Jenifer Peale of Berkeley died on May 24, 2022. She was 90. Courtesy: Steve Rogers

Jenifer Peale died on May 24 from complications of Parkinson’s disease. She was 90 years old. A nutrition and exercise specialist, community activist and lifelong learner, she kept her youthful enthusiasm for life into old age.

Born in Pennsylvania and raised in New Jersey, Jenifer (known as Jill to family and close friends) married at 19 and had three children. The family led a peripatetic life, living in four different states before the marriage ended. In 1970, Jenifer and her children moved to Berkeley, where she found her true home and created the independent and adventurous life she always wanted.

The first few years were hard as Jenifer struggled to support her family on her administrative job at Stiles Hall. Often working two jobs, she scraped together enough money to buy a small bungalow in West Berkeley, where she lived for almost 50 years. Determined to continue her education, she enrolled in Lone Mountain College (later acquired by the University of San Francisco), where she earned a Masters’s degree in Community Development and Public Service. Joining the faculty of Vista College, she taught assertiveness classes for nurses and nursing home ombudspersons and workshops on healthy aging. 

Her teaching convinced her of the importance of exercise and nutrition in staying active in later years, and in 1981 she became a certified nutritionist. At the time, many nutritionists believed that fat, not weight, was the critical factor in fitness and that the most precise measurement of body fat was underwater weighing. Jenifer installed a chair scale above the redwood hot tub in her backyard to determine clients’ fat-to-lean ratio and, in 1982, started her own business, Body Composition. Her business took off, boosted by repeat appearances on Joanie  Greggains’ health and fitness radio show. Over two decades, Jenifer weighed hundreds of clients and counseled them on diet and exercise regimens, including monthly underwater testing of the Golden State Warriors’ starting team from 1993 to 1997. Attracted by her vivacious personality and knowledge of fitness, the manufacturer of Health Rider exercise equipment recruited Jenifer as a district sales manager, launching a secondary career.

Jenifer lived what she taught. With her high energy and restless nature, her friends joked that she had the metabolism of a hummingbird. She jogged around Berkeley for years until running on cement ruined her knees. Switching to cycling, she got around town on her clunky, single-speed Schwinn bike with its big wire basket for carrying groceries. As her Parkinson’s disease advanced and she had had several spills on her bike, she gave in to her sons’ pleas to stop riding her bike. Well into her 70s, Jenifer could be spotted at local school grounds shooting basketball hoops to build strength in her arms or walking her latest rescue dog at Point Isabel, but her favorite physical activity was dancing. In her 50s, she took up tap dancing — even performing in shorts and a top hat at her son’s wedding — and in her 60s, she became a serious student of the tango. And at intergenerational parties she and her sons threw, she was often the last person to leave the dance floor.

Jenifer remained close to her two siblings, Trish and Jimmy, who lived on the East Coast. Every few years they held reunions for their large extended family where they continued their tradition of putting on skits and writing their own verses to Gilbert and Sullivan songs. After her brother and sister were widowed, the three siblings met every year at the same small Mexican resort, where they dressed up in costumes and performed for hotel guests.

No matter how busy Jenifer was in raising her children or working two jobs, she always found time to participate in causes important to her. Whether flying to Washington for women’s marches, joining the Gray Panthers to fight ageism, volunteering as a writing coach in a Berkeley middle school or taking her grandchildren to women’s shelters to deliver food and toys, she remained a committed community and political activist throughout her life. 

When Jenifer was 73, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It was a blow to her image as a model of healthy aging and hard news to share with family and friends. By a lucky coincidence, a group of East Bay residents with Parkinson’s disease had recently started an organization, PD Active, to offer movement and voice classes designed for Parkinson’s patients. Jenifer’s history of activism kicked in, and soon she was serving on PD Active’s board, attending its classes and support groups and developing a new circle of friends. She even performed in a play about living with Parkinson’s. PD Active was the mainstay of Jenifer’s activities until she could no longer physically or cognitively participate in the program. 

Jenifer is survived by her children Nan Chisolm, Steve Rogers (Kristin), James Rogers and Lisa Rogers; grandchildren Hazel, Sonja (Jaime), Jake (Maddy) and Olivia; great-grandchildren Sebastian, Asher and Gabriel; her brother, James Peale, and eight nieces and nephews.  If you’d like to make a gift in Jenifer’s memory, please consider a donation to PD Active in Berkeley.

This fall, Jenifer’s children will celebrate her life with what she most enjoyed: music, dancing, good food and the company of her family and friends.