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Former Wichita State professor supported human, civil rights

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at 10:53 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at 11:50 p.m.

Family say Donald Morse Douglas was uncompromising in his values, even though he “rubbed some people wrong.”

“Dad was a man who lived his life his own way,” his daughter, Sharon Douglas, said.

“He didn’t allow intolerance or injustice or racism, and he didn’t suffer fools lightly.”

Mr. Douglas — lifelong supporter of human and civil rights, maverick and Wichita State University professor emeritus of history — died of heart failure Tuesday, after undergoing what was believed to be a successful heart valve replacement surgery. He was 88.

Services for Mr. Douglas are set for 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Downing & Lahey East, 6555 E. Central in Wichita.

Family describe Mr. Douglas as a loving patriarch with a zeal for living, summed up by his favorite saying: “I’ve had more damn fun in my life.”

“He was the rock of the family,” said his daughter, Donna Christine Douglas. “He set the example for all of us.”

Mr. Douglas was born Sept. 7, 1924, in Los Angeles, Calif. He was raised by his grandparents, Guy and Augusta Morse, “hard-working German stock,” his daughters said.

It was from his grandfather’s work with the railroad and labor unions Mr. Douglas first learned to fight for equality, family said.

After high school, he joined the Army Air Corps, serving during World War II. Mr. Douglas married his wife of 69 years, Ada Glynn Douglas, after a brief courtship while he was in flight school.

After his discharge, Mr. Douglas worked 14 years for the Missouri Pacific Railroad.

Later he became a stern, yet dedicated professor of history and Holocaust studies, family said, after earning his doctorate from the University of Kansas in 1968.

Mr. Douglas and his wife, a homemaker, both retired in December 1994 — he from teaching, she from cooking. Since then, the couple had frequented local restaurants nightly.

“They had a routine certain nights, they did certain places,” said a chuckling Mark Coughenour, son-in-law of Mr. Douglas.

“When (they) would get hospitalized, some of the restaurants would bring meals.”

In later years, he cared for his wife, who has Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, at home until she was admitted to a long-term care facility in September.

“He was there every day, sometimes twice, to tuck her in or to eat dinner,” Donna Christine Douglas said.

“When he makes a commitment, he never breaches the commitment.”

Granddaughter Michelle Nielsen remembers dressing in twirly skirts and dancing with Mr. Douglas to a beloved song, “Sing a Rainbow,” to be played during his services Sunday.

Meanwhile, Erika Douglas recalled her grandfather’s insistence she “find your own path, pursue that path and be true to yourself.”

“We were really lucky to have a close relationship with our grandfather,” Meredith Coughenour said, remembering his annual Christmas visits to Seattle, her home. “He was our friend and our mentor.”

Mr. Douglas is survived by his wife, two daughters, a son-in-law, three granddaughters and their families; and a brother and sister-in-law. He was involved in several associations and received numerous awards.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Heart Association, Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice or Holocaust Commemoratives, in care of Congregation Emanu-El.

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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