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Paying tribute to Pudge Hartmire, who helped create the farm worker movement

Great social movements often demand great personal sacrifices, too often by people who go largely unheralded. It was with genuine sadness that the farm worker movement learned of the passing of one such unsung hero. Jane “Pudge” Hartmire passed away on her birthday, Nov. 2, at age 85. United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez and Cesar Chavez Foundation President Paul F. Chavez joined in paying tribute to her.

Pudge Hartmire’s 62 years of marriage to Rev. Chris Hartmire is also the story of a remarkable partnership that saw the couple playing an important part in the emergence and growth of the UFW. The pair was in at the birth of the union since the early 1960s when Chris Hartmire led the California Migrant Ministry, which soon organized vital support for farm worker strikes and boycotts.

Pudge Hartmire shared much in common with Helen Chavez, Cesar’s wife, beyond their shared devotion to the cause their husbands championed. Both of their husbands were gone more and more beginning in the mid-‘60s as the Delano grape strike and boycott—and later strikes, boycotts and political campaigns—picked up national and international momentum. So often the burden of keeping families together and “nurturing” children fell on Pudge and Helen. Cesar Chavez made a decision that the work had to be more important even than spending time with their eight children. Chris Hartmire faced a similar dilemma concerning their four kids, which he described during a 2004 talk at the Pilgrim Place community for retired clergy where the Hartmires lived in Claremont, Calif.:

As the movement spread across the country, life in our home got more complicated. I was gone more, I was preoccupied more, and I was on the phone more. Pudge, God bless her, believed deeply in everything we were doing. She focused her considerable energies on nurturing our four children. When the schedule worked, we dragged them all—three boys and one girl—to picket lines, marches, and demonstrations. To hear them tell it, they spent half of their childhood on one or more hot, dusty farm worker marches. No so! Because of Pudge, they lived pretty normal lives, but with a father who was gone way too much, and who was on the phone way too much.

Pudge and Chris Hartmire knew each other over 72 years, since the 7th grade. They married in 1954 before she became a public health nurse in Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods. She supported him as he attended Union Theological Seminary in New York City while he also worked with young people in East Harlem and later went to jail as a 1961 Freedom Rider in the South. “Pudge had intelligent, common-sense reservations, but she supported my sense of call” for social justice, Chris Hartmire recalled.

The couple headed west in 1961, and the young minister soon became director of the California Migrant Ministry, which had a 40-year history of working with local churches to provide mostly charitable services to migrant farm workers. When Filipino and Latino vineyard workers walked out on strike around Delano in 1965, Hartmire focused the migrant ministry on organizing direct support for the UFW—both strikes and boycotts—among people of all faiths across North America. Pudge backed her husband and the migrant ministry at every step as they faced bitter opposition from rural Anglo churches and the state’s powerful agricultural industry.

The farm workers triumphed in no small part through efforts by people such as Pudge Hartmire, establishing the first enduring farm workers’ union in U.S. history. It took much hard labor and personal sacrifice by countless dedicated women and men. At the top of the list are Pudge and Chris Hartmire.

The farm worker movement expresses condolences to Chris Hartmire; their four children, John, Janie Marks, David and Gordon; and eight grandchildren. A memorial service for Pudge Hartmire is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017, beginning at 3:30 p.m. at Decker Hall in Pilgrim Place, 625 Mayflower Rd., Claremont, Calif. 91711.

In the photo Cesar Chavez’s son, Paul Chavez (left), with Chris and Pudge Hartmire reflecting after funeral services for Helen Chavez in June 2016 in the Memorial Garden at the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene, Calif. (Photo by Virginia Nesmith)

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