Obituary for Jennifer Karber (Jesson)
Surrounded by family and friends, Jennifer Jesson Karber, 57, of Fort Smith, Arkansas passed away from this life after a too-brief battle with pancreatic cancer on December 4, 2017.
But into those 57 years Jennifer fit a century of accomplishments and joys. Jennifer graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1983 with a degree in Industrial Engineering, as well as a troupe of friends and sorority sisters (she was a Kappa Kappa Gamma) to last a lifetime. She quickly put her engineering degree to work in her hometown, Fort Smith Arkansas, where she began a 34 year career with Whirlpool Corporation. By 2000 she was Director of Operations at the Fort Smith plant and in 2012 moved to the Whirlpool Corporate office in Michigan where she was Product Quality Director for Refrigeration. While Jennifer received numerous awards for her work, she was particularly honored to join the Arkansas Academy of Industrial Engineering in 2005.
In a generation of debate over work-life balance, Jennifer was adamant: work was an important part of her life, not in competition with it. She thrived on working with – and often leading—teams of smart people trying to solve difficult challenges. A strong leader in an often male-dominated work world, she was a role model and mentor to so many.
Jennifer’s friendships were legendary. She might be on a business trip in China, but if you needed help, her response was immediate. Friends and coworkers know her as the consummate planner. She planned your schedule. She planned your trips, from Disneyland to Morocco. She planned – and made sure you met—your goals. She planned your happy hours, even if she was in a different state or country when they occurred. But despite her belief that life was best framed by an excel spreadsheet, Jennifer was anything but rigid. One dinner party (usually with her cooking) could launch a new trip, a surprise party for a friend, and a call to someone in need. Meanwhile, she would explain which dishes were truly “calorie worthy.”
But joys and accomplishments can merge. Jennifer’s biggest joy—and she would tell you, her biggest accomplishment – was her son, Shaw Wilson, currently a law student at the U of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Shaw is his mother’s child: smart, kind, thoughtful, and a lover of 70’s music.
An active member of her community, Jennifer served on the Board of Directors for the Fort Smith Art Center and the American Cancer Society; was a Founding Member of the Belle Star Foundation and the Whirlpool Chair of the United Way Campaign; and played leading roles in Wine and Roses, Suddenly Las Vegas, and Leadership FSM, to highlight just a few of her activities. She was named a Girl Scout Woman of Distinction.
Jennifer Jesson Karber is survived by her son, Shaw Wilson; her mother, Mary Ellen Jesson; and her sisters Mary Beth Brooks (Tim Brooks); Deana Hankins (Hank Hankins); and Lucinda Jesson (Peter Knapp). Jennifer’s father, Bradley Jesson, passed away last year.
Few have accomplished and shared so much in 57 years. A celebration of Jennifer’s life will be Saturday, December 9 at 10:00 am at First United Methodist Church in Fort Smith, under the direction of Ocker-Putman Funeral Home of Fort Smith, Arkansas. The family will visit with friends following the service in the church narthex.
Pallbearers will be Jerry Dean, Kyle Joyce, Les Evitts, Phil Karber, Steve Wilson, Danny Williams, Mark Rumsey, and Terry Kleifisch.
In recognition of her numerous professional accomplishments, the University of Arkansas Engineering Department named Jennifer Karber to its Hall of Fame. Jennifer asked that memorials be directed to the Department of Industrial Engineering at the University of Arkansas 300 University House, 1 University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701.