The life and legacy of Jan Gradwohl

Throughout her long and consequential life, Jan was dedicated to equality before the law and justice.

All of us at Civic Nebraska are deeply saddened to hear of the death of Jan Gradwohl of Lincoln last week. It was comforting to know that she was surrounded by family in her final days and that she passed away peacefully. It was a fitting end to a life lived so well for over 90 years. 
Jan was a fierce advocate for democracy, inclusion, and justice. Perhaps that started when she graduated from law school and was admitted to the bar in the early 1950s. At the time, there was no “female option” on the certificate; officials had to cross out the male language on the certificate and replaced it with “she/her” in handwriting. 
Jan was a trailblazer – Nebraska’s very own “RBG.” She was the first female judge in Lancaster County and the fourth female judge statewide upon her appointment to the bench in 1974. She also was Lancaster County’s first female deputy county attorney. During her judicial career, Jan served on numerous committees and task forces dedicated to judicial system improvement and equal justice. Among her many honors, she also was a founding member of the International Association of Women Judges.
In later life, Jan was among Civic Nebraska’s first and most ardent supporters. She volunteered to help run our first nonpartisan election protection and observation program, reporting for duty promptly at 7:30 a.m. on Election Day 2012. True to form, she stayed until the election was done. She happily returned to this duty every other year until 2020.
In 2015, Civic Nebraska honored Jan with its Defender of Democracy Award in recognition of her unwavering support of our mission of creating a modern and robust democracy for all Nebraskans. Jan’s devotion to our cause never waned; she often attended Civic Nebraska functions and was among the inaugural members of the Civic Nebraska Board of Advisers until she stepped away in 2022 due to health issues.
Throughout her long and consequential life, Jan was dedicated to equality before the law and justice. In that spirit, we are pleased to honor Jan’s legacy by passing her powerful brand of citizenship forward. Beginning this year, we will honor annually a Nebraskan whose work strengthens civic life in our state with the Jan Gradwohl Memorial Defender of Democracy Award.
Thank you, Jan, for sharing your expertise, dedication, and wisdom over the years. We and many others will miss you, but we will strive to live up to the incredible example you have set for all of us. 
– Adam Morfeld

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