Donald Hartsock, former university pastor and UCLA’s first ombudsman, died of natural causes Sept. 1. He was 90 years old.
In the role of ombudsman, which Hartsock held from 1969 until 1991, he was tasked with addressing grievances and issues arising from various campus constituents. Over the years, he counseled the campus community on a broad variety of matters, including union-management disputes, tensions within and among various organizations, the desegregation of fraternities and sororities, and concerns related to the Vietnam War and the military draft.
“Don not only jumped out as the obvious choice for that position, but he jumped out to take it,” said Charles E. Young, who was UCLA’s chancellor from 1968–1997. “Don did not have to learn to be the ombudsman. He had been such for most of his life. He defined the term.”
Born in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, Hartsock earned a bachelor’s degree from Waynesburg College and a bachelor of divinity degree from McCormick Theological Seminary. He also served in the United States Navy as a seaman 1st Class from 1944–45 and again from 1950–1952.
Hartsock began his career at UCLA in 1959 as university pastor, a position he held until 1968.
When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at UCLA at the foot of Janss Steps on April 27, 1965, Hartsock and others raised money to support King’s civil rights work by “passing the hat.” Those funds were given to King before he left campus that day.
“I think that because of the fact that he was here, the students felt that they were a part of history,” said Hartsock during an interview with James Mink as part of an oral history of UCLA. “None of us had a sense of where it was going to go or how it was going to end, but there was an optimism whenever he showed.”
In 1968, Hartsock left UCLA to join the Peace Corps, serving as deputy director for the Micronesia region. He returned to UCLA in 1969 to become the campus’ first ombudsman, in response to student protests.
John Sandbrook, who was assistant to Young for nearly 20 years, met Hartsock in 1969 when he was a Daily Bruin reporter. Sandbrook said that Hartsock was someone who was poised under pressure and always seemed to know how to provide appropriate guidance regardless of the situation.
“Whether one was in the middle of a conflict or dispute regarding a university matter, or had a major personal issue, or was in need of solace at a moment of such loss or tragedy, or just wanted to talk about current issues in a local, regional, national or global scale, Don Hartsock always went the extra mile to be helpful to everyone and make everyone feel that at least someone was listening to them,” Sandbrook said.
Hartsock was honored by the UCLA Alumni Association in 1976 with a university service award.
Following his retirement as ombudsman, Hartsock remained committed to his profession. He co-created the University and College Ombuds Association, which merged with the Ombudsman Association to become the International Ombudsman Association in 2005. He also continued to support the campus and offer support during trying times, including offering heartfelt words and support during vigils held at UCLA in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the mass shooting at Virginia Tech six years later.
“UCLA is a much better place, and thousands of former students, faculty and staff, including myself, are better people than we would have been without Don’s friendship and counsel,” Young said. “We will all miss him, his kindness, devotion and love more greatly than we now know; however, he and his spirit will be with the Bruins forever.”
Hartsock is survived by his wife Marjorie Jo, whom he was married to for 69 years, along with their five children, 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at Westwood Presbyterian Church, where Hartsock also served as a minister, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6.