Longtime Smoke Signals staff writer walks on

02.13.2024 Walking On
Smoke Signals file photo


Ronald Jeffrey Karten

Oct. 8, 1949 – Feb. 8, 2024

Former Smoke Signals staff writer Ronald Jeffrey Karten walked on peacefully surrounded by his family on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, at the age of 74 at Salem Hospital.

Karten, originally from Garden City, N.Y., worked as a staff writer for Smoke Signals from May 2002 until his retirement in February 2015. As the staff writer, Karten received numerous awards from the then-Native American Journalists Association for both feature and news writing, and wrote thousands of stories for the Grand Ronde Tribal membership.

Before joining the Tribal newspaper, he was a public information officer for the Oregon Public Utility Commission and chief of staff for Oregon State Sen. John Lim.

He also served on the Grand Ronde Editorial Board from 2018 to 2020, returning to help the five-member group supervise the editor of Smoke Signals.

He was born to Everett Karten and Lois Weiss on Oct. 8, 1949, and graduated from Garden City High School in 1967. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, with a bachelor’s degree in English and was in the master’s program at the Columbia University School of Arts.

He married Catherine Thompson on July 2, 1981, in Omak, Wash., and they eventually settled in Yamhill County.

He lived south of Dayton with his wife, who survives him. He is also survived by his daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Karten (Stefan Saito), of Portland, Ore., and son, Joseph David Karten (Holly), who lives in Sydney, Australia. He also is survived by two granddaughters, Kokoro and Arcata, who live in Australia, and a sister, Barbara Karten of Boston, Mass. ​He is also survived by his stepsister, Mia Bock (Jonathan), of Oakland, Calif. 

During his career, Karten also was a freelance writer, a job that took him in 1999 to Myanmar (Burma), where he wrote about civil rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Karten worked for two editors while at Smoke Signals: Brent Merrill, who walked on in 2020, and Dean Rhodes.

“What I appreciated about Ron as a journalist was his versatility,” Rhodes said. “He could handle news and features, and take photos if necessary. He always had a knack of connecting with people and eventually getting the answers and comments he needed. He was instrumental in conducting most of the interviews for the 25th anniversary of Restoration video we did in 2008.”

After his retirement in 2015, Karten and Rhodes were often fixtures on Cross Creek Golf Course just north of Dallas most Friday afternoons.

“Ron was consistently getting better at golf and on his good days could play bogie golf or better,” Rhodes said. “I will miss our afternoons playing golf, shooting the breeze while looking for our errant balls and talking about life over a post-round beer. I haven’t made too many male friends in my later years, but I considered Ron a good friend.

“He also was an eternal optimist. Anytime we had trouble finding one of our balls around a green, he would invariably ask, ‘Have we checked the hole?’ ”

“The world lost a good man,” Smoke Signals photojournalist/assistant editor Michelle Alaimo said. She worked with Karten from 2008 until his retirement.

Karten’s other interests included playing chess, woodworking in his garage and photography, as well as continuing to write fiction. Although he was an accomplished journalist, he took the most pride in being a father, grandfather, husband and mentor to younger members of his immediate and extended family.

“You know that picture in the Sistine Chapel of God and man with the fingers and they’re about to touch? I always think of that. I love making connections. And it happens in all different places,” he said in the Smoke Signals introductory article published in June 2002.

Karten walked on after living the life he chose.

A celebration of life will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday, March 15, at the Chehalem Cultural Center, 415 E. Sheridan St., Newberg.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Dayton Volunteer Fire Department, 500 7th St., Dayton, OR, 97114, or Yamhill Community Action Partnership, 1317 N.E. Dustin Court, McMinnville, OR, 97128, or UNIDOS Bridging Community, 117 N.E. Fifth St., McMinnville, OR, 97128.