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In Memoriam: Longtime Economics Professor Susan Gensemer

December 16, 2021

Susan GensemerWhile making small talk with economics students, Prof. Jan Ondrich used to occasionally ask, “Who’s your favorite professor in the department?”

“I hoped at least one of them would say me, but they always said Susan Gensemer,” he laughed, adding that they’d often go on to explain how she provided “crystal clear” explanations in addition to always being supportive and accessible.

Ondrich couldn’t deny their insights; having worked with Gensemer through the years, he’d come to highly respect her academic work and the ease with which she interacted with students and colleagues.

And, he added, “she had a really, really good sense of humor.”

Gensemer died on Nov, 10, 2021. She was 68 and had been retired from the Maxwell School for seven years.

Born in Georgia, Gensemer received a Ph.D. from Purdue University in 1984. She joined the Maxwell faculty in 1983, just before Donald Dutkowsky.

“Susan was a very low-profile type of person, very fundamentally grounded,” said Dutkowsky, professor emeritus of economics. “She was very fair, very straightforward. She pulled her load and she expected you and the students to do the same. She was great to work with.”

Gensemer, who retired as an associate professor, taught in the undergraduate and graduate programs. Dutkowsky said she and Jerry Kelly, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, were “the backbone” of the microeconomics sequence for many years, integral in preparing doctoral students for dissertations.

In the 1990s, Gensemer developed a companion interest—gender in economics. Inspired by early feminist economists such as Virginia Perry, she published works related to women’s rights in the workplace, economics and gender, and she developed courses for the University’s Women and Gender Studies program, said Ondrich. “She was very proud of that work,” he said.

Ondrich appreciated Gensemer’s sense of humor and shared midwestern sensibilities, perhaps gleaned from their time in their respective graduate schools—while she went to Purdue, he attended the University of Wisconsin.

Several years ago, while the two were having lunch with a friend, the topic of tornadoes came up in conversation. “If you’re from the Midwest, tornados are something you get really familiar with,” said Ondrich. “When this person finished this story, I said, ‘You know what I don’t understand about tornados…’”

Before he could finish, Gensemer replied, “Why they are attracted to trailer parks.”

“That’s what I was going to ask–she knew it,” said Ondrich. He last saw her shortly after her retirement; she’d moved to Maine but returned to Maxwell for a former student’s dissertation defense.

A world traveler and an avid gardener, Gensemer also loved boating on the ocean and time with her family. She is survived by her life partner, John Popka; son, Jake Popka and his wife Sasha; granddaughter, Ava; brother, John Gensemer and sister, Gretchen Banks

Published in the Summer 2022 issue of the Maxwell Perspective

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