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Miriam Orzech ’52

August 31, 2018, in Corvallis, Oregon.

Born in New York, Mimi graduated from high school in Portland, attended Reed and Lewis & Clark College, and then graduated from UC Berkeley. At Berkeley, she met her husband and partner in life, Ze’ev, and they married in 1952. The couple moved to Corvallis, Oregon, where in the mid-’60s Mimi was asked to teach in the history, department at Oregon State University. This prompted her to get a master’s in history, followed by a PhD in education from OSU in 1974. She accomplished this while working full time in the Educational Opportunities Program, first as an academic advisor and then as its director. Mimi later served as assistant vice-provost for academic affairs at OSU, overseeing all diversity-related programs, including the Educational Opportunities Program. In addition, she spearheaded the creation of OSU’s Holocaust Memorial Program.

Mimi believed deeply in education, and that it should be available to more than just a privileged few. She created SMILE (Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences), which provides science, math, and engineering programs to minority and disadvantaged students at public schools throughout Oregon. The program continues to offer a pathway to college for students who often come from families where no one has attended college before, and has inspired the creation of a parallel SMILE program in Rhode Island.

Having a lifelong commitment to social justice and to the arts, Mimi was involved in the early days of the Barn Theater, predecessor to the Majestic Theatre. Perhaps closest to her heart was the Jewish community in Corvallis, where she was a founding member of that chapter of the Jewish women’s organization Hadassah, and later Beit Am, the Mid-Willamette Valley Jewish Community. 

The Orzech home was always open to guests, including new Jewish arrivals in town and the many foreign students and visiting professors that Ze’ev collected. There was always something delicious cooking in Mimi’s kitchen, and her generosity and warmth—not to mention her homemade quince jelly—will be remembered fondly by people around the world.

Preceded in death by her husband, Ze’ev, Mimi is survived by her three children, Sarah, Dan, and Joe; her brother, Harrison Weitz; and her sister, Ellen DeNelsky.

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2018

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