manager for many years.