Travis Houser died peacefully on May 18th at the Salt Lake City Veterans Home, where he received wonderful care for the last 14 months of his life.
Travis was born on September 1, 1924 in San Francisco. Because his father was an army officer, the family moved frequently. They lived in Hawaii for four years, right off of Waikiki Beach. While there, he swam and sailed with local boys and developed a lifelong love of sailing. During his adolescence, his father was posted at Langley Field and Travis went to Hampton High School in Hampton, Virginia. There he met Meg Mason, whom he later married; she was a beautiful, brilliant, warm, witty, but complicated woman.
In 1942, he was drafted, and chose to enlist in the Army's 11th Airborne Division and served as a paratrooper in the Pacific Theater during World War II. While he was with his division in New Guinea, he received a Presidential appointment to West Point. He returned to the United States and attended West Point for one year. Having always been an independent thinker and something of a rebel, he realized that military life was not for him, so he transferred to Bard College, from which he graduated in 1949.
In the meantime, he had married Meg Mason and, in 1948, they had their first child, Maria. In 1949, the family moved to Washington State, where they had three more children, Kristin, Hugh, and Lucy. Travis had decided on a career as a teacher and taught in the Seattle public schools. Travis was active in organizing the first teachers' union in Seattle to fight for better salaries. He also received a master's degree in education from the University of Washington, while working full-time as a teacher and moonlighting as a cab driver. In 1959, he and Meg decided to move back East and ended up in upstate New York, where Travis got a job as a high school English teacher at Geneva High School. He was such a spirited and intellectually stimulating teacher that students really enjoyed his classes and remembered him decades later.
The Houser family moved into a beautiful old house in the country, in the village of MacDougall. There were happy times playing sports, playing in the creek and in the treehouse, and in the big old house itself, but it was a time of turmoil too, as Meg became unstable. Through it all, Travis worked hard to support the family but that was a time when mental illness was not well understood and the family, including Meg and Travis, suffered.
In 1967, having sent his two older daughters off to college with full scholarships, Travis entered a doctoral program at Cornell University in comparative education. He won a fellowship to study in Sweden for a year in 1969. After the year ended, his son Hugh decided to stay in Sweden and live with a friend's family because the schools were good and being abroad might create a path to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. Sadly, while he was in Sweden and in a moment of anger and/or depression, Hugh took his own life, on October 1, 1970.
Following that shattering experience, Travis picked himself up and finished his PhD. He moved into college administration, occupying several posts before ending up at Elgin Community College in Elgin, IL. He retired from ECC in 1996, when he was 72 years old. His wife had died in 1994, and he was then on his own. After grieving deeply, he moved on, as was his wont, and started a new phase of his life. He took tango, skiing, and sailing lessons. He bought a sail boat, which he named Widsith ("Wanderer") and sailed the Puget Sound for five years, living mostly on the boat. He also devoted himself to rescuing animals and strengthening his relationships with his family. He moved back to MacDougall in 2001 and spent a great deal of time working to re-build the house in MacDougall, which had been almost totally destroyed in a fire in 1975. His son-in-law Steve was his companion in this endeavor and they became fast friends in the process, later traveling to Hawaii and Spain together. Travis also ran the SPCA for Seneca County, New York, rescuing hundreds of animals.
In 2011, he started to become impaired by what was later diagnosed as Parkinson's Disease. He pulled up stakes and moved to Salt Lake City to be near his daughter Lucy and her son Tyeer. At his daughters' urging, he bought a house in the Sugar House neighborhood. This turned out to be a stroke of incredible good fortune for him, because not only was it a walkable neighborhood, but he also formed close friendships with his nearby neighbors Diane Stewart and Melissa Mendelson. In 2014, Lucy and her son Tyeer moved in with him and they created a mutually supportive, happy household that meant the world to Travis.
In his last years, Lucy took care of him so that he could remain in the home as long as possible, with the help of her son Tyeer and Diane Stewart, their neighbor. But the disease progressed, and he entered the Salt Lake Veterans Home in 2017. The staff there could not have provided better care or been more caring toward him and his family. They were amazing in their concern for his comfort and well-being, and their willingness to engage with him as a person who was more than his disease. Lucy visited nearly every day and Tyeer visited at least weekly, giving Travis a sense of purpose and engagement in life that sustained him to the end.
We remember him as a valiant and even heroic man, who faced adversity and sorrow but remained positive and upbeat, always full of plans and goals for the future. He loved deeply and well, and in his last few years of life this became all that was important to him - loving his people fiercely and fully. He had especially close relationships with his grandchildren, who loved him for his energetic, entertaining, and loving presence in their lives. Even when bedridden in a nursing home, he frequently commented in his daily calls with his daughter Kristin that "things are really going our way." He understood and accepted the severity of his impairments, yet maintained a sense of gratitude for life's victories and the love and care he experienced. We remember and will try to emulate his courage, his indomitable spirit, his humor, and his compassion.
Travis is preceded in death by his wife Meg (1924-94) and his son Hugh (1953-1970). He is survived by Maria Houser Conzemius and James Conzemius, Kristin Houser and Steven Scott, and Lucy Houser. He is also survived by Anna Scott Bell and Andrew Scott Bell, Jesse Conzemius and Rachel Hileman, Nicholas Scott and Samantha Wishman, Sarah Conzemius Quinn and Matthew Quinn, Tyeer Houser, Olzhas Binegar, Selamawit Binegar, and Walehwa Binegar. Thousands of students and hundreds of rescued animals survive him as well.
Friends are invited to attend a funeral service on Saturday, June 2, 2018 at 4:00 PM at Starks Funeral Parlor, 3651 South 900 East, Salt Lake City. A celebration of life will follow from 5:00 - 7:00 PM also at Starks. Guests are encouraged to use the complimentary valet parking on the north side of the building.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Utah State Resident Veterans Fund, 700 Foothill Dr., Salt Lake City, UT, 84148.