Dean Thomas Schau, the economist and Columbia Basin College professor who used numbers and history to tell the story of how the Tri-Cities became an urbanized community, died Oct. 19 at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland after a fall in his Pasco home.
He was 71.
Before retiring, Schau held two influential positions, using them both to share the story of how the Tri-Cities grew from a small farming community into one of Washington’s fastest-growing metros, now of 316,000.
He was the regional labor economist for the Washington Employment Security Department, where he leveraged the state’s vast database of employment and income statistics to describe how industry grew after the Atomic Energy Commission chose Hanford for the Manhattan Project during World War II.
He traced growth from agriculture to government to retail to construction to health care.
The Tri-City Herald and other media regularly relied on Schau to provide context for stories about housing and the demographics that convinced developers to build hotels, shopping centers and apartment complexes here.
He spoke regularly on the state of the economy at chamber luncheons, Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC) gatherings and other business events.
In his second position, he was a professor of economics at Columbia Basin College, where he mixed compassion for students who were often the first in their families to pursue higher education with awe at the experiences they brought to his classroom.
Schau was born and raised in Seattle, the youngest of three.
He attended Seattle’s O’Dea High School and community college in Seattle before completing a bachelor’s degree in economics at Central Washington University in Ellensburg and a master’s at Washington State University in Pullman.
Schau met his wife, Jean, at CWU. The pair were inseparable for the 53 years that followed. They recently celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary.
Schau, an avid reader who had dyslexia, regularly called his wife a partner in his career for her work navigating through documents and reports.
He moved to the Tri-Cities for what was supposed to be a short stint with the state employment agency.
Instead, the couple settled in the Tri-Cities after he was offered a job teaching night classes at CBC, a role that grew to be a full-time teaching position that lasted some 25 years.
In retirement, the couple divided their time between Pasco, where they retreated from the rain for the winter, and Camano Island, where they retreated from the heat for the summer.
In addition to his wife, Schau is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, Edward and Mary Schau of Seattle; his mother, Doreen Schau of Seattle; and by numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his father, Edward Schau, and his sister, Randi Robinson.
Einan’s at Sunset is in charge of the arrangements.
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