Jennifer Jo Ritter (Gunnell) was born April 9, 1971 in Coos Bay, Oregon to Gary Alfred Gunnell and Karen Marie (Anderson) Solomon. She passed away peacefully March 31, 2020, after bravely battling cancer for over 2 years. She was surrounded in love by her family and close friends at her home in Solana Beach at the time of her passing.
Jennifer, the baby of the family, was number 4 of four girls. If asked about growing up with 3 older sisters, Jennifer was quick to quip that it didn't bother her at all because she knew her parents realized they had reached perfection with her which was why they chose not to have any more kids. No one argued.
Jennifer enjoyed growing up at the family farm in Coos Bay with her parents, harassing her sisters, tending to her beloved miniature border collie Bootsie, sun-bathing with her larger than life scramble pig Chester, and jumping her hand-me-down horse Tricky over anything she could find.
Jennifer was an early mascot of the Sumner Buckaroo 4-H Horse Club to which her older sisters were already members. In order to become a member, one had to be eight years old which seemed like an eternity for Jennifer, so she had to figure out ways to occupy her time at horse shows and the Coos County Fair. Typically, that was in the form of locking people in the porta potties and other mischievous acts! When she was finally old enough to be in 4-H she competed locally and statewide winning several championships and awards in both performance classes and gaming events.
Jennifer attended Marshfield High School from 1985–1989. In high school Jennifer excelled in volleyball, basketball and track & field. Highlights of her high school athletic career included 1988-Third Team All-State-Volleyball; 1988 & 1989-First Team All Star Midwestern League-Volleyball where she earned the nickname “Boom-Boom” for her crowd-pleasing kills; 1987 & 1988 individual 4A State qualifier in the High Jump; 1989 individual and team 4A State qualifier leading to an individual 3rd place finish in the High Jump and an individual PR which landed her on the all-time MHS record book at #4 for Female High Jump (5’4”). In 1989, Jennifer completed her high school athletic career by earning two highly coveted awards -- The World Newspaper’s Female Athlete of the Year and the Prefontaine Outstanding Achievement Award. The Prefontaine Outstanding Achievement Award was the highest award bestowed on a MHS athlete. This honor was awarded to the athlete that exemplified qualities of a true competitor, team player, possessed a strong work ethic and was a positive peer example. The individual had to be a solid student and a person of high moral character.
Jennifer continued her athletic career after high school playing volleyball and basketball for 2 years at Southwestern Oregon Community College and volleyball for 2 more years at Western Oregon University. Highlights included 1989 & 1990 NWAACC Championship All-Tournament First Team, 1991 & 1992 NAIA District 2 Champion team member, and 1992 NAIA National Championship tournament participant. In 2005, Jennifer was inducted into the NWAACC Hall of Fame for volleyball and in 2020 will be inducted posthumously into the SWOCC Hall of Fame for volleyball.
In 1992, Jennifer graduated from Western Oregon with a degree in Physical Education. She later obtained her medical assistant certificate and worked for a sole practitioner for several years in San Diego. She found her calling when she was hired by San Diego’s premier fitness resort, Pacific Athletic Center (PAC), as Director of Athletics but her passion there was charitable event coordination. Here she was able to use her true attributes - kindness, compassion and empathy by coordinating PAC’s numerous fundraisers benefiting many local and national non-profits. Two of Jennifer’s most meaningful non-profits were the Miracle League and the Challenged Athletes Foundation. When PAC was selecting a charity for their Rally for the Kids fundraiser, she nominated and fought for the Miracle League. Jennifer was inspired by the Miracle League and was instrumental in raising over $150,000 in donations and was involved in building the Miracle League field in Solana Beach, California. Jennifer was recruited to be a buddy for the very first season of Miracle League, no doubt inspired by her sister, Molly, and many years of experience volunteering her time to Special Olympics. Jennifer loved being a “buddy” and her smile lit up the field.
On June 29, 2002, Jennifer married Stephen Ritter in a beautiful sunset ceremony overlooking the greens at Lomas Santa Fe Golf Course in Solana Beach. No doubt there was a logistical discussion beforehand on how they could both play in the Estero Beach Volleyball Tournament in Mexico and still make it to the ceremony on time.
In 2008, her beautiful twin daughters, Morgan and Jordyn were born. As anyone can attest to, she loved those girls beyond measure. They were (are) her pride and joy. And they will carry her legacy. Jennifer was a very active parent. She volunteered at her daughters’ schools, and due to her outgoing and full of fun personality, she developed close friendships with many of the families in their classes. Jennifer valued each and every one of those relationships especially as she leaned on them during her battle with cancer. It was important to Jennifer to instill in her daughters the love of family and friends coupled with an active, healthy lifestyle... with a little bit of Bingo mixed in. She wanted her girls raised much like she was, allowing them to experience a close-knit family setting that celebrated every holiday but especially Halloween. Jennifer loved Halloween much to the dismay of her co-workers who always ended up in second place when it came to the annual costume contest.
Jennifer was always a defender of the underdog as evidenced by her support of a local Pug Rescue. Jennifer’s rescues were the “unadoptable” because of their special needs – elderly, toothless, blind and deaf, those dogs always seemed to make their way to Jen’s house. Geriatric Betty was one of the lucky ones. Betty was brought home as a Christmas present for her 3-year-old daughters because they wanted a “puppy”. Jen was successful in passing the small dog off as a puppy, though her girls were skeptical when Betty didn’t frolic and play like normal puppies. Betty was perfect!
Jennifer’s life was one of accomplishments and awards, yet what she will be remembered for most – is a woman with a beautiful soul and a giant heart, and an indomitable spirit, who always put others first, with an emphasis on the ‘underdog’.
Jennifer is survived by her husband of 18 years, Stephen Ritter; twin daughters, Jordyn Corinne and Morgan Marie Ritter; father and stepmother, Gary and Barbara Gunnell; sister, Wendy and Pat Prieve; sister, Darcy Gunnell; nephew, Ashton Prieve; and niece, Alexa Mosley. Preceding her in death, mother Karen Solomon; sister, Molly Gunnell; stepfather, Stan Solomon, and grandparents.
A celebration of Jennifer’s accomplishments and life well-lived will be announced when the current global health crisis permits. We look forward to gathering with family and friends to remember the amazing person she was and to keep her spirit alive in all our hearts.
In honor of Jennifer and in lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to one of these two charities that meant a lot to her: The Miracle League https://miracleleagueofsandiego.org and The Challenged Athletes Foundation https://www.challengedathletes.org
Friends and family are encouraged to sign the online guestbook at www.coosbayareafunerals.com
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