Jeune Kirmser, whose remarkable interest in local education made her a fixture at school board meetings for more than a half century, died Monday at the Meadowlark Hills Retirement Community. She was 91.
A passionate advocate for numerous local political causes and interests, Mrs. Kirmser was deeply involved in many aspects of work with the League of Women Voters. But it was her role as the League’s designated “observer” at meetings of the USD 383 Board of Education in which that interest showed through most strongly. From 1956, her interest spurred as a young housewife preparing to send her own children to school, through the first decade of the 21st Century, Mrs. Kirmser was more of a fixture at school board meetings than the board itself.
She started going, she said, out of a simple desire to inform herself as to what the board was doing. “The newspaper didn’t cover it, the radio didn’t cover it. It just wasn’t part of the culture,” she said in a 2009 interview.
No one knows exactly how many meetings she attended over the years, but the figure has been estimated to have approached, and possibly exceeded, 1,000. Rarely did she speak out; her usual routine involved simply sitting in the back of the room and taking note after note after note. When she had things to say, she said them to board members privately.
Finally, a few years ago when physical infirmity made her continued presence impossible, the school district recognized Mrs. Kirmser by naming its meeting room after her.
Board president Dave Colburn, who had not yet been born when Mrs. Kirmser attended her first meeting, termed her death “a tremendous loss for the community (and) certainly a loss for me personally.” He particularly cited her continuing advocacy for social service causes. “I always thought of Jeune as the conscience of the board,” Colburn said. He recalled that even after she stopped attending meetings in person, she continued to watch them on television. “I’d get calls from her” about things the board was contemplating,” Colburn said.
USD 383 Supt. Bob Shannon, who was in kindergarten when Mrs. Kirmser’s attendance began termed her “a strong supporter of public education in general and the Manhattan schools in particular. She called them as she saw them,” Shannon said, citing “a wisdom and perspective on public policies that was a great plus to the community.”
A social worker by profession, Mrs. Kirmser came to Manhattan from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area when her husband Phil, who survives, obtained a faculty position at Kansas State. Two children also survive.
The Irvin-Parkview Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements, which will be announced.