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July 18, 2024

Cabrillo to celebrate Camenson at memorial

Plane crash victim remembered as an inspiring, thoughtful person

Faculty, staff, students and the family of Stuart Camenson, who died in a plane collision at Watsonville Municipal Airport on Aug. 18, will gather at Cabrillo College on Oct. 16 for a Celebration of Life event.

Camenson was a student at Cabrillo and deeply involved in the school’s Visual and Performing Arts department. He studied a variety of studio art disciplines and performed in multiple choirs and theater productions. 

Teachers, staff members and classmates alike have worked together to organize the event, which began as a memorial display of photos and art in a hallway on lower campus but has evolved into something much bigger over the past few weeks. 

“Our initial idea was that memorial,” said art instructor Tobin Keller. “We did that, but there was increasing interest with other faculty and friends to do more.”

Keller had been Camenson’s screen printing instructor for three different classes since the Spring of 2020.

“He was very creative, skillful, intelligent and insightful,” Keller said. “He made such a big impact on others. I had no idea how far wide he’d expanded his studies. He was so involved and committed to his art, and so generous in his own way.”

Small metals and jewelry instructor Dawn Nakanishi said she remembers Camenson, 32, as talented, passionate and kind.

“He always said thank you after every class,” Nakanishi said. “He’d just come up and thank me for teaching him something new. He had so much appreciation and gratitude for learning new skills and art forms. Occasionally a student just stands out, and he for sure did. He was full of love. A bright light.”

Stuart Camenson, photographed by Dylan Foster

“Stuart Camenson: A Celebration of Life, Love & Art” will begin at the Samper Recital Hall, with speeches, displays of Camenson’s artwork, performances of his original music and more. A song from Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” will be also performed, as Camenson was in the cast of Cabrillo Stage’s production of the musical this past summer.

A sunset reception will follow the event at Cabrillo’s horticulture building at the top of campus. This will include a flyover by members of the local flying community.

“A group of pilots wanted to do a flying procession,” Keller said. “It’s something they do when someone passes. There has been this wonderful connection between all these people, different parts of the community, coming together to celebrate Stuart.”

Wei Hwu, a classmate and friend of Camenson, credited Keller with taking a lead on arranging the celebration. 

“Tobin has been incredible,” Hwu said. “His persistence in getting all the details, making sure everyone, especially Stuart’s family, is involved.”

Hwu said she has fond memories of Camenson, recalling his dedication to the technique of nonviolent communication, and his eagerness to show appreciation. She shared a handmade greeting card he’d once made for her, which thanked Hwu for their time spent together.

“This little card is such a reflection of who Stuart was: so caring, and kind and compassionate,” she said. “He was so grateful for everything. He brought all of his positive energy into what he was doing. I think everyone remembers him as an inspiring person. Stuart was so loved, and everyone saw how much he cared for the community here.”

Lori Camenson, Stuart’s mother, extended her gratitude to the Cabrillo community.

“We heard things from Stuart about Cabrillo, but we had no idea what a wonderful community it was and the extent of the relationships he formed there,” she said. “We are so grateful to everyone who has helped build this bridge for us to see inside my son’s life there. Cabrillo has been so supportive and kind in their recognition of my son as a part of their artist community. I have been shrouded with love and compassion. It is very clear to me that they valued Stuart and his life. [They] saw him as a family member. My family is grateful beyond words.”

Stuart Camenson: A Celebration of Life, Love & Art will be held Oct. 16 at Cabrillo College, 6500 Soquel Drive. It will begin at the Samper Recital Hall on lower campus at 3:30pm. (Note: The event is open to the public, but space in the hall is limited.) The following reception will start at 5:30pm at the horticulture building at the top of campus.

Johanna Miller
Johanna Miller
Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.

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