Recent Obituaries
In Memoriam Archive

Joe L. Spaeth ’53

December 19, 2020, in his sleep at home in Corvallis, Oregon.

Joe spent his early years in Seattle, and then his family moved to Long Beach, California. As he neared the end of high school at Long Beach Polytechnic, he began considering colleges.

“My major motivation was to get back to the Northwest,” he remembered. “My parents and I thought that a small college would be a great idea and I thought a college in the Northwest would be a great idea.” His friend Charles Mayo ’53 told him about Reed. At Reed, Joe used his job at the physical plant to gain access to the steam tunnels under Old Dorm Block to hide and transport the Doyle Owl.  He claimed it was the original concrete Doyle Owl, based on photos from the 1920s; it weighed hundreds of pounds and took multiple people or a hand truck to move.

Joe wrote his thesis, “Academic Freedom at the University of Washington and the University of California,” with Prof. Charles McKinley [political science 1918–60]. Focusing on “Communist” investigations and loyalty oaths, it was a risky topic in 1953, given the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee at the time, and one that would become especially fraught at Reed the next year with the dismissal of Stanley Moore for refusing to cooperate with an investigation.

Joe also met his wife of 57 years, Mary Nichols Arragon ’53, at Reed. She was the daughter of Prof. Rex Arragon [history 1923–74] and the sister of Margaret Kendall Arragon Labadie ’43. Following a three-year engagement, the couple married in the Reed chapel in 1954.

He received a master’s degree in 1958 and a PhD in 1961, both from the University of Chicago in sociology. Joe credited Prof. Howard Jolly [sociology 1949–70] with converting him from political science to sociology.

His first positions were at units affiliated with the University of Chicago, primarily the National Opinion Research Center (NORC). After three years in research positions at UC Berkeley, he returned to NORC as a senior study director. In 1971, he joined the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with joint appointments in the department of sociology and the survey research laboratory. Starting as an associate professor and research associate professor, he became a full professor and research professor in 1981 and remained in those positions until his retirement in 1993.

With Gertrude Selznick and Charles Glock, Joe cowrote The Apathetic Majority, a study of public responses to the Eichmann trial, demonstrating how widely public opinion varies on the basis of education, income, race, and degree of sophistication. He also cowrote Recent Alumni and Higher Education: A Survey of College Graduates, a general report prepared for the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, published in 1970.

After retiring in 1993, he and Mary moved back to Oregon and settled in Corvallis. They took up golf, which they played for a number of years as members of the Corvallis Country Club, and traveled extensively. Joe was an accomplished gourmet home cook and did the New York Times Sunday crossword in pen. He loved reading in a broad range of areas from social history to Nero Wolfe detective stories. He is survived by his sons, Donald Spaeth ’78 and Alan Spaeth ’84.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2021

comments powered by Disqus