Maria Kerschen
1955 - 2020
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Maria Kerschen
May 1, 1955 - May 22, 2020
Maria Kerschen was born in Irumagawa prefecture, Japan. From infancy she learned to love Japan as a second home. The Kerschen family moved to Merced, CA, when Maria was five. She grew up cooking like a pro; singing joyously, loudly, and out of tune; helping her dad tinker with his truck on hot summer days; and learning that no toaster she ever faced stood a chance of outsmarting her.
Her infectious energy garnered her friendships so lasting they continue to this day. Voracious for knowledge, she earned her BA at San Francisco State University, all the while serving cocktails to the literati in North Beach, selling coffee to famous poets, and bonding with fellow servers whom she loved fiercely through the AIDS crisis. She once sold everything she owned so she could travel and teach English to adoring students in Japan, helped during the launch of InterNews to expand independent information worldwide, worked as assistant to the chair of the California Democratic Party, studied ikebana, and practiced Tibetan Buddhism. She worked at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in the financial division, where she proved her value to such a degree that she was chased after until she agreed to become the Assistant Dean in the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences.
She more than earned her retirement to Eugene. She loved being close to her sister and brother-in-law and enjoyed basking in the lush Oregon greens that fueled her soul: Maria marveled at every leaf, flower, and pod in the forests, yards, and gardens of her friends, reveling in their exquisite design (and frequently dragging home samples to examine more closely). Her passion for music drew her to many live performances, especially anything with a deep-throated singer and beat that made you leap to your feet.
Her curiosity knew no bounds. She delighted in being surrounded by scientists at UCSC. She loved learning and read everything: science, art, fiction, poetry, gardening, history, cooking. Conversations about all these topics were accompanied by luscious meals she fed her friends: from her mother's childhood recipes, recipes gathered from friends and family, anything interesting she discovered in books and magazines — all from cuisines that spanned the globe. Gyoza, ozoni, pot roast, posole, curries. And her pies! The best.
Maria was fierce where politics were concerned, partaking in protests throughout her life, and even committing her retirement to fight for good and right. In recent years she spoke her mind on the steps of the Federal courthouse in Eugene with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She was an integral part of the Eugene group's efforts to pass gun sense legislation in Oregon and the nation.
Maria's creative spark was made manifest in her beautiful yet comfy home, where she crafted elegant arrangements of everyday objects and lovingly displayed her hand-curated collection of artwork. In her later years, this home was the base from which she loved her daughter and cherished her friendships, nurturing the twisted old vines from grade school and college along with the new tendrils that sprouted in Eugene.
We lost our Maria too soon to cholangiocarcinoma. Her love and passions infused her being and overflowed into all she knew — and we are all better for it. We miss her deeply at the same time she lives in all of us.
Maria is survived by her loving daughter Katherine Cook (Mat); her devoted sisters Linda Berry (Ed), Chris Kerschen, and Becky Vollstedt (Gregg); her fond nephew John Kerschen (Sara), great niece Alexandra Kerschen, and great nephew Hunter Kerschen; and lifetime friends in Oregon and California who hold her in their hearts.
Visit to read more and share a memory about Maria. Donations in honor of Maria can be made to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
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Published in Eugene Register-Guard from Jun. 29 to Jun. 30, 2020.
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