Last fall in Vancouver, with the voter registration deadline looming, Dan Ogden ’44 wasn’t about to be held up by Parkinson’s disease or two artificial hips.
He pushed his walker around his new apartment complex and through a recently completed cul-de-sac to make sure his neighbors could take part in the November general election. At his side was Val Ogden ’46, his partner in Democratic Party politics and wife of 66 years. She was spry enough to negotiate steps and stairways to ring doorbells beyond her husband’s reach.
The Ogdens are in their seventh decade of political and social activism—with roots going back to their student days at Washington State College in the 1940s—and neither has any intention of retiring to a recliner. Val, 89, ran the local YWCA and then represented the area in the State House of Representatives for 12 years, ending in 2002. Dan, 91, is a past chairman of the Clark County Democratic Central Committee and has been active in the party whenever he wasn’t working for the federal government.
“I’m 62 and they wear me out,” says Marsha Manning, district chairwoman of the Washington State Democratic Central Committee. “They have something going on every day.”
Among the Ogdens’ many accomplishments is an unwavering support of the WSU Vancouver campus. As a state lawmaker, Val Ogden pushed for funding to open and expand the campus in the Salmon Creek area on the north side of Vancouver. The couple endowed the campus’s first graduate-level scholarship, which supports a public affairs student.
“When Dan and Val become active in something, they become very involved,” says Jennifer Miltenberger. As director of development and alumni relations for the Vancouver campus, she has long been amazed by Val Ogden’s energy. “She can run circles around all of us.”
Late last year, the campus honored the couple with its Community Award of Distinction for Community Partnership. The award has extra meaning because both are so deeply rooted in WSU, where they met and where two of their three children and two of their grandchildren have also earned degrees. “They bleed crimson and gray,” Miltenberger says.
Nearly 70 years after receiving their own degrees, the Ogdens get fired up when the discussion turns to higher education and the shifting of college costs from state funding to students. “What we’re doing is erecting a barrier to higher education,” Dan Ogden says, “and that’s not in the interest of society at all.”
The couple met in Pullman in 1946. Dan Ogden had already completed a degree in political science and served in the U.S. Army at the close of World War II. He returned to campus to visit a friend and met Valeria Munson as she was wrapping up her degree in sociology. They married that December.
Dan Ogden went on to earn advanced degrees in political science at the University of Chicago, where his doctoral dissertation explored federal power policy in the Pacific Northwest. Last December, more than six decades later, he updated that history with a second volume that is finding a home at public power agencies throughout the region.
Ogden started his academic career teaching political science for 12 years in Pullman, where some might recall the 1956 mock political convention he organized for more than 1,000 students. After Pullman, he held a variety of jobs with federal agencies, universities, and public power organizations. The work took the Ogdens from Washington to Washington, D.C., and back again.
During the 1960s, he was assistant director of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation and later budget director for the U.S. Department of Interior. He helped advance bills that brought about today’s National Trails and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System as well as national parks in Washington’s North Cascades and California’s Redwood Forest. He retired back to the Pacific Northwest in 1988, but delivered lectures for another 20 years.
Meanwhile, Val Ogden worked in the non-profit sector, including Campfire Girls of America and the Southwest Washington Center for the Arts. In 1990, a year after retiring from YWCA in Clark County, she was urged to run for office. Both Ogdens had lost races running as Democrats in Republican-majority districts while living in Colorado during the 1970s, but this time she had the edge in party registration and swept into office.
As a legislator, she took a special interest in promoting education and equality. She was a strong ally for state-run schools for the blind and deaf located in her district, and fought for WSU’s new campus.
Lately, Val Ogden keeps a full calendar, serving on the WSU Vancouver Advisory Council and on a roster of nonprofit organizations focusing on education and the arts. When she’s not out in the community, she is home cranking out 15 to 20 emails a day and staying connected to friends, family, and her community through Facebook and LinkedIn. Both fill their days with work for the Democratic Party, their Unitarian church, local arts organizations, and travel.
“There’s too much to do,” Val Ogden says just a day after hosting a houseful of Democrats for a training session. “It’s too interesting.”