The David L. Hitchens scholarship in Honor of Frances Marie Rasmussen is established to encourage and support the higher education goals of first generation students studying at The Evergreen State College (TESC) in Olympia, WA. David L. Hitchens is a founding member of the faculty beginning his Evergreen career July 1, 1970 and retired June 15, 2011.
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“When you go to college.” Those are words Dave recalls from his earliest memories of his mother, Frances Marie Rasmussen. Not if, rather, when.
Frances was born in September, 1920 in Ashland, WI. She was a Chippewa living on the Bad River Indian Reservation with two brothers and one sister and her extended family. She was innately intelligent, had a love for learning, a gift for writing and insight into people and the world. She worked most of her adult life as a secretary in the oil industry in Tulsa. Oklahoma. She sewed for her grandchildren. She was fiercely independent and opinionated.
In her later years of school, Fran attended the Haskell institute, currently known as the Haskell University and formerly the United States Indian Industrial Training School. According to her sister many years later, Fran’s experience “at that awful government school” changed her. She felt she was being taught to “be white” during a time and place that Indians had to deny their heritage in order to assimilate in the larger American society. Racism was overt. It is unclear what happened specifically, but this experience was clearly a detriment to Fran for continuing her formal education much beyond high school.
Frances married a young man she met at Haskell, Frank Lowery Hitchens, himself a descendent of Shawnee and Cherokee tribes. She became mother to David Lee shortly after her 19th birthday in 1939. She dreamed of and worked for his opportunity to carry forth his life as an educated man. She encouraged him to read, learn and be curious. She wanted nothing more for her son than to complete his higher education.” When you go to college,” she’d say. She wanted for him what she could not have.
Fran’s marriage was difficult. Frank was a firefighter by trade, a navy veteran of World War II. He was gone most of the time. War and time apart is difficult. When he was home there were arguments. Heated arguments. Children know only one side of the story in broken homes, the one that wonders if the pain grown-ups suffer is because of them. “Davey” or “boy-chick” as his mother called him, learned the skills of survival as mother and son and occasional father moved about Tulsa often during his early years.
Frank didn’t know what to think of this young intellectual who traveled by bus to the library at the tender age of 6, who pondered the stars under clear skies in warm Oklahoma darkness, and read his mother’s college texts when left home alone at age 9. Perhaps the entire family wondered. One evening young David thought aloud, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we are living as a corpuscle in somebody’s bloodstream and all the other stars that we see are other corpuscles?” “Fran” said Grandmother Nan, Frank’s mother, “where does that boy get those ideas?”
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Dave is an historian by training, an educator by trade and a life-long learner. He began going to school in 1944 and he never left. He was ever so slightly an outcast from elementary through high school, the smart kid who shouldn’t make the others look so bad by answering the questions. Books became his friends, his escape, and his wide world for imagination and ideas. Swimming became his sport. Acting in school plays was his first stage.
Dave was the first generation of his family to graduate college. He swam his way through his undergraduate degree on a scholarship at the University of Wyoming. He knew he’d study history from an early age, a subject he’d fallen in love with the moment he blew the dust off a hidden treasure in the library stacks at the University of Tulsa. The smell and the moment were invigorating. He was 17 years old, researching for a project in his Ancient and Medieval History class. The librarian instinctively trusted him with checking out more books than allowed that day, using her own card, because it would be days before his new library card would be issued. She could not have known how critical her decision was for his future.
“What good will a history degree be?” he was challenged as he headed out of state to attend college. East Tulsa boys were supposed to grow up to work in the oil refineries or become accountants for the industry or aspire to be to sales manager at the DeSoto dealer. Few considered obtaining a college degree, much less achieve the eventual PhD as Dave did.
At the awarding of his BA in 1961 he was married and had two children. When he called his mother to announce his graduation he also declared, “I’m not done. I am staying here to get my Master’s Degree in history.“ It was a welcomed and unexpected surprise. Fran was silent on the phone at first. “I’m so happy for you” she finally said, very likely happy for herself, too.
He did stay in Wyoming, bartending at night, studying in the day, raising a growing family. In 1962, with Master’s Degree in hand, another call to his mother: “We are moving to Georgia for my PhD.” She gave him a credit card to assist with costs as the family packed up and moved across the country, now with a third child on the way. At the University of Georgia in Athens, just one day after his 23rd birthday, Dave began his career as a Teaching Assistant. The pay, along with student family housing, was just enough to keep the family together.
Dave’s origins of interdisciplinary learning philosophy grew out of his earliest teachings.
- As a student at UGA, he approached a particular graduate research paper based on the novel as social document of the times rather than relying upon the traditional letters, scholarly works and periodicals. Later, in another nod towards interdisciplinary scholarship, his PhD draft chapters would be routinely reviewed by both the US Diplomatic History advisor and the Social and Intellectual History advisor in order to assess its credibility through both specialty disciplines.
- As an Assistant Professor of History at Austin Peay State College (now Austin Peay State University) in Tennessee, he traded classes with an English Literature professor in a bold move of innovation to expand the horizons of students of both classes.
- When he taught as Assistant Professor of History at Frostburg State College (now Frostburg State University) in Maryland, he initiated a multiple department program for rotating lecturing faculty for efficiency and sustaining growth especially among the first year student classes.
- At Rollins College in Winter Park , Florida Dave sat on the committee in development of their unique “hourglass” curriculum, a modular series of interdisciplinary programs required for all students in order to graduate.
By the time Dave, his wife and five children arrived in Washington in 1970 (via a position as Executive Director, Northwest Association of Private Colleges and Universities in Portland, Oregon), he was primed to become the youngest faculty member hired at the new alternative liberal arts college, The Evergreen State College. No grades, no departments; this college has evaluations and interdisciplinary studies programs. The criteria for a successful faculty candidate were their breadth of knowledge within their discipline, their curiosity to expand their own knowledge and their ability to form a team rather than compete. The original application was an essay on personal teaching philosophy. Born out of the radical changes in society during the 1960s, it is surmised that the opportunity to create such an innovative educational “experiment’ with State funds will never be realized again. Given the history of TESC and the political bashings it has endured, it is a marvel to have survived to this day! Nevertheless, Evergreen has been a forward thinking model for all levels of education, locally and throughout the United States.
Dave loves to teach. He loves to learn. The nine-year old boy remains playfully inside curious about what makes anything tick. The seed was planted by his mother every time she said, “When you go to college…” She probably had no idea that her desire to make a better life for her first born son would grow an activist who has helped spawn a better life for thousands more. Proudly, the legacy for reading, writing, thinking and talking continues into the future through the David L. Hitchens Scholarship in Honor of Frances Marie Rasmussen.