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Vicki Nicolas-Ibarra holds a photo of her mother, Rosemary Kraemer, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Kraemer died Oct. 14, 2020, of complications from COVID-19 at age 74. Credit: Angela Major / WPR
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Listen to this appreciation of life, produced by WPR’s Bridgit Bowden.

Rosemary Kraemer spent much of her life caring for other people.

She took care of her husband, Robert Henry Kraemer, who lived with Parkinson’s disease for 34 years before he died in 2001. 

She took care of her family, including her eight great-grandchildren, who called her “GG,” short for great-grandmother. 

“My mom was a devoted family person, she loved us so much,” said her daughter Vicki Nicolas-Ibarra. 

Helping others was a big part of who she was, and she did it until the coronavirus pandemic hit Wisconsin. 

Rosemary died from complications of COVID-19 this fall. She was 74. She was born in Rhinelander on May 7, 1946. Her family later moved to Milwaukee, where she graduated from Washington High School in 1964. She married Robert Henry Kraemer in 1965, and they had three daughters.

Rosemary Kraemer, left, and her husband Robert Henry Kraemer, right, on their wedding day in 1965. Credit: Courtesy of Vicki Nicolas-Ibarra

“She loved children so much, and they were drawn to her,” Nicolas-Ibarra said. “I can’t tell you how many kids have called her grandma that aren’t her own.”

She also took care of people who had just given blood at Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin, where she volunteered since 2010. 

Eileen Figueroa, volunteer services coordinator at Versiti, said Rosemary logged more than 2,500 volunteer hours and donated 33 gallons of her own blood and platelets. Figueroa said Rosemary was a loving person who always put others first.

“She just always wanted to help people, that’s just who she was,” Figueroa said.

In March, Nicolas-Ibarra left her home in Seattle to move in with Rosemary during the pandemic. They spent the summer together in Milwaukee, with Nicolas-Ibarra working from home. 

But in mid-September, Nicolas-Ibarra got sick. It started with a runny nose, and then got worse. She got a test for COVID-19, and it came back positive. It was a shock, she said, given how much she and her mother were limiting their interactions with others.

Rosemary Kraemer, back row center, was lovingly referred to as “GG” by her eight great-grandchildren. She can be seen here sitting and smiling with three of her great-grandchildren. Credit: Courtesy of Vicki Nicolas-Ibarra

As Rosemary stood at the door of her home, she turned to tell her daughter that she wanted to hug her, but didn’t because of public health recommendations.

“My heart aches for her thinking about that,” Nicolas-Ibarra said. “Why didn’t I just hug her one last time?”

The weeks Rosemary spent in the hospital were full of ups and downs. One day she could barely breathe. The next she was alert and talking. Eventually, though, she got tired, and she knew she didn’t have much longer. She called all of her family members to say goodbye. 

As Rosemary was taken off life support, the family asked hospital staff to play “Annie’s Song” by John Denver, one of her favorites. 

“He sang about how beautiful the world is, and he told such beautiful stories in his songs,” Nicolas-Ibarra said. “And so that brought us some comfort, because she just loved that.”

Rosemary died Oct. 14 at age 74. Reflecting on the horrible ordeal, Nicolas-Ibarra said she hopes people will learn to take COVID-19 seriously. 

“My mom and I talked so much about how unbelievable it was that people thought COVID was a hoax,” she said. “I pray it doesn’t happen to other people for them to understand that this is real.”

More than 4,000 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19. But it’s more than just a grim statistic. That number includes a World War II veteran, a loving grandmothernuns at a convent, a coach and avid Badgers fan, and a champion for veterans. This week, WPR News and “Wisconsin Life” are bringing you the stories of just a handful of those who have died.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (wisconsinwatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Bridgit Bowden / Wisconsin Public Radio

Bridgit Bowden is the special projects reporter at Wisconsin Public Radio. Previously, she was the Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow at WisconsinWatch.