Original TCC Faculty Member and Tacoma Historian Ron Magden Passes

January 7, 2019

Original TCC Faculty Member and Tacoma Historian Ron Magden Passes
Dr. Ron Magden teaches class on TCC's opening day. Photo courtesy of The News Tribune and the TCC Archive. 

The TCC community is saddened by the loss of original TCC faculty member and Tacoma historian Dr. Ron Magden, who passed away the week of Jan. 2, 2019. He was 92 years old.

Magden loved history from childhood. He remembered teaching history to his third-grade classmates, though his official teaching career began in Idaho when he was 21 years old. Three years later he entered a graduate program at the University of Washington, where he obtained his doctorate. When it was time to find a teaching job, the father of two disabled children was drawn to Tacoma’s reputation as a center of progressive education for children with disabilities. He interviewed with the Tacoma School District, which was hiring for the new community college that was preparing to open its doors for the first time that fall.

On September 27, 1965, Magden taught the second class ever held at Tacoma Community College – History 111, which started just half an hour later than his friend and mentor John Terrey’s 7:30 a.m. Poetry class. He kept on teaching for the next 35 years. And he stayed involved with the college after retirement, keeping in touch with other former faculty, serving on the College History Advisory Council and making generous donations to the TCC Archive. While Open Education Coordinator Dale Coleman was writing The Open Door: A History of Tacoma Community College, Magden took the time to mentor and advise him.

“He was master storyteller and a serious historian, who told the story of Tacoma like he was letting you in on a secret,” said Coleman.

Madgen recalled the college’s early days with fondness. Instructors, administrators, staff and even students used to gather at the Clover Leaf Tavern after school and talk about their grand plans for the new college.

“In the beginning, there was no difference between the staff, faculty and administration,” said Magden. “From youth to experience, the people who could carry the college did.”

Magden was excited to be part of something new and innovative, describing the traditional university system as good, but “ossified.” He was proud that TCC set up a teaching program at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary in 1965 and ran the first televised course there.

In his 50th Anniversary interview, Magden talked about the impact the college had on city.

“Tacoma was famous for being the factory city of workers -- of dead-end jobs -- and the coming of the college signified that there is a chance for growth in other ways,” said Magden. “Tacoma had a terrible 40 percent dropout rate and we opened the doors for those students here and a lot of them made it.”

Magden always enjoyed running into his former students and hearing their stories.

“I’ve taught 16,000 students here,” said Magden. I see them every day in every way in the community and how happy and proud they are that they came here because they got their chance.”

Madgen was also known as the labor historian of the Port of Tacoma, co-authoring The Working Waterfront: The Story of Tacoma’s Ships and Men in 1982 and publishing The Working Longshoreman in 1991. His passing was memorialized by the Port of Tacoma and the Tacoma Historical Society. His significance as Tacoma’s labor historian is demonstrated by the fact that he has his own archive collection in the University of Washington Special Collections Library, and he made significant contributions to UW’s Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies.

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