Obituary: James Edward Monson

Longtime Harvey Mudd engineering professor, traveler, birder, volunteer

Elizabeth (Bette) Bass died at home on December 21, 2020 after bravely fighting cancer.  She was surrounded by the love of her many friends near and far. She was 73 years old. 

She is survived by dear friends Joanne Dierdorff and Gary Overstreet; godson Brooks Dierdorff, wife Melissa and their son, Jack; her many Clymer cousins and godson Michael T. Lisano.

She was predeceased by her parents Elizabeth Clymer Bass and Thomas David Bass; and close friend Maury Durall. Bette and Maury shared a home in Redlands, and then Claremont, for many years.

Born December 2, 1947 in El Paso, Texas, she attended elementary school in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She lived for a time with her grandparents in Steelville, Missouri, while her mother received treatment for cancer. She graduated from high school in San Mateo, California in 1965, chosen “most likely to succeed” in her class.

She attended the University of Redlands, majoring in communicative disorders, graduating in 1969. She continued her studies at U of R, earning her master’s degree and later becoming an adjunct professor. 

During her junior year she spent one semester studying abroad in Salzburg, Austria, igniting her love of travel. She had a variety of jobs to help pay for college and travel, including being a bartender at Jolly Roger in Riverside. She was employed by Riverside city schools, but spent the majority of her career as a speech and language pathologist for San Bernardino County schools. She also worked in many local schools, including Upland Elementary, Valencia and Pepper Tree in Upland. One of her favorite assignments was at the end of her career, working in Chino with preschool students with speech and language needs. 

She was a lifelong learner. She saw the need to speak Spanish to help students and parents, so she studied here then immersed herself in the language, learning in Mexico and Costa Rica. She spoke Spanish as she traveled with friends to Spain, Mexico and Cuba, always working to improve her vocabulary and accent. She fully embraced the life and culture of every country to which she traveled.  

“An amazing friend to many, Bette had a way of seeing through the eyes of love, the good, the positive, the best in everyone,” her friends wrote. “Her generosity of spirit, her respect for all, her warmth and laughter made her a very special friend. She was a wonderful listener and was always honest, thoughtful and articulate in her interactions with others.  She would light up a room with her smile and warmth. Bette had an unwavering positive attitude about life. She was an inspiration to many. As her friend Amy said, ‘Once you were her friend, you were tied together by heartstrings.’”  

She enjoyed all of the arts, and was an avid reader of all genres of literature. She could discuss with clarity and depth the books she had read. She also loved all types of music, especially opera, attending performances in Venice, Madrid, Santa Fe and Los Angeles. She enjoyed summer evenings at the Hollywood Bowl, listening to a variety of music with friends. She also loved plays, holding season tickets to the Taper and Geffen for many years. She collected beautiful art.

Her favorite thing to do was to travel. It was not uncommon for her to be packing for two trips at once. She would return from one trip just long enough to catch up on mail, before she was off on another adventure with a different group of friends. She traveled with cousins, friends from high school, college, and her teaching world. 

“She was a traveler, not a mere tourist, and her beauty and eloquence opened doors and hearts around the world,” her friends shared. “Bette truly cherished and enjoyed adventure, discovering favorite places while lost, interacting with people, uncovering treasures, sharing good food, wine, music, art, history and most importantly, laughter. Bette’s curiosity, knowledge, generosity, love of life, and warmth made her a wonderful friend and travel companion. She will forever be missed.”

In lieu of flowers or other remembrances, consider a donation by check to the Elizabeth Bass Student Travel Fund, University of Redlands Advancement Office, P.O. Box 3080 Redlands, CA 92373-0999.

An online memorial site is available to add remembrances and stories at 

On January 1, 2021, Jim Monson died quietly and peacefully at home in Point Reyes, California, surrounded by his three children and Julie, his wife of 65 years. He led a full life, of teaching, research, caring for his family and volunteering in the communities in which he lived.

Born in Oakland on June 20, 1932, Jim’s family moved frequently. His father, Col. George Monson, a U.S. Marine, was often transferred because of World War II, from coast to coast, and even to Saipan, a U.S. commonwealth in the Northern Mariana Islands. He attended New Mexico Military Institute, and then Stanford University where he majored in electrical engineering, earning his MS degree in 1955.

In 1954, he married Julie Conzelman, also a Stanford student. His first job was with Bell Telephone Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Deciding to get his PhD, he returned to Palo Alto, and was able to continue his studies and research while working part time at Hewlett Packard.  

In 1961, he decided to teach and began his academic career at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont. Because this small college of engineering and science had begun only a few years earlier, he and his few colleagues created an innovative curriculum in engineering, with components of the humanities. He remained at Harvey Mudd for 35 years and loved it.

Early in his career at Harvey Mudd, he began working with colleagues in industry on the challenges of the evolving technology in magnetic recording. He solved problems and invented solutions, working with engineers from around the world, who worked with Siemens, Mitsubishi, and other international corporations. His travels included annual international conferences (International Magnetics Conference of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers) and led to numerous connections and friendships, especially in east and west Europe and Japan. He used his sabbaticals, every seven years, to teach or do research in Dublin, Montenegro (twice), Japan (twice) and Paris, learning languages along the way.

In 1968, the family discovered Point Reyes, and returned to an A-frame at the top of Vision Road every summer for 20 years. When he and Julie decided to retire, this was where they wanted to live. It was an auspicious choice for both, as they became involved in the community, made many friends, and explored this special corner of Northern California, both the natural beauty of the coastal area and the cultural treasures of San Francisco. 

An avid birder, Mr. Monson watched birds for decades and always developed special friendships with others, often retired friends, especially throughout West Marin.  

He served on the board of Coastal Health Alliance for six years, two terms as president; then on the board of West Marin Senior Services, also for six years; and was then appointed to serve on Marin County’s Commission on Aging. Again, he developed many friendships with his working colleagues. He was always highly respected for his calm, clear thinking, his tolerance and thoughtful manner in handling complex issues.  

Because he missed his associations with students, he volunteered as a tutor in math and physics at Tomales High School for 10 years. His Wednesdays were spent on campus, in the classroom and with afterschool tutoring. 

In March 2020 he and his wife were honored by the West Marin community for their many local volunteer contributions at the annual Dance Palace Awards Banquet, receiving recognition from state and local elected officials and community leaders.

In the 1960s, the family began regular visits to a spectacular section of the Mojave Desert near Yucca Valley that belonged to his wife’s family since 1940. In 1978, they were able to acquire ownership and began a series of improvements to make it more comfortable for frequent family visits. This desert hideaway became a family favorite for holiday gatherings.   

He was an exceptional father to his three children, always supportive, generous, tolerant and kind. The couple had a long, loving relationship that changed and grew over their years together.   

He is survived by his wife, Julie, and his children John (Susie Helfrey), Jamie Monson and Jennifer Monson; and grandchildren James Monson, Elizabeth Monson, Eddie Monson and Jenny Monson-Miller.

Contributions in his honor may be made to the Jim Monson Scholarship in Engineering, c/o Inverness Garden Club, at, or by check to PO Box 203, Inverness, CA 94937.


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