Were The Simpsons based on Linfield Alumni?

Debunking Linfield Myths: a series

Jordan Jacobo

Review staff writer

Matt Groening didn’t have a lot of time to think.

While waiting in the lobby minutes before his 1987 pitch for a series of animated shorts to a Fox Network producer, he made a gut decision for the dysfunctional, yellow, bobble-eyed characters he envisioned: He named them after his family.

Nineteen television seasons and more than 400 episodes later, the Simpsons are a hallmark of pop culture; they are a yelling, whining, choking parody of the middle-class American family.

But before Homer and Marge Simpson, there were Homer and Marge Groening, Matt’s parents.

It’s hard to envision the couple in anything less than their animated setting, crammed on a worn orange couch with Lisa, Bart and Maggie watching TV. Marge’s towering mass of curly blue hair and Homer’s mouthful of sprinkle-covered doughnuts seem as vivid in the mind as on the screen.

“Well, we’re not alter egos,” Margaret Groening, age 89 said. “It’s just the family names.”

The real Homer and Margaret (she prefers it to Marge) met at Linfield as freshmen in 1937. They both majored in English.

“Linfield was like going to heaven,” Margaret said. “The school was very small, only 600 students, and we all got to take the classes we wanted. It was the best possible thing that could have happened.”

In the 1941 volume of the Oak Leaves, the couple’s youth is encapsulated in the archived pages.

Bright-eyed Homer, brown hair combed back, looks nothing like the portly cartoon version. He is wearing a dress shirt and tie, much unlike the white T-shirt and jeans he dons on television. Margaret Wiggum (her maiden name, like Chief Wiggum on the show) is pictured with a sparkling smile, her dark hair in tight ringlets.

Homer was a member of Pi Epsilon Fraternity with his older brother, Victor. His younger sister, Ellene, was a member of Sigma Kappa Phi Sorority.

During her junior year, Margaret was named one of “Linfield’s Loveliest” in the Oak Leaves Most Photogenic Coed contest.

Sixty-seven years later, Margaret looks back on the atmosphere that attracted her to the college.

“We had a spirit of greeting each other,” she said. “The ‘Linfield Hello.’”

Margaret was crowned May Day Queen during her senior year. It was one of her fondest memories, she said.

“But you probably don’t have that today,” Margaret said. “It was kind of old fashioned.” 

After graduating from Linfield, Homer became a decorated World War II pilot, flying missions over Germany, Margaret said.

“He came back safe and sound, which we’re very grateful for,” she said.

Homer and Margaret settled in Portland where they raised Lisa, Matt and Maggie, but no Bart. Matt made the name up, an anagram of brat.

Homer died in 1996.

Nearly two decades after the series premiere of “The Simpsons,” Margaret said she can’t believe the show is such an overwhelming success. Homer and Marge have become household names. “D’oh!” has been adopted into the American lexicon.

Before the quizzical cast of characters residing in Springfield inserted itself into pop culture, it all began with Homer and Margaret Groening, at Linfield.

“We enjoy Matt’s fame very much,” Margaret said. “We’re very proud of him. As for the show, it just took off. Matt took
off with it.”

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