Gerald O. Gunderson

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Gerald O. Gunderson  

MIDDLETON–Gerald Olin Gunderson, a man who viewed time in terms of eras and epochs rather than in years or centuries, left us far too soon early on the morning of Jan. 7, 2021, at age 79. 

Jerry was born Jan. 1, 1942, in Green Bay, the oldest of three children born to Joe and Helen (née Fabry), in a family of teachers who valued education, curiosity, and hard work. The Gunderson kids grew up working on their family’s Christmas tree farm in Waushara County, planting and pruning trees in the chill of spring and selling them in the bitter cold of winter.

Jerry loved nature and science. Growing up in Appleton, he and his friends explored the natural world along the Fox River and in the open fields around the city. There they learned all about pyrotechnics by setting off rockets that they had built themselves. (Later on, his students would appreciate this expertise when “Mr. Gunderson” demonstrated the principles and power of combustion in his science classrooms.) Jerry began collecting fossils in his early teens with his friend Ron Meyer, and that friendship and collecting collaboration continued until Jerry’s death.

Jerry attended UW-Platteville and began teaching math and science before obtaining a Master’s degree from Northern Michigan University. After a rough beginning teaching high-schoolers, he found his niche as a middle-school science teacher. He eventually taught for 30 years at Kromery Middle School in Middleton.

Retirement for Jerry was an opportunity to further pursue his hobbies. Along with fossils, Jerry loved the prairies of the upper Midwest. His Middleton yard was a testament to this interest: crowded with native plants and buzzing with insects, it was undeniably the home of a prairie enthusiast. He volunteered his time, vast knowledge, and abundant collection of prairie seeds and plants to establish prairie sites throughout Madison and Dane Co., often working with good friend Rose Ann Scott. In the same way, he enthusiastically shared his knowledge of geology with students and at rock clubs throughout the area.

Jerry was instrumental in two of the most important fossil discoveries of the past 50 years, the Brandon Bridge Lagerstätte and the Big Hill Lagerstätte. He even had a number of ancient species named for him, including the Cambrian trace fossil Raaschichnus gundersoni.

Among other accolades, Jerry’s dedication to paleontology resulted in his receiving the 1998 Katherine Palmer Award for excellence in the field of paleontology by a non-professional.

We don’t meet many people who are as true to themselves as Jerry was. He lived modestly and lightly on the earth, and he gave generously to people, causes, and organizations that mattered to him.

Jerry is survived by his sister Carol (Richard) Linden, and nephew Eric and niece Gwen; his brother, Darrel (Ruth) Gunderson, and niece Joan and nephew John; his ex-wife Judy Page; and many friends. He was predeceased by his parents and a nephew, Dwight.

The family is grateful to Tamara England for her help in Jerry's care in the last year of his life.

Due to COVID-19, a private burial was held at St. Paul’s Liberty Lutheran Church Cemetery in Deerfield, with a celebration of Jerry’s life to be held sometime later this year, when it is safe to gather. 

Cress Funeral Home in Deerfield is assisting the family.

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