Michael Francis Urmann, 67, died peacefully on April 28, 2012, of congestion heart failure complicated by pneumonia at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Hayward, Calif. His death came after a long hospitalization.
He was born in Altadena, Calif., Nov. 20, 1944, the son of Frank J. and Katherine L. (Donovan) Urmann. He grew up in Pasadena, Calif., and graduated from Pasadena High School in 1962. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1966 and master’s degree in 1968, both from University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the role of the rank-and-file communists (The Communist Party) in the formation of the CIO labor union in the 1930’s. From the ProQuest Information Service abstract:
This dissertation asserts the view that the organizing activity of rank and file Communists was an important element in the hitherto undescribed and mysterious process that led to the CIO’s rapid growth and was the basis of the strength of the CIO. It then investigates the nature of the activities as well as the character and personal backgrounds that made it possible for them to play this role. This dissertation presents a new interpretation of the role of rank and file Communists in industrial unions; it offers a new explanation for the successful creation of those unions.
Also in Salt Lake City, Michael founded the first art movie theatre, called the Blue Mouse, which ran successfully for many years. When he saw that there was no other similar art theatre in such a large city, he decided to do it himself. He eventually sold it to his partner when he moved to the SF Bay Area.
Michael was a Board Member of the ACLU in Salt Lake City in the 1970’s.
Later, Michael was a tenure-track professor of economics at Willamette University in Willamette, Ore., and taught at the University of San Francisco and at California State University at Sonoma, East Bay, and San Bernardino. For the last 8 years of his life he taught economics at Cal State San Bernardino and retired from there in 2006.
In 1984, Michael founded TecNica Volunteers, an international, nonprofit organization based in Berkeley that sent supplies and volunteers with specific technical skills to Nicaragua. TecNica organized work projects for volunteers on two-week work assignments. Those volunteers brought much-needed assistance in fields such as engineering, banking, library automation, farm equipment repairs and innovation, chemical engineering, office systems, computing, and telecommunications to help a nation restore basic foundations of life following the 1980s revolution. TecNica expanded to Africa in the early 1990s.
Michael traveled to Nicaragua dozens of times to work with Nicaraguans in positions of responsibility to identify and plan for productive work trips for Tecnica Volunteers. His primary Nicaraguan business partner was Mr. Eric Brenes, an upper-level official at the Bank of Nicaragua, who was well-connected in the community and in the country. They became good friends, a friendship which lasted until Eric’s untimely death in 1989 in a plane crash. He was an active member of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s in Berkeley. He co-founded the Berkeley Anti-Draft League in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. He was an early and active member of the Progressive Labor Party in California.
He was instrumental in founding and leading the group, The Alliance for Community Action, in Wrightwood, Calif. in the first decade of the 21st century. The Alliance worked to educate the public about the pressing issues of that day, including local governing issues, school board issues, medical coverage for all (single payer), and ways that the average citizen could participate in strengthening his or her community. Michael ran for the local Snowline School Board.
Michael was a gentle man who worked tirelessly for peace and economic justice throughout his life. He loved the outdoors and was devoted to his family. He was an extraordinary father to two sons and later boy-girl twins. His patience and uncompromising love gave them all a great start in this world.
Michael was an avid backpacker and fly fisherman.
Survivors include his wife of 22 years, Mary Engle of Berkeley; sons David Urmann of Nagpur, India; Daniel Urmann of Salt Lake City, Utah; his son and daughter, Reed and Lily Urmann, then seniors at Berkeley High School; his mother, Katherine Urmann of Gig Harbor, Wash.; his sister, Nancy (Jack) Butler of Gig Harbor, Wash.; two grandsons, Cash and Cole Urmann of Salt Lake City; one aunt, Anne Smithers of Windsor, Calif.; nieces and nephews.
A celebration of his life was held in early June, 2012, at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley. Memorial contributions in his name may be made to Doctors Without Borders, P.O. Box 5030, Hagerstown, MD 21741-5030, or the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.