Tribute to Jack Kramer: Co-founder of NCWQR, 'jack of all trades' for 50 years

In October 2023, Heidelberg, and specifically the National Center for Water Quality Research, lost a stalwart and one of the lab's co-founders, a colleague, loyal alumnus and friend with the passing of Jack Kramer. Below is the campus announcement about Jack's passing from President Rob Huntington.

January 11, 2024

Dear Colleagues,

For the second time this week, I want to extend my personal apology to our community and express regret that we did not share this news sooner.  We had a very busy October with our Board meeting and Homecoming weekend; nonetheless, we should have acknowledged the passing of Mr. Jack Kramer at that time.  That is my responsibility.  I feel especially sorry to the Kramer family for their deep loss and to the many Heidelberg faculty and staff members and alumni who encountered Jack in our National Center for Water Quality Research and who were touched by this quiet yet accomplished gentleman.

Mr. Jack Kramer, age 78, passed away on October 19, 2023, at Kingston Residence in Vermilion, Ohio.

Jack was a quiet, unassuming man but his body of contributions as the only lab manager (until his passing) our National Center for Water Quality Research has ever known speaks volumes.  Following his graduation from Heidelberg in 1969 with a B.S. degree in chemistry, he joined the late Dr. David Baker – his professor and mentor – in co-founding the lab.  For the next 50 years, Jack worked primarily behind the scenes to “get the science done,” as assessed by the NCWQR’s current director, Dr. Laura Johnson.

Jack and Dave were quite a pair.  While the NCWQR (formerly the Water Quality Lab) was Dave’s vision for assessing river water quality and watershed loads, Jack – the lab’s lead analytical chemist – actualized the dream, figuring out how to efficiently analyze thousands of water samples each year while maintaining high-quality results.  He literally was the lab’s “jack of all trades” – electrician, carpenter, plumber, welder, machinist, photographer, computer programmer, data manager, architect, and teacher.  He juggled this multitude of responsibilities with skill and humility and always a willingness to help others.
Jack built a foundation for his stellar career by working as a Biology lab assistant while he was a student at Heidelberg.  He also enjoyed building theatre sets.  He listed as his favorite professor Dr. David Baker, which comes as no surprise. 

Jack retired partially from the lab in 2012 and then fully in 2018.  To this day, his contributions to the understanding of watershed health in the region are immeasurable.  In addition to ensuring the continuity of operation of the NCWQR and oversight of all lab analyses and field procedures, Jack also contributed in innumerable ways as a co-author and expert on the many and varied NCWQR publications and presentations throughout his career. Upon his retirement, Dave and his wife, Peg, compiled a book, “The Lab That Jack Built,” and presented it to Jack as an expression of their love and appreciation for his many years of dedicated and invaluable service.  To the Bakers, Jack was more than a colleague; he was a dear lifelong friend.

It is astonishing to pause on the 50-year working partnership that Jack shared with Dr. David Baker in the “Water Quality Lab.”  When Dave initially introduced me to “Mr. Kramer'' soon after my arrival at Heidelberg in the summer of 2009, he explained everything that Jack did in the NCWQR.  It was mind-bending and hard for me to firmly comprehend Jack’s role because Jack really did EVERYTHING needed or wanted to support Dave’s vision and work.  As my understanding of their important research work grew over the years, I came to think of Dave and Jack much like other famous or well-known professional colleagues who accomplish great things together over long periods of time … such as Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger for their sustained 60 years of investment success or Walt Disney and Roy Disney for their complementary visionary genius and logistics brilliance to create and build magnificent theme parks.  Fifty years of meaningful work together is inspiring!      

Jack’s passing left a huge void for his NCWQR family of colleagues and former students, whose professional lives he so positively impacted.

Outside of work, Jack was a member of Kiwanis for 20 years and served on the Kiwanis Manor Board.  He also served as the president of the Heidelberg Beach Homeowners Association.  According to his family, he enjoyed trivia, geography fishing, and bowling and even bowled a perfect 300 game.

He is survived by four children, James “Jamie,” Carolyn, Wendy, and Ellen; sisters Claudia Springer and Janet Peer; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

One of the things that I will always hold fondly were those unplanned and impromptu lunch dates with Jack, Ellen Ewing (who retired from the NCWQR after 44 years in 2020), and Barb Merryfield (who retired from the lab after 42 years in 2020) in Hoernemann Refectory.  To be more candid, they all gathered as planned almost daily and I would sheepishly walk over to their lunch table with my food and ask if I could join them on random occasions.  In kindness, they always said “Yes.”  Those three lab buddies worked here for a total of 136 years!  I sure learned a lot from them by mainly eating and listening.  It was in that setting that I came to respect Jack for his quiet modesty, witty sense of humor, and unmatched loyalty to Ellen, Barb, Dave, and everyone in the NCWQR.

I miss seeing Jack on our campus.

Please join me in expressing our most sincere condolences to Jack’s family and our colleagues in the National Center for Water Quality Research who remember him as an excellent, well-rounded scientist but more importantly, as a loyal friend.


Rob sig



Rob Huntington

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