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THE PRESIDENT’S AWARD

THE PRESIDENT’S AWARD
honors special service to the Bar Association and to the community.

Alene Moris

"Women must hold up half the sky." — Lao Tzu

Born in Eastend, Saskatchewan in 1928 to Icelandic parents, Alene Moris survived three years of life — threatening pneumonia and rheumatic fever during the Depression. A year of forced bed rest was a "year of spiritual growth," a period in which she developed "a strong sense of obligation." Widespread poverty in the 1930s, her father’s involvement in local government and Canada’s entry into World War II provided the template for some of Alene’s developing baseline values: social and economic justice, the need to question "the establishment" and the value of peaceful resolution at individual, community and national levels.

When her father unexpectedly died in 1943, Alene’s mother, with little education but a good business sense, went to work. Shortly thereafter, Alene began her professional career in an isolated, one-room schoolhouse, walking several miles every day to teach 18 students in 10 grades. After graduating from St. Olaf College in 1949 with majors in music and English, Alene Thorum Ingebjorg Halvorson married her devoted husband of 47 years, Walt Moris. Walt’s Lutheran seminarian training and assigned parishes required several moves during the next 15 years so Alene worked teaching music in schools and churches.

Walt’s assignment to assist the Chinese Bishop in Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo profoundly changed Alene’s life. One night as she was crossing the South China Sea, Alene "experienced an intense spiritual awakening when I realized that women leaders were absolutely essential if we were ever to have a peaceful world."

In her last years in Southeast Asia, Alene agonized over our country’s involvement in the Vietnam War. She committed upon her return to the United States to challenge traditional power structures and to develop women’s leadership programs.

Walt’s next assignment brought the family back to the Midwest in 1969. The next year, Alene received a graduate degree in counseling from Northern Illinois University, while actively protesting the war with fellow students half her age. Walt and the family moved to a Seattle parish the next year. In 1971, Alene and Dorothy Strawn co-founded the Women’s Center at the University of Washington. The center’s purpose at that time was to assist and acclimate returning women to the rigors of a university setting. Shortly thereafter, she co-founded the Individual Development Center, a pioneering career counseling center for women and men facing major transitions in their lives and careers.

Perhaps some of Alene’s more gratifying work involved sexual harassment training at traditionally maledominated workplaces in the 1970s and ’80s. In some towns, where Alene’s views on equal treatment were not welcome, union bosses or employers tried to intimidate her. On occasion, her car’s tires were slashed or windshield smeared with "Get out of town." Alene never quit.

A few months ago, Alene published her autobiography, Awakenings: A Life Journey, and retired from consulting (almost!). Alene sincerely believes that women and men must share the rights and responsibilities for holding up the sky. Her convictions, tenacity, courage and dedication to social justice are an inspiration to us all.


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