Donald Van Houten

Aug. 18, 1936 - Aug. 17, 2023

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UPDATE AS OF 11/7: A CELEBRATION OF LIFE for Don Van Houten is being held on Sunday, November 12th at 11 am. The event will be held at the Oregon Contemporary Theatre at 194 W. Broadway Street in downtown Eugene. For directions to the theatre, please visit the You can view the celebration live by joining us at A recording will be available at the same link following the event.   For more information, please email Holly at or call at 415-717-0356. ---------------- On August 17, 2023, one day shy of his 87th birthday, Donald Van Houten passed away due to complications from kidney disease in his home in Eugene, Oregon, surrounded by his family. Don was born on August 18, 1936, to Robert Wallace and Martha Tuckley Van Houten in Orange, New Jersey. He grew up in nearby Milburn, graduating from Millburn High School in 1954 and Oberlin College in 1958, and earning a PhD in Sociology from the University of Pittsburgh in 1967. While at Oberlin, he met and fell in love with Carol Jane King, whom he married in 1959. Together they shared an amazing life adventure of 64 years. He leaves behind his wife, Carol; children Holly, Stuart, and Eric; and their spouses/partners Patrick Laprocina, Tracy Kenny, and Wendy Hunter. His life was blessed with six amazing grandchildren: Lindsay, Sarah, Madeline, Juliette, Alex, and Victoria. He is survived by his sister Valerie Smith, sister-in-law Monika Van Houten, and many nieces and nephews. In 1968, Don and Carol moved to Eugene, Oregon where he became a professor at the University of Oregon where he specialized in the sociology of organizations and work. Adept at higher education administration, he served as sociology department chair and then associate dean and dean of the UO College of Arts and Sciences. Not only a student – and leader – of organizations, Don was also a builder of institutions. In 1975, he co-founded a families group that met weekly for dinner which has been a vital source of friendship, connection, and good food for 48 years. Members included Dan and Hannah Goldrich, Michael and Susan Pease, and George and Lotte Streisinger, and their collective children. With the Peases, Don and Carol created a co-housing arrangement in 2002, buying and renovating an old craftsman bungalow in downtown Eugene, and designing and building two new small homes, with a vision of independence, shared living, and aging in place. They often opened their homes to others interested in models for co-living. After retiring in 1998, he volunteered for the Oregon Contemporary Theatre and as president of the board, helped them strategize and then move into their new, vibrant downtown space. He followed his love of architecture into a volunteer role with St Vincent de Paul’s housing committee. Don delighted in making connections with the people around him, asking about and encouraging people to talk about their lives and work. During the pandemic he kept up this desire for community by helping organize soup nights and happy hours with neighbors along West 10th Avenue, first from a safe social distance from their driveways, later moving into backyards and living rooms. These gatherings were a tremendous source of support and engagement as Don became less mobile. Don and Carol traveled extensively, visiting all continents except Antarctica. They lived abroad for extended periods – in a VW van traveling around Europe with their children and in Stockholm, London, and Melbourne. Two weeks before his death he returned from a lovely vacation to a family summer home on the North Shore of Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada. Don loved all types of music “EXCEPT opera.” He was an accomplished trombonist, playing for the New Jersey All-State Orchestra and Band during high school and in local big bands. Don loved to dance – he and Carol made an elegant couple with a smooth foxtrot, he danced his daughter Holly around on his feet in the kitchen, and organized dance parties with friends. When a good song came on the radio, he would sometimes drive the car with his knees so he could snap along with both hands. Despite “being built for comfort, not speed,” Don played soccer for two decades, twice a week, in all kinds of weather with an over-40s, co-ed, non-competitive soccer group he helped found. In addition to enjoying the game, he appreciated the wildly diverse group of players. Don and Carol enjoyed season tickets to Women’s Ducks basketball games. He loved cheering on his sons, Stuart and Eric, playing basketball and regularly turned up at his grandchildren’s soccer, lacrosse, and basketball games in Eugene and traveling to northern Virginia. Don had a wonderful laugh and a broad smile that crinkled up his eyes. He had an active mind that he put to good use by making the world a better place. He was proud of his children and amazed by his grandchildren. He hated to leave behind his beloved wife. We will miss him forever. His family wishes to express appreciation to Nephrologist Dr. Mary Labib, the techs at Fresenius Kidney Care on River Avenue, and Cascade Health’s palliative care and hospice teams for excellent and compassionate care. A Memorial Service will be held in November with details to be announced later. Donations may be made in Don’s honor to the Oregon Contemporary Theatre or to a community-building institution of your choice.


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