Saying good-bye to our dear Oceanside friend… all our love to his wife Elki, daughter Tia and son Matthew.
Richard Brian Powers
Richard Brian Powers of Oceanside, a novelist, playwright, mime performer, professor and wide-ranging educator, died at his home Thursday, March 27, 2014, of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 81.
In 1955, U.S.Senator William Benton of Connecticut told a high school graduating class that they should divide their lives into thirds: one third for education, one third for vocation and one third for avocation.
Richard Powers might have received a similar message because that’s roughly how he divided his life. Getting a doctorate in psychology, he spent 35 years on education, 25 years as a teacher and professor and 27 years in his avocation as a creator and presenter of educational simulation games, and as a writers’ group mentor.
Richard led a multifaceted life that encompassed humanity,intellectual acuity and creativity. He was an award-winning professor andteacher, an author of fiction and nonfiction, a developer of simulation gamesthat sold nationally and internationally, a national lecturer, peace activist,competitive tennis player, juggler and mime.
Let’s hearfrom some of those whose lives he touched:
“He had a delighted whimsyness.” –Marty Brennan-Sawyer, a fellow mime.
“I am going to spend time sitting with mydiscomfort and frustration, in hopes of learning about why I was affected, andhoping to grow from the experience.”– A female Portland State Univer- sitygraduate student who found self-realization during a weekend conflict resolution course Richard taught with Kat Kirkpatrick.
“He was such a free spirit; histrue essence was so playful and developed.” – Lucia Mirrachi, fellow mime. “He made me laugh all the time; he enjoyed laughing.” – Karen Keltz, fellow writing group member.
“He was very much a giver around the table; he has touched a lotof people.” – Rodger Larson, inaugural writing group teacher.
“They’d never taken a class like that; the way he structured the syllabus really worked to bring out the things he was trying to get the students to learn.” – KatKirkpatrick, a co-teacher of their conflict resolution class at Portland StateUniversity.
“We played like hell and, unlike golf, we played without recrimination or reflection; then we had a beer and talked revolution.” – Don Dagg, competitive tennis team partner.
Born in Los Angeles on April 12, 1932, Richard Powers received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State College at Los Angeles in 1959, and his master’s degree in psychology from California State College at Los Angeles in1962. He earned a Ph. D degree in psychology from Arizona State University in1967. While he studied for his master’s degree, he was a teaching assistant inexperimental psychology at California State College at Los Angeles from 1960 to1962. From 1963 to 1966, he was engaged in the NIMH and VRA RehabilitationResearch Traineeships at the Valley of the Sun School for Retarded Children inPhoenix, Arizona.
When hereceived his Ph.D, he took a job as assistant professor of psychology atEastern Washington State College, Cheney, Wash. The family moved to Logan,Utah, in 1969, where he was an assistant professor and then full professor ofpsychology at Utah State University until 1987, when he took early retirement and moved to Oceanside, Oregon. In Tillamook, Oregon, he taught several coursesat Tillamook Bay Community College between 1991 and 1996, including The Pacific Northwest Salmon Crisis, Personal Growth and Interpersonal Awareness andConflict Resolution
While he was in Logan in the mid-1970s, he took a course inmime that would lead to a troupe of performers drawn from his fellow students.The troupe, which included from two to eight actors with a core of five or six,rehearsed every morning at 6 a.m., which eliminated half-hearted pretenders. Helater recalled that the 6 a.m. rehearsal time “cut out 99 percent of the guyswho said they wanted to do it.”The troupe performed in Logan as well as in distant places such as Michigan.
Marty Brennan-Sawyer, who joined the troupe in1976, said recently that “it was a community group born out of Dick’s interestin an emerging art form. He had a Volkswagen bug and we would bomb around in that, laughing most of the time.” He added that “It was the experience in the group that stands out for me: rolling around on the floor at 6 a.m. becoming inchworms, exploring our inchwormness. ”The troupe rehearsed at 6 a.m. everyday, choosing the time to assure that anyone wanting to join would be dedicated enough to show up at that hour. Brennan-Sawyer and another mime describedRichard’s fondness for laughter and lightness.
On one occasion, Brennan-Sawyersaid, the group decided to go for coffee, so they got into Richard’s car to leave. “There were five or six of us stuffed into this Volkswagen. He backed out of the driveway and turned the wrong way. Correcting his mistake, he started forward very slowly, but then kept going in a circle. It was his senseof the absurd. We were laughing so hard, we were crying.”
On another occasion, the troupe went to a logging operation near the ocean, Brennan-Sawyer said.“There was a large machine that picks the bark off the logs,” he said. “Richardstops and he’s fascinated by this huge machine. It was a moment of wonder for him. That’s the way he was; he was the writer; he had that role of coalescing our ideas so we could write them because he’s such an imaginative guy.”
Another fellow mime, Lucia Mirrachi, said she was in the university’s dance department and Richard came looking for mime troupe recruits. “He opened up the world forme in those eight years,”she said,“this amazing trust that he gave me.”She added that “He was such a free spirit; he modeled that; his playfulness and aliveness and his beingness. He was, from the get-go, alive, ready to play,teeming with ideas; a vibrancy that I could feel.”
After he moved to Oregon, Richard joined a writers’ group in Portland lead by Rodger Larson, who expressed amazement at Richard’s dedication to driving the nearly 90 miles from Oceanside to Northeast Portland every week to attend the group. “He was kind of consumed by the writing,” Larson said. “It was his passion. He was really committed.”
Larson said several members of the group looked to Richard forguidance in their writing. “He was very encouraging; he tracked things; he would say things like ‘last week you were working on these things, and I want to explore that further.’”
In 2000, Richard started a writers’ group with Nancy Slavin and other local writers. Slavin described the dynamic as having “a lot of laughter; he helped really bring that out. To me, Richard is a respected elder whose wisdom and through his career, imparting that wisdom to me wasincredible.”
Karen Keltz, who joined the local group in 2008, said Richard was “sort of like a director, but we were equal partners in doing our critiques. ”She added that “He made me laugh all the time; he enjoyed laughing. So welaughed a lot; and lots of times we supported Richard and encouraged him to gethis book published.
Richard’s book, “The Astoria Chinatown Conspiracy,” was published in 2011. Taking place in the late 1880s, it’s the story of themurders of a Chinese grocer and a young Caucasian woman during a period of anti-Chinese racial hatred in Astoria. Carefully researched for historical accuracy, it received a glowing review from “Coast Weekend,” a supplement of “The Daily Astorian,” which wrote, “The wealth of historical detail is astounding not only in the sheer amount but in the fact that we’re not hit overthe head with it. Powers must have spent countless hours researching theperiod, but manages to make the fruits of that research effortless for thereader.”
In 2009, Richard also wrote a three-act play, “Hearts,” about a 76-year-old Alzheimer’s patient in an assisted living home who falls in love with a woman resident who also has Alzheimer’s. Richard later said he wrote theplay because he was “terrified of getting Alzheimer’s and losing the sense of a self”.
”The patient’s wife, Alice, is severely disturbed when she visits and seesher husband with the female patient. As Richard later described the impact onAlice, “It tears her heart out to see another woman cuddling her husband. Romantic attachments among residents are a common experience in nursing homes.”
His introduction to simulation and gaming was short but effective.
As he recalledit: “My initial experience with the world of simulation and gaming occurred atthe first NASAGA (North American Simulation And Gaming Association) conferencein 1975. I stepped into a crowded elevator that was on its way up to theregistration desk where this East Indian fellow with a thick accent (SivasailamThiagarajan aka Thiagi) was demonstrating how to play number games on hiscalculator. That year, I was teaching statistics to social science majors andknew how anxious my students were about math and calculators so I was keenlyinterested in his spiel. Thiagi held us spellbound as we followed hisinstructions to make our calculators read the same as his and by the time wereached our stop on the elevator, I was sold on using calculator games in myclass. So before I even registered for my first conference, I had experiencedthe excitement of games and of their power to educate.”
Shortly after moving to Oregon, he convinced Elizabeth Furse, co-founder of the Oregon Peace Institute, that more educators should use simulations and games to teach conflict resolution, prejudice reduction, and related peace topics. He and anothermember traveled throughout Oregon teaching these topics to students in high schools and colleges.
After the Peace Institute closed due to lack of funding, Richard taught courses in the Portland State University Conflict Resolution Department using only simulationand games. His facilitator, Kat Kirkpatrick, and he developed a weekend course called “Playing with Conflict. ”He thought it the most fun and effective course he ever taught.
His awards included the College of Education, Teacher of theYear, 1986; Utah State University “Last Lecture” award, 1986. (Annual award given by Honor Students); and the Don Ifill and Gennie Raynolds Memorial Award for Lifetime contribution to the field of Simulation and Gaming, 1997, presented by the North American Simulation and Gaming Association, Portland,Oregon. He recently said his motto of education can be summed up: There’s noreason why learning can’t be fun.
Richard Brian Powers is survived by his wife Elki, his daughter Tia Ma and his son Matthew. A memorial gathering will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 12, 2014,in the Bay City Arts Center, 5680 A Street, Bay City. Waud’s Funeral Home, 1414Third Street, Tillamook, is in charge of arrangements.
By Judson Randall