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Posted Feb. 7, 2006

Kenneth Cmiel Obituary

Kenneth Cmiel, 51, of 1422 E. Bloomington Street, Iowa City, died suddenly at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics on February 4, 2006, as a result of a previously undetected brain tumor.

Born in Chicago on August 31, 1954, Ken was the son of the late Henry and Jean (Gasiorek) Cmiel. He married Anne Duggan in San Francisco in 1980. They have three children: Willa, a sophomore at New York University; Cordelia, a senior at City High; and Noah, an eighth grader at Southeast Junior High.

Ken was a professor of history and American studies at The University of Iowa and director of the UI Center for Human Rights. He received his bachelor's degree in history from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1977, and his doctorate in history from the University of Chicago in 1986.

Ken's academic interests ranged from pop music to global human rights. His first book, "Democratic Eloquence: The Fight Over Popular Speech in Nineteenth-Century America," won the Allan Nevins Prize from the Society of American Historians in 1986. His second book, "A Home of Another Kind: One Chicago Orphanage and the Tangle of Child Welfare," was published in 1995. At the time of his death, Ken was working on a history of the idea of human rights, a topic on which he had recently published in scholarly journals.

He served as chair of the Department of History from 2000-2003. In 2004 he became director of the UI Center for Human Rights, a nationally recognized model for cooperative work between the academic and human rights communities. He was the UI Presidential Lecturer in 2005, and since joining the UI faculty in 1987, he won many of the university's other top research and scholarship awards. A popular teacher and mentor, he (rightly) took it as a compliment when a student observed the following about him on rateyourprofessor.com: "Thinks he's funny."  

As accomplished as Ken was in his professional and academic endeavors, he was proudest of being Willa, Cordy, and Noah's pop and Anne's husband. They were the most important focus of his considerable talents and love.

He is survived by his wife and children, as well as his mother, of Iowa City; brother Scott Cmiel, his wife, Peggy, and their children Colin and Matthew, of San Francisco; sister Carol Butler, and her husband, Ed, of Riverside, Iowa; sister-in-law Valerie Robertson, her husband, John, and their children Julia, Nicholas and David, of Tracy, California; sister-in-law Victoria Duggan and her husband, Thomas Bahning, of Santa Rosa, California; brother-in-law Christopher Duggan and his wife, Nancy Schutt, of San Anselmo, California; nephew Patrick Duggan, his wife, Lisa March, and their children, Amanda, Max and Gabriel of Ashland, Oregon; cousin William Gibbons of Chicago and his children Max, of Chicago, Bart, of San Francisco, and Ariel, of Washington, D.C.; cousin Morgan Gasior and his wife, Darlene, of Chicago; and many cousins, friends, colleagues, and fans. Ken was preceded in death by his father.

A memorial reception and program will be held on Saturday, February 11 at the UI Levitt Center for University Advancement, 1 West Park Road. Family, friends, and colleagues are invited to gather at 1:30 p.m. and the program will begin at 2 p.m. A reception will continue until 4 p.m.

Ken's family would like colleagues and friends to contribute written remembrances and photos of Ken for sharing at the memorial. Please send photos and stories (150 words or less, please) to kencmiel@gmail.com by noon, Thursday, February 9.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to a charity of choice or to a memorial fund for Ken's children. Gifts may be sent to Cmiel Children Memorial Fund, UI Community Credit Union, P.O. Box 2240, Iowa City, IA 52244-2244.

Lensing Funeral Home is caring for the family.


University of Iowa President David Skorton has ordered the flag atop the Old Capitol dome be flown at half-staff on Thursday, Feb. 9, in honor of Cmiel's memory.