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Columbia Missourian

Jean Nauert seized any opportunity to 'get her hands in the dirt'

By Meghan Eldridge
May 8, 2013 | 7:37 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Jean Nauert enjoyed any activity that allowed her to get her hands dirty, whether that meant working in her vegetable garden behind her home or fixing a broken piece of machinery she came across.

“She could fix anything that was broken,” her sister, Mary Dees, said. “She loved figuring things out, a puzzle or a broken piece of machinery, and solving problems.”

Jean Nauert of Overland Park, Kan., died Monday, May 6, 2013. She was 73.

She was born March 14, 1940, in Cambridge, Mass., to Louis and Mildred Porter. She married Charles G. Nauert on June 21, 1964.

The couple met at a library and went out for a beer as their first date. The story of their first meeting is one often told by Charles Nauert as one of his favorite stories, Dees said.

“I knew she was my girl when she drank a little bit of her beer and then offered me the rest,” Charles Nauert said. “She was a great little gal.”

The tradition started on their first date, Mrs. Nauert drinking half of her beer and her husband finishing it, was one continued throughout their 48-year marriage.

Mrs. Nauert attended Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and earned a bachelor’s degree in classical archaeology in 1962. She went on to receive her master’s degree in archaeology from MU in 1964 and worked at the university in the Classical Studies Department until the birth of the couple’s first son in 1966.

“She always loved archaeology from a young age,” Dees said. When the two sisters were young, Mrs. Nauert would often convince her sister to go excavate with her for seashells near their home, she said.

“She really never met a shard she didn’t like, a broken piece of pottery or anything,” Dees said. “She just loved it.”

Over the course of her education, Mrs. Nauert took part in multiple archaeological digs internationally. Among the digs she participated in were one in Mycenae, Greece, and another in England.

After leaving MU, Mrs. Nauert worked at Stephens College as a library assistant from the mid-1970s until she retired in 1998. During her time at Stephens College, she was known as the only person who could fix the copy machine. She also helped many students with research and reference questions during her years working in the library.

“She was just so bright,” Dees said. “She always had an answer, whether she was right or wrong, she said it with such conviction that we always believed her.”

Among her hobbies, Mrs. Nauert enjoyed gardening, golfing and working on all types of puzzles. Throughout her life, she completed the New York Times crossword every week from the upper left corner to bottom right, always in ink. If a scrap of paper was available, Mrs. Nauert enjoyed sketching intricate figures.

For their 25th wedding anniversary, her husband bought her a rototiller to use in her garden. Although it wasn’t a romantic gift, it’s what she wanted because of her love of gardening, Charles Nauert said.

“There was nothing fancy or frilly about her,” Dees said. “If she could get her hands in the dirt, that was Jean.”

Mrs. Nauert is survived by her husband, Charles Nauert; two sons, Jon Nauert, and his wife, Jessamyn Tuttle, of Mount Vernon, Wash., and Paul Nauert, and his partner, Robert Covington, of Santa Cruz, Calif.; a brother, Michael Porter, and his wife, Sheryl, of Loch Lloyd; a sister, Mary Dees, and her husband, Steve Hazel, of Mission Hills, Kan.; a sister-in-law, Donna Porter of Reston, Va.; and nieces and nephews.

A shiva and celebration of Mrs. Nauert’s life will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at Village Shalom, 5500 W. 123rd St., Overland Park, Kan. Burial will be in Columbia at a later date. The Cremation Society of Kansas & Missouri is in charge of arrangements.

Memorial contributions can be made to Harvesters — The Community Food Network, 3801 Topping Ave., Kansas City, MO 64129;  Wayside Waifs,  3901 E. Martha Truman Road, Kansas City, MO 64137 or to a charity of choice.