Longtime Rutgers Professor, Community Activist, Gay-Rights Pioneer Hilda Hidalgo Loses Cancer Fight

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(Newark, N.J., Nov. 12, 2009) – Professor Emerita Hilda Hidalgo, 81, is being mourned by the Rutgers University community, scores of former students, and numerous others, including many who never met her.  Hilda Hidalgo, who died Nov. 8, was both a distinguished scholar at Rutgers and the co-founder of several community organizations which have impacted the lives
Professor emerita and activist Hilda Hidalgoof countless residents of New Jersey, especially in the Newark area: Aspira Inc. of NJ, La Casa de Don Pedro, the Puerto Rican Congress, the United Community Foundation, the Newark Urban League, and the United Community Corporation.

Until recently she was an active member of Equality Florida and Friends of Wild Iris, organizations that fight for the rights of gays and lesbians.  Dr. Hidalgo also chaired the first Puerto Rican Convention of New Jersey and served as vice-president of the New Jersey Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

Hidalgo, who taught at Rutgers for 23 years, died of pancreatic cancer at her home in Gainesville, Fl., surrounded by her partner, Dr. Cheryl Lamey, and her sisters, Elia and Zaida. A New Jersey memorial service for Hidalgo will be held early next year; donations in her honor can be made to the Haven Hospice, 4200 NW 90th Blvd., Gainesville, FL 32606.

Hidalgo, a native of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, came to Newark, N.J., in 1960, working first as district director of the Girl Scout Council of Greater Essex, then as director of child services, until 1970.  At Rutgers she first taught at the School of Social Work in New Brunswick, and then came to the campus in Newark to teach in what was then the Department of Public Administration (now the School of Public Affairs and Administration.) At Rutgers-Newark, she taught and held a number of positions over the years, including director of the Masters of Work Bilingual Program, coordinator of Puerto Rican Studies, and director of the Masters of Public Administration Hispanic, Bilingual, Bicultural Program.

After retiring from Rutgers, she was assistant commissioner of education for the State of New Jersey from 1994-95.

“Since Hilda died, I have heard from many who told me that she touched many lives in important ways,” said friend and former Rutgers colleague, Olga Wagenheim. “She was loved by her students and her friends and she was admired for her humanity, her fearless commitment to helping others and her great love of life.  She was a force that touched us all.”

 “I was among the many students blessed to have met and studied under Hidalgo,” said Rutgers alumnus Jose Acevedo. “The last time I saw her was in 2007 when we, the Support Network of the NJ Hispanic Research and Information Center at the Newark Library, honored her with the Maria De Castro Blake Community Service Award.  She said she was very touched by the honor –but that night it was us who were truly honored by her presence.”

The 2007 award was only one of numerous honors bestowed upon Hidalgo. Among the highlights: She received the Rutgers Presidential Award for Public Service; was recognized as a Pioneer of Aspira of New Jersey, Inc.; was named by the Ladies Home Journal as one of “50 American Heroines;” was selected by the State of New Jersey as one of 13 women honored during Women’s History Week in 1986; and was named Puerto Rican Woman of the Year” by Essex County College in 1978.

Hidalgo held the Ph.D. from Union Graduate School, the Master of Social Work from Smith College School of Social Work, an MA from Catholic University, and the BA from the University of Puerto Rico.


Media Contact: Carla Capizzi