Cover photo for Jennifer Brunner's Obituary
Jennifer Brunner Profile Photo
1975 Jennifer 2018

Jennifer Brunner

June 25, 1975 — January 23, 2018

Jennifer Ellen Brunner left this world peacefully on Tuesday, January 23, 2018, with her husband Kevin Brunner and her daughter Magnolia Mae Hickman by her side. A friend and inspiration to all who crossed her path, Jenn lived life to the fullest. Whether working or playing, Jenn put her heart and soul into everything she did.

Born June 25, 1975, in Rhinelander, Wisconsin to Timothy Newman and Julia Lambert, she graduated from Lincoln High School in Manitowoc, WI in 1993. She graduated with a BS in Zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1998, which led her into a distinguished career in animal research. The light of her life, Magnolia Mae, was born in 2000. Earlier in that same year, she started working at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, where after a few years she began monkeying around with Kevin Brunner, and found the love of her life. She began her career at the USGS-National Wildlife Health Center in 2006. Jenn and Kevin were married in the presence of friends and family on August 23, 2008.

She enjoyed traveling with her family throughout the U.S. as well as internationally. Jenn was a lover of a variety of music and it was often used to communicate her feelings to others. An avid and extremely talented quilter Jenn worked many long hours alone and alongside members of the Madison Modern Quilt Guild turning out works of art on a regular basis. She maintained a healthy diet and frequent yoga instruction, even as she battled the malignancy that would cut the length of her life short. Being Maggie's number one fan whether for skating, track or volleyball was also a great source of joy for her. Jenn did not let her disease define her, but continued to live and love and laugh and be. She loved and was loved deeply and broadly and will be missed greatly, but live on in all those that met her along the way.

A memorial service to celebrate Jenn's life will be held at Cress Funeral Home at 6021 University Avenue at 1pm on Sunday, January 28, with an opportunity to share light food, beverages and memories with family and friends immediately following.

In lieu of flowers, donations in honor of Jenn can be made to Gilda's Club of Madison, Kickapoo Valley Reserve, Metaplastic Breast Cancer Foundation, Agrace Hospice or to the charity of your choice. Also, look for opportunities in the coming years to support the Carbone Cancer Center by contributing to or riding with a team inspired by Jenn raising money for The Ride benefit bicycling event held each September.
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Remembering our Jenn... Written by Kevin Brunner and Magnolia Mae Hickman

The prophet Mohammed said "A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world". Jennifer Ellen Brunner surely left this world a very rich woman. She was born Jennifer Lambert-Newman to Timothy Newman and Julia Lambert, June 25th, 1975 in Rhinelander Wisconsin. She was an early walker, showed a love of healthy food as a youngster and enjoyed playing cards and other games Jenn loved to spend time outdoors and explore nature. She had childhood pets and continued to share experiences with animals for the rest of her life, which led her later in the career choices she made.

Growing up, Jenn had many special people in her life and in addition to her parents, had a stepdad, Mark who she was very close to and she was deeply saddened when he passed away suddenly. Traveling with her grandparents Bill and June was something she enjoyed very much and recounted often the adventures and time spent with them and her cousins.
Cousins were very important to Jenn and she had many who were close to her, but none closer than her "twin" cousin Jessie. Spending time together from childhood through college and beyond formed a special bond between them.

Jenn was a hard worker, demonstrated by her ability to balance her first job cleaning motel rooms while excelling in high school, foreshadowing her work ethic moving forward. She went to high school in Rhinelander, but moved to Manitowoc and graduated from Lincoln High School there. Starting her college career in Manitowoc and graduating with degree in Zoology from the UW-Madison in 1998, she continued with an animal focused life in the jobs she would seek.

Following graduation she began working in freshwater mussel research in West Virginia, something she enjoyed immensely and also met good friends, including a lifelong friend Angie, a very special friend who remained close in her heart always even though many miles separated them for most of their lives. A move back to Madison and a start working with primates at the Wisconsin National Primate Center, was the next step in her life leading to her decision to start a family.

Jenn was married to Kelly Hickman and had a beautiful daughter, Magnolia Mae, after starting her work with monkeys. Although they would ultimately not stay married, Kelly remained close to Jenn, a great father to Maggie and became a friend to Kevin over time

After a few years at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, Jenn began monkeying around with Kevin Brunner, and found in him the love of her life. While he was her supervisor for a short while, these days one has to state very clearly that they did not start dating until after she was promoted to another unit. Married on a beautiful late summer day, at a picturesque country property, in the presence of friends and family on August 23, 2008, Jenn and Kevin built a community of love and support around them.
Though she wouldn't be working with Kevin anymore, Jenn moved on from primate work to a position with the USGS-National Wildlife Health Center. It was not an easy decision to leave a safe position and move on to something new, but Jenn braved the waters and thrived at her new position. Jenn found a true work family there and loved going to work almost every day. Her passion and drive along with her long-standing work ethic and organizational skills were a perfect fit and resulted in numerous merit awards throughout her time there.
Jenn's work ethic also carried over into her creative side. An avid and extremely talented quilter, Jenn worked many long hours alone and alongside members of the Madison Modern Quilt Guild turning out works of art on a regular basis. She made extraordinary quilts for nieces and nephews, friends' newborns, fundraising events and even occasionally to enjoy herself. Her creativity and originality as well as her precision and attention to detail work a perfect match for this hobby.

Jenn also had a thirst for adventure and enjoyed travelling the globe to explore new places and local cultures. Her first adventure with Kevin took place in 2007 after doing an internet search for "rustic tropical vacation" and discovered a small fishing village just south of Puerto Vallarta named Yelapa. Like Jenn, Yelapa is full of natural beauty, life, warmth and intrigue and also, a bit wild, while safe, quiet and comforting at the same time. Once found, this hidden destination was enjoyed often by the family and shared with others at every opportunity. Visiting this tropical paradise numerous times led to new friendships with people from across the globe and a feeling of having a home far away from home, not just a warm place to travel to. Other international destinations included England, Ireland and most recently a trip that included time in Austria, Hungary and Slovakia. Always trying to understand the local language and traditions, as well as partaking of the local food and drink led to a better understanding of the world around us, and a deeper appreciation for her life.

Jenn loved spreading this love of life and adventure through music. While anyone who has heard Jenn sing karaoke understands why she kept her day job, enjoying and sharing music was extremely important to her. Music was a way for her to think about life, reflect on herself and the world around her, but also a way for her to share her feelings with others. Jenn often gave gifts of music to friends and loved ones that may have reflected her feeling toward them, her interpretation of who they were or just an attempt to put a smile on their face or an extra bounce in their step. She took great pride in finding the right music for each individual or event, such as the wedding, holidays, and family gatherings. She also enjoyed live music and introducing new bands, such as Guster and Wilco, to her friends and family alike. Many of you may not know this, but Jenn and Kevin's first "dates" consisted of listening to music during noon organ recitals at Luther Memorial Church on the UW campus and then sharing lunch after as time and weather allowed. Jenn loved seeing musicals at the Overture Center, including her very last family outing, just 3 weeks ago to see Rent, which was a very moving experience for all who were there with her.

Though music kept Jenn's spirit healthy, she also cared very much about her physical well-being and tried hard to use nutrition and exercise to maximize her health. She found a sense of peace in her mind and body through her yoga practice. She loved preparing healthy, unique and delicious food for herself and others as often as she could to feed the body and delight the palate. Although these choices did not prevent a disease that eventually took her life, she felt strongly that they helped in the fight and made her feel better throughout the journey. Along with eating healthy, Jenn made sure to incorporate physical exercise into her daily life through figure skating with Maggie and commuting as often as possible by bike.

Jenn was not what many would consider a huge sports fan, but when it involved people she loved she would follow sports intensely and enthusiastically. She enjoyed watching Maggie's track, figure skating and volleyball competitions. If you didn't hear Jenn screaming at a volleyball match, it might be time to get your hearing checked. She even held her own against 10,000 hometown fans at the World Championships of Beach Volleyball in Vienna last summer supporting her favorite professional volleyball player, Theo Brunner. She loved to support other family members as well, attending Kevin's volleyball and biking events as well as many other sporting events for relatives and friends.

As generous as Jenn could be with her time and talents to so many, her beloved Magnolia Mae always took center stage. Maggie was the light of Jenn's life and her biggest priority. It isn't always easy in today's world to raise a smart, funny, thoughtful, empathetic, generous, creative, active and humble, yet confident child, but Jenn did just that. One need only meet Maggie for a short time to understand that she has some of the very best of her mother's qualities in her and the more you get to know her you understand that she was allowed to become her own unique beautiful self and one that Jenn and everyone around her has been extremely proud to have a hand in bringing to this point. Wherever she goes and whatever she ends up doing in life, she will surely change the world for the better, in no small part because of who her mother was.

Diagnosed with metaplastic breast cancer in December of 2015, Jenn spent the past 2 years inspiring all she came in contact with as she battled a merciless foe. Always with a laugh, a smile, an inappropriate joke or two and a game of cards, there was little to be done to dampen her spirit. Smart and sassy was her trademark and it didn't take long to realize this when you met her. Throughout this time her relationship with Kevin only grew stronger with each month, each failed treatment and each disappointing imaging session. Those who know Jenn and Kevin well, know their relationship was not perfect and that 2 quiet, headstrong, proud, sensitive individuals sometimes have compatibility issues. They had their struggles and gave each other some space and freedom, but never stop caring, loving and supporting one another. Never running toward someone else, but needing a bit more breathing room and perspective. Kevin found Jenn more beautiful than ever as the disease progressed and was fortunate to comfort and care for her in their home to the very end. Maggie and Kevin were able to be with her as she slipped away peacefully and ended her fight and her pain. A life that ended too soon, but a life lived full and well. Thank you for blessing us all with your presence in this life Jenn and know that your spirit lives on in all who knew you.


Cress Center
6021 University Ave.
Madison, WI 53705
(608) 238-8406

Memorial Service

Cress Center
6021 University Avenue Madison, Wisconsin 53705
A gathering of family and friends will follow the service in the Terrace Room
1:00 PM
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Jennifer Brunner, please visit our flower store.

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