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Edward Douglas Kuhns ’45

Douglas overcame great odds to lead a life of education and achievement.

When he endowed the Kuhns Family Scholarship Fund at Reed, Douglas explained: “I have a permanently disabled left arm as a result of a childhood accident. But my experience at Reed neutralized that disability, effectively making my disability disappear. As I gained confidence in myself as a scholar, I gained great confidence in myself as a person. Reed College had a profound impact on the way I carried myself out into the world. I adopted that new persona and never looked back.”

Douglas was adopted by loving parents, Edith Youngkrantz and John Kuhns. John had been appointed by President Teddy Roosevelt as one of the first foresters under the Department of Agriculture in the Walla Walla District, near Baker, Oregon. The Kuhnses assumed that Douglas would follow in John’s footsteps as an outdoorsman. But, as Douglas noted: “The most critical and important event in my life was the accident to my left arm before I was eight years old.”

He had climbed a poplar tree and was coming back down when his foot got caught in the crotch of the tree. Falling headfirst, he put out his hand to break the fall and broke his elbow. A bone splinter blocking the proper joining at the elbow prevented him from lowering his arm beyond a 90-degree angle. Treatment to alleviate the paralysis proved unsuccessful. His parents, not knowing what more to do, left Douglas to fend for himself.

He spent days in the local city park or at the library, reading books about world history. His few friends were also outcasts. Over time, he learned that he was athletic and smart. Two years after the accident, the family moved to Seattle, where he taught himself to play tennis. Perfecting a blistering serve, he held the ball in his racquet hand and released it at just the right time, high over his head. In high school, he and a friend won the citywide doubles competition.

The second most important event in his life, Douglas maintained, was getting into Reed. The family had moved to Portland, and Douglas took the bus to get to high school. As it drove down Woodstock Boulevard, he mused that he’d heard only geniuses went to Reed, which seemed to leave him out—his grades were not exemplary. After graduating from high school, one day he went to Reed to play tennis with a friend. Gathering up his nerve, he walked into the admission office, filled out an application, and was told to return the following Saturday to take an entrance exam. Accepted in the freshman class a week later, he managed to save $75 and his father gave him another $50 for tuition

Douglas later wrote: “I owe my life to that place.” He discovered he could accumulate knowledge and was interested in everything. A first-year course in physiology liberated him from the residual guilt he’d felt about his childhood accident. He decided to major in political science and joined the Quest. During the summers, he worked jobs with a construction gang and at the Portland shipyards, where he met working stiffs and began attending union meetings. In the shipyards, he went to welding school and into the boilermakers union before starting the job. Deciding to write his senior thesis about the boilermakers, he stayed with them for two years, attending meetings and paying dues.

At Reed, he was elected to the student council and met his college sweetheart, Eileen Pease ’45, while working together at the Quest. Eileen was the editor and he was the sports editor. They were married in the Reed chapel following commencement on graduation day in 1945. They went on to Syracuse University to earn their PhDs, his in economics and hers in sociology and anthropology.

Douglas had a brief career as a professor of economics and political science, and taught at Colgate University and Lake Forest College. After an assistant professorship at Union College in Schenectady, New York, he bid farewell to the academic life and became a labor economist. Having been one himself, he became an avid protector of all underdogs, serving as the chief negotiator of pension plans between Fortune 100 companies’ management and various labor unions.

When Eileen died, Douglas established a scholarship for Reed students with financial need who have physical disabilities and disabled veterans. He is survived by his sons, John D. Kuhns, D.C. Kuhns, and Paul G. Kuhns, and his daughter, Anne Kuhns Gude. The Kuhns family asks those wanting to express condolences to donate to the Kuhns Family Scholarship Fund at Reed.

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