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Former Alaska resident Dorothy Jean Ray, noted ethnographer of Native Alaskans, died Dec. 12, 2007, in Port Townsend, Wash. She was 88.
Dorothy was born Oct. 10, 1919, in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to Oscar and Vina (Younker) Tostlebe. She attended public schools in that city, where she won many awards in writing and music. Dorothy won her first award - for an essay on fire prevention - when she was 10 years old, and won the medal for excellence in American history provided by the Daughters of the American Revolution in the eighth grade. During her senior year, she was also given the Daughters of the American Revolution "outstanding senior" award.
Dorothy played first-chair flute in the Waterloo (Iowa) Symphony Orchestra from 1936 to 1940 and won a national piccolo contest in Ohio in 1937, the year she graduated from Cedar Falls High School. Although she seemed destined for a career in music, with a full schedule of flute and piano playing in college, she majored in English with minors in biology and earth sciences. Dorothy graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in 1941 with honors, receiving the Purple and Gold awards as outstanding major in English.
After moving to Nome with her first husband in 1945, she developed an interest in anthropology, which was to be her career. After graduate work at Radcliffe College and the University of Washington, she devoted herself to independent research and writing that resulted in eight books and some 80 professional papers on the ethnohistory and art of the Inupiaq and Yupik Eskimos. For these efforts, she received honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of Northern Iowa, from which she received an Alumni Achievement Award earlier in her career.
In 1978, she received the State of Washington Governor's Annual Writer's Award for her book, "Eskimo Art: Tradition and Innovation in North Alaska," and in 1982, the Award of Achievement for "Aleut and Eskimo Art" from the Society for Technical Communication. In 2006, her book "The Eskimos of Bering Strait, 1650-1898" was included in "The Alaska 67," the state's best nonfiction books.
While living in Alaska in the 1940s and 1950s, she renewed her interest in music as piano player for a dance band at Marks Air Field in Nome and as a member of the first Fairbanks Little Symphony as well as playing piano accompaniment for the University of Alaska chorus and for a local men's chorus. She was employed for a year at the Geophysical Institute at the university and was coordinator for the 1953 Alaska Science Conference in Juneau. Dorothy spent the summer of 1947 prospecting for gold with two companions at the extreme headwaters of the Noatak River in the Brooks Range and in 1961 explored the Reed River and upper Kobuk River with her 18-year-old son.
While studying at the University of Washington, she met and married Dr. Verne F. Ray, a pioneer anthropologist of Northwest Indian tribes. Dorothy Jean and Verne endowed an art scholarship at the University of Northern Iowa, and Dorothy Jean also endowed both an anthropology and a music scholarship at the university. She also donated a large collection of Native Alaskan artifacts to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In looking back on a life full of friendships, adventure, gardening and goals, she also had the satisfaction of bicycling hundreds of miles in two summers throughout New England and three trips driving the Alaska Highway alone (in 1951 with 8-year-old son) without a flat tire.
She is survived by a son, Eric S. Thompson of Anchorage; three stepgrandsons, Robert Fromberg of Oak Park, Ill., Paul Fromberg of Evenston, Ill., and Steven Fromberg of Chapel Hill, N.C.; and two great-grandsons.
She was preceded in death by her husband; stepdaughter, LaVerne Ray Fromberg; and stepson-in-law, Gerald Fromberg.
No services are planned. Arrangements are with Kosec Funeral Home and Crematory in Port Townsend.
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