The University of Colorado community lost a valued member with the passing of Lenore (Lennie) Damrauer on Nov. 21, at the age of 77. Her affiliation with the CU Denver Department of Chemistry began in 1969—she began teaching when her children were small and continued some 13 years, then venturing into new domains.
Born in New York City in 1943, Lennie graduated from high school at a young age. Because her parents thought she was too young to attend college, she commuted from her home in Queens to Queens College for two years before moving to Michigan. She received her bachelor’s of science from the University of Michigan in 1963 and her PhD from Boston University in 1968, both in chemistry, at a time when few women pursued post-baccalaureate studies, fewer still in the sciences. She met her husband Bob (who today serves as a professor in chemistry, associate vice chancellor for research, and special assistant to provost) as an undergraduate and the two married in 1964.
After the Damrauers came to Colorado, in the fall of 1968, Lennie wrote her thesis and returned to Boston to defend it. Being about seven or eight months pregnant, the examiners said they had hot water boiling in the back room in case they had to assist with the delivery. PhD in hand, she returned to Denver and facilitated a culture at the young university that was welcoming and supportive of female faculty members. As a small part of this, she and Marti Barrett, a chemistry colleague, worked out a “position sharing program” that allowed them and other women on faculty to juggle the rigors of academia while raising young children. In the years that followed it became a model for other female faculty members.
In addition to her years teaching at CU Denver (1969 – 1982), Lennie worked at MicroProducts/ Wellspring Data (1982 – 1984 and 1985 – 1987), McDonnell Douglas Communication (1984), Horizon Data (1987 –1988) and Children’s Hospital of Denver (1988 – 2009). She volunteered as a tutor at Manual High School, and developed the Friends of Nursing web site from 2009 – 2020. After “flunking retirement,” as she put it, she returned to CU Denver to work in both the registrar (2013 – 2015) and admissions (2015 – 2020) offices. As a sidelight to her work there she sometimes mentored students who found out she knew some chemistry, and generally led younger folks by exemplifying what hard work and dedication looked like.
The University of Colorado was central in Lennie’s life, and that of her family. She is survived by their two sons, Craig (an artist with whom she once collaborated) and Niels (a professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder) as well as four grandchildren. Her sons remember her bringing home already scanned exam punch-cards for them to recycle into art projects. Niels has memories of the backseat of his mother’s car packed full with manila envelopes during exam time, and they both fondly recall waiting for her outside the additional courses she would take to make sure she stayed a knowledgeable and engaged educator.
Professor emeritus of physics Clyde Zaidins remembered, “I recall Lennie always asking me really challenging questions that led to such interesting discussions. Friendships developed and there were wonderful get-togethers outside of campus. I have fond memories of those days and what a fantastic person Lennie was. She was a great host, good friend and wise beyond her years.”
Her husband Bob remembered, “We married in 1964, which is when part of my education began. That part was my training in respect for Lennie and all things alive. She was gentle but firm and I hope it has made me a more understanding person than the ordinary ’60s male I would have continued to be. Our typical day in graduate school was a meeting somewhere (usually home in Cambridge) for dinner and either a return to our labs or a study-at-home night. Days were about research and we worked very hard.”
Outside her work and her family, Lennie’s greatest pleasure was her garden. She could always be found outside, planting, designing, re-planting, and tending flowers along with an enormous vegetable bed. Many friends were rewarded with vegetables or cuttings from plants they admired. She also loved to hike and two summers ago joined a group that trained together and succeeded in climbing Gray’s Peak.
Lennie’s “gentle but firm” nature guided her in all of her pursuits. She loved children and animals, and was able to find good in her fellow humans. Her success as educator, tutor, colleague, wife, and mother is directly tied to her calm and restful demeanor, and her cheerful and humorous outlook enriched all who were lucky enough to cross her path.