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Civic leader remembered for caring nature

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Irene Jester
Irene Jester "was never at a loss for words," said former Greenfield Mayor Rodney Fleming. The former city council member was also known as a good listener who could get along with anyone. (File photo)

GREENFIELD — If there’s one thing Irene Jester was never at a loss for, it was words.

The community volunteer and former city council member remembered for her caring love for others and her knack for gab died Tuesday morning. She was 75.

“She was absolutely tuned in to the city of Greenfield,” said Kelly McClarnon, who served alongside Jester on the city council from 2000 to 2004.

McClarnon was among many local residents who mourned at the news of Jester’s passing Tuesday. One thing he fondly remembers about his friend: She called everyone “honey.”

Jester, who had worked for years as a nurse at Hancock Regional Hospital and in the office of Dr. Gary Sharp, always kept public safety in mind when serving on the city council. Her husband, Doyle, who died in 2009, had served as fire chief. Her son, John Jester, is currently chief of the Greenfield Police Department, and daughter Tammy Vangundy is a deputy coroner who also served one term leading the department.

“She was our biggest advocate,” Vangundy said. “She was so proud.”

Jester suffered a stroke in February and had been recovering in a local nursing home. Her health had been improving, Vangundy said, but she recently contracted pneumonia. Monday night, Jester complained of shortness of breath, and family members were planning to admit her to the hospital just before she died Tuesday morning.

She left behind her two children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Family was extremely important to Jester. In a 2011 interview with the Daily Reporter, Jester boasted of her grandchildren and talked about how she enjoyed retirement – watching her beloved Indianapolis Colts on TV, buying doughnuts for her neighbors and volunteering at the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen.

Jester had served as a board member of the soup kitchen and enjoyed bringing in clothing donations or just sitting down to chat with the folks who were having a bite to eat.

“She was always Irene: She was always bubbling and laughing,” said Director Jill Ebbert. “She loved to tell stories and tell jokes. She was very empathetic to the people. She would listen to their stories. She would cry with them, laugh with them, whatever they needed at the time.”

As a Republican on the city council, colleagues said she brought a citizen’s perspective.

“I liked Irene a lot because she was one of them that really thought more about the people that were in the city, rather than the mechanics of how to run a city,” former councilman Phil Miller said. “(She was) more people-oriented than business-oriented.”

Former Mayor Rodney Fleming said Jester was a good listener who could get along with anybody, no matter the party affiliation.

“She was never at a loss for words,” Fleming added.

Asked whether that meant she was hard-nosed opinionated or simply a jabber-box, Fleming chuckled.

“Somewhere in between,” he said. “She didn’t hesitate to give her opinion.”

Vangundy said her mom was adamant in her positions and trying to make good changes in city government. While she was not one to back down, she also had a kind heart and a willingness to help others.

Jester had a smile and kind word for every person whose path she crossed, her son added. She didn’t know a stranger, to the occasional chagrin of the family members she had in tow for what would have been a quick trip into town.

“If you were going to Wal-Mart for a five-minute trip, it was an hour trip,” John Jester said. “She would talk to anybody and everybody. She didn’t even have to know ’em, and she would talk to ’em.”

Her desire to serve on the city council stemmed from a desire to give back to the community she loved, John said.

“I think she felt like she could help anybody with their problems,” he said. “She didn’t care what your problem was, she’d help you.”

Jester was also a member of St. Michael Catholic Church, the F.O.P. and Greenfield Fire Department Auxiliary.

John said the family is taking solace in knowing Irene has reunited with her husband of 41 years.

“There is a lot of comfort knowing she has gotten to the point she wants to be, and that’s with my dad,” John said.

Staff writer Noelle M. Steele contributed to this report.

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