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Ethel Katz Suher Briller ’46

January 29, 2019, in Seattle, Washington.

Ethel grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, where she attended Classical High School. She worked on the school paper and received a scholarship to American International College, a local private college. 

In high school, she met her first husband, Ted Suher, and they were both at AIC when America entered the Second World War, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Ted was placed in the Army Specialized Training Program to be trained as a dentist. While he was attending classes in Vancouver, Washington, he asked Ethel to join him. Portland had a very good college called Reed, he told her, and sent her the catalog.

“It just looked like a perfect fit,” she said. “And it was. Best thing that ever happened to me, going to Reed.”

Ethel and Ted married in 1944 and she started as a junior at Reed the following spring. She took a sociology course called The Family, taught by Prof. Lawrence Bee [sociology 1945–46], whom she rated as one the best professors she ever had. Bee inspired Ethel to switch her major to sociology.

She wrote her thesis, “A Statistical Study of Factors Associated with Success and Failure in High School,” comparing the success of students who went to Roosevelt High with those who went to the Jane Addams School, who were stigmatized as slow learners. During the summer, she took education classes at the Vanport Extension Center (which later became Portland State University).

At Reed she loved “the freedom to think your own thoughts and say it. You were never afraid to say anything,” she said.

Ethel treasured having close relationships with professors. “You had this feeling that you weren’t looked down upon by the professors,” she said. “You were looked on as maybe co-conspirators, and co-learners.” 

After graduating, she moved with Ted to Chicago and got a job with the Jewish Family and Child Service Agency as an assistant to the statistician. When he heard that she was a Reed graduate, he hired her on the spot. 

“I’ve had many very qualified people with master’s degrees who have assisted me,” he told her. “But nobody has ever learned it so quickly and only needed to be told once what to do, as you.”

“That was something I heard quite a few times,” Ethel reflected. “People are always impressed that they only had to tell me something once. When he said that to me I said, ‘But you know, I’m a Reed graduate.’”

Ethel next took a job as a caseworker with Chicago’s welfare department, switching to intake when she became pregnant. Ted got an offer to head the Department of Children’s Dentistry at University of Oregon Dental School, and they returned to Portland. In the next six years, Ethel gave birth to four children. 

Over the years, she worked a variety of jobs, including directing and teaching at the Sam and Regina Frager Foundation School of Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland. She coordinated the development of the North End Jewish Community Center in Seattle, was the education director of Congregation Beth Shalom, and activities director for St. Francis Convalescent Home in Bellingham, Washington. While living in Bellingham, she took a sales position at Griggs Bookstore and Office Supplies.

“My favorite job,” she recalled, “was when I was on-call substitute candy/popcorn salesperson at the Sellwood Theatre in Portland, employed by my teenage son, the manager. I just loved reorganizing the candy counter to enhance marketability.”

When her marriage to Ted ended in divorce, Ethel moved to the Seattle area. “I’m not getting married again,” she told a friend at lunch. “I had my romantic, wonderful marriage. It’s over and I’m not looking for anybody.”

“Someone will find you,” the friend said. And someone did.

In 1984, she met and married David Katz, who gave her back her maiden name. Sadly, David died four years after they were married. But in 2005, Ethel married her longtime beau, Stan Briller, with James Mirel ’69 officiating and a passel of Reedies attending.

“For several years after David died, I didn’t go out at all,” Ethel explained. “And when I did go out, someone else found me. Stan and I were together some 15 years.”

Ethel served on Reed’s national alumni board, and chaired the Rainier chapter for four years.

“Reed has had a great influence on my life,” she observed. “It was like a meeting of minds and personalities. I found exactly what I wanted in Reed.” 

Ethel is survived by her children, Randy Suher, Celia Suher Cramer, Daniel Suher, and Brian Suher.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2019

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