Dr. Jennifer Ann Helen Gramer died peacefully on August 1, 2023, at the age of 35, following a courageous and determined year-long fight against cancer. But Jen’s spirit will never die because of the many lives she touched with her warm smile, keen mind, and generous heart.
Jen was born in Boise, Idaho on Super Bowl Sunday, January 31, 1988, at the kickoff between the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos. The timing of her entry into the world was ironic as she never had much interest in sports, except for the Portland Timbers. Her paternal grandmother was so happy that she finally had a baby girl in the family that she sent a “Thank You” balloon to the hospital instead of flowers.
Jen’s parents, Julie and Rod Gramer, were especially thankful for Jen because they had waited a long time to have a child. Jen’s birth and life was a blessing and a miracle for which they will always be grateful.
Jen had an independent and vivacious spirit. She had a brilliant mind, a strong sense of what she wanted, and a determination to succeed at whatever she took on, whether playing the piano, learning a foreign language, or acing her schoolwork from elementary school through her university studies.
Jen had a zest for life, wanderlust for new horizons, and a radiant smile that could warm up a room. She also had a wry and ironic sense of humor that made others not only laugh but feel comfortable in her presence. She had an empathetic ear for those who needed one and wisdom beyond her years. As a friend said after her death, “Even at the end of her life Jen was always sensitive to what those she loved needed from her, and she would give it to them.”
Jen excelled academically at Sunset High School in the Beaverton, Oregon School District where she edited the school paper, played tennis, and joined the ski team. She finished as a Valedictorian of her graduating class.
Jen went on to Syracuse University where she received a prestigious, full-ride Coronat Scholarship and majored in History and Art History.
Jen graduated Summa Cum Laude from Syracuse where she racked up a collection of distinguished academic awards. She was named a History student of Distinction; a Hotchkiss Prize recipient; a Wortman Scholar; a Renee Crown Honors student; one of four Syracuse Scholars; and a Remembrance Scholar, one of the university’s highest honors. One of the highlights at her graduation was a special honors ceremony where Jen was recognized for writing the best honors thesis in the College of Arts and Sciences - and the best honors thesis of any graduating senior at the university.
After graduating from Syracuse, Jen selected the University of Wisconsin in Madison to work on her doctorate in History. She chose Wisconsin because it has one of the leading German History programs in the nation.
While working on her doctorate, Jen was selected as a Fulbright Scholar – one of 819 Fulbright Scholars in the history of the University of Wisconsin. She used the Fulbright to spend two years in Germany working on her doctoral dissertation on how the Nazis used art as a propaganda tool and how the German government and society have dealt with the memories and horrors of Nazism since the war.
As in so many other ways, Jen was ahead of her time. She saw the importance of “memory” and “memorials” as a statement on the past long before Confederate art, statues and military bases named after rebel generals became a divisive issue in the United States. Her research was so compelling, that she was invited to present papers on the subject in several U.S. cities and in Israel and England.
After receiving her doctorate, Jen decided to stay in Madison, a city she loved, and help other students achieve their academic dreams. She saw helping undergraduate students decide which degree to pursue as a means of giving back and helping others. Through word of mouth, many students sought Jen out to be their academic advisor. Even as she fought a valiant and grueling battle with cancer and her strength waned, Jen kept working with students up to the final weeks of life.
Jen was a person with many interests. To say that she was a movie buff is an understatement. It seems as if she had seen every major film of the past 60 years, knew every director’s style, and could recite every cast list and plot twist of any movie you mentioned to her. She also loved music and her playlist was a banquet of the top-tier modern music ever produced – The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Linda Ronstadt, Duran Duran, Mavis Staples, Adele, Annie Lenox, and many more.
As news spread that Jen was dying, messages flowed in from professors, fellow graduate students and university administrators. “I was always so happy to see you in my office because you just radiate warmth and have a generosity of spirit that makes everyone around you smile,” wrote one person. A professor who served on her dissertation committee wrote, “It’s always a privilege to serve on dissertation committees, but rare are the instances in which I feel genuinely lucky to have been part of the process – and proud to have my name on the cover page. Yours is exactly such a case.”
A fellow graduate student wrote, “Your friendship helped me survive what was one of the hardest times in my life.” Another wrote, “You should be sustained knowing how many you have touched and enlightened with your joy, curiosity, and energy. You, Jen, are truly unforgettable.”
Jen was preceded in death by her paternal Grandmother Virginia Ruth Gramer (Grammy) of Boise, and her maternal Grandmother Mary Jean Simis (Nanna) and Grandfather Donald L. Simis (Boppi) of Gooding, Idaho. She was also preceded in death by her uncle, Harold Gramer of Tempe, Arizona.
She is survived by her parents, Julie and Rod Gramer of Boise, and her brother Robbie and his wife Kelsey of Washington, D.C. She is also survived by her cousins, Rose Cole (Michael) and their children Jaime and Sam; Anna Halverson (Brett) and their daughter Lucy; and Molly Wilkinson (Jimmy), and their children Beau and Josey; Steffi Simis of Bamberg, Germany; and Brian Simis (Xiao) and their children Mia and Daniel of Dublin, Ireland. She is also survived by her close friend, Kevin Eggleston, of Washington, D.C.
Jen is also survived by her uncles, Rick Simis of Perryville, Maryland, and Rob Simis (Teresa) of Bristol, Virginia. And she is survived by her Aunt Mary Ellen Simis of Fairmont, West Virginia; Aunt Joan Harchelroad, of Bristow, Virginia; and Aunt Gisela, of Bamberg, Germany.
Jen had a life-long love of cats. While living in Madison she was a foster caregiver for cats from Angel’s Wish, a cat shelter. One weekend she took home a foster cat named Lily and fell in love with her. Jen and Lily were inseparable the rest of her life. With Jen’s wholehearted approval, her dear friend Kevin adopted Lily after she passed away.
Our family wants to thank Dr. Marina Sharifi under whose skillful and compassionate care Jen fought her battle against cancer. We also want to thank the caring and dedicated nurses who served Jen with joy and compassion over these many months. Their caring professionalism gave Jen strength and comfort.
On the morning Jen died, a full Sturgeon Moon rose over Lake Monona and the city of Madison. At 6:27 a.m., with her parents by her side holding her hand, Jen passed away peacefully.
A few days before passing, Jen’s cousin Anna and her daughter Lucy visited her bedside. Jen had a special place in her heart for Lucy. Jen told her, “Lucy, every night when you look up at the moon, I’ll be waving to you.”
Our family hopes that when the many people Jen touched and loved look at the moon, they will think of her. If they do, they might just see Jen waving back at them.
A Celebration of Jen’s Life will be held August 19 at the Fluno Center, 601 University Avenue, on the University of Madison campus starting at 11 a.m. At Jen’s request, a second Celebration of Life will be held September 16 in Portland at the Oregon Historical Society, 1200 S.W. Park Avenue, starting at 5:30 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, Gifts in memory of Jen may be made payable to the 'UW Foundation' with a note to direct as a tribute to the Jennifer A. Gramer Scholarship Fund (#132540178). Mail to: UW Foundation, US Bank Lockbox Box 78807 Milwaukee, WI 53278-0807. Gifts can also be made online at http://supportuw.org/giveto/JenGramerMemorial
Please share your memories of Jennifer by posting in her Guestbook.
Cress Funeral Services
3325 E. Washington Avenue, Madison