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Obituary: Virginia H. Fossum

Longtime Claremont resident Virginia “Gigi” Fossum died peacefully, surrounded by family, from natural causes, on January 2.

Born in 1930 to Tom and Florence Hammond, she was raised in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and attended Benton Harbor High School. She often reminisced about family outings, friends, school activities, her love of dance, and days spent exploring the lakes and woods surrounding her childhood home.

Following high school, she enrolled at Beloit College, where she excelled academically, graduating magna cum laude in 1952, and Phi Beta Kappa. It was also there that she met her future husband of 56 years, Dr. Robert H. Fossum. The pair married and started a family in Beloit, and had three children: daughter Kristin, son Robert, and daughter Elizabeth.

In the early 1960s, her husband accepted a professorship in the English department of Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna) and the family moved to California. They settled permanently in Claremont, where for nearly 60 years Mrs. Fossum made her home, until her passing this month.

“Throughout her life, Mrs. Fossum was known to family and friends as a keenly intelligent, well-read woman with seemingly limitless energy and a remarkable ability to organize and manage her many undertakings with efficiency, competence and enthusiasm,” her family shared. “At the same time, she possessed a loving, caring nature and a fun-loving, delightful and clever sense of humor that endeared her to her many friends, associates, colleagues and neighbors. Family relied on her for wise counsel, care, and support in both spirit and action. The experiences and opportunities she created for her children and grandchildren were immeasurable.”

In addition to raising a family, she maintained a career as a librarian at the Honnold Library of the Claremont Colleges. There, she was a valued and respected member of the staff, serving in the circulation, reserve, and periodicals departments. She later assumed oversight of the microfilm/microfiche department, where she was instrumental in organizing, cataloging and managing the library’s collections.

A progressive thinker, she was active in a host of causes, including the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the ACLU, and other political, social, and civil rights organizations. She was a leading voice in efforts to unionize staff at the Claremont Colleges. Her strong sense of civic duty led her to assist with various political campaigns and support local community initiatives. She volunteered as an election worker at the polls for decades. She also devoted untold hours to volunteer organizations, such as the American Red Cross, eventually serving on the board of the Claremont chapter. Late in life, she enjoyed volunteering with the Claremont After School Program, supporting academically at-risk youth. She was a longstanding member of Campus Women of the Claremont Colleges.

Always the gracious host, she entertained often, whether holding dinner parties and luncheons, organizing block parties, starting monthly discussion groups, or hosting bridge club. She was forever arranging trips to the movies, concerts, the theater, exhibitions and sporting events with friends. She also traveled extensively, visiting five continents during her lifetime. Numerous trips to Europe included two years in Austria, where her husband taught as a Fulbright Scholar.

She was fit, athletic and active, and could often be seen riding her bike to work. She also enjoyed her weekly dance, stretching, and exercise classes. Beach trips included swimming and bodysurfing with her kids and, later, her grandchildren.

But, perhaps her greatest joy was playing soccer with the Claremont Older Women’s Soccer (The COWS) group. An early member, she joined in her fifties and continued to play into her early eighties. For her, the sport and friendly competition was great fun. Equally important, though, was the sorority she found both on and off the field. She valued the deep friendships she formed with the many remarkable women who made up the group.

At the time of her death, Mrs. Fossum was a resident of Mt. San Antonio Gardens in Claremont, where she had lived independently since 2008, shortly prior to her husband’s death.
She was predeceased by her older sister Ruth Freeman; brother-in-law, Emery Freeman; husband Robert H. Fossum; and grandson Robert C. Fossum.

She is survived by her daughter Kristin Fossum (David Coons), son Robert P. Fossum, and daughter Elizabeth Ryan (James Ryan); granddaughter Angela Meckler, grandson Eric Fossum (Jana Fossum); great-granddaughter Emily Fossum; as well as three nieces and a nephew.

Private services celebrating her life will be held by the family this summer.

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