Minneapolis, Minnesota


Byron Shire Echo
, Mullumbimby, NSW, Australia
Published Wednesday, 7, January 2009

Farewell to Jenny Verroen
Written by Eve Jeffery
Wednesday, 07 January 2009

Jenny Verroen, Mullumbimby identity and much loved Echo staff member, died of complications arising from a recent stroke, at Tweed Heads Hospital on Monday December 29, aged 63.

Born Jennifer Dorothy in March 1945, Jen was the oldest of Ted and Dorothy ‘Doff’ Wareham’s three children. The family including Jenny’s younger brothers Steven and Geoff, lived at Maroubra in Sydney’s southeast.

She was an extremely bright child, which was recognised when she won a scholarship to Sydney Girls Grammar. Jenny grabbed all knowledge from every source and at quite a young age headed overseas to explore the world, arriving in the US in the late 60s where she worked firstly for Chris Craft Boats then at the Radio TV Station, KMSP.

In 1969 she became the administrative assistant to Jack Chestnut, the campaign manager to former Vice President of the United States, Hubert H Humphrey, in his successful bid to be reelected to the Senate.

DJ Leary, political commentator and former media director for Vice President Humphrey has fond and vivid memories of Jen. ‘That campaign was where Jack, Jen and myself first forged a friendship that has weathered time for almost 40 years,’ says DJ. ‘After the campaign, Jen went briefly to Australia but Humphrey was being pressed to run for President in 1972. When he decided to make the run for the White House, he told his campaign manager to bring Jennifer back from Australia, as he wanted her in the US to help him campaign. Humphrey lost the nomination to George McGovern, who lost to Nixon and then came Watergate.’

In 1972 Jen moved to Duluth, Minnesota, as comptroller for the Upper Great Lakes Pilots. The pilots navigated foreign ships through the Lakes. She was also comptroller for Seaway Services, an umbrella corporation whose companies provided tug boats on the Lakes, stevedoring services for the Port of Duluth, and line handling services in several Great Lakes ports. Jen stayed in the shipping industry for about ten years, finally becoming the overall administrator of the entire operation.

Love of her life

It was during her service on the Lakes that she met ‘Verroen’, the love of her life.

Gerard Verroen had retired from his career as a ship’s captain and was the general manager of the freezer terminal for shipping in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The corporation that Jenny worked for bought out the firm which employed Gerard and he was ready to fight for the jobs of his workers when the new company rep entered the room.

‘She was dressed in a white ruffled blouse and a purple jacket,’ recalls Gerard. ‘She had flaming red hair and I thought “God, what a picture”. I was worried that she was going to fire us all but it was settled well, though Jenny kept coming back to Wisconsin for the most minuscule reasons. I thought it a long way to travel for such small things. Then I caught on.’

The two became a pair and were inseparable for almost 30 years.

When Jenny fell in love with Gerard she also became a part of the Verroen clan, and Gerard’s son Hans Peter in Holland found a kindred spirit in Jen. ‘I found a new mother and a good mother she was to me. We “spoke the same language”. She was so clever and understanding. I could discuss any and all topics with her and our kids felt like they had a new “Oma”.’

In the late 70s, Jenny and Gerard moved to a house on St. Clair Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in the early 80s she brought her parents over for a lengthy holiday in the US. During their stay, her mother suffered and eventually succumbed to a recurring incident of cancer and Jen along with her father Ted and Gerard, decided to return to Australia, eventually settling in their home at Wilsons Creek.

Jen was involved in so many local projects and associations they are beyond count – she was a champion of the Bush Fire Brigade, the Chincogan Fiesta Committee, the Northern Rivers Wildlife Carers and the Brunswick Valley Historical Society. It was through these community groups she became well known throughout the shire. There was never a time when the Verroens did not have a box of ‘babies’ in the den, a bird flying through the kitchen to a perch on the mantelpiece or a phone call to rescue a snake from some hysterical human, and as members of the historical society, Jenny and Gerard will be well remembered as the Mullumbimby Market managers, for which Gerard says they didn’t miss a single market in 12 years.

The Verroens were new arrivals in Mullumbimby when Nicholas Shand and David Lovejoy started a newspaper in 1986 and with the wealth of accounting practice behind her, she set up a bookkeeping system and became an important part of The Echo team.

Veteran Echo receptionist Felicity Gaze remembers Jenny as an accommodating and patient teacher. ‘I didn’t have any of the skills I needed for this job when I started. She was a very welcoming person who showed me how to do everything. I wouldn’t be in this job today if it weren’t for Jen.’ This was also true for many Echo staff members who were employed over the years simply because of the faith Jenny had in their ability, myself included. Jen worked in some capacity for The Echo right up until her trip to Europe and the US in 2005.

The Verroens had a joyous family gathering in Holland on their European leg. ‘They came to visit us in Holland in 2005,’ said Hans Peter. ‘It was a wonderful occasion and afterwards they continued on to the USA. That was the last time we saw Jen but she will always be our dear mum and oma.’

The Verroens travelled to St Paul. They were staying with their good friend ‘Princess’ Pam Arledge when Jen collapsed on May 26 with a stroke caused by an arterial venous malformation, AVM, a rare condition that occurred deep in her brain. Thanks to Cyberknife technology, Jen survived the stroke and with friends and family across the globe awaiting her every breath, she rallied enough to be transported to Australia to continue her recovery.

Because of her reduced physical capability, Jenny and Gerard moved from their much loved haven at Wilsons Creek to a more manageable house in Mullumbimby and Jen continued to progress with her recovery. But not for this world was such an angel and her recovery was merely a long goodbye, as Jen was struck again by a stroke in November last year. This time her revival was not as stellar. Sadly just before the new year she let go her hold and flew away.

Jenny Verroen leaves behind a legion of broken hearts. She will be sorely and sadly missed and her presence will never be forgotten.

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