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Obituary

Rachel G. Gundersen

June 21, 2022 | 3 comments

She was unstoppable. No one knows how she did it, but it does not matter. We loved her, and she loved us. Rachel was born on October 23, 1930 , in Marshfield, WI to a Lutheran minister and his wife. When she was five, the Gutzke family relocated to a parish on Avon Street, three blocks from the source of the world’s best cinnamon sticks and turtles. She remained sweet on them to the end. Participating in more than 20 extracurricular activities (including sports, music, and yearbook Editor) did not keep Rachel from becoming class valedictorian at Logan. She turned a chance encounter with Cameron Gundersen at a senior-year dance into a lifelong romance.They were married by Rachel’s father in 1951 in Madison, where adding Cam, Jr. to their course load did not prevent them from completing degrees at the University of Wisconsin.

For the next 12 years, Rachel concentrated on raising a growing family as Cameron fulfilled the demands of medical training and military service. Rachel gave birth to Gregg in Boston, Adolf in New Jersey, and Roald in Germany, and managed additional stops in San Francisco, New Braunfels, Texas, a second stay in Boston, and a move to Chicago. All of these experiences were enriching; many led to lifelong friendships. But in 1965 it was time to return home. The next year the couple began work on their dream house in Ebner Coulee and soon welcomed a fifth son, Joshua. Rachel’s childrearing philosophy was to encourage her sons’ diverse interests and independence and support them as they learned from their mistakes. This was perhaps unconventional; it certainly required uncharacteristic restraint on her part. But the lessons learned paved the way for her sons’ successful careers in neurobiology, cell biology, political theory, architecture, and cosmology.

As her sons matured, Rachel focused more of her energy on the community. And she was a powerhouse in this arena, too. She was active for many years in the League of Women Voters, serving one term as President (1969-71). She was also heavily involved in the Community Theater. She was awarded a Dionysus Award for keeping her young brood away from the tantalizing inventory of theater costumes stored in her basement. She later served as a member of the play reading committee, board member, and then President (1977-78). Other contributions included: fostering good-will efforts for the City of La Crosse; supporting women candidates for political office; and, along with Jean Marck, inspiring Margaret Larson’s seminal book on the pioneering women of La Crosse (For the Common Good, 1996). Many of these efforts were advanced by a steady stream of entertaining tours de force at which Rachel’s charisma and culinary wizardry (performed with equal panache on crayfish and kransekake) were on full display. Two ovens (or fondue pots, or samovars) could barely keep pace.

Once her sons had scattered to universities around the country, Rachel saw less an empty nest than an opportunity to refocus her attention on her own education. Devising a personalized curriculum, she reconquered algebra and statistics, overcame writer’s block, and emerged with a master’s degree, a life-long dream. She quickly put it to use as a child psychologist in the La Crosse school system, intervening successfully over two decades with troubled youth. Not content with helping individual students, she prepared and conducted workshops for Crisis Intervention and At Risk Children and was an early and untiring educator on sexual orientation in district classrooms and the larger community. She also went on to co-found the Wisconsin School Psychologists Association. Other involvements included: the Wisconsin Federation of Pupil Services, Riverfront Activities Center Board, La Crosse County AIDS Advisory Committee, the Family and Children’s Center Board, and a term on the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board. She also published professional articles in state and national journals. In recognition of these efforts, she received a golden apple in 1988 as middle school Specialist of the Year. Still, as a dyed-in-the-wool North Sider, her proudest moment came in 1997 when she was enshrined on the Logan Wall of Fame.

As retirement approached, Rachel became the proud owner of her maternal aunt’s bucolic property, Ottspot, on Long Lake in northern Wisconsin, an ideal place to slow down to enjoy summer sunsets and raucous grandchildren on the dock. But even her deceleration was relative; retirement was also punctuated with more ambitious travel to destinations as far-flung as Egypt, Norway, China and Turkey.

Neither did Rachel ever stop being involved in multiple philanthropic activities, of which the La Crosse Public Education Foundation was closest to her educator’s heart. The family asks that memorials be sent there in lieu of flowers.

Rachel died in her sleep on June 15th in the presence of her sons at Bethany Riverside, La Crosse from complications of pulmonary disease.

Rachel was preceded in death by her husband, Cameron, and siblings Lois Wollan of Minneapolis, Gretel Gatterdam of Lawrence, NJ, and James Gutzke of La Crosse. She is survived by her sons, Cameron Jr. (Joy Umbach) of Los Angeles, CA; Gregg (Geri Kreitzer) of New York, NY; Adolf (Marguerite Burns) of Madison, WI; Roald (Jennifer Williams) of La Crosse, WI; Joshua (Cindy) of Miami, FL; and grandchildren Brigitta Gundersen (David Pettigrew) of New York, NY; Finn and Trygve Gundersen of Madison, WI; Ian Gundersen of Milwaukee, WI; Estella Gundersen and Cameron Moses Swan of Madison, WI; and Jakob and Lukas Gundersen of Miami, FL.

A memorial will be held at a later date. Details will be announced.

Condolences

3 Comments

  1. Barb Hammond Smyth

    Dad and I were so blessed to have spent time with your parents!❤️ 🙏

    Reply
  2. Richard F. Dungar

    My prayers and sympathy. Rachel Gundersen was one of my mentors; Mrs. Gundersen encouraged myself to keep up on current events and to vote. Again my prayers and sympathy .

    Reply
  3. Karen Acker

    Rachel was a good listener and interested in others. I had a chance to spend occasional time with her talking over concerns about kids at Logan Middle School when she did a school psychology internship and I was a speech therapist. May you find comfort in your memories of this wonderful woman.

    Reply

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