Sunday: Joe Gutenkauf Memorial

Joe GutenkaufI am a lucky duck. One of the great advantages of blogging here is endless work alongside people younger than me – swifter, smarter, more feminist to the bone even than I am. But the flip side of that is the people older than I am that I’ve met in the political swim that is New Jersey. From them, particularly the activists, there is an irreplaceable bedrock progressivism that survives awful party politics, boneheaded presidential administrations, and new crops of people with power who make decisions they’d be too smart to make. Readers, scholars, community people. Salt of the earth.

Two of those people, for me, were and are Joe and Dottie Gutenkauf. They have no idea whatsoever how many events where I conspired to sit next to them, because they were both so cool. In December, Joe died at 87 years old. This Sunday, there’s a memorial for him in the kind of church that finds itself on lists of welcoming gay-friendly churches, where diversity is right in the mission statement, and a discussion group of PBS’ The Abolitionists is an ongoing thing Monday nights.

Joe Gutenkauf – Celebration of a life well-lived, a person well-loved

Sunday, March 17, 2013 – 1pm

Grace Episcopal Church – Knickle Hall, 600 Cleveland Ave. Plainfield 07060

RSVP to Dottie Gutenkauf or call 908-668-1149.

Joe was a World War II Army vet in the part of the world where my father served. He knew Bayard Rustin, Michael Harrington. Helped run the Chicago branch of CORE. Was right there when Democratic Socialists of America was founded. Taught at Rowan University when it was still Glassboro. He was both a guy who’d been everywhere, and was deeply meshed into his beloved Plainfield, NJ. Conversations with him were revelations for me – though he was pretty humble about how smart he was. I’ll miss him. Joe’s amazing obit, is on the flip. This is my RSVP to Dottie – I’ll be there Sunday.  

Josef Charles Gutenkauf, 87, a 30-year resident of Plainfield, NJ, died Saturday, December 8th, 2012 at JFK Medical Center, surrounded by his loving family.  Born October 13, 1925 in Chicago, he was the son of Joseph and Martha (Madison) Gutenkauf, and spent much of his childhood on the family farm in Clifton, IL.  A World War II Army veteran, he served during the liberation of the Philippines and in the occupation of Japan.  After the war, he attended the University of Chicago, where he received a B.A. in History.  

Active in the Civil Rights movement, Joe joined the Socialist Party in 1944, and in 1948 served as executive secretary of the Chicago branch of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), working with Bayard Rustin, Michael Harrington, Norman Thomas, and many other noted political and intellectual luminaries.  He was a founding member of what is now Democratic Socialists of America.  

           At Southern Illinois University, he met fellow Sociology graduate student Dorothy Miller, and they were married in 1964. Joe enrolled in the graduate program at Syracuse University in 1966, joined the faculty at Ithaca College, and later taught at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University).  After moving to New Jersey, Joe worked at the NJ Treasury Department’s Affirmative Action Office until his retirement in 1992, and was a member of the American Federation of Teachers and the Communications Workers of America. He was an avid WWII historian, a voracious reader, and a terrific cook, and loved classic films and European history.

An active member of the Plainfield community, Joe worked on political campaigns for school board and for candidates for local, state and national office.  A member of the Democratic City Committee for many years, Joe worked to abolish the death penalty, achieve marriage equality, and keep – and later restore – Plainfield’s Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center.   He received awards for his commitment to social justice from the Plainfield Area NAACP and Garden State Equality.

Joe is survived by his devoted wife of 48 years, Dottie Gutenkauf; his daughter, Polly Armour and her husband, Jay of Gardiner, NY; and his son, Jon Martin and his partner, Craig Roseberry of New York City.  He was the beloved brother-in-law of Alice Gutenkauf of Morton Grove, IL; uncle of Diane Gutenkauf and her husband Michael Hassan of Elmhurst, IL, and Karen Gutenkauf of Broken Arrow, OK; grandfather of Sarah and Josh Armour; and cherished friend to Joan Hervey and Linda Geczi and to his loyal canine companion, Sheba.  Joe was predeceased by his dear brother Martin.

At his request, his remains have been donated to the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. A memorial gathering will be held at a later date.  In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to the Plainfield Rescue Squad at P.O. Box 707, Plainfield, NJ 07060, and to the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players at 302 West 91st St, New York, NY 10024.


Comments (3)

  1. Hetty Rosenstein

    I would like to add that Joe was a shop steward for CWA Local 1037.  

  2. Jay Lassiter

    A sad day.

  3. Jeff Gardner

    He was a true progressive stalwart, and an inspiration. Thanks for paying tribute in this diary Rosi. Of course, his legacy lives on in our hearts.


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