Professor emeritus Dick Sonnen passes away
Author: Victor Dahl and Steve Brannan
Posted: March 24, 2014

In Memoriam: Emeritus Professor of Education Richard J. Sonnen

Emeritus Professor Richard “Dick” J. Sonnen, Graduate School of Education, born March 27, 1936, died February 26, 2014.

Professor Keith Larson, founder of PSU’s Special Education Program, recruited Professor Sonnen to join the School of Education in 1978 with an appointment as chairperson of the newly formed Department of Special and Counselor Education, a position that he fulfilled until 1988 when he took a year-long sabbatical leave. Subsequently, he carried out full-time teaching assignments prior to retiring as emeritus professor in 1992.

The School of Education’s Annual Report for 1991-1992 highlighted contributions stemming from Professor Sonnens’s departmental service and leadership as a teacher trainer and administrator that over the years had steadily advanced the quality of instruction, research, and community service provided by him and faculty colleagues. Through committee service Professor Sonnen was well-known and highly respected by colleagues throughout the University. Moreover, he gained recognition as an ongoing advocate for the integration and mainstreaming of persons with disabilities into the community’s public schools and vocational settings, objectives that under his guidance the department made continuous outstanding progress.

In consonance with PSU’s mission to fulfill educational needs of the Portland metropolitan region and the state of Oregon, Professor Sonnen contributed extensive noteworthy support for public and community service organizations. These outreach endeavors included chairing the United Cerebral Palsy professional advisory committee, presiding over the Providence Child Center advisory board, and providing leadership and guidance for the PSU Chapter and Divisions, Oregon Council for Exceptional Children. Likewise, his activities supported the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, the ARC (persons with intellectual & developmental disabilities), and Oregon’s Higher Education Council and Department of Education.

Professor Sonnen, a native Oregonian, prepared for his 33 years of active, distinguished experience in the special education field by earning a B.S. degree (1958) emphasizing secondary education at Western Oregon University, and an M.Ed. (1965) at University of Oregon with an emphasis on teaching students with disabilities. His highly productive career began with special education teaching appointments in the Portland and Lake Oswego Public Schools, was complemented by five years service as a consultant for the Oregon Board of Education.

Professor Sonnen pursued further graduate training at the University of Oregon, and in 1971 completed a doctoral program focused on special and general education administration. He continued to broaden his experience base through service as Director of Student Services for the North Clackamas School District and Director of Special Education and Student Services for the Portland Public Schools.

Professor Sonnen interrupted his education while serving in the United States Navy, 1959-1961, as a medical technician. In 1963 he married Joann, who along with daughter Alice, and sons David and Steven, survive him; to them we extend our heartfelt condolences for their loss.

The University owes Professor Sonnen a debt of gratitude for long years of productive institutional service. Under his guidance and leadership, the Graduate School of Education trained a generation of public school teachers who are especially equipped to help persons with disabilities function more fully in our society.

Funeral services will be held: 11:00 a.m., Friday, April 11, 2014, at St. John the Evangelist Church, 8701 NE 119th Street, Vancouver, Wash., followed by burial at 3 p.m., Willamette National Cemetery, 11800 SE Mt. Scott Boulevard, Portland. A celebration of Professor Sonnen’s life will be held at Bill’s Chicken and Steak House, 2200 St. Johns Boulevard, Vancouver, Wash.

Memorial gifts may be made to the Richard J. Sonnen Memorial Scholarship, through checks written to the PSU Foundation and sent to PSU Graduate School of Education, Attn: Development, PO Box 751, Portland OR 97207.

--Written by Emeritus Professor of History Victor C. Dahl with assistance from Emeritus Professor of Education Steve Brannan, March 19, 2014.