A citizen’s obligation

Vancouver couple lived frugally so they could give generously

At 98, Harris Dusenbery has been giving charitably longer than most of us have even been alive. “I’ve given all my working life,” he said, “as long as I’ve had income.” In recognition of Dusenbery’s commitment to giving consistently over his lifetime, he has been selected as a recipient of a new award from the Community Foundation of Southwest Washington.

The Lifetime of Giving Award, said Community Foundation President Richard Melching, “is intended to recognize people who have a long life history of giving back to the community. It’s a great way to recognize some people deserving of recognition who might otherwise not be known.”

Dusenbery began giving charitably largely at the inspiration of his wife, Evelyn, who died a couple of years ago. “One of my wife’s mantras,” he said, “was that we should live frugally and give generously.”

Dusenbery and his wife both attended Reed College and were married in 1940. He began working for the Social Security Administration in Portland when he got out of the Army in 1945, and they moved to Vancouver in 1951, when he opened and became District Manager of a new Vancouver office for the SSA. “We gave fairly regularly then, what we could. It wasn’t particularly generous during the years we were putting our kids through college, we didn’t have much left over. Really, our giving-as-a-large-percentage-of-our-income happened after we retired.”

On the advice of a co-worker, Dusenbery prepared well for retirement, being sure the house was paid off, the cars were relatively new and paid for, and they had no debt. He retired in 1969, and the couple found that they were able to live comfortably, travel extensively, and still give generously to causes that were important to them.

The Dusenberys gave extensively to nature-related organizations like the Columbia Land Trust, Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy, and to organizations that support women, like YWCA and Planned Parenthood. “I also started giving to the Community Chest in Portland right after I got out of the Army,” Dusenbery said, “and I have contributed to them ever since.”

One of their strong priorities was to support arts-related organizations, like the Columbia Arts Center. When that effort eventually folded, the Dusenberys transferred their fund to the Community Foundation, where they established an Arts and Learning Endowment Fund. “Later, we established a performing arts fund in Evelyn’s name,” Dusenbery said, “and I recently established a fund there for the homeless.”

Dusenbery’s ability to give generously even while living modestly is something that Melching said he finds “remarkable. He makes personal sacrifices and goes without so that he can give to others.”

“I think that’s one of the obligations of citizenship,” said Dusenbery. “To leave your community a better place than when you arrived.”

– Harris Dusenbery

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