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Harris Dusenbery ’36

Author, veteran, traveler, philanthropist, and iconic Reed alumnus Harris Dusenbery—familiar to many alumni as the “last man” in the reunions parade—died at the age of 101.

Born in Roundup, Montana, in 1914, Harris moved to Portland with his family when he was 12 years old. He graduated from Grant High School in 1932 and went to Reed in the depths of the Depression, when tuition was $200 a year.

Harris majored in political science, studying fascism, Nazism, and communism with Prof. George Bernard Noble [political science 1922–47], and wrote his thesis on the international control of aviation. On weekends he often recreated with the Outing Club, joining classmates on hiking and skiing excursions. Indeed, Harris had a high-level introduction to his wife, Evelyn Shields ’37, as he paused to apply zinc oxide at the 9,000-foot level of a group climb of Mt. Hood. Their marriage lasted 67 years, until Evelyn’s death in 2008.

After doing graduate work at Stanford, Harris went to work for the newly minted Social Security Administration in Salem, Oregon. When the United States entered the Second World War, he served in the famed 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. A quarter of the division’s soldiers were killed or wounded as they fought to liberate Italy. Harris won a Bronze Star during the Po Valley campaign, and later wrote three books about his war experiences.

After the war, he returned to the Social Security Administration, becoming district manager in Vancouver, Washington, where he worked until his retirement in 1969.

Harris and Evelyn raised two children and then fulfilled their dreams of seeing the world. They eventually made 52 trips abroad, visiting 82 countries.

“Travel teaches tolerance and respect for other people, for their heritage, and the practices,” Harris said. “It made me realize that humanity is really one community on the surface of the earth, and it’s a community of equals, at least in terms of who we are as human beings.”

To fund their travels, Evelyn and Harris lived modestly. But that didn’t prevent them from being generous benefactors throughout their lives. Harris adopted Evelyn’s philosophy, “It is important to live frugally and to give generously.”

“Our society has gotten the idea that it’s important to live the big life, the affluent life,” Harris said a few years ago. “The really important thing is to live the good life.”

In 2012, the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington honored his years of philanthropic generosity by according him its first Lifetime of Giving Award. Giving made him feel good, Harris explained, and he gave to his alma mater that he might keep illuminated “the liberal light that is Reed.”

This college was a central part of Harris’s life. Both of his children, David Dusenbery ’64, and Diane Waggoner ’68 (married to Jim Waggoner ’68), are alumni, as were his brother, Dallas Dusenbery ’34, and sister-in-law Helen Dusenbery ’37. Harris and Evelyn established the Verne and Elizabeth Dusenbery Memorial Scholarship and funded the Harris and Evelyn Dusenbery Gift Annuity. The Dusenberys eventually gave Reed more than $150,000, and Harris named Reed as a beneficiary of his estate.

His children David and Diane survive him, as do two grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Memorial gifts may be given to the Dusenbery Fund for Environmental Education and Research at Reed College.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2016

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