Wednesday, May 14, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Luvern Rieke, ex-dean at UW school of law, dies at 81

Seattle Times staff reporter

Luvern "Vern" Rieke, a former dean of the University of Washington Law School and lifelong active Lutheran, died Friday, May 9, of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 81. Throughout his life, he tried to make the world a more equal place, according to friends and family.

"He was the soul of fairness," said his wife, Jane Rieke.

As a law-school professor, he would grade exams one question at a time, in batches of 10 punctuated with short walks to reset his mind. He even shuffled the numbered exams between questions to maintain impartiality.

He mentored minority students at the law school and was appointed by a U.S. district court judge to administer the racial integration of some trade unions.

As a member of the church council of The American Lutheran Church, Mr. Rieke made the initial motion to ordain women as pastors. It became church policy in 1970.

He sought to make divorces less of a battle, working to change state laws so that couples didn't have to prove fault to dissolve marriages.

He also helped write the 1988 Parenting Act to safeguard children during their parents' separations by requiring parents to have a detailed parenting plan that includes visitation schedules and the role of each parent.

"Vern believed that he had a responsibility to use his talents to help, and he helped try to make things more civil and helped try to make things more fair," said Marlin Appelwick, a Washington state appellate judge, former state legislator and Mr. Rieke's former law student.

Mr. Rieke was born in Odessa, Lincoln County. His family moved to Cashmere, Chelan County. His father, Henry Rieke, founded the Cashmere Valley Bank.

As a youngster, he was active in the local Lutheran church, played football and was on the high-school debate team. When he graduated in 1940, he went east to Capital University, a Lutheran school in Columbus, Ohio.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Mr. Rieke left college and joined the Army Air Corps. As an officer with the 308th (Heavy) Bombardment Group, he served in China and India, and flew over the Himalayan "Hump" 50 times.

He left the service as a captain, having earned the Bronze Star and seven battle stars.

During the four years Mr. Rieke was in the military, he began corresponding with his future wife, Anna Jane Bierstedt, a fellow student also on the debate team at Capital.

The two wrote each other once a week during the war, but they weren't love letters, his wife insists: "No mushy stuff at all."

Still, "I probably knew him better from the letters than I would have otherwise," she said.

When he came home on Oct. 31, 1945, "I just knew," she said. They married on June 24, 1946.

The Riekes moved to Seattle, where he attended the University of Washington, earning an undergraduate degree and law degree in 1949.

A star student and former editor-in-chief of the Washington Law Review, Mr. Rieke was tapped to fill a teaching spot at the law school. He found he loved teaching and made it a lifelong career, teaching contracts and family law.

He was known by his students as "Old Hide-the-Ball Rieke" for his Socratic style of instruction. "He was inquisitive; he genuinely wanted to know what you thought," said Appelwick.

He served as acting dean from September 1968 to March 1970. He helped raise his children by quiet example, spending time with them hiking in the Cascades and at the family cabin near Wenatchee.

He was a vital force at Faith Lutheran Church in North Seattle, where he was a constant presence at worship services and as a volunteer. His wife described him as a quiet man who seemed "always the last in line at the potluck."

Mr. Rieke often told her that the Ten Commandments were but "God's poverty plan," the minimum a person could achieve.

"He was a number-one, sweat-equity person," said the Rev. Nancy Winder, pastor at the church. "He was there every day, doing something."

Days before his death, he was helping build shelves at the church.

Along with his wife, Mr. Rieke is survived by his children, Paul Rieke of Shoreline, Janis Cunningham of Lake Forest Park and David Brauer-Rieke of Milton-Freewater, Ore; brothers Robert Rieke of Kent and William Rieke of Parkland, Pierce County; and seven grandchildren.

Services will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Faith Lutheran Church, 8208 18th Ave. N.E., Seattle, 98115. Memorials may be sent to the Faith Lutheran Church Building Remodel Fund at the same address.

Sarah Anne Wright: 206-464-2752 or


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