Cover photo for Kenneth A. Dahlberg's Obituary
Kenneth A. Dahlberg Profile Photo
1935 Kenneth 2023

Kenneth A. Dahlberg

August 31, 1935 — May 1, 2023

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Kenneth Arthur Dahlberg (Ken) passed away peacefully on May 1, 2023, surrounded by his family. Ken was born August 31, 1935, in Denver, Colorado, the youngest of five children to Henry Winfred and Irene Cannon Dahlberg. Ken was raised in a Baptist household, and his uncle was a leader in the American Baptist Church. His uncle’s quote “For where the need of the world and your talents meet, that is where you are called of God to go” must have resonated with Ken, as his life was spent trying to address the needs of the world that he saw as most pressing. His summers were spent in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area, at the mountain cabin his father built in 1921 near Ward, and during high school breaks Ken worked with his siblings on their farm near Roggen. These experiences gave him an early appreciation for and understanding of the environment and small-scale agriculture.

At age 11, Ken’s vinegar and baking soda powered model airplane was featured in the local newspaper, an early glimpse into his creative mind. After graduating from Denver’s East High School in 1953, Ken received his BA in mathematics from Northwestern University in 1957. He then enlisted in the U.S. Army for two years, working in Intelligence as a photo interpreter while stationed in Wiesbaden and Heidelberg, Germany. After returning to the U.S., Ken earned his MA in political science from Stanford University in 1961 and then taught German at Bakersfield College for two years, where he met his first wife. In 1963, he moved to Boulder to pursue a PhD in political science at the University of Colorado. He was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and went to Brussels, Belgium in the fall of 1965 to write his dissertation, and graduated in 1966. Ken then moved to Kalamazoo to join the faculty of Western Michigan University, where he served as Professor of Political Science and Director of the Environmental Studies Program, retiring in 2001, although he continued to pursue his research as an Emeritus Professor.

Ken built an international reputation as a leading scholar in the areas of environmental affairs (particularly sustainable food and agricultural systems), appropriate technology, biological diversity, and international relations. He wrote numerous articles and several books, including “Beyond the Green Revolution,” which won the Harold and Margaret Sprout Award. In recognition of his work, Ken was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1982, and received the WMU Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award in 1991. Funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation supported his work.

Many organizations (ranging from local to international) benefitted from Ken’s participation and steady leadership over the years, including the International Studies Association and the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society. Ken was a Steering Committee member of ATTRA, served as an invited expert on several panels of the UN Center for Science and Technology for Development, was a member of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program, and was asked to serve on an advisory panel on appropriate technology by the Clinton Administration. Ken also believed in advocating locally, and was involved with the Asylum Lake Preservation Association, Kalamazoo Fair Food Matters, and the Michigan Land Trustees for 40 years. He also served on the Michigan Climate Action Council created in 2007 by Governor Granholm. Ken was passionate about righting the wrongs he saw in the world, and doing all he could to share his vision of how humans should be interacting with the planet as a whole, and the world is a better place for it.

Ken traveled extensively throughout his life, sometimes for enjoyment, but also to visit parts of the world that could benefit from his expertise in sustainable agriculture and appropriate technology. Highlights include a sabbatical at the University of Sussex in 1972-1973 with his young family, and a visiting professorship at the University of Wollongong in 1996-1997. Many family members used this as an opportunity to travel to Australia. Ken always made time to enjoy the unique natural beauty of wherever he was: he rode elephants in India, jet-boated in New Zealand, went whitewater rafting in Colorado, flew above Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef, the Caribbean, and Puerto Rico, hiked an active volcano in Hawaii, toured the pyramids in Egypt, stood on the shores of the Baltic Sea, visited Chichén Itzá and Tulum, and took a boat tour of the Dalmatian Islands, to name just a few of his adventures. When Ken returned from each trip, he would always give his daughters a thoughtfully selected gift from the area. Even when Ken was on the other side of the world, he shopped locally.

Music and art were an important part of Ken’s life. His homes were filled with artwork, several pieces from his parents, but most were by local artists in far flung parts of the world that he picked up during his travels, or at the Kalamazoo art fair. He named his daughters after famous opera singers, and would frequently listen to opera or classical music at a high volume, much to their chagrin. From his house on Woods Lake, he enjoyed watching the birds on the water; sometimes whistling their songs back to them.

On Father’s Day and his birthday, Ken’s daughters would make him gingerbread from his great-grandmother’s recipe, which he referred to as one of life's delicacies. Ken loved to relax with his family after a meal, which always included a large salad made from farmers market produce, and play board games. A favorite was “Back to the Farm,” a 1970’s Monopoly-style game about small organic farms and their challenges. Each day without fail, Ken would take a 20-minute “power nap,” something he picked up in the Army.

Ken was always physically active, and he loved the outdoors and nature, and spending time with his extended family. He brought his family to the Ward cabin every summer for many years and there were always family visits and hikes to Brainard and Long Lakes and up to Pawnee Pass on the Continental Divide. The extended Dahlberg family held regular reunions in Colorado; the first in 1921 at the Ward cabin and the last in 2015 at a sibling’s house for Ken’s 80th birthday. At Northwestern, Ken was captain of the gymnastics team and specialized in the flying rings. After being introduced to handball in the Army, Ken became an avid player, competing twice weekly for close to 50 years against several of his WMU colleagues. He regularly attended contra and English countryside dancing, and would sometimes bicycle to the office with his briefcase tied to a custom luggage rack. Ken also had a passion for cars, participating in road rallies in his MG, driving Pikes Peak, and owning a new 1960 Porsche. Later in life he loved driving the go-carts at Formula K and would bring a stopwatch to time himself.

Ken was a remarkable person. He was gentle, kind, generous and supportive, intelligent, thoughtful and had a pleasant demeanor with an engaging chuckle. He had great integrity, was selfless, always looked for the best in others, and was inclusive of all. Ken built up a close-knit group of lifelong friends, always sending cards and letters and making phone calls to keep in touch and coordinate about what was going on. His considerate nature saw international students sharing a Thanksgiving meal at his home over the years, and there were numerous dinner parties with friends. He was among the first to welcome a new face, and he delighted in working with students to broaden their view of the world and sharpen their critical thinking skills. He enjoyed serving as a mentor to others. Above all, Ken loved his family and cherished his time with them.

Ken is predeceased by his parents; brothers Henry W. Dahlberg, Jr. (Patsy and Edith) and Stanley Dahlberg; sisters Grace (Melvin) Gibson and Dorothy (Robert) Cordwell; and second wife Barbara Rullan Dahlberg. Surviving are his two daughters, Kirsten (Greg) Crawford of Portage, MI and Birgit (Ben) McCall of East Montpelier, VT; their mother Helen Wyss of Kalamazoo, MI; sister-in-laws Sue Dahlberg of Boulder, CO and Iris Dahlberg of Littleton, CO; twelve nieces and nephews and their spouses and families; several cousins; stepchildren James (Sandy) Hanson and children, and Carol Naylor (John Storer) and children; and his partner Caren Dybek, her children and their families.

Ken will be greatly missed by all who knew him. A Celebration of Life will be held on July 6, 2023 at the Kalamazoo Nature Center from 3:00-7:00 p.m. The family would like to thank the staff at Heritage Community and Centrica Care Navigators for their support of Ken, along with his longtime physician Dr. Robert LeFevre. Green burial has taken place according to his belief that he should nourish the earth as it nourished him. Memorial donations can be made to WMUK-FM radio. Condolences may be shared online at www.langelands.com

We love you Pop. Bye for now.

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