Retired staff member John Westlund, who worked for nearly 20 years in what is now the Career Center, passed away May 9. He was 88.
Born October 28, 1931, in Petaluma, he served in the US Navy after graduating from San Rafael High School and then traveled to Scotland to attend the University of Edinburgh. While there, he met Rachel Findlay, fell deeply in love, and married her less than a month later. They returned to the United States, where he attended San Francisco State and then moved to Chico so he could attend Chico State.
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 1961 in social science, he worked as a probation officer for Butte County Sheriff’s Office. In 1967, he became a placement officer for Chico State in what was then the Placement Office and is now the Career Center. His unique style of welcoming all students and recruiters led to unparalleled success in placing graduates in career positions throughout the country.
He truly loved his job and everyone loved working with him, said longtime staff member Cindy DeBon, who worked with Westlund in the 1980s when he was the placement officer for students in the College of Business.
“John made working in the Placement Office so much fun with his jokes and kidding around,” she said. “Amazingly, he knew every graduating student’s name and personally matched students with employers. He helped so many students over the years.”
Retired staff member Ed Daniels shares similar memories after working together in the mid-1970s. Westlund was popular not just for taking a personal interest in helping students, faculty, and recruiters accomplish their goals, he said, but because he did so with a great attitude.
“John had a wonderful sense of humor and enjoyed making people laugh. The staff would always gather around with smiles on their faces whenever he started telling one of his stories because they knew there would be a funny punchline or surprise ending,” Daniels said. “His stories often included props that he made from stuff he found around his home in Butte Creek Canyon.”
Away from campus, Westlund had a deep love for the canyon, when he built an unusual A-frame home out of rocks from the creek using only hand tools. The house would become a gathering spot that would be enjoyed by friends and family for decades.
After retiring in 1987, he continued his support for preserving the canyon’s history, with contributions to the Centerville Recreation and Historical Association, the Honey Run Covered Bridge Association, and the Centerville Cemetery, among others. A remarkable storyteller, he published numerous historical accounts that recounted his conversations with old-time residents of the canyon, many of which reside in Meriam Library Special Collections.
“John had a passion for local history,” said Special Collections librarian Pam Kruger. “His contagious personality and skilled storytelling made for many delightful conversations when he would stop by.”
After Rachel, his wife of 53 years, passed away in 2009, Westlund met a new companion, Nancy Lough Haywood, who brightened his spirits and shared his enthusiasm for fun and adventure. He believed everyone had an interesting story to tell and had a “more-the-merrier” attitude about parties, even if the gatherings were as simple as sitting by the creek watching wildlife, said his niece, Mikayla Teeter, a staff member in the Office of Admissions.
He was always positive and believed you should embrace change instead of fight it, a mentality that aided him greatly when he lost his home in the Camp Fire. He enjoyed the last weeks of his life in a new tiny home built on his property on the banks of Butte Creek.
He is survived by his daughter Julia Wilson, son Iain Westlund, granddaughter Kathryn Westlund, stepgrandchildren Blake Meeder, Kelly Whitt, Katy Whitt, and Cody Whitt; sister Lola Harris, niece Mikayla Teeter, great-nephew Aengus Teeter, companion Nancy Lough Haywood, and many more extended family members and friends.
A celebration of life will be announced later this summer. The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be made in his name to the Centerville Recreation and Historical Association or Honey Run Covered Bridge Association.
The University flag will be lowered Monday, June 15, in his honor.