Rev. Dr. Joel Gajardo, a man of firm and continual commitment to improving the lives of people throughout the world, went to be with the Lord on June 24, 2021. His compassion, knowledge and kindness were apparent in the work he did, which included serving for a time as the executive director of the Hispanic Community Center in Lincoln.
At one time he served on the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, was affiliated with the World Council of Churches, and the National Council of Churches in New York City, serving as the director for South America.
He received his bachelor’s degree at the Chilean University in his native Chile and his master’s in theology in Argentina, a theological PhD from the Princeton Theological Seminary, and a PhD from Princeton University in political science. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister.
At age 16 he attended the first International Youth Conference in Argentina, representing the Chilean Protestant Youth Movement. At 25, he was named the principal of the David Trumbull Presbyterian School in Valparaiso, Chile.
After obtaining his degrees in political science and theology from Princeton University in the United States, he returned to Chile and continued to work as a professor and minister. Because of his constant courage and standing for justice and for his support of President Allende whose government was overthrown by a coup d’etat, he was expelled from Chile and came to the United States to continue living out his servant heart. Here he began working at Cornell University as a professor and the director of the committee on U.S Latin American policy studies.
In Lincoln he was active in the community, volunteering with several organizations over the years, including the Lincoln Public Health Foundation, Mayor’s Multicultural Advisory Committee, Lincoln Interfaith Council, Child Guidance Center, Minority AIDS Education Task Force, Minority Health Advisory Board, and Strategic Planning: Economic Development Committee for the city of Lincoln and several others. He was on the board of trustees for Bryan LGH Health Systems in which he worked hard with others to establish the Bryan College of Health Sciences. He was on the board of trustees of Mourning Hope, the board of directors at the Woods Charitable Fund, and the board of directors at the Lincoln Community Foundation. Since 2004, he was leading Prime Time family reading programs all across the state of Nebraska.
Through his work throughout the world he met and talked with such people as Martin Luther King Jr, Indira Gandhi, Georgia O’Keeffe, Ho Chi Minh, Nelson Mandela, Chilean President Salvador Allende, Desmond Tutu, and others. He was well known around the world by those who work for peace and justice. Joel, who loved to travel, visited 86 countries throughout his lifetime, making friends wherever he went.
Joel was a man who loved his family, and he was gracious to all he met. He enjoyed meeting others and was extremely interested in the world around him. He loved to read, drink wine and pisco sours, talk about his native country Chile, eat cookies, and spend time with those he loved. He was known for his intelligence and strong voice of reason.
Joel was born December 14, 1933, in San Carlos, Chile, the son of Enrique del Carmen Gajardo Valdes and Marta Gregoria Velázquez Ortiz. Joel is survived by his wife, Carolyn Stitt, whom he loved very much; children, Veronica Gajardo, Daniel Gajardo (Ruth), Joel Gajardo, Elizabeth Gajardo-Stitt (Drew Holman), and Katherine Gajardo-Stitt; daughter-in-law Roxana Cifuentes; grandchildren, Daniel, Bastian, Melissa, Andrea, Cristobal, Ricardo, and Simon; great-grandchildren, Antonio and Aayla; and sister, Marta Gajardo, as well as many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his parents; son, Andres Gajardo; brother, Enrique Gajardo Velazquez; and sister, Rode Gajardo Velazquez.
He will be missed greatly by all those who loved him.
A Celebration of Life will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 29, 2021, at Southern Heights Presbyterian Church, 5750 S 40th Street, with Reverend Leanne Masters officiating.
Memorials may be directed to Joel’s family for a later designation. For those wishing to send flowers please direct them to Southern Heights Church
Condolences can be left at www.lincolnccfh.com.
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