Cecilia Zarate-Laun, Founder of the Colombia Support Network, Passes
Madison - Cecilia Lucia Zarate-Laun passed away on Sunday, February 5, at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison with her husband and 3 sisters present. She was born on May 10, 1945 in Santander Province in Colombia. The eldest of 5 sisters, she completed high school in Bucaramanga and graduated in Nutrition from the National University of Colombia in Bogota in 1966. She then joined the faculty there as a professor of Nutrition and received a scholarship to study in the United States, where she earned a Master's Degree from the University of Wisconsin.
She returned to Colombia, where she was hired as the nutritionist of the Colombian Government's National Nutrition Plan. In 1976, she married John (Jack) Laun, whom she had met while studying in the United States. The couple returned to the United States in 1977, dividing their time between a lake home on Elkhart Lake, which she affectionately called "mi cajita de sorpresas" and an apartment in Madison. They celebrated 40 years of marriage on April 24, 2016. Cecilia opened a factory and restaurant for empanadas named "Coquitos" which she and her partners ran for the next 8 years.
In 1987 Cecilia and Jack co-founded the Colombia Support Network (CSN), which for the next 30 years became Cecilia's principal life's work. As Program Director Cecilia took more than 50 delegations of residents of the United States to Colombia, supporting the formation of CSN chapters in the U.S. and matching them with rural communities in areas of conflict for the purpose of seeking peace with justice in Colombia and a change in U.S. policy toward Colombia.
As a part of her lifelong devotion to human rights, Cecilia became a member of the national board of directors of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and was active in the local WILPF chapter. She also was named to the Latin American subcommittee of the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) and served for some years on the board of directors of the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice (WNPJ). In
In the course of her work for peace with justice in Colombia, Cecilia supervised several talented interns from the University of Wisconsin International Studies Department. She also developed programs with the University's Latin American and Iberian Studies (LACIS) Department. As a demonstration of her strength, she courageously fought cancer for nearly 4 years to be able to continue her contributions to humanity.
Cecilia is survived by her husband Jack and four sisters, Elsa and Maria Teresa of Bogota, Colombia, Maria Helena of Madison and Marta of Charleston, Illinois. She is further survived by nephews Rene Walters of Mount Horeb, Michael Sullivan of Madison, Steve Sullivan of Seattle, Washington, Juan Carlos Mantilla and Andres Mantilla of Bucaramanga, Colombia and Maria Lucia Aguilar of Bogota, Colombia. A memorial service for Cecilia is planned, to be held at the Holy Wisdom Monastery, 4200 County Road M, Middleton, WI on Saturday, February 25, with visitation at , memorial service at and refreshments after the service.