Harriet Van Buren

With the children grown, Harriet returned to OSU and earned a BS degree in Microbiology in 1986

Harriet Wilma Van Buren died peacefully on February 28, 2019, after living a very full 83 years, almost 65 of those with her husband and companion John Van Buren. Those who knew her, experienced Harriet’s indomitable spirit, insatiable curiosity, ever-present smile and lifelong interest in the arts, sciences and travel. Born in 1935, the third of five children of Swedish immigrants, she and her family moved from Chicago, IL, to Corvallis, OR, in her youth. While a student at Oregon State University, she met John at a fraternity/sorority exchange. Harriet suspended her education while John received his degree, then married in 1954, and started life together with the US Army for two years in MA and GA.

After serving, they moved to Longview, WA, where they lived for almost 40 years and raised four children. Besides a large group of friends, Harriet enjoyed many volunteer pursuits including the American Association of University Women (AAUW), American Field Service (AFS) for international student homestays, Girl Scouts, various chorales, gardening, voracious reading, sewing, bridge, boating and skiing. Harriet believed strongly in women’s rights including equal pay, and was a dedicated member of the League of Women Voters. She was also an avid supporter of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the NAACP. Despite a tight budget in their early years, Harriet and John provided memorable road trips across the country and ski vacations in the family station wagon, music and art lessons, a love for good food and celebration.

With the children grown, Harriet returned to OSU commuting weekly to Corvallis, earned a BS degree in Microbiology in 1986, and fulfilled her dream of working in the sciences as a medical lab technician. After John retired from Longview Fibre Co., they moved to Tacoma, WA, where she joined an auditioned chorus, and they supported Tacoma Opera, Tacoma Symphony Orchestra, Northwest Sinfonietta, local theater and dance. In 2002, they moved to their beloved waterfront home on Vashon Island, where they tracked birds, whales and ships, and supported enthusiastically their grandchildren’s sports and activities. Harriet joined the Vashon Island Chorale, Garden and Arboretum Clubs, and numerous book clubs. Both supported the Vashon Opera and many community activities, and continued to help their family with home building, repairs and remodeling. Throughout their later years in Longview and up until 2017, they travelled the world together from South Africa to Bolivia to Viet Nam, often treating their children, grandchildren and extended family to vacations in Italy, Mexico, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest.

The last four years of her life Harriet suffered from dementia, finally succumbing to pneumonia. John and her entire family carry her zest for life, her genuine interest in all those she encountered, and her spirit of adventure onward. Harriet is survived by her husband John Van Buren of Tacoma, WA; daughter Julie Van Buren of Asheville, NC; son Kenneth Van Buren (Teresa Urquhart) of University Place, WA; son Brian Van Buren (Suzanne Rutkowski) of Vashon, WA; daughter Carrie Van Buren (Joel Hille) of Vashon, WA; grandchildren Nicholas Rice, Benjamin Van Buren, Madeline Hille, Annika Hille and Baker Van Buren; sister Carol Parsons of Cummings, GA; sister Susan Valenti of University Place, WA; sister-in-law Betty Van Buren of University Place, WA; and many nieces and nephews. An on-island celebration of Harriet’s life is being planned for early May. In remembrance of her, the family asks that any donations be made to organizations supporting women’s education, health and voting rights.

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