Claire Olson Szoke was born on June 16, 1937 in Davenport, Iowa. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with a double major in Spanish and journalism and began attending graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1959, ultimately earning her PhD in Spanish Language & Literature ten years later. Szoke spent many years as a teacher in Champaign-Urbana and the surrounding area, and served as a technical editor at the University of Illinois General Chemistry department from 1985 through 2018. She spent decades as an activist fighting for civil rights, diversity and inclusion, and equity for all, as proven by her participation in several civil rights demonstrations and her vigorous involvement in the sanctuary movement of the late twentieth century. Szoke was a dedicated Unitarian-Universalist and served as the director of Champaign-Urbana's Channing-Murray Foundation for over twenty-five years. Szoke passed away from COVID-19 on January 30, 2021 at the age of 83. You can view her obituary here.


Szoke served as the Religious Education Director of the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign from 1982 to 1989, and as the director of Champaign-Urbana's Channing-Murray Foundation from 1991 to 2019. The Channing-Murray Foundation seeks to "provide educational opportunities to explore Unitarian-Universalist spirituality, reflect our concern for social justice, and affirm diversity through outreach to the campus community of Urbana-Champaign... [and] be a haven for those who dream of a better world" (Channing-Murray Foundation mission statement). This mission statement seems to have aligned with Szoke's own mission and values, as she spent over forty years working tirelessly as an activist for civil rights, and immigrants' rights especially. Szoke used her platform and power to transform Champaign-Urbana into a haven for immigrants and refugees seeking "respect and the opportunity to live in a fair and safe society" (Laut, "Activists Among Us: Claire Szoke") and served as a major figure in the sanctuary movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Until her death in 2021, Szoke continued to work with local immigrant organizations such as the C-U Immigration Forum and the C-U Friends Assisting Immigrants and Refugees initiative.

In 2019, Szoke was awarded the Distinguished Leadership Service Award at the 6th annual Immigrant Welcome Awards for "her lifetime of contributions to help create a more just world" ("UU Member Claire Szoke Received Immigrant Welcome Award"). The City of Champaign has also created the Claire Szoke Lifetime of Service Award in her honor, which is now a category at the City of Champaign Immigrant Welcome Award Ceremony.


"Immigrant Welcome Award Ceremony and Celebration," City of Champaign Equity & Engagement Department ( : accessed 6 November 2022).

Julie Laut, "Activists Among Us: Claire Szoke," The Public I: A Paper of the People, September 2016, (accessed 6 November 2022).

"Obituary," Sunset Funeral Home ( : accessed 6 November 2022), Claire Olson Szoke, died 30 January 2021.

"UU Member Claire Szoke Received Immigrant Welcome Award," UU Church of Urbana-Champaign ( : accessed 6 November 2022).