Obituary: Jean Bauer reached out to families, students

  • Article by: PAMELA MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 30, 2012 - 9:22 PM

Jean Bauer, a family social science professor at the University of Minnesota, specialized in research that helped low-income rural families maximize their resources.

Jean Bauer, a family social science professor at the University of Minnesota whose innovative research and no-nonsense leadership benefited low-income rural families and academics alike, died of cancer July 23 at a Shoreview hospice. She was 67, and had lived in Falcon Heights.

"Her passion was trying to do things that would help people, particularly in relation to family economics," said her husband, Marvin Bauer, also a U professor.

Bauer was born on a farm in southern Illinois and as a child moved to Terre Haute, Ind. In 1966, she earned a degree in home economics education from Indiana State University in Terre Haute. She taught high school home economics, earned advanced degrees from Purdue University and the University of Illinois, and was married in 1969. In 1983, she and her husband took jobs at the U of M. They lived in Woodbury for 16 years, moving to Falcon Heights in 2000.

One of Bauer's roles was in outreach and education for the U's Extension Center. "Greater Minnesota was her classroom -- she loved being out in the counties," studying how families managed their finances, her husband said.

In the 1990s, she became interested in how policies, in particular welfare reform, affected rural families, he said. That led to a multistate research project called "Rural Families Speak," for which she interviewed low-income families, many of them headed by single mothers, "about how they got by, about all the things that affected their ability to work and their incomes," Marvin said. The study culminated last year in the book "Rural Families and Work: Context and Problems."

Bauer was also highly respected for her astute work in faculty governance and wise mentoring of grad students, he and colleagues said.

Jan McCulloch, chair of the Department of Social Science in the U's College of Education and Human Development, said in Bauer's faculty governance role, "she had great wisdom about trying to make things not necessarily equitable but fair -- it's important that leaders get the difference there. That was advantageous for our faculty, for grad students and for our college, and is part of her legacy."

As a mentor, "Jean was particularly dedicated to our international students," many of whom sent messages of thanks and encouragement in her final days, McCulloch said.

Patricia Olson of the U Extension Center for Family Development worked with Bauer over 25 years. "She really was the mission of extension, which is to bring research from the U out to the residents of Minnesota and at the same time to ask people out there, 'What else do you need to know?'" Olson said.

Tricia Dyk, a University of Kentucky faculty member, spoke about Bauer by phone from a Rural Sociological Society gathering in Chicago, where she was presenting research findings from the Rural Family Speaks project.

"Jean had intellectual rigor, persistence and passion for giving voice to low-income rural women," Dyk said. "And she pushed us all to do more than we thought we could, because she could envision what we're capable of. We all grew tremendously because of her."

In 2011, Bauer received the President's Award for Outstanding Service to the University. Her cancer was diagnosed in 2009 and successfully treated but came back last summer, her husband said. She was determined to do all she could to beat it and to work as long as possible, but had been on medical leave for the past six months, he said.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by a sister, Nancy Gossmann, of Marshall, Ill., and a brother, Richard Warner, of Buffalo N.Y. Services have been held.

Pamela Miller • 612-673-4290

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