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Kurt L. Othberg

August 8, 1944 February 10, 2019
Kurt L. Othberg
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Obituary for Kurt L. Othberg

WALLA WALLA – Kurt Lynn Othberg, 74, dearly beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, and friend to many, passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack, on February 10th, at his home in Walla Walla.
Kurt and his spouse, Susan Palmer, mutually supported their respective careers and one another by commuting between Walla Walla, WA and Moscow, ID for 17 of their 32 years together, after Susan accepted a faculty position at Walla Walla Community College. They managed to maintain their loving relationship on solid ground, despite the grinding weekly commute. Walla Walla became their permanent home in 2007 where they occupied a “piece of paradise,” cultivating an inviting space for large family gatherings. Kurt faithfully read The Seattle Times daily, printing out the Hocus Focus and Jumble puzzles to do with Susan, a practice they maintained throughout their marriage. When not commuting, they were like the letters Q and U, inseparable.
Kurt loved his family profoundly, was remarkably supportive of, and deeply engaged in the lives of his spouse, daughters, and grandchildren. “Abuelo and Abuela” were devoted to their grandchildren. During various school breaks, Kurt found time to expertly plan excursions and activities with grandchildren visiting their home, which he lovingly nicknamed “Camp Abuelo.” Kurt also enjoyed an unusually close relationship with his in-laws, Neil and Evelyn Palmer.
A joyous soul, Kurt loved jazz, the outdoors, summer camping trips with Susan, his children, and grandchildren. He enjoyed hiking, biking, rowing in his handmade wooden row boat, and above all sailing, especially winding through the San Juan Islands with family and friends. Always a cat lover, Kurt leaves behind pets, Neblina and Nublado, who thought Kurt was the cat’s meow. Kurt was also known worldwide for his love affair with his Volvos over the years!
He was a builder and a fixer, built three houses, loved a home project, and never met a challenge he didn’t enjoy tackling, be it at home, at work, or in his garage. His visits to his daughters in Seattle were always the source of great anticipation. Kurt was invariably met with long lists of “Dad’s To-Dos”—an assortment of broken door locks, fixtures, appliances, and myriad electrical and mechanical issues that would send any lesser dad running. He embraced it all with great enthusiasm and joy, succeeded (more times than not) in fixing whatever needed fixing, and enjoyed the results of his “dad labor” with cold Coronas at the end of the day, followed by his favorite evening libation—a splash of Cutty Sark scotch by the fireplace, after a family dinner.
Kurt particularly enjoyed a long and lasting deep friendship with Loudon Stanford of Moscow, ID, with whom he conducted geologic research and mapping. His love for science was shared with Loudon in many research trips and adventures afield. Together they laughed, hiked, sailed, camped, rowed, and retreated into the Sawtooth Mountains whenever they could.
Kurt was a nationally-recognized geologist who directed the Idaho Geological Survey (IGS) and taught at three colleges and two universities. Known for his easy laugh, keen intellect, and scientific curiosity, Kurt maintained a busy schedule and active research agenda, even in retirement. His specialties included geomorphology, environmental geology, earthquakes, and geological mapping.
Kurt was born Aug. 8, 1944, in Denver, CO to Richard Charles Othberg and Jean Agnes Irwin Othberg. He attended school at Western Washington State College (now University) in Bellingham, earning a bachelor’s degree in science education. Kurt then joined the U.S. Navy, serving as an officer aboard the USS Enterprise during the Vietnam War, including when the Enterprise experienced an accidental explosion and major fire in January of 1969. Kurt dutifully served his country, but was known for being a lifelong advocate for peace.
After his honorable discharge from the Navy in 1970, Kurt enrolled at the University of Washington, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in geological sciences. He then returned to Western, earning a master’s degree in 1973, writing a thesis about the paleomagnetism of the Pleistocene sediments of the Puget lowland of Washington. He became a geologist for the Washington State Division of Geology and Earth Resources in Olympia, while teaching geology part time at The Evergreen State College and Tacoma Community College.
In 1980, Kurt moved to Moscow, ID, where he was a senior geologist for the Idaho Bureau of Mines and Geology (now the Idaho Geological Survey) based at the University of Idaho. He completed his Ph.D. in 1991. His doctoral dissertation was titled “Geology and Geomorphology of the Boise Valley and Adjoining Areas, Western Snake River Plain, Idaho.”
Much admired by colleagues and the profession, he was a prolific reader and writer, co-authoring over 100 papers and geologic maps, in a career that spanned over 40 years. As a testament to his love of work and science, Kurt retired in 2011, but continued to work part time for the Idaho Geological Survey (IGS) until his passing.
Dedicated to furthering earth science education throughout Idaho and nationally, he served as an academic mentor to numerous students during his long career. He spearheaded and led annual summer workshops for Idaho educators of K-12 earth science—an IGS partnership with the Idaho Science Teachers Association (in which he was actively involved for many years).
In addition to his spouse, Susan Palmer, survivors include three daughters, Alina Carol Othberg (Marco V. Pinheiro) of Normandy Park, WA, Miranda Rose Othberg (Brad Falletta) of West Seattle, WA, and Erin Meredith Palmer Esteban (Julio Esteban Mejia) of Renton, WA. He is also survived by his sister, Anita Othberg Thompson (Ed Thompson) of Bellingham, WA, his brother, Kent Othberg (Regina Knake Othberg) of Las Vegas, NV, and eight grandchildren: Logan, Rosa, April, Melonie, Kurt, Janelle, Isabelle and Adrian, and many beloved nieces and nephews.
Cremation services were arranged by Mountain View-Colonial DeWitt in Walla Walla, WA. A celebration of Kurt’s life will be held on Saturday, April 6th in Walla Walla. Celebration details will be available at
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions to the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute (PCEI) in Moscow, ID, or the charity of one’s choice.

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