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Owen Putnam Cramer ’40

March 23, 2017, in Portland.

For more than 90 years, Owen lived in the home he grew up in on Dosch Road. His parents had both been educated at Stanford, and it was foreordained that when he graduated from Lincoln High School, he would go to college. Owen had a hankering to become a forester, but was advised to take a couple of years of liberal arts before specializing, which is why he ended up at Reed for his first two years of college. While he was at Reed, Timberline Lodge opened on Mount Hood and recruited a number of Reed students for their winter weekend opening, including Owen as a busboy. One of Owen’s favorite things at Reed was the camping trip to Eliot Glacier just before classes started. In the summers, he worked as a fire lookout with the U.S. Forest Service, paid $100 a month.

His sophomore year, he roomed with Neil Farnham ’40, the architect who designed the cross-canyon dorms. Farnham also handled the remodel of Owen’s house when it became too small to raise four boys.

During the presidential campaign of 1936, speakers from the four political parties—Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, and Communists—expounded their particular philosophies at an on-campus banquet. Owen remembered that following the banquet, students piled into a truck decorated with a banner that read, “Simpson for Queen—God Save the King!” Carloads of students followed the truck as it drove up and down Broadway in downtown Portland, attracting a lot of media attention.

Owen recalled that the college sponsored a “charm” instructor who worked with students, emphasizing neatness of appearance, table manners, and graceful sitting and rising. But the thing he most remembered about Reed is that he was encouraged to use his brain and think outside the box.

“In Barry Cerf’s [English 1921–48] literature course we had to do a lot of writing,” he said, “but the idea was to develop ideas. You can get people who can put in the commas and the periods and organize the phraseology, but it’s difficult to find people that really can generate new ideas and innovations, and that’s much more important in the long run. Reed emphasized that—the delight of academic mental adventures.”

This was good training for when he transferred to the forestry program at Oregon State University. “In forestry you’ve got soils, geology, all of the ecosystem components, and then all the different use aspects: wildlife, watershed, recreation, raising time, as well as economics and public relations,” he said. “Learning to think and apply information of all aspects was something that forestry just lives by.”

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in forestry, Owen served three summers manning forest fire lookouts on mountaintops in the Oregon Coast Range. With the advent of World War II, he enlisted in the navy and was trained to be a meteorologist at UCLA. Assigned to the aircraft carrier Natoma Bay, he served in the Pacific combat. His ship survived a typhoon and the battles of the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, and was lightly damaged by a kamikaze plane that hit the foredeck before returning to the states in 1945. Owen married his college sweetheart, Mildred Maxine Martin, moved into the home where he grew up, and began a family. He took a job with the weather bureau in 1946, and later transferred to the U.S. Forest Service, where he conducted research on the relationship between forest fires and weather.

His research often took him to field studies in forested mountain terrain, where he studied wind and weather patterns. When possible, he took his family along to remote areas, where they enjoyed camping while Owen conducted research. He served as the fire behavior officer on forest fires in the western United States.

A committed family man, Owen coached Little League baseball, was a Boy Scoutmaster, and was involved in YMCA summer camps. Through family skiing, hiking, and camping trips, he instilled in his sons a love of the outdoors as well as a spirit of adventure. In 1995, Maxine suffered a stroke and spent her last seven years in a care home. Owen’s nearly daily visits and commitment to Maxine in sickness and in health were an inspiration to all.

In retirement, one of Owen’s greatest interests was the field of metaphysics. With the help of a study group, he sought to understand the interactions of the spiritual and the physical and to use those principles to benefit all. He acknowledged that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. He was preceded in death by his wife, Maxine, and his eldest son, Greg. Sons Steve, Doug, and Bruce survive him.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2017

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