Walter Roscoe Higbee (February 25, 1927-January 22, 2009)
Walter Higbee was born south of Des Moines, Iowa, in a small town called Milo where he would spend his childhood. His parents were Claude and Mabel Higbee, and his father worked as a livestock veterinarian. Early in his life, Walter imagined he might follow his father’s footsteps in this profession. In his teen years, the second World War began igniting across the world. Walter experienced a heavy atmosphere in his town during these years, as many of his peers and townsmen were eager to join the fight. His brother, Max, enlisted in the Navy at the start of the war. At age 16, Walter was employed at a munitions factory for two years. When he finished his high school education in 1944, he enlisted in the United States Army and was sent to Texas for basic military training.
He completed his training in 1945, and was sent to the Philippines on a troop ship. He arrived in the Philippines just after the Japanese surrender, and was stationed there for one year. At just eighteen years old, Walter became a prison guard at a prisoner of war camp. For most of the duration, his post was quiet and uneventful, save for one night when he was tasked with taking two Japanese prisoners to a nearby beach to collect sand. They drove down to the beach in an Army pickup and began their duty, as they had done several times before. To Walter’s dismay, several local Filipino men accosted his party, and began heckling them. Their anger began building, and they meant to murder the Japanese prisoners. Walter knew he had a responsibility for their safety, and defended the men honorably, despite being outnumbered. Somehow, he was able to dissuade the men from their action long enough to get the prisoners away. In spite of this intense encounter, Walter developed a love for the Filipino people and their country. As the world began to pick up the pieces of the most destructive conflict in human history, Walter finished his enlistment without any further trouble. He never felt any malice or hatred for the Japanese people, and he understood the nuances of the conflict. He did not feel a personal sense of pride or glory from his time in the military, and for the rest of his life, spoke little about his experiences. For Walter, he simply knew that there was a job to be done, and someone had to do it. The humility of the heroes of the second World War found itself comfortably in Walter.
After his enlistment, he returned home, not sure of what to do with his life. He had developed quite a keen ability at the game of billiards, and had fantasized about a professional career playing the game. However, life had other plans for Walter, as his brother Max convinced him to utilize his G.I. bill and attend higher education. He attended Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, where he would greatly excel. He took a powerful interest in psychology during his time in college, which would influence his graduate studies. He attended the University of Iowa for graduate school, and also received a degree from the University of Minnesota. His first job out of school was at the state mental hospital in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. It was there in Mt. Pleasant that he met his future wife, Marion Winjum. They were married in 1951 in Red Wing, Minnesota. His family grew as they had six children in total.
After moving several times, Walter and his family settled in Spearfish, South Dakota, in the early 1960s. Walter began working at Black Hills Teachers College in 1966, hired by President Russell E. Jonas. The campus was much smaller then, with only five buildings, and the vast majority of students were veterans of World War II. Walter, now Dr. Walter Higbee, worked for the School of Education, teaching classes about special education, and over the course of his career, he would greatly expand the scale and scope of the program. He became extremely knowledgeable in the field, publishing several articles in scholarly journals. He even traveled to the Soviet Union to further study special education. Walter was the first recipient of the university’s Distinguished Faculty award in 1987, the highest honor the university can bestow.
Walter was well liked in academia and the community. His charm and wit made the lives of everyone around him better. His skill at writing was beneficial to all, as he would write for the campus newspaper, telling stories of his life and sharing humorous anecdotes. On some occasions, if Walter disagreed with a campus or university policy, he would write humorous memos to all the staff, mocking the policies. The faculty cherished these delightful tidbits. When Walter retired in 1992, the Rapid City Journal offered him a position and asked him to pen a column that was geared towards his generation. In all eras of his life, Walter was a joy to the people around him. He led a deeply fulfilling life: from the students he guided, to the educational and amusing writing he produced, to his unfailing support for his community and family. On January 22, 2009, at the age of 81, he passed away at his home. He is buried at the Black Hills National Cemetery near Sturgis, South Dakota.