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Katherine Ferguson Abel ’48

March 12, 2020, in Portland, after a brief illness, at the age of 93.

Katherine was born in Evanston, Illinois, but by the time she was 13, the family had settled in San Francisco. During the Second World War, her mother was a Red Cross volunteer. A fellow volunteer with two children at Reed praised the college.

“My mother had heard vague rumblings about the possibility of a female labor draft in the country,” Katherine remembered. “She wanted me to avoid that and get into college.”

Mrs. Ferguson sent a letter to Cheryl Scholz, the widow of Reed President Richard Scholz [president 1921–24], who married E.B. MacNaughton [Reed president 1948–52] in 1944. A devoted instructor then working in admission, Cheryl visited the Fergusons in San Francisco to interview Katherine and encouraged her to apply.

“I entered Reed before graduating from high school, just 17 years old, in the summer of 1944,” Katherine said. “Wartime on campus was a remarkable surcease from wartime in the world. It permitted that door to shut.”

Taking up residence in the Old Dorm Block, she found the introductory humanities course “was like being in nirvana.” She took creative writing from Prof. Lloyd Reynolds [art/English 1929–69], beginning a student-mentor relationship that blossomed into a lifelong friendship. Katherine was also powerfully influenced by the ceramics class taught by professors Fred Littman [art 1941–46] and Marianne Littman [art 1945–51].

“I knew I was in the midst of something incredible,” she said, “I was so grateful to be [at Reed]. I couldn’t let any person or chat or anything go by. I had to stop and engage myself in it. I just grabbed every brass ring of every element in the place, deliriously happy to be there, and sort of wore myself to a nubbin in reacting. I became so bedazzled and vibrated to every element of that place that I couldn’t eat properly.”

She also wasn’t sleeping enough and became wraithlike. At the end of her freshman year (which was fall quarter), her mother took her home.

The following fall, Katherine returned, focusing on sociology and literature. In her first year on campus, she met Richard Abel ’48 in the coffee shop and they courted in the downstairs living area of Anna Mann, her residence hall. Near the end of their sophomore year, he proposed. “In the class of 1948 there were at least five couples or six couples who married one another,” Katherine recalled. “Find somebody who has the common ailment, the bug, the addiction [to Reed], you want to stay with them.”

They married the following December and returned to Reed, where Richard continued his studies and Katherine audited classes until she became pregnant.

Family was the center of her world, but in addition to raising two daughters, Katherine volunteered in educational institutions. She was president of the parent-faculty association and a board member at Catlin Gabel School in Portland. She volunteered in the Catlin lower-school art room, taught watercolor at Arbor School every summer for 25 years, was on the board of the Community Music Center, and wore many hats as a volunteer at the Oregon College of Art and Craft. She claimed that pottery was what kept her balanced in life, and was the most graphic expression of her legacy at Reed. “My Reed education impressed upon me forever the absolute imperative of leading an examined, reasoned life,” Katherine said. “I have steadily worked at being faithful to that.” She is survived by her two daughters, Cori Bacher and Kit Abel Hawkins.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2021

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