Dorothy Jean Tostlebe Ray

Position: 
Alumna

     Dorothy Jean Ray

Dorothy Jean Ray, noted ethnographer of Native Alaskans, died December 12, 2007, in Port Townsend, Washington, at the age of 88 years.

Born in Cedar Falls, to Oscar and Vina (Younker) Tostlebe on October 10, 1919, she attended public schools in that city where she won many awards in writing and music. She won her first award for an essay on fire prevention when she. was ten years old, and won the medal for Excellence in American History provided by the DAR in the eighth grade. In her senior year, she was also given the DAR Outstanding Senior award. .

She played first chair flute in the Waterloo Symphony Orchestra from 1936 to 1940, and won a national piccolo contest in Ohio in 1937, the year she graduated from the Cedar Falls High School. Although she seemed destined for a career in music, with a full schedule of flute and piano playing in college, she majored, however, in English, with minors in biology and earth sciences. She graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in 1941 with honors, receiving the Purple and Gold Award as outstanding major in English.

After moving to Nome, Alaska, with her first husband in 1945, she developed an interest in anthropology, which was to be her career. After graduate work at Radcliffe College and the University of Washington, she devoted herself to independent research and writing, that resulted in eight books and some ninety professional papers on the ethno-history and art of the Inupiaq and Yupik Eskimos. For these efforts she received honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of Northern Iowa, from which she had received an Alumni Achievement Award earlier in her career.

In 1978 she received the State of Washington Governor's Annual Writers Award for her book, "Eskimo Art; Tradition and Innovation in North Alaska," and, in 1982, the Award of Achievement for "Aleut and Eskimo Art` from the Society for Technical Communication. In 2006, her book "The Eskimos of Bering Strait, 1650-1898" was included in the "The Alaska 67," the state's best nonfiction books.

While living in Alaska in the 1940s and 1950s, she renewed her interest in music as a piano player for a dance band at Marks Airfield in Nome, and as a member of the first Fairbanks Little Symphony, as well as playing piano accompaniment for the University of Alaska chorus, and for a local men's chorus. She was employed for a year at the Geophysical Institute at the university and was coordinator for the 1953 Alaska Science Conference in Juneau. She spent the summer of 1947 prospecting for gold with two companions at the extreme headwaters of Noatak River in the Brooks Range, Alaska, and in 1961 explored the Reed River and upper Kobuk River with her 18-year-old son.

While studying at the University of Washington, she met and married Dr. Verne F. Ray, a pioneer anthropologist of Northwest Indian tribes. Dorothy Jean and Verne endowed an art scholarship at the University of Northern Iowa and Dorothy Jean also endowed both an anthropology and a music scholarship at the university. She also donated a large collection of Native Alaskan artifacts to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In looking back on a life full of friendships, adventure, gardening, and goals, she also had the satisfaction of bicycling hundreds of miles in two summers throughout New England and three trips driving on the Alaska Highway alone (in 1951 with son 8 years old), without a flat tire.

She is survived by a son, Eric S. Thompson of Anchorage, Alaska; three stepgrandsons, Robert Fromberg of Oak Park, Illinois, Paul Fromberg of Evanston, Illinois, and Steven Fromberg of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.; and two great-grandsons.

She was preceded in death by her husband; stepdaughter, LaVerne Ray Fromberg; and stepson-in-law, Gerald Fromberg.

No services are planned. Kosec Funeral Home & Crematory, Port Townsend, Washington, coordinated cremation arrangements:

Copyright Waterloo Courier, December 16, 2007, page B5.

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