Hal Carlstad
Passionate Liberal Activist


Hal Carlstad -- passionate liberal activistHal Carlstad

June 23, 2007|By Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer


Hal Carlstad was an old hippie in the best sense of the word.


"He was open-minded, accepting of all people, and passionately believed in the patriotism of speaking out," said longtime friend Andrea Weber of Richmond. "He was always chaining himself to a tree or protesting an execution at San Quentin -- he was at every one of those."


Mr. Carlstad, who said he was arrested more than 200 times at protests spanning five decades, died June 12 after a long illness. He was 82.


Mr. Carlstad was a familiar face in left-wing activist circles in the Bay Area and beyond. He was a frequent protester on behalf of old-growth forests, Death Row inmates, People's Park, nuclear disarmament and human rights in Cuba, Haiti, the Middle East and El Salvador. In the 1980s, he was a regular at the Concord Naval Weapons Station protests, and more recently he joined the tree-sitting activists at the oak grove next to Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. Hal Carlstad, a retired science teacher, was always learning. Photo Courtesy of Carlstad family.


Hal Carlstad, 1925-2007

By Eleanor Piez

Tuesday June 19, 2007 Berkeley Daily Planet

Hal Carlstad, known throughout Berkeley and neighboring communities as a leader in a wide range of progressive social and environmental causes, died Tuesday, June 12 after a long illness. He was 82.


Hal CarlstadHal was devoted to many issues, a few of which are saving old-growth forests, ending the death penalty, protesting nuclear weapons, stopping the war in Iraq, and solidarity with the peoples of Haiti, Cuba, Palestine, Central America, People’s Park and all who suffered from injustice. In embracing so many works, he moved in many different circles and touched thousands of lives. 


“He was full of a million ideas,” remembers one colleague. “He loved street theater and was always thinking of how to make a dramatic impact and get the media there.”  


Hal was a leader by example, who, as another colleague recalls, “never hesitated to go to the heart of the matter. He was always asking: how can we make a difference right now, with the people who are here? He truly believed that each one of us could make difference, today, and if we do, that’s how we create big changes.”  


Not usually inclined to seek a formal leadership role, his style was to think of a creative yet feasible action, get others on board, then help carry it out. He frequently ended demonstrations in jail for civil disobedience, wearing a sign proclaiming “This is my patriotic duty for today.”  


Hal Carlstad was born April 11, 1925 in Alkabo, North Dakota, where his parents were homesteaders. He volunteered for military service during World War II but was turned down for health reasons and worked on the railroad. Soon after the war, he left North Dakota for California by train. His family remembers him telling that he made the trip in January and when he arrived in Los Angeles, “I put my winter coat in a locker and never went back.” 


He completed a bachelor’s degree in natural science and social studies at UC Berkeley in 1954 and later a teaching credential at San Francisco State University. He was married, became the father of two children, and in 1956 became a seventh-grade science teacher at Martin Luther King Middle School (then Garfield Junior High). Fondly remembered by many students, he was known for getting the class’s attention on the first day of school by saying: “There might be a tarantula loose in the classroom. It got out of its cage, and I’m not sure where it is.” 


Hal is also remembered as a multi-talented hobbyist and naturalist. He was an avid and prolific potter, photographer, wine maker, beekeeper, hiker, gardener, and dahlia cultivator. He enjoyed games, especially playing cards, and was an accomplished pool player, frequenting the Richmond Senior Center in his later years. 


In the late 1970s, Hal became a member of the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, which formed the home base for much of the peace and justice work that blossomed after he retired from teaching. While its Social Justice Committee was a main focus, he also served on its board and worked hard to maintain its facilities. With his children and later his grandchildren, he was a 40-year attender and supporter of Co-op Camp Sierra, an annual family camp that he especially valued after he was divorced and bringing up a son and daughter on his own. 


Hal Carlstad is survived by his companion of 12 years, Cynthia Johnson; son Chris and his wife, Eleanor Piez; daughter Amy and her partner, Steve Macari; and grandchildren Matthew Macari, Abby Carlstad, and Melanie Carlstad. 


A memorial service was held on Sunday, July 15, at 2:30 p.m. at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Berkeley, with a reception beginning at 4:30 p.m. at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists. Memorial contributions may be made to the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, KPFA, the International Solidarity Network, or the Bay Area

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