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Sarah Catherine Renner

Sarah Catherine Renner passed away peacefully in her home October 30 after a short battle with cancer. Sarah was born December 2, 1951 to Richard (Dick) and Susan Renner, the third of three children. Sarah was a lifelong and proud resident of Des Moines, Iowa, where she raised her daughter, Susannah, enjoyed a wide circle of friends, and dedicated her career to enabling people with cognitive and physical challenges to contribute meaningfully in society and in the workforce.

After attending Hubbell Elementary School and Merrill Middle School, Sarah graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1970. That year, after a two-week stint at a small religious college to which she arrived not knowing that chapel was required and no smoking was allowed, she enrolled at the University of Iowa in time for the fall semester. This would arouse an intense passion for Hawkeye football which was nurtured all through her life. She made friends all over Burge Hall, flouting rules here and there, but charming those in authority with her quick wit and devilish sense of humor so much so that she rarely had to answer for her infractions.

After graduation, Sarah worked in a variety of social service agencies in Des Moines and Washington, D.C. She earned her Master’s Degree from Iowa State University but as a sports fan her allegiance to the Hawkeyes never wavered. In 1988, she moved to the Florida Keys where she was director of a family counseling program for adolescents. She married Thomas William Stephens and in 1990 gave birth to their beloved daughter Susannah Jane, who was the light of her life. They returned to Des Moines in 1993.

A passion for the well-being of children, families, and those with disabilities drove Sarah throughout her career. She retired from the University of Iowa Center for Disabilities and Development where, inspired by the experiences of her own cognitively disabled brother, she advocated for opportunities for disabled Iowans to work, prosper, and be a part of their communities rather than hidden away from the world. In 2013, she brought her brother into her home, caring for him until the final months of her life.

Sarah approached life with strength, grace, generosity, and especially humor. She genuinely shared in her friends’ joys and was always willing to listen to their problems but rarely willing to burden them with her own. She hoped her daughter would be independent, smart, adventurous, and compassionate. From pursuing a career in the Middle East to providing round-the-clock loving care and comfort at the end of Sarah’s life, Susannah more than fulfilled those dreams.

In addition to her cherished daughter Susannah Stephens (Maxwell), Sarah is survived by her sister, brother, niece and nephew and a host of friends and fellow Hawkeye fans who she hoped will one day be able to lift flutes of champagne, share a cheese and charcuterie board, and enjoy smiles and laughs in her memory.


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