Oscar Humberto Montemayor, associate director of Academic Success with Diversity and Cultural Engagement at Oregon State University, died Saturday, Oct. 22 after suffering a stroke. He was 53.
Montemayor served the Oregon State community for nearly three decades, first with the Education Opportunities Program and later with Diversity and Cultural Engagement. His impact on students, especially the children of migrants, was profound. As the son of migrants himself, Montemayor had a unique perspective that helped him serve as a mentor to and champion of hundreds of OSU students throughout his tenure with the university.
Montemayor arrived at Oregon State in 1982 with the first student cohort of the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP). While a student, he was resident assistant for the summer Upward Bound Program and volunteered with the Educational Opportunities Program at many student retreats. After graduation, he began a long career in advising and student success with EOP. From 2004-2012 he served as an academic counselor for the OSU CAMP program, ensuring that CAMP was a home away from home for all CAMP students.
“He was known as “Papa” Oscar,” said Amas Aduviri, current director of CAMP, “and students saw in him the father figure. He was a great listener and made sure all students regardless of any background were listened to and supported.”
In 2012 he left CAMP to join Diversity and Cultural Engagement.
Former CAMP student Sonia Ortega recalled meeting Montemayor on her first day of orientation, at a time when she knew no one else on campus.
“He was part of my family away from home, he was always there to cheer you on for your efforts and to guide you,” Ortega said. “It was always a good time to step away into his office to have a really good conversation. He was more than just a mentor; he was a guy with a great soul, a great friend.”
Peter Bañuelos, who was part of the CAMP cohort of 2005, said Montemayor was more than a mentor. He not only helped him through school but inspired him to pursue his master’s, and even introduced him to his future wife.
“So many good things happened in my life while at OSU, and the root of all that is beautiful in my life and all that I have now, are due to the actions of one single man,” Bañuelos said. “Oscar didn’t have to track me down and ask me to sign up for CAMP and he didn’t have to buy me lunch every so often when I didn’t have the money to eat. He didn’t have to go out of his way to drop me off safely at my mom’s or call constantly to see how I was … But he did and that is what made Oscar, well, Oscar.”
For many, Montemayor helped not only students, but nervous parents who were not used to navigating the world of higher education.
“He was the first Spanish-speaking person my family met when we got to Oregon State during orientation in summer of 1990,” recalled Ines Ruiz-Huston. “My parents were so happy to know he was there and they could talk to him.”
For others, it was Montemayor’s infectious smile and exuberance that left a lasting memory.
“I’m not sure if I’ve ever known a more joyful person,” said Emily Bowling, assistant director of Student Leadership and Involvement for Civic Engagement and Sustainability. “His smile could always light up a room. His love for life and love for others could always be felt when you were in his presence. He cared for others so deeply and it was inspiring to watch the depth and breadth of connections he built within the OSU community. Oscar was a model of what it looks like to give selflessly and support others in the pursuit of their dreams.”
Throughout his time at OSU, Montemayor provided consistent leadership and support to MEChA, Kalmekak, Centro Cultural Cesar Chavez, Adelante, Juntos program, Distinguished Scholars Initiative, Diversity In Advising, and various social justice retreats designed to raise awareness and build a community that welcomed everyone.
Allison Davis-White Eyes, assistant vice provost and director of Diversity and Cultural Engagement, worked with Montemayor for many years.
“Oscar was the one person you could count on in many occasions to be genuinely concerned and connected to students. His approach was one that valued the student and the student’s experience,” she said. “Oscar was not a ‘showhorse’ type of person, he did a lot of work behind the scenes that people did not notice, or that often times went unrecognized… he knew how to reach people on a personal and genuine level.”
Interim Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion Angelo Gomez knew Montemayor for more than 20 years, and says he felt blessed and thankful that he was part of his life. Gomez visited Montemayor in the hospital at Oregon Health and Science University before he passed.
“He was one of the most gentle, sincere, caring people I ever met. Through this sad experience I realize many people feel the same about him. He demonstrated devotion to students, their welfare and success,” Gomez said. “During his last days in the hospital, hundreds of people came through the waiting area, staying for hours, holding vigil with his family. There were many tears and many stories about how he had guided and inspired them. It was remarkable and very telling how he touched so many lives.”
Joseph Orosco, associate professor with the School of History, Philosophy and Religion, and a longtime colleague of Montemayor, posted a portion of an Aztec poem by philosopher and ruler Nezahualcoyotl on news of Montemayor’s death.
“I, Nezahualcoyotl ask this:
Truly do we live on earth?
Not forever on earth, only a little while here,
Although it be jade, it will be broken,
Although it be gold, it is crushed,
Although it be queztal feather, it is torn asunder.
Not forever on earth; only a little while here.”
Montemayor is survived by his wife, Lilia, and son, Victor, his siblings Jose Joaquin, George Luis, Elias, Elizabeth Clara, Armando, Joel Joaquin, Ana Marie, and many nieces, nephews and extended family. A memorial service will be held 1 p.m., Oct. 27, at St. James Catholic Church in McMinnville. A university and community acknowledgement will follow from 1-3 p.m., Oct. 31 at Reser Stadium on the Club Level, fourth floor.
The OSU Foundation is hoping to establish an endowed scholarship to honor Montemayor’s contributions to the university and preserve his legacy at OSU. Gifts in memory of Montemayor can be sent to the OSU Foundation for the Oscar Montemayor Educational Opportunities Program Scholarship Fund or can be made here: https://create.osufoundation.org/montemayor.
~ Theresa Hogue