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Hanne Maria Sonquist, 1931-2009

Longtime childhood educator was a leading advocate of preschool programs and opportunities

Hanne Sonquist, extraordinary wife, mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, friend, mentor, and active advocate for enhancing the lives of young children, died peacefully surrounded by her loving family on May 31, 2009, following a 10-year struggle with lymphoma.

Hanne Sonquist is survived by her husband, John; son Eric, and daughters Catherine Sonquist Forest and Kristin Sonquist Firrell and their families.
Hanne Sonquist is survived by her husband, John; son Eric, and daughters Catherine Sonquist Forest and Kristin Sonquist Firrell and their families. (Sonquist family photo)

Hanne was born in Vienna, Austria, to Doctors Ella and Joseph Deutsch on September 28, 1931. Her family immigrated to Chicago in the summer of 1938. Hanne and John Sonquist met through the Chicago Circle Pines Co-op Youth Programs. Both attended the University of Chicago and were married in 1950.

In 1959, they moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, as John began working at the University of Michigan. Between 1954 and 1961, Hanne and John added three children (Eric, Catherine and Kristin) and in the mid-1960s, she returned to school, completing a master’s degree in Education with a focus in her graduate work on Early Childhood Development.

They moved to Santa Barbara in 1970 with Hanne joining UCSB’s Graduate School of Education (now known as the Gevirtz School), where she helped develop the Early Childhood Education curriculum and helped found Santa Barbara’s Centro Familiar State Preschool while serving as an instructor for both UCSB and SBCC. In 1974 she joined the faculty at SBCC and began a 23-year tenure as director of the Starr King Parent-Child Workshop.

With more than 25 years experience working with pre-school children and parents, she became certified as a marriage and family therapist in 1980 and continued her private practice until this year.

Hanne loved music, art, dancing and skating. She sang alto in the Santa Barbara Choral Society for many years. She enjoyed sharing her musical interests, and hosted an annual Christmas “Family Sing” at her house every year. She had many longtime close friends, and shared her life with her women’s group for more than 35 years.

She was a dedicated member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) for more than 60 years and an active member of the Santa Barbara Society of Friends for more than 25 years, serving as chairwoman of the Ministry and Counsel Committee, and once as co-clerk. Her concern for peace and justice lasted over her entire life, including her participation in Women Strike for Peace, back in the 1960s, and attendance at several of the large peace and civil rights marches in Washington and New York at that time.

Children were Hanne’s favorites, and the nurturing environment she sought to create at the Starr King Parent Workshop was one of her greatest achievements. It wasn’t just an environment for children, but a place where people with young children could learn how to be good parents. Over the past three decades many of those parents have gone on themselves to become advocates for children. This is another one of her legacies to the Santa Barbara community.

An active member of our community, Hanne has served as a volunteer for many organizations including New Beginnings Counseling Center, Storyteller Center, CALM, PEP and children centers throughout Santa Barbara County. She has served on the governing boards of the National, California and Tri-Counties Associations for the Education of Young Children. She has also served as chairwoman of the Santa Barbara County Human Services Commission and as a member of the county’s First 5 Santa Barbara County.

Honors include receiving the first Santa Barbara Children’s Commission “Child Friendly” award, 1994 Santa Barbara Independent “Local Hero” award, 1997 SB-AEYC “Stand for Children” award, 1999 Santa Barbara County Human Services Commission “Volunteer of the Year” award, 2000 Rotary Club of Santa Barbara “Paul Harris Fellow award, 2000 2nd Supervisorial District’s ”Woman of the Year” award, 2006 Santa Barbara Democratic Women’s Club “Woman of the Year” award, and the 2007 New Beginnings “Recognition of Outstanding Contribution”.

Her feelings about life are illustrated by poet Mary Oliver, whom she loved:

“... When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

She was, indeed, an active participant, not a visitor.

Hanne is survived by her husband of 58 years, John Sonquist; her son, Eric Sonquist, of Santa Barbara (Anita), daughters Catherine Sonquist Forest of Santa Cruz (Will) and Kristin Sonquist Firrell of Woodland Hills (Graham); grandchildren Zoe, Jessica, Kelsey, Scarlett and Owen; her brother, Steven Deutsch of Eugene, Oregon (Beth); and many nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the American Friends Service Committee, Starr King Parent-Child Workshop, and Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care of Santa Barbara.

Please join us at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 21, 2009, at the UCSB Faculty Club lawn for a Community Celebration of the Life of Hanne Sonquist.

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