William Demmert, retired professor of education at WWU, passes away

Retired Western Washington University Education Professor William Demmert passed away quietly on Tuesday morning, Jan. 19, at the age of 75.

He is survived by his wife of 42 years, Nora, and their four children.

Of Oglalla Sioux and Tlingit heritage, Demmert received his doctorate in Education from Harvard in 1973. While attending the university, he worked in the U.S. Senate for Senators Ted Kennedy and Walter Mondale on the original Indian Education Act.

Over his career, Demmert has made extensive contributions in the areas of higher education, research and policy, advancing public understanding of issues related to Indigenous education and his extensive research into indigenous languages.

Among his many roles, he was one of the original founders of the National Indian Education Association; served as the first U.S. Deputy Commissioner of Education for the U.S. Office of Indian Education, in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare; served as the director of Education for the Bureau of Indian Affairs; held the position of Commissioner of Education for the State of Alaska; and served as a member of Clinton/Gore Council of Education Advisors, and member of the President-elect Transition Team.

Demmert’s work also included implementing a series of seminars in Norway, Sweden, Greenland, Finland, the Russian Federation and Canada, focusing on ways to improve educational opportunities for indigenous students in the far north.

Demmert also was working with the Northwest Region Educational Laboratory, the Kamehameha Schools, the Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence, and the Haskens Institute, along with a consortium of seven schools serving Native American students on research which address the influences of Native language and cultural education programs on improved academic performance. He was the 2009 recipient of the Mike Charleston Award for Distinguished Contributions to Research in Indigenous Education.

Demmert came to Western in 1992 and retired in 2008. A memorial service for Demmert will be held at 11 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 25, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bellingham.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - 10:53am