Sister Mary Cramer, BVM

Vol. XVII No. 3 - FALL 2006

Mary Cramer was born on Dec. 18, 1912 in Chicago, Illinois. She died August 31, 2006 at Marian Hall in Dubuque Iowa. Mary was the older of two daughters born to Burrell and Mary Lorden Cramer. Her sister, Mary Jane had seven children. Mary Cramer graduated from Our Lady of Mercy School and then Immaculata High School and attended Mundelein College in Chicago before entering the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1931.

As a Sister, she taught elementary and High School at Cathedral in Rapid City, South Dakota; Cathedral in Sioux City, Iowa and St. Joseph Academy in Des Moines Immaculata High School in Chicago, and she was on the faculty of Mundelein College, Chicago. She served on the staff of the Iowa Commission on Aging, as a program Specialist on ACTION, in Washington, DC and as director for the Center on Aging at Mundelein College. She also served as the personnel director for the BVM congregation.

Sister Mary Cramer, B.V.M. became involved in the Edgewater community when she worked at Mundelein College. She served on the board of the Edgewater Community Council (ECC) and as a representative on the board of the Edgewater Clergy and Rabbi Association which is now the Edgewater Community Religious Association. In 1986 the ECC decided to begin a celebration of Edgewater’s 100 years as a community. Sister Mary volunteered for the committee.

The Image Building-committee chaired by Sister Mary and Claire Conley planned three ways to celebrate the community’s history. The first was a display of street banners celebrating the 100 years. The banner in blue and gold featured a phoenix and the names of the groups that contributed to the fundraising effort. These groups also paid for the brackets that are in continued use on many of our streets.

The second committee effort involved the application for a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council to record oral histories of the community. Many people volunteered to do over 25 interviews of community residents. This is where Sister Mary had a direct leadership role. Because she was experienced in oral histories she became the one to train all the volunteers. She also worked with the person who transcribed the tapes to text.

The last step involved the application for another grant to create a video report of the oral history project. Under Sister Mary’s guidance the grant was written and funded by the Department of Cultural Affairs of the City of Chicago. The committee did some team editing of the text from the histories and then the project was given to Bob Solomon and Kathy Gemperle. Once again Sister Mary was pressed into service to record some of the voices for the video. The title of the video is “Through the Eyes of Experience.” It has been used in many Edgewater schools and even shown on Channel 11. At the culminating event in April 1988 at Berger Park, all the committee members decided to dress vintage. Sister Mary showed up in a mink stole and fancy hat. This event included a display of photos collected and copied as part of the video and a written report of the project.

In the months that followed, the committee began discussing whether we should continue our efforts to collect Edgewater history. After 10 months of discussion the group held a formation meeting at the Edgewater Library for a new non profit community organization in Edgewater, the Edgewater Historical Society. At this meeting Sister Mary and 20 other community residents volunteered to serve on the Board of Directors. It was history in the making and Sister Mary was once again in the center of it. Sister Mary Cramer served on the EHS Board of Directors until 1998. A few years later she retired from her home at Mundelein College and moved to Dubuque Iowa to the BVM Motherhouse. She had a few visitors from Edgewater, Kathy Gemperle and Betty and Ara Mayian were able to stop by and see that she had a lovely room on the first floor.

Sister Catherine McHugh, B.V.M. offered these reflections on Mary Cramer, “To have known Mary is to have known a happy and very CLASSY Lady. She got up each morning and dressed as though she were going to the Walnut Room at Marshall Field’s for lunch. Among the many papers in her file is her philosophy of life. It begins with this quote from Abraham Lincoln: ‘People are about as happy as they decide they’re going to be.’ “Attitude is where it starts. As I age, I must be willing to eat sensibly and exercise. But there is another kind of exercise that is important. It involves being intellectually curious, socially concerned and – as a result – being actively involved.”

We have been missing Sister Mary since she retired and with her passing we know we will keep her in our memory.