Alumni News from Reed Magazine, December 2015

Sculpting the City, the December 2015 issue of Reed magazine, is an eclectic affair covering topics as diverse as intellectuals working for the CIA, the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683, muckraking journalism, the design of urban spaces (cover story, p. 24), and still more.

Perhaps the most striking essay in all this is a “letter from the editor,” Chris Lydgate ’90, titled Return on Investment. In just eight paragraphs Lydgate describes the life story of one of Reed’s most accomplished graduates and comments on the recent trend to monetize the value of every experience. The graduate in question was the late Ken Koe ’45, whose life spanned Depression-era poverty in Astoria and on Portland’s west side, and the highest level of medicinal chemistry as a co-inventor of the antidepressant Zoloft (see In Memoriam: The Architect of Zoloft below). Koe was able to escape his humble beginnings when Reed awarded him a full scholarship ($250) on the eve of his high school graduation. Koe described his Reed education as an “exhilarating intellectual journey,” but, even with a full scholarship, it was a challenging one: to make Reed’s financial gift stretch as far as possible, Koe arranged his schedule so that he could graduate in just three years, even while commuting across the Willamette each day, and working weekends in a Chinatown restaurant. To be sure, Koe hoped that his Reed degree would lead to a better life, but what that might look like, no one could say. Lydgate offers this comment,“We hear a lot of questions these days about the ‘return on investment’ of a college degree, typically framed in terms of your earning power five or 10 years after graduation. It’s a useful, important discussion. But to my mind, this definition of ‘return’ is far too narrow. The point of getting an education at a place like Reed is not to fatten your wallet but to sharpen your mind and prepare yourself for the intellectual challenges that lie ahead.”

A new chapter was added to the story of another Reedie with humble beginnings, the late Mark Angeles ’15. Bike Co-Op Named for Mark Angeles ’15 (p. 8) related the renaming of the Reed Bike Co-Op, an organization that Mark had ran during his Reed career.

Class Notes on Reed chemists were sparse this month, but the Notes did include a page-wide photo of “an ambush of Reed tigers spotted during the wedding reception for Jade Bryant’ 08 and Tyler Noonan” (p. 39) … as well as the announcement that Claire Trageser ’05, a reporter for station KPBS in San Diego, had been awarded the first ever Gloria Penner Award For Political Reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists, San Diego Pro Chapter … and also a list of the Reedies attending the wedding of Gretchen Metzenberg ’07 that included Kayce Spear ’07.

In Memoriam shed considerably more light on the life of the late Ken Koe ’45, The Architect of Zoloft. Ken Koe passed away on October 7, 2015 in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. He was born in Astoria, the son of Chinese immigrants who worked in the salmon canneries. The family later moved to Portland where they purchased a laundry on NW 6th and lived in the back. Ken, even though endowed with a full scholarship (see above) was a “day dodger” who commuted between Reed and his family’s home in Chinatown each day and worked weekends in a Chinatown restaurant. After graduating from Reed, Ken attended graduate school at U. Washington and then Caltech where he earned his PhD in chemistry. Eventually he made his way east to Pfizer Research Laboratories where he held the post of pharmacologist/neuroscientist. Ken’s role in the Zoloft story began in 1977 when he decided to take another look at some compounds other Pfizer scientists had studied and discarded because he thought they might hold promise as SSRI antidepressants. His first scientific paper on the new compound was published in 1983, and the therapeutic drug became commercially available in 1992. In 2008, Ken graciously accepted the Howard Vollum Award for Distinguished Accomplishment in Science and Technology saying, “My role in the discovery of Zoloft depended on many factors coming together … But maybe the most critical factor for me is that many years ago Reed College offered me a scholarship to come here — enabling me a start towards a scientific career.

In Memoriam also shared memories of one more recently deceased Reed chemist, David Bradley Straus ’53, who passed away June 11, 2015 in Gardiner, New York. A Chicago native, David earned his Reed degree in just three years before returning to Chicago for graduate school (PhD biochemistry, U. Chicago, 1960). While still at Reed, David met his future wife, Harriet McWethy ’54, and they were married in Portland in 1955. After doing postdoctoral research at Princeton, David held teaching positions at SUNY-Buffalo and SUNY-New Paltz. His teaching responsibilities included biochemistry, nutrition, and a course on “pollution, population, and the future of human life.” On top of all that, David was an active research scientist, served as councilor for the American Chemical Society for many years, played an active role in local government, and enjoyed photography, gardening, and the outdoors. David was survived by his wife, Harriet, three children, eight grandchildren, and two siblings.

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