Louise Kanter was described by family and friends as a woman with a keen eye for art and a heart for justice.
A sociology professor for three decades at California State University, Sacramento, Kanter was a union activist who helped establish the United Professors of California, said her daughter, Liz Kanter. She also was an art collector noted for recognizing the talents of artists before they became well known.
Louise Kanter died of lung cancer Jan. 10 at her home in Sacramento, said her daughter. She was 89.
“She was a real champion for the underdog,” said Helen Burgess, a longtime friend and CSUS colleague. “Whenever she saw an injustice, she felt she had to act to correct it.”
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In pre-union days, Burgess said, professors were largely at the mercy of department chairmen. She recalled that Kanter chaired the local union’s grievance committee.
“When someone was unjustly terminated, she would go to bat for them,” Burgess said. “She was very successful at it.”
She became involved with Kanter in the grievance process in the early 1990s, when university administrators sought to get rid of the women’s studies program by putting the classes into various departments. Burgess said she and others who taught in the program filed a grievance. The process dragged on for a year, but she and her colleagues prevailed.
Having earned degrees at Stanford and Harvard universities, Kanter was rather patrician and might have seemed an unlikely candidate for the role of union activist, Burgess said.
Kanter probably would not have called herself a feminist, her friend said, but she was fearless and wouldn’t back down from causes she thought were just.
“She was kind of steely,” Burgess said. “A lot of people were afraid of her, but she had a heart of gold.”
Liz Kanter said her mother’s sense of humor was “just incredibly biting, and she had such good timing, too.”
She recalled making picket signs and marching in labor protests with her mother.
“She made lifelong friends with people whose jobs she saved,” Liz Kanter said.
She was a real champion for the underdog. Whenever she saw an injustice, she felt she had to act to correct it.
Helene Burgess, Kanter’s longtime friend and CSUS colleague
Louise Kanter also was passionate about art, and she recognized and supported the talents of budding artists, her daughter said. Some of the people whose art she bought early on have works in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Liz Kantner said. Among her collection were works by Roy De Forest, Maija Peeples-Bright and William T. Wiley.
Barry Sakata, owner of the B. Sakata Garo gallery in Sacramento, said Kanter purchased a number of pieces from his gallery. She had a keen eye for paintings, “the whole idea of the piece … and the way (the artist) painted,” he said.
“Her house was like a little museum,” Sakata said, noting that he once referred the curator of the San Jose Museum of Art to Kanter’s collection.
“She knew so much about art and she was so much fun to talk to,” he said.
Sakata said he plans to show and offer for sale some of her collection at his gallery in August.
Louise Kanter was born Mary Louise Miller to Calvin Daniel and Madge M. Miller on July 26, 1927, and grew up in Broken Bow, Neb. She came to teaching naturally, her daughter said, noting that Louise Kanter’s grandmother, Emma Jane Bishop, taught in a one-room schoolhouse and carried a shotgun to class to keep order. Louise’s mother was a speech pathologist.
Kanter earned her bachelor’s degree at Stanford, a master’s at Harvard and her doctorate at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. She joined the CSUS faculty as a professor of sociology in 1965.
Liz Kanter said her mother’s marriage ended in divorce.
In addition to her love of art, she was an avid reader, but she never was interested in using the internet, her daughter said. Liz Kanter said her mother was always clipping articles from the The Nation and the New York Review of Books.
Louise Kanter was fascinated with people. One of her favorite pastimes in retirement was walking her daughter’s three Labrador retrievers along the American River, where she enjoyed observing and talking with people.
In addition to her daughter, Kanter is survived by a brother, Thurston D. Miller.
At her request, no services will be held. Liz Kanter said donations in her mother’s memory may be sent to Sacramento Animal Care Services, 2127 Front St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or made online via the Animal Care Services website, www.cityofsacramento.org/General-Services/Animal-Care/Donate.