In Memoriam: Jennie May Underwood. Obituary published online at the Austin-American Statesman, January 28, 2023
From the Austin Statesman website, January 28, 2023:
Jennie May Underwood, wife, friend, actress, storyteller, hugger par excellence, mentor, made her final exit on January 6, 2023.
Her grand entrance was in Ft. Scott, KS on January 11, 1948, an entrance that delighted her parents, Carl and Ellin Underwood, now deceased. When she was 5 years old, the family moved to Wichita, KS. She attended West High School there and then it was off to Emporia State Teachers College to earn her BA and MA in theatre. Jennie was in many productions at Emporia and made lifelong friends. One of the highlights of her college experience was being cast as Princess Winifred in Once Upon a Mattress, a production that was chosen for a 1967 USO tour that toured Japan (including Okinawa and Iwo Jima), Korea, and the Philippines for the purpose of entertaining soldiers wounded in the Vietnam War. Her stories from that time delighted scores of friends for many years. And she began winning the acting awards that would recognize her enormous talent for the rest of her life.
In 1971 she followed her dream of moving to New York City and very soon found a home at Westside Repertory Theatre, a 32-seat house on W. 81st St. whose artistic director was Andrés Castro, a director and producer renowned in his native Cuba. Chachi (as Andés was known) and his wife, Antonia Rey, were great theatre mentors to Jennie and all the many members of WSR. It was at West Side Repertory that Jennie and Karen Jambon met and fell in love. They were each other's best friends and soul mates and their love and commitment have lasted for 39 years. They were lucky enough to have two anniversaries: July 14, 1983 when they made their first commitment to each other and October 7, 2012 when they were able to legally wed in New York. The many friendships they formed there have remained strong to this day. Jennie never met a stranger - her dazzling smile and twinkling eyes were irresistible invitations to know her. During those NY years, Jennie was employed at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, working for a number of departments in various roles, her final being Grants Manager in Obstetrics and Gynecology
Jennie hated the cold and wanted to move somewhere warmer. Having many friends in Austin, TX, which they had visited numerous times, Jennie and Karen decided to move there in 1991. Initially Jennie worked for AIDS Services of Austin and eventually took a position with the State of Texas in what would become the Texas Department of State and Health Services and later worked for the Texas Education Agency from which she retired in 2008. But the true story of her Austin years were the many productions in which she performed, the many theatre companies with which she became associated, and, again, the many friendships she formed, becoming a mentor herself to new generations of actors. The roles she created are too numerous to list, but there were many. Her reviews were raves and she garnered the awards that accompanied those reviews.
In addition to theatre, Jennie and Karen loved to travel, loved to entertain (their Christmas-season pajama parties were anticipated by all), loved to talk politics, loved animals, loved to laugh and just be together. One of their many gifts to each other was a plaque that read "I'd rather do nothing with you than do something with anyone else." Jennie was a force of nature whose presence will be greatly missed by all, but by none more than her adoring wife. Endless thanks to all her wonderful friends who were there at the end and to all who wanted to be there and to the fantastic loving and skilled ICU staff at St. David's North Austin Medical Center.
"Say not in grief she is no more, but live in thankfulness that she was." If anyone wishes to make a memorial donation in her honor, the following organizations are suggested: www.differentstagestheatre.org, vortexrep.org, jarrottproductions.com, groundfloortheatre.org or https://saferefugeofcentraltexas.weebly.com (dog rescue group).