MARSHALL?- A memorial service was held for former District 27 state Sen. Gary DeCramer at the Southwest Minnesota State University Campus Religious Center on Saturday morning. DeCramer was remembered as a politician who could work across the aisle and a man with a passion for education.
"His very first campaign office was in my basement," said DeCramer's one-time campaign manager and treasurer Tony Doom. "I got to know him in 1981 when they held the special election after Senator Jim Nichols' resignation. He'd just come back from Oklahoma, I was chair of the nominating committee. Three days before he showed up and walked out of the convention with the endorsement. He beat out eight other people."
DeCramer lost that election, but a year later came back and won the next election, eventually serving for 10 years from 1983 to 1993, Doom said.
DeCramer was born in Marshall in 1944, and grew up on a farm near Ghent, the oldest of 44 cousins. As a teenager he studied for the priesthood at Crosier Seminary in Onamia before enrolling in pre-med studies at St. Thomas College in St. Paul, but ultimately graduated with a degree in English. He pursued graduate studies in English and anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, where he was adopted by an Apache Indian family.
In the state senate DeCramer was particularly concerned with agriculture and transportation issues.
Former state DFL Sen. Jim Vickerman from Tracy shared his recollections of serving with DeCramer at the service, telling the assembled friends and family how DeCramer first showed up at a fundraiser on his farm the first time Vickerman ran for office.
"I had no idea he was coming," Vickerman said. "That was a time when farmers were really hurting. If I needed to know anything about transportation, I'd go to him. Gary loved agriculture, and he loved transportation, but his real love was teaching."
Former District 21 state Sen. Dennis Frederickson was unable to attend the service, but sent a letter to be read to the attendees. Frederickson, though a Republican, said he worked together with DeCramer on many issues of common interest.
"I can't think of a time when he became angry or spiteful with someone who opposed what he wanted to do," Frederickson said. "Even when he may have categorically disagreed with someone on an issue, it was obvious that he respected and valued that person."
When DeCramer completed 10 years in the Senate, he sent each senator a letter saying he had always intended to serve 10 years and move on to pursue other interests, according to Frederickson.
After retiring from the Senate, DeCramer returned to school and received his EdD degree in 1997 from the University of St. Thomas. From 1997 to 2001 he held the position of state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, and from 2002 was director of the mid-career master's degree program at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, a position he held until his death.
DeCramer died suddenly last March 7 while visiting the University of Minnesota, Morris with his daughter Louise. He is survived by his wife, Estelle, their daughters, Catherine and Louise, and a daughter, Leila by a previous marriage.