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In memoriam: Mireille Van Etten was an “educator to the end’

Mireille Van Etten

Member Richard Van Etten contributed $1,000 to FFRF in memory of his mother, Mireille D. Van Etten, who died on May 7, 2021. This obituary was written by Richard.   

Mireille D. Van Etten was born on Jan. 18th, 1927, in a small village near Compiegne, France. Her mother was Catholic and she was indoctrinated in that religion. As was the time in France, girls were not a priority to be educated, which was very frustrating to Mom, whose whole desire was to be a teacher. The war came and France was occupied by the Nazis for four years. My mother had numerous stories of the occupation, bombings, and seeing Jews marched out of Compiegne by German soldiers.  

She met my father, who was a U.S. soldier in France in 1945 and they were married there in 1946. After coming to the United States via ship, Mom then finally had her dream of an education realized. During this time (1951–1956), she gave birth to three boys, with me the oldest.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in languages from the University of Wisconsin and was offered a teaching position in 1964 in San Diego. Mom continued her education, obtaining a master’s degree from San Diego State. She taught French, Spanish and English to junior and high school students for decades. She was working on a doctorate when an opportunity arose to take several sabbaticals to France with her students, which she eagerly accepted. After retiring, she finally and reluctantly left San Diego in 2002 to move to Arizona, where her children had moved years before.

Mom was a kind and caring person who offered to help in any way. She donated countless time and money to help feed the hungry, animal welfare charities, and Habitat for Humanity, among others. She even tutored her handyman, who was from Guatemala, to learn English and helped him become a U.S. citizen. 

There wasn’t a mean bone in her body. She rejected religion, saying it did more harm than good. An educator to the end, Mom donated her body to science. In a way, she is still teaching students. I could probably write a book about my mother’s accomplishments. The world is a better place because of her.

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