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Dr. Roger P. Hull
Nov. 30, 1943 – Oct. 5, 2023 

He and his wife Bonnie moved to Salem in 1970, and he began his teaching career at Willamette that fall. Over time, he taught courses in Renaissance art and architecture, European modern art, and American art, architecture, and photography. He and a colleague led post-session study programs in Italy. He received several teaching awards and was named Oregon Professor of the Year in 1993 by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.roger-hull-painting.jpeg

His early scholarship focused on American photography, and he was the recipient of the Logan Award for New Writing in Photography for his essay “Emplacement, Displacement, and the Fate of Photographs” (1989). With the advent of the Hallie Ford Museum, his scholarship shifted to Pacific Northwest art history; he authored eleven monographs on Oregon artists, including Carl Hall, Charles Heaney, George Johanson BFA'50, Louis Bunce, and Lucinda Parker BFA'66, all published in conjunction with exhibitions that he organized, and numerous exhibition brochures. 

He received an Oregon Governor’s Arts Award in 1999 and an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts degree from Willamette in 2022. Roger Piatt Hull was born Nov. 30, 1943, in Lebanon, Tennessee, the son of Piatt Hull, an attorney, and Fanny Black Hull, a legal secretary, business owner, and homemaker. During World War II, Roger and his mother lived in her hometown of Salamanca, New York, and in 1949 the family moved to his father’s hometown of Wallace, Idaho. Roger grew up there, graduating from Wallace High School in 1962. He graduated from Whitman College in 1966 with a degree in English and earned Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in art history at Northwestern University (1967 and 1970 respectively).

At Northwestern, he met Bonnie Decker, and they were married in 1969 in Wilmette, Illinois. In Salem, their son Zachary was born in 1973. Hull was active in civic affairs, serving on the boards of the Northeast Neighbors neighborhood association, Mission Mill (now Willamette Heritage Center), and on the Salem Landmarks Commission. He assisted his wife in preparing the document nominating the Court-Chemeketa Residential Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places, where it was listed in 1987.

Hull is survived by his wife, son, daughter-in-law Ashton, grandchildren Sidney and Vivien, and one brother and three sisters and their spouses and children. No services are planned, but memorial donations may be made to the Roger Hull Scholarship Fund at Willamette University, the Hallie Ford Museum of Art publication fund, or the Marion-Polk Food Share.

Image: George Johanson (American, 1982-2022), "Portrait of Roger Hull," 2010, acrylic on canvas, 59 x 43.5 in., collection of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Willamette University, Maribeth Collins Art Acquisition Fund, 2010.010.

Prof. Grant O. Thorsett, Ph.D.
Jan. 25, 1940 – Oct. 4, 2023

Grant Thorsett, long-time professor of biology at Willamette and father of President Steve Thorsett, died on October 4 after a long illness resulting from an accident in 2020.

Born in Shelton, Washington, in 1940, Grant was the first in his family to attend college, atgrant-thorsett.png Washington State University, where he met and married Karen, his wife of more than sixty years. As he was finishing graduate studies at Yale, he was recruited by Willamette President G. Herbert Smith in 1967 during a meeting at Penn Station in New York. He never visited campus or met his departmental colleagues before signing his contract, but he never doubted his decision, remaining until his retirement in 2008. 

His service to the university was broad. He was on the committee that purchased Willamette’s first computer and on the small task force that successfully brought Phi Beta Kappa to Willamette. He was biology department chair for 14 years. Proud of the younger faculty colleagues he helped hire, and of his work on the Faculty Council, including as its chair, supporting faculty development, he loved dressing in his regalia and leading faculty processions as the University Marshal, including at his son’s inauguration ceremony.

Grant’s primary passion, though, was for Willamette’s students. He taught thousands and mentored many over the years, and served as the university’s premedical advisor for much of his career. He had a remarkable memory for even his earliest students and, sometimes to their chagrin, the grades they had earned, and he kept track of them in their post-Willamette lives. As the first molecular biologist hired at Willamette, he took a special interest in curricular and laboratory modernization and worked closely on the design of Olin Hall. He also enjoyed co-leading interdisciplinary student trips to Hawaii and attending student performances and events. He had season Bearcat Football tickets for more than a half-century and attended most home games. He, Karen, and his family have established the Grant and Karen Thorsett Endowed Scholarship Fund in biology, to support future generations of Willamette students.

A lover of the outdoors, Grant traveled extensively with Karen, their three sons, Stephen, David (now an orthopedic surgeon), and Jeffrey (a brewer and restaurant owner), and other members of his family. He visited all fifty states and a great many national parks, and in his retirement was able to travel in Europe and visit his great-grandparent’s farm in Norway. Most of all, he enjoyed backpacking and canoeing remote wilderness areas in the Northwest; he and Karen spent their fiftieth wedding anniversary on the shore of the Arctic Sea after rafting the Hulahula River through the Brooks Range of Alaska.

In addition to his wife and sons, Grant is survived by five grandchildren and by many members of a far-flung extended family bound together in no small part by his own outgoing nature. These include at least three Willamette alumni: his sister-in-law Kristi Ronningen BME'89 and nephews Patrick Smith BS'99 and Joshua Smith BA'03. He will be remembered by many and missed. The family asks that any gifts in his memory be made to the Thorsett Endowed Scholarship at Willamette. No service is planned.

Dr. Raymond "Skip" Kenitzer, Jr.
April 16, 1948 – Sept. 25, 2023

Provided via a University announcement.

Raymond "Skip" Kenitzer, Jr. passed away in the early morning hours of September 25. He wasSkip Kenitzer headshot hired as a professor of exercise science at Willamette in 1993. That year he was also named head coach of the swim and diving teams. Skip served as head men's and women's swim coach from 1993-98, assistant athletic director from 2001-2009, and associate athletic director from 2009-2011. As head coach, Skip coached 29 All-America swimmers, and in 1997 he was chosen NAIA National Coach of the Year for women’s swimming and diving after leading the Willamette women’s swim team to 10 All-America swims and a third-place finish at the NAIA National Championships. He also was named Northwest Conference of Independent College Coach of the Year. While he was proud of this national recognition, he always said, “It was the swimmers who did ALL the work.” Skip and his 1996-97 women’s swimming team were inducted into the Willamette Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007 and Skip himself was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018. 

Skip retired from Willamette in 2011. His beloved wife, Jan, whom many of us know from her 25 years as Willamette’s Accounting Manager, says that Skip loved working at Willamette and was very proud of the institution and of his affiliation with it. He cherished Willamette and the community, but his heart belonged to the students, and many alumni fondly recall his wise counsel and the profound impact he had on their lives.  

He is survived by his wife, Jan, and their two sons Jason BA'00 and Matt, and five grandchildren. 

Jan says a celebration of life will take place next summer when family and friends are able to come to Salem to honor Skip’s memory and the remarkable life he lived.

Dr. Norman J. Hudak
Jan. 24, 1933 – March 10, 2023

Born in Lorain, Ohio, Norman J. Hudak graduated with high distinction from DePauw University and earned a Ph. D. from Cornell University in 1959. He taught at Oberlin College and Haverford College before coming to Willamette University in 1961. At Willamette he taught organic chemistry for 37 years before retiring in 1998. He was a founding member of the Willamette University chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. He was a member of the American Chemical Society and of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society. He was proud of his Slovak heritage and was a member of the First Catholic Slovak Union. He was a founding member of Queen of Peace parish where he had served as Chair of the Education Commission and as President of the Parish Council. After his retirement, he and his wife Mary Jo moved to Capital Manor Retirement community where he enjoyed his life there where they made many long-lasting friendships.

A devoted and loving husband, father and grandfather, he is survived by his wife, Mary Jo, whom he married in 1963; daughters Lisa (Chuck) Martin, Salem, Ann (Tony) Echavia, Pleasanton, California, and Carol (Gregg) Young, Novato, California; brother Gregory (Sue) Hudak, Austin, Texas and grandchildren Katie, Michael and Christina Echavia, and Samantha Young.

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George S. McCowen, Jr.
Jan. 22, 1935 – Dec. 15, 2022

georgesmccowenphoto George S. McCowen, Jr. died peacefully on December 15, 2022, with his family around him. He was born January 22, 1935, in Macon, Georgia, the child of Doris Horne McCowen and George Smith McCowen. George grew up in Macon until he attended the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. There, he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and received his BA degree in 1957. He studied at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia where he earned his Ph.D. in history, with related studies in philosophy and literature, in 1966.

Professor McCowen taught history at Willamette University in Salem, OR for thirty-three years, following five years of teaching at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. At Willamette, he served as chair of the history department and later in an endowed chair as the E. Jerry Whipple Professor of History. George’s field of expertise was Early American history and American intellectual history. He retired in 2000 and later moved to Gresham, Oregon.

George married Gail Elizabeth Boden of Seattle, Washington on June 23, 1962. Celebrating 60 years of marriage in 2022, they were best friends and a daily joy to one another. They had two children: Duncan Green McCowen, who died in 2011, and Cecily Elizabeth Gray. Their grandchildren are Mallory, Caden, and Lucy McCowen, and Erin and Tommy Gray.

George especially enjoyed reading, gardening, and traveling. He was a very gentle and caring man who did not speak unkindly of anyone. He is survived by his wife Gail, Cecily and Michael Gray, daughter-in-law Holly McCowen, and his grandchildren. He will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved him. A memorial service is planned for late January. 

Bruce A. Bigler
Oct. 1, 1934 – Jan. 24, 2022

Bruce Bigler was born in Akron, Ohio. He was enlisted in the US Navy from 1953-1973 where he retired as a Master Chief. After moving back to Salem, Bigler worked as a physical plant manager for The State of Oregon and then worked for Willamette University until he retired in 1989. Bruce loved fishing, camping, gardening, church and his family. He is survived by his wife, Monnaa; and his children, Becky Flores, Wendy Kihm, and Stephen Bigler.

Nona Pyron
1933 – 2021

Pyron studied at Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, and the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Munich, receiving a masters degree and doctorate in cello performance from the University of Southern California. She served on the music faculty at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, in addition to being a member of the Portland Symphony for two and a half years.Pyron was a leading researcher of the early history of the cello. Her research took her to museums and libraries across Europe. Nona is survived by her adopted grandson, Erik Rodkey, and his family; and by Zandra Hanson’s daughters, Suzy Staulz and Nancy Scott; her adopted granddaughter, Larissa Fedoryka; cousin Marc Turner.

George Marc Choate
Oct. 7, 1939 – Sept. 11, 2020

G. Marc Choate was born in Seattle. He earned his bachelor's, master's and a doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Washington before going on to a career as an educator. In 1974, he began teaching at the then new Atkinson Graduate School of Management at Willamette and served the school as a faculty member for 30 years, retiring in 2004. As Emeritus Professor of Finance and Business Economics, his research and teaching focused on healthcare financial management. Survivors include his wife, Dulce Virata-Choate MM’79; children, Carrie, Casey and Martha (Choate) Monson ’07; and siblings, Doug and Mari Edith.



Frances Jean Whipple
Jan. 14, 1926 – March 1, 2023

jeanwhippleA graduate of Oakland High School and Oregon State University with a degree in home economics, she and her future husband, Jerry, taught high school together at Springfield High School in Oregon. They were married in 1949, until his death in 1991. Together they raised three children, contributed immeasurably to their Salem community, and shared their love and wise counsel with countless students attending Willamette University.

She is survived by her children, Ed BA'74 and Cindy Whipple, Joan BS'75 JD'79 and Dennis BS'72 JD'79 Reese and Sue and Roger Hefty; her nieces, Carol Whipple and Meredith Compton; her grandchildren, Luke JD'07 and Kelsey Reese, Scott Reese and Jessie Stroud, Sara Hefty, Joanna and Noah Libby, John and Katelyn Whipple; and her great-grandchildren, Cooper and Caroline Reese and Parker and Clay Libby. She also leaves behind numerous other nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews, great-great nieces and nephews and cousins too numerous to count. Jean lived a long, full, and meaningful life.

Barbara Columbus
May 13, 1930 – Feb. 14, 2022

Following graduation from Cleveland High School, Barbara attended Fairmont Casements School for Young Women in Ormond Beach, Florida, and married John (Jack) Columbus on Sept. 15, 1951. The couple raised sons John Jr., Ronald and David in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, before moving to Salem, Oregon, in 1978 to pursue their dream of living on the West Coast.

Following Jack’s death in 1989, Barbara enjoyed a career in food service at Willamette University’s Goudy Commons, where she ran the salad bar and befriended many students, staff, and elected officials from the nearby Oregon State Capitol.

She is survived by her sons John (Clare) and David Columbus; granddaughter Jenn Columbus (Alex Paraskevas); and grandson Michael Columbus. She was preceded in death by husband Jack; son Ron Columbus; and daughter in-law Linda Columbus.

Janene J. Allman
Oct. 20, 1942 – Oct. 9, 2022

Janene was the WU cashier for about 30 years and affectionately called "The Candy Lady in Waller Hall". She served on the Classified Council as an officer, and organized and oversaw the project for The Gala of Trees that supports the Boys and Girls Aid Society in Salem. Janene created numerous centerpieces for monthly WU employee luncheons and events over many years. Many fondly referred to Janene as "The Candy Lady in Waller Hall" because she always had candy at her cashier's window. Some came for the candy, many others loved taking the opportunity to chat. She cheerfully gave her time with a huge smile and a warm heart. Janene was always eager to serve and was chosen WU Employee of the Year in 2000.

Janene is survived by her husband of 60 years, Russ Allman; two sons, Scott and Jeff ('98); and a granddaughter, Mia.

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Last updated on September 27, 2023

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