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Remembering Gunilla Hastrup

Gunilla Hastrup, beloved Caltech Y family and Caltech community member, passed away last October. She was a remarkable person, and today, I write you to celebrate her life and legacy.

A native of Sweden, Gunilla was one of Caltech Y’s greatest champions. She believed in our group’s mission of promoting cultural awareness and broadening worldviews and devoted hours to helping our organization. Gunilla and her husband, Rolf Hastrup, were members of the Y board for many years on and off, from the 1970s until 2016. Even after she and Rolf stepped off the board, she continued to volunteer on several Y committees.

Shortly after Gunilla arrived in the United States in the 1950s, she befriended Ingrid Gumpel who welcomed her into the Caltech community. In fact, Ingrid’s encouragement and support led Gunilla to successfully apply for a job at the Caltech General Library. Gunilla later transferred to the Environmental Engineering Library where she met another good friend, Rayma Harrison. Through these positions, Gunilla got to know and connect with Caltech undergraduate and graduate students. Her participation in and enthusiasm for the Caltech Y is an extension of Gunilla’s care and concern for the students she met during her time at the library.

Gunilla played a pivotal role in the creation of the Caltech Y Ingrid Gumpel Memorial Endowment Fund. She persuaded Dr. Lajos Piko, Ingrid’s longtime partner, to consider the Caltech Y as a possible recipient of Ingrid’s estate. Dr. Piko had no prior connection with the Y but Gunilla shared her love and enthusiasm for our programs. As a result of these conversations, Dr. Piko created the fund in 2011, which underwrites social and cultural events for Caltech’s international students and scholars. Today, the Caltech Y is the beneficiary of part of Dr. Piko’s estate.

In addition, Gunilla was always working behind the scenes at various Caltech Y events, taking pictures, arranging beautiful centerpieces with flowers from her garden for Friends dinners, attending weekly student meetings to stay apprised of their needs, and editing and producing the Caltech Y newsletter with Rolf. She was active with the Caltech Women’s Club for many years, and, most recently, participated in the Caltech Y’s 2020 World Fest celebration, where her recipe for Swedish pancakes was featured as part of the virtual food fair (

Gunilla was a gifted hostess, and everyone on the Y staff looked forward to occasional invitations to the Hastrup home for brunch with homemade Swedish pancakes served on warmed plates. On top of that, she came by the office every year with a tin of gingerbread snaps and a stick of butter. She delighted in showing us the Swedish way of eating them, with a spread of real butter. Her warmth and presence always made me, and those of us who knew her, feel special. I always felt seen, heard, and appreciated by Gunilla.

I am saddened to lose such a dear friend but am grateful that her legacy will live on at Caltech thanks to the generosity of her family. They recently established the Gunilla Hastrup Adventure Award, which offers Caltech students the opportunity to take a break from the rigors of academics, explore their heritage, and/or learn about a different culture. We are especially honored that her family has chosen the Caltech Y to manage this fund and believe this award captures her devotion to student welfare, as well as her spirit of adventure, love of travel, and belief in maintaining strong cultural ties.

I imagine that Gunilla would have felt humbled by and proud of this award. If you would also like to honor this truly remarkable woman and support Caltech students, please consider donating to the Gunilla Hastrup Adventure Award.


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