Hundreds pay tribute to remarkable Minnesotan Gary DeCramer who was “full of joy”

Gary DeCramer deserved much more. So did his family and friends.

The fact that hundreds of people from all over Minnesota came to his recent funeral was both tribute and recognition that people had not been able to adequately honor him before he passed. That’s because this remarkable man in his 60s, died, unexpectedly, while taking a daughter to visit the University of Minnesota, Morris.

He had been, at various times, a teacher, Schwan’s salesperson, Minnesota state senator, president of Southwest State University, director of Rural Development in Minnesota for the US Department of Agriculture, husband, father and director of the University of Minnesota Humphrey School’s Mid-Career Program.

The facts that he was helping a family member at the time, was planning to visit friends at the Center for Small Towns, and was planning to recruit for the Humphrey School, help illustrate the different worlds in which he lived and thrived.

Gary DeCramer wore many different hats during his lifetime but education was an area that he loved the most. (Photo supplied by Humphrey School, University of Minnesota)

Information provided by his family indicates that DeCramer was born “full of joy” in Marshall, Minn. He grew up on a family farm near Ghent. Gary used to laugh about how “people in Ghent did not mind when at age 6 or 7, he would drive the family tractor into town. If he tried to drive the car into town, there would have been trouble.”

Gary was “the oldest of 44 cousins in a large Flemish-Dutch Catholic family,” and thought for years that he would be a Catholic priest. However, he concluded as a teenager “the life of a priest, specifically celibacy, was not for him.” So he did many other things, some of which are listed above.

When I was last at the Humphrey Institute a few years ago, Gary was the most frequently selected student advisor, with more than 100 advisees. He loved to listen. He loved to learn about other people, whether in the world they came from. While in Oklahoma, he was adopted by an Apache family with whom he lived.

Gary also was courageous. We worked together on several bills. Gary always focused on what seemed right and just, not what would make him popular with interest groups. He wanted to do as much as he could in the Legislature, regardless of what it meant to the length of his career there. So, we worked together on a bill that make it possible, not required, but possible, for cities and schools to share libraries. Some librarians felt threatened, and cited research that this had not always worked well. But sometimes sharing works well. So Gary made it possible.

His family-provided bio says that the three pieces of legislation he worked on that he was most proud of the Minnesota Indian Education Act, the Minnesota school breakfast bill, and the charter public school law. He would listen to many people. But he could not be intimidated. So we worked for, and often succeeded, in passing legislation that powerful groups opposed.

Gary’s last e-mail to me was typical. There was a question and a compliment. Gary DeCramer made countless people feel better.

You can find more information about Gary at his web page.

He loved his family, his wife Estelle, and his children. For thousands of people, he modeled caring, courage, commitment, optimism and a love of life. His unexpected death meant many, including me, did not thank him enough for all he did. As one person noted during the service, “In his memory and in his honor, let us go forth to bless the world.”