According to her daughter Camden, Jennifer Leader DeAngelis would counsel her children to “Live Happy. And Be Weird.”
And Mom was someone who practiced what she preached. A pied piper who created a warm home, not just for her husband Paul and their three children, (Logan, Camden, Carter) but also for friends, friends of friends, children of friends of friends, the ripples ever-widening and extending.
Jenn was a person who was vivacious and kooky and unpredictable. A prankster who would ambush her children with a Nerf gun as they came home from school. An artist who bought a laser engraving machine on a whim one day and ended up making a career out of it. A wife and mother who woke up one day 21 years ago and just stopped drinking. Cold turkey. Because she would have lost her family if she didn’t.
She had tremendous will.
And yet, even the greatest of wills is hard-pressed to overcome getting dealt a bad hand.
On Friday, June 23, she developed a fever. By Sunday the 25th, she hadn’t eaten in three days and couldn’t keep anything down.
She was life-flighted to Reno. Diagnosed with leukemia. Doctors also determined her gall bladder needed removal. “If she had [a problem with] one or the other, she’d be alive,” said husband Paul. But there was no fighting a war on two fronts.
She died June 28 at 3:33 a.m.
Jennifer Leader DeAngelis was born November 21, 1967 in Lompoc. She was adopted at birth by Carol and Bob Leader and grew up in Goleta, graduating from Dos Pueblos High School in 1985.
She moved to Mammoth in 1987 and started at MMSA as a lift operator. She was then hired by Kathy Copeland as a ski instructor and taught for ski school until 1994.
As Copeland said this week, “Jenn put a lot of ZING into ski school. She was energetic, funny, always eager to pitch in and do anything to help … and was great at keeping things lighthearted. She loved wotking with kids and had an unfailing work ethic, no matter how much fun she’d had the night before. When it was showtime, she’d be ready to GO.”
During that period, she also waitressed around town at Grumpy’s and Roberto’s.
She met her husband Paul in 1993 at the Laundromat next to the DIY Center.
But they really bonded during an ensuing roadtrip to L.A. as both had volunteered to help Suzanne Nottingham with a rollerblade clinic she was putting on at the L.A. Forum.
The couple married on April 24, 1995.
Husband Paul described his wife personality-wise as a “polar opposite.” She was free-spirited and goofy and charismatic.
And temperamental. As daughter Camden said, “She thrived on chaos … she was like a tornado blowing through.”
No matter. As Paul said in a quiet moment as we sifted through her unique home engraving shop, “She was my light.” In the ebb and flow of marriage, he said, “The last three or four years were really fantastic. We had fallen in love again.”
As friend Allison Grube observed of their marriage, “When she lit up, he lit up watching her.”
As family and friends described DeAngelis, many of the same phrases or sentiments kept coming up.
“Would do anything for anyone.”
“House was always open.”
“My nephew lived at their house for two years.”
“My son made Christmas ornaments with her using her engraving equipment.”
“She was always the life of the party.”
“She was unapologetically non-conformist.”
“When you showed up, the heat blanket was turned on, and there was a glass of water and piece of candy on the night table.”
But as she lay on her deathbed in Reno, Jenn was more concerned about her husband’s upcoming hand surgery and made him promise that he wouldn’t postpone it, regardless of what was going on with her.
Eldest son Logan, who is engaged to be married next year, says the biggest lessons he takes from his mom are 1.) You can’t take life too seriously, 2.) You’ve got to laugh at yourself, and 3.) Be yourself, no matter what
Which is easier to embrace now. But perhaps a little more difficult to embrace when you’re a teenager and you’re embarrassed because mom is a bit “weird.”
Jenn was the Mom, said friend Allison Grube, who would plaster her children’s faces on signs at graduation and carry them around.
Logan recalls leaving for college one fall, and he’d been a bit short with her for several weeks – typical, young adult, eye-rolling stuff.
He gets up early and embarks on the long drive, and at one point, maybe he’s fishing something out of a backpack, or placing a drink in the cupholder, and he discovers a wooden dick.
This is not a typo or misprint. His mother has engraved a cute little wooden penis.
Now was it because he’d been behaving like a dick? Or was it just because his mother thought it would be outrageous and funny?
Regardless, there wasn’t just one of them. There were hundreds. They were under the seats and in his luggage and stuffed in shoes and pockets and ski boots and phone cases and golf club covers.
And they would spill out at the most awkward times – on a table or a floor or wherever.
And then they became a running gag. Friends would find them and stuff them in other friends’ luggage or pillowcases.
One was recently found in a carry-on bag by a friend during a layover at JFK Airport in New York City.
But by now, that embarrassment Logan had of his “weird” mother has long dissolved into admiration and laughter.
“Our relationship the last few years has been great because I accepted who she was.”
Paul and I continue to wander about her workspace. There are three or four rooms full of art materials. Garbage bins full of scrap wood. Rows and rows of engraved mugs.
Jenn was a night-owl. Sometimes she’d be finishing a project just as the rest of the house was waking for the next day. It was in those wee hours of the night where she could fully focus on her art without distraction. Her last project were the commemorative medals for the Footloose Freedom Mile. The family had come home from Reno and finished the project for Mom on Thursday, the day after she died.
But her favorite projects were always the awards for the kids in town. “She put her heart and soul into those,” said husband Paul, whose son Carter showed me the intricate, three-dimensional design (see photo opposite page) she’d made for Mammoth Ski and Snowboard team captain Kaitlin Schaubmayer this year.
The best way to describe it is as mixed media sculpture.
Paul said she had tossed five prototypes before finally settling on the 6th.
As Grube said, “She wouldn’t hand over a piece unless it was perfect … she could always see things three-dimensionally and I loved the way she saw and expressed things.”
She was an artist, observed her husband. And entirely self-taught.
And did much of it while smiling through back pain. Recent back surgery had given Jen some cause for optimism, and in fact, she and husband Paul had two wonderful ski days this spring before she fell ill.
A celebration of Jennifer DeAngelis’s life will take place at 3 p.m. on August 5 at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in the Mountainside Conference Center.
Donoations to the Jennifer DeAngelis memorial fund can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/f/jennifer-deangelis-memorial-fund
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
-Hunter S. Thompson