MADISON - Camille Guérin-Gonzales died on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, at Agrace HospiceCare in Madison, after 14 months of living exuberantly, purposefully, and consciously with a cancer diagnosis that she never let define her.
She was born on July 20, 1945, in Las Vegas, N.M., the first child of Estella María Gonzales and Benedict Frederick Guérin. Because her father worked in the nuclear weapons industry, she did part of her growing up in Los Alamos, N.M., near the Nevada Test Grounds; and in Livermore, Calif. But she also lived in Las Vegas with her grandparents, who helped to raise her, Johanna and Gilberto Guérin, and Elenita and Adelaido Gonzales. Some parts of her family had roots in northern New Mexico going back 17 generations; they migrated there from what is now Mexico. Some parts of her family were indigenous to the land. Still others arrived later from France, Germany, and New England. Camille attended both Catholic and public schools growing up, rarely spending more than a year in any one place.
When she entered community college in Riverside, Calif., she lived with her Aunt Angie (Guérin) Kramer and her cousins, Karen, Joan, and Anita. An early marriage produced three handsome and spirited children, Kerrie Anne, Ronald Wayne, and Michael James Lester. When the children were small, Camille went back to school, earning her B.A. at University of California, Riverside, in 1978. By then, she was hooked on the study of history, and she went on to receive her M.A. in 1980. Now on her own, she took a brave leap into a Ph.D. program while raising three children. She earned her doctorate at UC-Riverside in 1985, writing the dissertation that eventually appeared in book form, Mexican Workers and American Dreams: Immigration, Repatriation, and California Farm Labor, 1900-1939. She published in the areas of U.S. labor, immigration, and Latino history, and left behind an unfinished book manuscript on coal mining communities, "Mapping Working-Class Struggle in Appalachia, South Wales, and the American Southwest."
Her real love was teaching, which she did at University of Colorado-Boulder, Oberlin College, University of Michigan, UCLA, and University of Wisconsin-Madison. At UCLA, she was among six founding faculty members of the César Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies. She joined the faculty at UW-Madison in 2001, retiring in 2014. She directed UW's Chicana/o Studies Program, which became the Chican@ and Latin@ Studies Program under her leadership, and she also served as associate chair and director of Undergraduate Studies in the History Department. She was a founding member of both Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS) and the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA). She found her greatest joy in teaching labor history and in promoting justice for working people in the present.
Camille is survived by her spouse, Susan Lee Johnson; by her three children; and by her daughters-in-law, Sally and Caryn. She is also survived by seven beloved grandchildren and one prized great-grandchild, Casey, Mason, Courtney, Michael, Blake, Kelcey, Emma, and Aiden. She is survived as well by her brothers, Paul, Dennis, Daniel, and Carl; and by her nieces, nephews, and cousins. She was preceded in death by her parents and grandparents; her aunts and uncles; and her brother, Clark. In the last days of her life, Camille danced in the kitchen and worked out at the gym; she devoured mystery novels and walked in the snow; she jolted her loved ones out of anticipatory grief ("I'm here now," she'd say); and she pondered the playlist for her Rock-n-Roll Wake, telling us with a sly smile that she couldn't wait for it. She waits no more.
Funeral services will be held at LUTHER MEMORIAL CHURCH, 1021 University Ave., on Saturday, March 7, 2015, at 11 a.m. The Rev. Franklin Wilson will preach, the Rev. Brad Pohlman will preside, and they will be assisted by the Rev. John Kauffman, who married Camille and Susan in 2002. For questions about parking at the church, please contact the office. The Rock-n-Roll Wake, which will include lunch and dancing, will follow the service. Directions will be provided at the church. At a later date, Camille's family will scatter her ashes in both New Mexico and Wisconsin.
Her loved ones wish to thank the incomparable nurse, Kat Rajski of Agrace Hospice, as well as Dr. Lisa Barroilhet and nurse practitioners Kathy van Veldhuisen and Annette Glasser of UW Hospital, for their tender care in the last months of Camille's magnificent life.
Memorials may be made to Workers' Rights Center of Madison, Somos Un Pueblo Unidos of New Mexico, Human Rights Campaign, or Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin.
Please share your memories at www.cressfuneralservice.com.