Richard Brian Powers of Oceanside, a novelist, playwright, mime performer, professor and wide-ranging educator and game designer, died peacefully surrounded by family, at his home Thursday, March 27, 2014, of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 81.
In 1955, U.S.Senator William Benton of Connecticut told a high school graduating class that they should divide their lives into thirds: one third for education, one third for vocation and one third for avocation.
Richard Powers might have received a similar message because that’s roughly how he divided his life. Getting a doctorate in psychology, he spent 35 years on education, 25 years as a teacher and professor and 27 years in his avocation as a creator and presenter of educational simulation games, and as a writers ‘group mentor.
Richard led a multifaceted life that encompassed humanity, intellectual acuity and creativity. He was an award-winning professor and teacher, an author of fiction and nonfiction, a developer of simulation games that sold nationally and internationally, a national lecturer, peace activist, competitive tennis player, juggler and mime.
Born in Los Angeles on April 12, 1932, Richard Powers received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State College at Los Angeles in 1959, and his master’s degree in psychology from California State College at Los Angeles in1962. He earned a Ph. D degree in psychology from Arizona State University in1967.
When he received his Ph.D., he took a job as assistant professor of psychology at Eastern Washington State College, Cheney, Wash. The family moved to Logan, Utah, in 1969, where he was an assistant professor and then full professor of psychology at Utah State University until 1987, when he took early retirement and moved to Oceanside, Oregon. In Tillamook, Oregon, he taught several courses at Tillamook Bay Community College between 1991 and 1996, including The Pacific Northwest Salmon Crisis, Personal Growth and Interpersonal Awareness and Conflict Resolution.
While he was in Logan in the mid-1970s, he took a course in mime that would lead to a troupe of performers drawn from his fellow students. The troupe, which included from two to eight actors with a core of five or six, rehearsed every morning at 6 a.m., which eliminated half-hearted pretenders. He later recalled that the 6 a.m. rehearsal time “cut out 99 percent of the guys who said they wanted to do it.” The troupe performed in Logan as well as in distant places such as Michigan.
In 2000, Richard started a writers’ group with Nancy Slavin and other local writers. Slavin described the dynamic as having “a lot of laughter; he helped really bring that out. To me, Richard is a respected elder whose wisdom and through his career, imparting that wisdom to me was incredible.” In 2009, Richard wrote a three-act play, “Hearts,” about a 76-year-old Alzheimer’s patient in an assisted living home who falls in love with a woman resident who also has Alzheimer’s. Richard later said he wrote the play because he was “terrified of getting Alzheimer’s and losing the sense of a self. He also wrote a book, “The Astoria Chinatown Conspiracy,” published in 2011. It was set in the late 1880s, it’s the story of the murders of a Chinese grocer and a young Caucasian woman during a period of anti-Chinese racial hatred in Astoria.
His introduction to simulation and gaming was short but effective. As he recalled it: “My initial experience with the world of simulation and gaming occurred at the first NASAGA (North American Simulation and Gaming Association) conference in 1975. I stepped into a crowded elevator that was on its way up to the registration desk where this East Indian fellow with a thick accent (SivasailamThiagarajan aka Thiagi) was demonstrating how to play number games on his calculator. That year, I was teaching statistics to social science majors and knew how anxious my students were about math and calculators so I was keenly interested in his spiel. Thiagi held us spellbound as we followed his instructions to make our calculators read the same as his and by the time we reached our stop on the elevator, I was sold on using calculator games in my class. So before I even registered for my first conference, I had experienced the excitement of games and of their power to educate.”
Shortly after moving to Oregon, he convinced Elizabeth Furse, co-founder of the Oregon Peace Institute, that more educators should use simulations and games to teach conflict resolution, prejudice reduction, and related peace topics. He and another member traveled throughout Oregon teaching these topics to students in high schools and colleges.
After the Peace Institute closed due to lack of funding, Richard taught courses in the Portland State University Conflict Resolution Department using only simulation and games. His facilitator, Kat Kirkpatrick, and he developed a weekend course called “Playing with Conflict.” He thought it the most fun and effective course he ever taught.
His awards included the College of Education, Teacher of the Year, 1986; Utah State University “Last Lecture” award, 1986. (Annual award given by Honor Students); and the Don Ifill and Gennie Raynolds Memorial Award for Lifetime contribution to the field of Simulation and Gaming, 1997,presented by the North American Simulation and Gaming Association, Portland, Oregon. He recently said his motto of education can be summed up: There’s no reason why learning can’t be fun.
Richard Brian Powers is survived by his wife Elki, his daughter Tia Ma and his son Matthew. A memorial gathering will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 12, 2014, in the Bay City Arts Center, 5680 A Street, Bay City. Waud’s Funeral Home, 1414Third Street, Tillamook, is in charge of arrangements. His classic simulation The “New Commons Game” will be a part of the 2014 NASAGA Conference in October.