Photography program founder dies

David Rathbun
David Rathbun
Image Credit: Andrew Terzes

David Rathbun, founder of the university's photography program, died April 9 at age 77.

Rathbun retired from Grand Valley in 2017 and was promoted at that time to professor emeritus. He founded the photography program in 1981 and over the ensuing decades grew the major while infusing it with a strong liberal education emphasis.

During his tenure at Grand Valley, he was an active member of the Faculty Senate and chair of the university curriculum committee. 

Born in Denver in 1943, Rathbun earned his bachelor's degree in literature from Wheaton College in Illinois. 

Rathbun became a leading expert in color photography as that approach was emerging. He was invited to teach and develop a program in color photography at the Institute of Design in Chicago, which he did from 1975 to 1981, and was one of the early photographers to have color images included in exhibits.

Besides photography, Rathbun also had a passion for sailing, having once set out with two friends for a trans-Atlantic voyage from Florida to Ireland that involved 42 days at sea, according to his obituary. Rathbun lived and sailed out of Saugatuck and was active with the Saugatuck Yacht Club.