Daniel Malgren and Grace Amsden
Dennis Morton, who taught sociology for 37 years at the Fort Steilacoom campus, passed away at the age of 71 on Feb. 2 at his home in Puyallup.
Morton’s memorial service was Feb. 8 at the South Sound Manor, in Tumwater, Wash. As published on his obituary, “He will always be remembered for his intelligence, quick wit and compassion for others.” His loss is felt deeply by many as he touched the lives of students, friends and family.
In 1972, Morton was hired to teach at Pierce and worked until winter 2009 when he retired.
Morton was a professor for a variety of sociology courses throughout his years, including classes such as family relationships, social problems, human sexuality and death.
“Dennis loved the discipline of sociology and he loved teaching. He often said his passion came from having the opportunity to flip the switch to the students’ experience of insight,” Alan Kemp, campus coordinator and sociology professor at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom, said.
Kemp and Morton were friends for 30 years after they met at Pacific Lutheran University. Morton was pursuing a second master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, while Kemp was working on campus as director of the Good Samaritan School, a program for students with behavioral issues.
Morton worked with some of the students in the Good Samaritan School as part of the MFT program.
“What impressed me immediately about Dennis was that he was warm and seemed to genuinely care about the young people he was working with,” Kemp said.
According to Kemp, Morton used lectures, discussions, audio and visuals in his classroom. Kemp says that Morton naturally really liked his students and wanted them to learn, which also meant helping them outside of the classroom if necessary, even if it wasn’t about sociology.
“Students (and many others) sought him out for private discussions in his office, sometimes about personal problems, but often also about the material he was introducing in class. I think students instinctively knew he cared about them, and they needed the affirmation and encouragement he gave them,” Kemp said.
On Feb 1., the day of the Super Bowl, Morton’s wife, Nancy, invited family and friends to watch the game with Morton, who had been bedridden for months and was receiving care from Hospice. Alongside Morton was Kemp and his wife.
“To quote from a poem my wife wrote about that day, he (Morton) died the way he lived,” Kemp said. “He was surrounded by his wife, Nancy, who he adored, friends, mother-in-law, kids and grandkids. He was so loved. His grandson, Gavin (15), kept coming into his room, gave him kisses on the cheek, and Den, barely able to open his eyes would pucker his lips back, as if to say I love you, too.”
The next day, Feb. 2, Morton passed away.
Pierce College Fort Steilacoom President Denise Yochum has fond memories of Morton as well. Yochum says Morton was an exceptional teacher and colleague to work with. One of Yochum’s fond memories of him is when she’d walk by and see Morton with Marty Lobdell, a retired psychology professor at Fort Steilacoom , surrounded by a group of students playing the game Trivial Pursuit.
“The two of them put ‘community’ into community college education,” Yochum said. “Professor Morton will be long remembered as having made a significant difference in the lives of many students, faculty, and staff. His lessons will live on.”
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