Sylvia Camiel, Cultivator of Children and Gardens, Dies at 76
Sylvia Camiel, a passionate educator who championed students from elementary school through college over the course of a dynamic and accomplished career, has died after a courageous battle with ovarian cancer. She was 76.
Sylvia was born in Mexico City, Mexico, on July 14, 1941, the youngest daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland, Rebecca and Yidl (Juan) Sierota. Yidl owned a general store in the town of Navojoa, Sonora, where he traded with the Yaqui Indian tribe.
At the age of nine, Sylvia left Navojoa with her mother for the United States. She always remembered the trip north by train to Denver, Colorado, where she and Rebecca lived in a boarding house until Yidl arrived. Sylvia, whose first language was Spanish, mastered English and excelled academically. In 1960, she was admitted to UC Berkeley.
At Berkeley, Sylvia developed a love of American history—her major—that would stay with her throughout the years. Berkeley was also the setting for Sylvia’s introduction to the great love of her life—her husband Jack Camiel, whom she met on a blind date and married in 1961 at the age of 19. Though cash was in short supply in those early years, the hallmarks of their 57-year marriage—deep love and partnership, a mutual set of values, a shared moral compass, and a great sense of humor—were abundant.
Two children, Jeffrey and Deborah, came along as Jack and Sylvia completed their bachelor degrees and moved to Santa Barbara to pursue graduate work. Sylvia earned an MA in counseling psychology at UCSB and took a job as a guidance counselor at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta. Ever a staunch advocate for students, she encouraged her counselees to aim high in their pursuit of a university education. Decades later, former students would still reach out to seek advice or thank her for the impact she’d had on their lives.
After 22 years at DP, Sylvia returned to school to pursue a master’s of educational administration at California Lutheran University. She served as vice principal of Ventura High School before taking a position close to her heart: principal of E.P. Foster, an elementary school in Ventura. Among her achievements at E.P. Foster, Sylvia expanded the free school breakfast and lunch programs, established a computer lab, modernized the playground, restored the school’s Spanish-style architecture and introduced a peer mediation program that reflected—and taught—her kind, communicative and inclusive educational philosophy. Throughout her career, Sylvia won the respect and affection of her colleagues. After retiring briefly in 2001, she returned to counseling at Santa Barbara City College before finally stepping back from her career so she could be free to help take care of her young grandson.
Sylvia and Jack were active members of Santa Barbara’s Jewish community for half a century and were instrumental in founding pivotal local Jewish organizations. Embodying the “Woman of Valor” described in the verses of Proverbs 31, Sylvia helped her family all the days of her life: she was creative and skilled with her hands—sewing, knitting, crocheting and designing elegant jewelry in her spare time; she was a wonderful cook and a wise investor; she was a voracious reader, transmitting that passion and a love of learning to her children and grandson; and she was generous, philanthropic, and forthright. A single approach was fundamental to everything Sylvia undertook: she gave it her all.
The heart of Sylvia’s life was family, and she and Jack built a loving and devoted one, including their beloved dogs and cats. Sylvia doted on her grandson Ariel and often made the trek to Israel and then New Jersey to take care of him. Her insatiable appetite for life and seemingly limitless energy carried Sylvia, Jack, Jeffrey, Deborah and Ariel to innumerable cultural experiences and fabulous trips around the globe that were scrupulously planned labors of love. Sylvia had a special connection to Israel, which she visited some 20 times, and she described Del Mar, California, where her family vacationed annually, as “paradise with beautiful light.” Most of all, Sylvia loved her unique Santa Barbara home and the lush unstructured garden where she spent so many happy hours.
Sylvia’s memory will live on through those who love her so dearly, those she touched with her special grace, and the legacy of her exemplary life.
There are stars whose light reaches the Earth
Only long after they themselves are gone.
There are people, the glory of whose memory shines
Though their time with us is done.
These lights that light up the darkest night,
These are the lights that guide mankind on its path.
Donations in honor of Sylvia can be made to Feed the Children at http://www.feedthechildren.org/