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Marguerite Hartshorne Udell ’54

December 29, 2020, in New York City.

Rita grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C., and graduated from West High School in Madison, Wisconsin, when Senator Joseph McCarthy was a political force.

“Most of the families that had children in West High School were in favor of him,” she remembered. “My family was not. It was a very, very conformist period. Everybody had to think the same things and dress alike and, of course, that was high school, anyway.”

She studied art at Washington University in St. Louis, but realized she wanted a deeper intellectual experience. Somebody recommended that she try Reed, and her parents were all for it. Rita estimated there were about 600 students on campus when she arrived at Reed.

“It was really small, and you felt that there was plenty of room for everybody,” she remembered. “The buildings were half empty. It was wonderful. You didn’t feel that you were competing for space with anyone. I was very happy to get there because there didn’t seem to be any attempt by anybody to do anything the way anybody else was doing it. Everybody was behaving totally individually, and walking around by themselves and wearing funny clothes and not trying to be stylish. It was a terrific liberation for me.”

Overjoyed to discover there were no cliques at Reed and no social pecking order, she attended on-campus dances and art movies and thrilled to the classical music students played and the Picasso and Braque reproductions they hung on their walls.

“Hanging around the coffee shop was a very major part of my social life,” she said. “I spent most of my day in the coffee shop if I possibly could. I smoked and had coffee and took tests there. They let us go sit in the coffee shop and take our tests. It was wonderful. Thus Reed, a place of spiritual sustenance and deliverance from past evils, at times seemed like heaven.”

To earn money for board, she was a “hasher,” waiting tables at dinner. She got into folk dancing, sang the role of Mabel in Pirates of Penzance, and met Richard Udell ’55. She wrote her thesis, “The Impermeable Bubble,” advised by Prof. Kaspar Locher [German 1950–88].

While Rita was at graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Richard proposed by mail, and they married the summer after he graduated. She completed two semesters of graduate work in English literature before deciding she didn’t want to teach.

She raised two sons, got a master’s degree in urban planning from Hunter College, and worked as a planner at the New York City Department of City Planning for eight years. They moved to Florida for Rich’s career; there Rita began doing freelance editorial work, which she continued after their return to New York. She sang in a number of choruses and small ensembles, and she and Richard enjoyed singing Renaissance music. She was survived by her two sons, Benjamin and Edward, and by Richard, who died earlier this year. They were both faithful supporters of Reed.

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2021

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