April 22, 2017

Don Irish, Rest in Power

Portrait by Justine Di Fiore

Donald Paul Irish, 97, died on April 14, 2017, in St. Paul.

Don loved life: a deeply committed, intense, and energetic man, he joined countless causes for human betterment and fought despair in the face of many intractable forces. He put his body where his words were and he put his money where he felt it would have the most impact. He donated enough to minimize paying taxes for the U.S. war machine and, in doing so, provided substantial support for promoters of education and peace with justice.

Don loved to talk. He could chat up a rock until it turned to sand. His was never idle chatter, though. Words were serious business: global challenges required frequent conversations, in many venues, anywhere he could engage people and press for understanding.

Don was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on July 31, 1919, the second eldest of four children of Stella (Putnam) and Willis Irish. His three siblings and he grew up in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. He attended the University of Colorado on a Carson Pirie Scott scholarship; he had worked in sales at Carson’s during high school. In 1941, he completed his BA in sociology, anthropology and education; he earned his MS in group work in 1944 at George Williams College in Chicago. An MA in sociology from the University of Colorado in 1950 was followed by a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Washington in 1957. His early academic work was representative of lifelong interests: the sociology of war; anti-Japanese-American sentiment during World War II; cultural and racialized differences across the US; death and dying; and Latin American sociology.

He taught at Western Washington University in Bellingham (1948-50) and then at the University of Washington (1950-54). In 1954, he moved to Delaware, Ohio, to teach at Ohio Wesleyan University (1954-59).

A Methodist by upbringing, Don began to follow Gandhi’s teachings in his undergraduate years; he was classed as a conscientious objector during World War II. Don and his wife, Betty (Osborn) Irish—married in 1942–joined the Seattle (WA) Friends (Quaker) Meeting in 1952. Due to his outspoken beliefs on pacifism and intellectual freedom, Don was fired from Western Washington University (though ultimately reinstated) and later he left his tenured position at Ohio Wesleyan (with eight others) to protest the administration’s lack of respect for faculty governance. He received strong support from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

After leaving Ohio Wesleyan, Don took a post-doctoral position at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (1959-63). His final academic home was Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he taught for 22 years (1963-85). Don was a joiner and leader: he held membership in and was an officer of Sociologists of Minnesota; the Coalition for Terminal Care; Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs; and the AAUP. In addition to many social activist causes, he was committed to experiential learning for Hamline students. He also held Fulbright appointments at Universidad Pontifícia Bolivariana, Medellín, Colombia (1972), and Instituto de Estudios Sociales, Universidad de la República, Montevideo, Uruguay (1979).

At Hamline, Don and Betty Irish sponsored the Putnam Lectureship in Social Ethics from 1971-96, in honor of Don’s uncle, Irving Putnam. He was a generous donor to the Friends School of Minnesota. After Betty’s death, Don funded the Betty Irish Student Aid for Latin American Studies at Hamline University (after 1996) in her memory.

Don travelled tirelessly. His first visit to Mexico was in 1967 and to Nicaragua in 1968, followed by many more trips across Latin America in subsequent decades. He joined the Peace Brigades International team in Guatemala (1987) as well as the Witness for Peace long-term team (1987) and served as an official observer of Nicaragua’s elections in 1990. In 1990 Don married Marjorie Hedrick Sibley.

August 2016

Don was fond of crossword puzzles and would likely make one with the following acronyms; this list represents some of his most treasured organizations, not yet mentioned: AFSC (American Friends Service Committee); Honor the Earth; SERPAJ (Servicio Paz Y Justicia); School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch); SPAN (Student Project for Amity Among Nations); TCFM (Twin Cities Friends Meeting); Vets for Peace; WAMM (Women Against Military Madness); and WILPF (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom).

Don’s survivors include: daughters Terry A. Irish; Gail L. Irish (Steven Budas); and Sharon L. Irish (Reed Larson), as well as Marjorie’s children, Muriel Sibley and Martin Sibley (Ilona Popper). His grandchildren are: Gemma B. Irish (Mark Sweeney), Miriam Larson, and Renner Barsella (Audrey Barsella.) He was widowed twice: Betty Osborn Irish (1920-85); and Marjorie Sibley (1990-2003). His memorial service, 2-4pm, Saturday, August 5, 2017, will be held at the Friends School of Minnesota, 1365 Englewood Ave., St. Paul.

Memorials may be made to the Minnesota Historical Society to support the cataloguing of Don’s papers. Send checks to Development Department, MNHS, 345 Kellogg Blvd W, St. Paul, MN 55102. Please indicate “In Memory of Donald Irish, Collections Management Fund.”