The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 53
By CHRISTINE COOK,
Published: April 4 2012
Whenever Dr. Don Summers entered a room, he was whistling.
“I never knew what he was whistling,” said Mark Oppenlander, director for the Center for Applied Learning.
Then Oppenlander paused.
“I still don’t know if I’ve grasped that I’ll never see him again,” he said.
Dr. Don Summers, clinical instructor of the School of Business and Economics, died March 19 at age 68, after a four-month battle with brain cancer.
This is the second death in the School of Business and Economics over the last two years; Dr. Lisa Klein Surdyk, associate professor of economics, died Dec. 6, 2009.
Dr. Summers died while teaching at Duy Tan University in Vietnam. At the time of his death, he was doing what he loved most: teaching students how to develop and execute a social venture business, said Dr. Gary Karns, associate dean for graduate studies and professor of marketing.
“Even though he was diagnosed and underwent treatment, he had committed to [teaching in Vietnam over spring break], so he still went,” said Dr. Randy Franz, associate professor of management.
Dr. Karns remembers Dr. Summers as a traveler.
“Almost every summer, [Dr. Summers and his wife, Linda] would go off on some kind of adventure,” Dr. Karns said. “That’s what he was doing when he died. He was on an adventure.”
On Nov. 20, 2011, Dr. Summers was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a cancerous brain tumor.
Dr. Summers eventually informed his staff of his diagnosis and immediately underwent cranium surgery to remove the deadly tumor.
Following the surgery, Dr. Summers underwent six weeks of radiation treatment as well as chemotherapy.
He took a break from teaching as he underwent treatment.
In a phone interview before his trip, Dr. Summers said that he wanted to come back and teach.
“I miss my students,” he said.
Oppenlander said Dr. Summers loved the outdoors.
During his life, Dr. Summers hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro, biked Mt. Rainer and enjoyed snowshoeing with his dog, Barclay.
“That’s part of the shock for all of us,” Oppenlander said. “Don was a vital, energetic man, and then he was diagnosed with something so serious and taken so quickly.”
Dr. Summers was the man behind the Social Venture Plan Competition, a competition that encourages students to develop entrepreneurial skills by creating solutions for social needs.
Dr. Karns said the competition was a natural fit for Dr. Summers.
“It tied together his concern for using business to do good and an intimate, implied approach to education,” Dr. Karns said.
Dr. Franz said the competition was Dr. Summers’ imprint at Seattle Pacific.
After Sheila Vortman, then-director of the Center for Applied Learning, established the competition in 2007, Dr. Summers took on a leadership role and developed the event.
The competition has become a signature experience at SPU, Dr. Franz said.
“He’s a tireless advocate for social venture,” he said.
Dr. Summers developed relationships with other schools, including Duy Tan University in Vietnam, to get them involved in the competition, Oppenlander said.
Oppenlander hopes that there will be some way to lift up Dr. Summers’ memory during this year’s competition.
Oppenlander and Dr. Franz hope to achieve this through expansion of the program.
“I hope the project continues to grow in ways Don would be proud of,” Oppenlander said.
“His dream was to have a playoff round with students on other campuses,” Dr. Franz said. “That would be a wonderful legacy of Don’s.”
Dr. Summers was also the face of the new Master of Arts in social and sustainable management degree.
“He was the faculty point-person for students coming into the [new] program,” Dr. Franz said.
Dr. Summers was born in Highland Park, Mich. and earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and his master’s and doctorate from Boston University.
“He’s got that Midwestern warmth,” Oppenlander said. “When he wanders into a room, you trust him immediately.”
Dr. Summers held numerous positions at the Bank of Boston before coming to Seattle in 1985 and eventually starting Meridian Consulting Group, Inc.
He was selected as the SPU School of Business and Economics Adjunct Teacher of the Year for 2005-2006 and received the Dean’s Award in 2007-2008.
He leaves behind daughters Cailen and Emily and his wife of 46 years, Linda.
Dr. Karns noted Dr. Summers encouraging spirit.
“His students resonated very much with his affable nature,” Dr. Karns said.
“Students could sit down with him when they were discouraged, and he’d look them in the eye and say ‘I believe in you’,” Oppenlander said.
Dr. Summers was one-of-a-kind, Dr. Franz said.
“He’s one of those iconic personalities,” he said. “It will be impossible to replace him.”
In the interview just before spring break, Dr. Summers gave a message to his students.
“I want my students to know,” he said, “that it has been a wonderful opportunity to teach them and work with them. I’ve enjoyed watching them grow and become more confident in the workforce.
“I am very proud of my students.”
A celebration of Dr. Summer’s life will be held at 1 p.m. on April 28 at the Boys and Girls Club at 4120 86th Ave. SE on Mercer Island.
The family asks that in lieu of flowers, memorials be made to the Donald Summers Memorial Scholarship Fund being established for Duy Tan University or the Social Venture Contest Awards Fund at SPU.
Former Falcon staff member Ava Van contributed to reporting for this story.
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