Life Story / Obituary


Verena Fjermestad

October 22, 2015, age 91 years. She was born Anna Verena Fjermestad in Watertown, South Dakota, the second child and oldest daughter of Karl Kassowitz, MD (1886–1978) and Annie Kunz Kassowitz (1896–1981). Her father, like his father before him, was a University of Vienna-trained pediatrician by profession and a mountain-climber by avocation. Her mother was a proud Swiss from Zurich and a nurse.

The family moved to Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, where Verena grew up alongside her siblings, Vernon (1922–1943), Trudi (1927–2013) and Marlise (1931–2011). The younger Kassowitzes loved the Rockies, and Karl took his children along with their friends to the Colorado Rockies almost every summer.

Verena entered the University of Colorado in 1942 and received her degree in social work in 1947. She visited her family in Switzerland on two occasions – once as a child and, after graduation from Colorado, she studied at the University of Zurich. There she met her future husband, Helge Fjermestad (1924–1979), a native of Stavanger, Norway, who was studying engineering in Zurich. They were married in 1949.

Helge spent most of his adult life working for two United Nations agencies, the International Labor Organization and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Helge's training led him to a number of assignments in industrial development, first in Europe (Paris and Scandinavia) for the Organization for European Co-operation and Development, and then in the tropical world (Korea, Thailand, Nigeria and two postings to Tanzania). Verena embraced Helge's career as an expert in development. Her good judgment and striking looks made her a real asset to his work. They had two children, Corrin (b. 1954) and Colette (b. 1957), who joined them in their international residences. Helge developed cancer in the late 1970s, and the Fjermestad family moved to Milwaukee to be with Verena's parents. This was followed by a difficult time for Verena, who lost in short order both her husband and both parents.

Having spent so many years in Africa, she began auditing courses at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Fortuitously she met an African historian, Bruce Fetter, who became her life partner. She joined him for two teaching assignments in London, and they traveled together to his research destinations in Central Africa. After his children, David (b. 1968) and Leah (1970–1992) had graduated from high school, he moved to the old Kassowitz residence on Summit Avenue, where they lived until 2011. For the past four years, they lived as residents of Saint John's on the Lake.

Everywhere she went, she was known for her beauty, Intelligence, warmth, and good sense. She will be missed deeply by her partner, Bruce, her daughter Colette, and her granddaughter Nicole.

In accordance with Verena’s wishes, no formal funeral services will be held.