PULLMAN, Wash.–Washington State University Professor Richard Crain, 66, known to the university, Pullman community, statewide educators and Boy Scout organizers as an exemplary engineering teacher and builder of character, died Wednesday, Aug. 27, at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane.
Services will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 31, at Simpson United Methodist Church in Pullman. Visitation hours are 4-7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30 at the Kimball Funeral Home in Pullman.
Crain had overcome cancer 13 years ago, but complications from this earlier treatment caused his death. His dedication to students and engineering education were apparent even in his last two weeks as he dictated back-to-school chores from the hospital.
“Dick Crain’s passing is a tremendous loss to WSU, ” said President Samuel Smith. “My condolences go to Dick’s family, colleagues, friends and all of those whose lives he has touched over the years. He was a role model as a teacher, as an administrator, and especially through his work with the Boy Scouts, as a tireless community servant. Dick will never be forgotten.”
Crain had received the highest national, regional and local honors of his profession, of Boy Scouts, and the numerous organizations and causes in which he participated. He was elected as a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in May 1996. This highest distinction of the national mechanical engineering professional association recognized not only Crain’s career at WSU, but his influence on the profession by teaming with other engineering educators statewide to develop lower-division engineering design curriculum and standards.
His nominator and colleague, Professor Clayton Crowe, said Crain had devoted decades to improving the quality and accessibility of engineering education at the local, regional and national levels. “He spearheaded curriculum development to integrate engineering design at the freshman and sophomore levels emphasizing the importance of communication skills, teamwork and participatory learning in design. He also played a key role in the adoption of engineering design in pre-engineering courses at community colleges to provide a meaningful lower-division design experience before transfer to a four-year institution.”
For these statewide efforts, Dr. Crain was recognized by Boeing as one of a small number of Outstanding Educators in 1995 and 1996. He also received WSU’s 1996 Sahlin Award for Excellence in Instruction.
Throughout his 32 years as a teacher, he won numerous awards for his outreach and educational efforts beyond the classroom — including several decades of leadership as Pullman’s Scoutmaster.
“To receive one of these prestigious professional honors is quite an accomplishment in itself, but three in one year (1996) is more than remarkable,” says Robert Altenkirch, WSU’s engineering dean. “The odds are actually about one in two million, so it’s clear that Dr. Crain is one of a handful of engineering educators in the country of such accomplishment and influence on learning.”
Crain’s teaching style evolved into “as little lecturing as possible, with plenty of team learning, doing and dialogue,” he said in 1996. His classroom on occasion transformed into gigantic water sloshes, catapults, or other wizardry in action. His goal, he said, was to show students how to become enthusiastic and capable self-directed learners for a lifetime.
In keeping with his service-oriented style, Crain immersed himself in university service as co-chair the university’s Faculty-Staff fund-raising campaign, as several-time officer of the Faculty Senate, as one-time dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture, earlier chair of the mechanical engineering department, and numerous other leadership roles. He credited his many years as a Pullman Scoutmaster for his service mentality.
“I guess I said the Scout pledge so long that it became part of me,” he said. “I tend to be loyal to my associations. If we really believe in them, then we support them.”
Born in Denver, Colo., Crain earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1965, and his master’s and bachelor’s degrees from the University of Washington in 1955 and 1953. He joined the WSU faculty in 1965 and associated with Varian Radiation in 1987-88, Battelle PNNL in 1966-67, and was a ship superintendent and engineering officer in the U.S. Navy 1955-61. His research involved thermodynamics, power and energy systems; and his teaching focused on design, creativity and technology in society, among other aspects.
He is survived by his wife, Carolee, and daughter Ruth Ryan, both of Pullman; two other daughters, Carolyn Wiley of Ferndale, and Laura Crain, of Ventura, Calif.; three sons, Richard of Seattle, David in Maine, and Andrew of the Los Angeles area; mother Martha Crain of Seattle; sisters, Emily Fitzgerald, Albuquerque, N.M., Marth Jean Flaherty, Seattle, and Aurelia McCall, Seattle; and 10 grandchildren.
WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering Director Stephen Antolovich said a Memorial will be established in Dr. Crain’s honor, “because he clearly was the spirit of our undergraduate education program here. He had a major impact on the education in our college. He began the MME Merit Program a couple of years ago to reach out and involve students in the subject as freshmen; and he was the guiding light of our freshman Innovations in Engineering class, which exposed students to the creative aspects and excitement of engineering.”
Service and stimulation came naturally to Dr. Crain, said his many colleagues and students — thousands whom he advised throughout his career. “The vast majority of our living alumni have been advised by Dick Crain,” said Antolovich. “All he did — without fanfare — can never be replaced.”

nh134-97