Donald Edwin Rasmussen, 96, died peacefully, surrounded by his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, on Friday, October 18, 2013, in Berkeley, California. Don remained active and independent to the end, walking daily, attending exercise classes, and enjoying people.
Don was born in Kolze (now Schiller Park), Illinois, in 1916. His father was a railroad engineer and his mother a teacher. Don attended Elmhurst College and the University of Illinois, where he received a PhD in Sociology and met his wife Lore, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.
In 1942, Don and Lore moved to Alabama, where Don taught sociology and economics and Lore teacher education at Talladega College, a historically black college. Don and Lore became committed “foot soldiers” in the early civil rights movement. During their first year in Alabama they were both jailed by the Birmingham police for eating with the Executive Director of the Southern Negro Youth Congress in Nancy’s Cafe, a black restaurant. They had violated Birmingham’s segregation codes prohibiting blacks and whites from dining together. Don and Lore’s remarkable experiences in Alabama were recounted in “From Swastika to Jim Crow,” a documentary film aired on PBS in 2001. In 2003, Talladega College presented Don and Lore with Honorary Doctorate degrees for “your contributions to education and your untiring fight to ensure human rights.”
In the early 1950s, Don and Lore co-directed Circle Pines Center, a cooperative family summer camp and education center in Michigan frequented by social activists from across the U.S. In 1956, they moved with their three sons to Pennsylvania, where Don became headmaster of The Miquon School, a cooperative elementary school. Don co-authored the Basic Reading Series, a linguistic approach to reading for young children still published by McGraw-Hill Education. After leaving Miquon, Don worked with Lore in public education at the Durham Child Development Center in Philadelphia, where he specialized in teacher professional development.
Don and Lore moved to Berkeley, California the mid-1980s.
In 1984 and 1986, Don led teams of U.S educators on professional visits to China, where they trained editors of People’s Education Press (PEP) on innovative approaches to mathematics and science education. Don brought the first computers used for educational purposes to PEP and had remained close to PEP leadership and staff. His last trip to China was in 2009 at the age of 93.
A committed world adventurer, Don traveled extensively in Central and South America, China, Europe and Scandinavia, making friends, hiking, and contributing to educational projects. From the late 1960s, Don spent most summers in Meat Cove and Bay St. Lawrence on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island.
Don is survived by: three sons Peter (and Wei Zhang) in Berkeley, David (and Tamara) in Bay St. Lawrence, Nova Scotia, and Steven (and Felicia Woytak) in Berkeley; nine grandchildren Rochelle, Michael, Donald, Aran, Meril, Barbara, Marie, Viki and Scott; and twelve great-grandchildren. Don was predeceased by his wife Lore, sister Maysel Gauron, and grandson Daniel.