Dr. Don E. Dumond, a former director of the museum and leading figure in 20th century American archaeology, passed away on Thursday, June 8, 2023, at the age of 94. He was a colleague, mentor, and friend to many in the museum, university, and academic community.
Dr. D—as he was known to everyone at the museum—has a life that is the stuff of legends. He was born on March 23, 1929, in Childress, Texas and spent a large portion of his childhood in Dallas. His father worked for the Ford Motor Company, first at an assembly plant, then as a traveling zone manager, and finally as a manager of a dealership in Seagraves. In 1942, the family moved to rural New Mexico, where they had a livestock ranch. Dumond attended the University of New Mexico to stay close to home and graduated with a degree in English literature in 1949.
After graduating, he returned home to work for local ranches, until a kidney infection left him with doctor’s orders to stay off horses and tractors for a year. This doctor’s order also deferred him from getting drafted into the Korean War for a year, during which time he decided to take a long vacation to Mexico City.
While in Mexico City in 1950, Dumond met his future wife Carol Steichen, who was attending an immersive Spanish language class. As luck would have it, both were stranded waiting for a bus in Uruapan after visiting the Paricutín Volcano. They bonded over a shared love of travel and academia and agreed to stay in touch. A few months later, back in Mexico City, Steichen came down with hepatitis and called Dumond. “She couldn’t keep anything down but orange juice,” he said. “She came out of it, but I kept squeezing oranges for her.” The two were married soon after and remained married until her passing in 2015. Carol Dumond was an accomplished artist, cartographer, and archaeological illustrator, drawing most of the maps and figures that appeared in Don Dumond’s published works.
Once back in the states, Dumond followed his wife to Portland, where she was working as a fashion artist for Meier and Frank Department Store. Dumond joined the Officer’s Candidate School in June 1951 and graduated a second lieutenant. Sick of wearing a uniform, Dumond joined the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), an investigative arm of the Air Force dealing in major criminal investigations and counter-intelligence matters on air bases, where he could wear civilian clothes. He commanded the OSI detachment at Kimpo Airbase in Korea before transferring to Japan in 1953.
After serving in Japan and ending his career in the Air Force at the rank of Captain, Dumond enrolled in Mexico City College, where he earned a master’s degree in Latin American studies. He took his first archaeology class excavating at Teotihuacán. After graduation, Dumond chose to continue his education at the University of Oregon under Dr. Luther Cressman.
“Because I always enjoyed the story of things, archaeology seemed to be it.”
- Don Dumond in “A Dialogue with Don Dumond,” Donald K. Grayson, Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 47. No. 2, Issue in Honor of Don E. Dumond (2010), p. 16.
Dumond’s lifelong pursuit of knowledge led to a career as a leading American archaeologist. His work in Alaska began in 1960, while earning his Ph.D. Cressman offered Dumond a project determining the size of salmon runs on the Alaska Peninsula prior to 1880, for which there was no written record. He went on to receive a National Science Foundation grant between 1963-65 for the work, after which he became a professor of anthropology at the University of Oregon while also teaching in the Honors College. Among other accolades, Dumond was an elected Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America, an elected member and chair of the nominations committee for the American Anthropological Association, an appointed delegate to the Permanent Council of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, an appointed member of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of Archaeologists within the American Anthropological Association, and an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1998, the Alaska Anthropological Association presented Dumond with a Career Achievement Award. He also served as the director of the Museum of Natural History (now the Museum of Natural and Cultural History or MNCH) from 1982 through his retirement in 1996. After retirement, Dumond received the highest honors possible from both museums on campus: the Director’s Lifetime Achievement Award from MNCH and the Gertrude Bass Warner Award from the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.
The decades prior to Dumond becoming director of the then-called Natural History Museum were a particularly tenuous time for the museum. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the university faced significant budget cuts, and, as a non-teaching department, the Museum of Natural History was on the chopping block. The museum had gone for seven years without leadership after former Director J. Arnold Shotwell resigned in 1971. It was separated into essentially three units: the Oregon State Museum of Anthropology, the University Herbarium, and the Condon Museum of Geology, each of which were under the care of different departments of the university.
Despite the odds, the museum persevered. Under Dumond’s leadership, and with considerable help from other employees and the Friends of the Museum of Natural History, the museum was thriving by the mid-1980s. In 1985, however, the UO administration announced that a portion of the academic building in which the museum was housed would be demolished to make way for new science facilities. The museum was offered a small grant to provide for relocation, but it was insufficient for even an interim facility. The museum immediately began a fundraising effort to build a new building on the eastern edge of campus. Today, MNCH is still housed in the facility built in 1987, with a Galleria and Collections Center added in 2009.
Dumond retired in the summer of 1996 after seeing the museum safely through a long and harrowing period when its survival was repeatedly threatened. His strong support of the museum never faltered, from publishing important scholarship and participating in public programs to guiding tours of friends from his retirement community through the museum. The Dumonds were major patrons of the arts as well, gifting works from their collection to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and supporting a variety of museum programs, exhibitions, and campaigns.
Dr. D’s work lives on in the museum he built. We are forever grateful to him.