Sarah Graetz Gagnon
- - Born Sarah Jane Graetz in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin March 9, 1947 to two nature-loving parents (George Michael Graetz and Susan Millicent (Finch) Graetz). The family moved to Neffsville, Pa., just outside of Lancaster, when she was still a preschooler. The Graetz family traveled extensively during her childhood, going on long camping trips in the family station wagon all over the lower 48, mostly focused on visiting national parks. Small wonder, then, that Sally (as she was mostly known throughout her life) developed a deep curiosity about the natural world, leading her to major in Biology at Swarthmore College. An interest in mammalian behavior led her in turn to graduate school at Cornell to study bats under Jack Bradbury. Her thesis research was undertaken in Panama at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Station. Despite her enthusiasm, she found the work difficult and concluded reluctantly that perhaps she had been mistaken about really being drawn to it. She returned to the US, taking a job as a lab technician. It was during that time that she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Her reaction was relief rather than despair. In the knowledge that her problem was physical and not mental, she returned to Cornell and her studies, completing her PhD in Ecology in 1984.
It was during her time at Cornell that she was drawn to the Catholic Church, observing in several of her friends that "They had something that I wanted". When she joined a special event choir that was rehearsing a Gregorian Chant Mass she met Joel Gagnon, who was leading that effort. They were married in 1976. Their involvement in church music continued throughout their marriage. Another church involvement was in marriage preparation. When it became a ministry of couples for couples, Joel and Sally joined the Tompkins County Pre-Cana team and remained involved for the next quarter-century or so. Helping others prepare for marriage proved to be a great way to reinforce their own.
It was while Sally was a graduate student at Cornell that the Ecological Society of America moved its editorial offices to Ithaca. Sally was hired as the ESA's first Technical Editor. The ESA was extraordinarily accommodative of Sally's gradually increasing disability, allowing her to reduce her hours when she could no longer handle all of the manuscripts. She retired in 2003 (after 25+ years) when she realized that a developing cognitive impairment was affecting the quality of her work.
Sally believed strongly in "walking gently" on the earth, an attitude toward nature that she and Joel connect to Native American spiritualty. That included minimizing their carbon footprint before the term became common, and underlay their homesteading lifestyle. Sally appreciated simple pleasures, an organic diet grounded in mostly homegrown food, and community. She was a co-founder of the West Danby Community Association. With Joel she represented West Danby on both town and county Democratic Committees for many years. In recent years, their concern about global warming and its impacts led them to join Citizens Climate Lobby, an organization working for a bipartisan solution to climate change. Anyone wishing to make a donation in Sally's memory is asked to consider CCL as a recipient or the Finger Lakes Climate Fund. Also worth considering: Bat Conservation International, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the Cornell Catholic Community.
Her husband Joel Gagnon survives her, as do her sister Mary Ellen (William) Badger and sister-in-law Cecile (John) Savage and brother-in-law Richard (Sue) Gagnon and their families. Her sister Susan predeceased her. The 10:30 A.M. January 27 Sunday mass at Sage Chapel on the Cornell University campus will be offered in memory of Sally, and a celebration of life will take place in early summer.
Published in Ithaca Journal on Jan. 8, 2019.