Longtime Tacoma civic leader and PLU dean Dick Moe dies at 90

Marcia and Dick Moe in their North Tacoma home, July 1, 2015.
Marcia and Dick Moe in their North Tacoma home, July 1, 2015. Staff photographer

Longtime Tacoma civic leader and Pacific Lutheran University dean Dick Moe died Dec. 28 in Arizona. He was 90.

The cause of death was pneumonia, according to Moe’s wife, Marcia. The Moes were spending winter in Sun City West.

Moe was well known in Pierce County, not only for his positions at PLU but also as a patron of the arts and as a community activist.

He served on the boards and volunteered on numerous civic organizations and non-profits. He served as a parks commissioner in the 1990s.

Moe was born May 7, 1928, in Fargo, N. D., the son of a Lutheran pastor. His parents grew up on adjoining farms in Minnesota, Marcia said.

After graduation from high school in Fargo, Moe walked across a bridge on the Red River to attend Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.

“It was a very nurturing environment,” Marcia said.

He eventually obtained a degree in math and education.

“He was always a numbers guy,” Marcia said. “You gave him a number and he remembered it forever.”

Moe’s time at Concordia was interrupted by World War II. He joined the U.S. Air Force and served two years in the Pacific.

He and his first wife, Lila, were married immediately after college. In addition to teaching and raising two daughters, he attended the University of Colorado for 10 summers to get his doctorate in education.

In 1965, Moe and his family moved to Tacoma for his job as an education professor at PLU.

He served various positions at the university. In 1975, he was named as the Dean of the School of Fine Arts, which included music, theater, dance and journalism.

“I’ve tried to live my life with gratitude,” Moe told The News Tribune’s Larry LaRue in 2015.

But Moe’s life was also marked by unimaginable tragedy.

Moe came home on Dec. 8, 1977, to find Lila, his wife of 26 years, badly beaten. She was alive, but died en route to a hospital.

Five months later, a jury found two men — neighbors of the Moes — guilty of murder in the course of a burglary that Lila had interrupted.

“How did I deal with Lila’s death? With good friends, colleagues at PLU, with my family,” Moe said. “I was totally surrounded by caring, thoughtful people.

“That, and I had so many happy memories of our lives together. I had a feeling of gratitude.”

“He had so many good memories that he wasn’t going to let anything take those memories from him,” Marcia said Thursday.

Marcia had met Moe in the late 1960s, when they were both part of a successful effort to bring the Joffrey Ballet for a visit to PLU. He was dean of the school of arts then, and Marcia spent time with both he and Lila.

After Lila’s death, when Moe and Marcia met again at one community gathering or another, he felt something that had been dormant for months come to life, he told LaRue.

Moe had only dated Lila before he met Marcia, so she suggested he date others.

“I took a woman to lunch, came back and called Marcia,” Moe said. “I said, ‘OK, I’ve dated. Can we get married now?’ ”

Dick asked more than 20 times. Finally, Marcia agreed and they were married in September 1979.

They each had two children, most of whom were young adults at the time.

Moe continued his career at PLU where he mentored faculty such as Dave Robbins, who has known Moe during Robbins’ 50-year career at PLU in music and now advancement.

“He was both my friend and my mentor and in many ways he was my professional father figure,” Robbins said Thursday. “Dick was one of those PLU icons who seemed to love the institution so deeply that he came to represent a deep and abiding connection between PLU and the community.”

Moe retired from PLU in 1993.

In 1991, Moe was elected as a Metropolitan Park District (Metro Parks Tacoma) commissioner.

“He was a big supporter of parks and recreation,” Marcia said. “It really broadened his life. It gave him a whole new life after school.”

In retirement, the Moes’ lives were filled with family and with community projects, from the League of Women Voters to the American Leadership Forum.

Moe was active in the formation of the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, now Tacoma Arts Live. Marcia said Moe played a major role in the rebirth of Tacoma in the 1990s and beyond. His interests were broad.

“He was on almost every arts board,” she said. “He’s been very active in Community Health Care, the parks. He was a tireless volunteer and fundraiser, be it for a building or program.”

In Arizona, Moe tutored elementary students at a public school in Surprise.

“He loved the kids and they loved him,” Marcia said. “I kept thinking, he doesn’t know new math, what’s he going to do? But, he figured it out.”

Moe was exercising and walking just before he contracted pneumonia and entered the hospital.

“He was a very vital person to the end,” Marcia said.

Along with Marcia, Moe is survived by children Brian Palmquist, Maren Armour, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda and Suzan Stegemoeller along with eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A celebration of life will be held on the PLU campus at 2 p.m. on March 2. (Rescheduled from Feb. 9 due to weather.)