Jennifer Gareis Remains Attached to Her Lancaster Roots

Lancaster native, Jennifer Gareis, enjoys her exciting life as an actress – namely playing Donna Logan on the CBS soap opera, The Bold and the Beautiful, a role that earned her a Best Supporting Performance in a Daytime Drama Series nomination in the 51st Annual Daytime Emmy Awards. 

Photo by Howard Smith

Despite being immersed in the glitz of the Los Angeles entertainment world for some three decades, Jennifer still considers Lancaster to be home. A 1988 graduate of J.P. McCaskey High School, Jennifer returns to South Central Pennsylvania at least three times a year and is proud of the fact that she has retained the deeply rooted values of the region throughout her acting career.

“When I moved to L.A., I just didn’t get into all the stuff that people here get into,” she says of designer clothes and other superficial trappings. Growing up in Lancaster, she recalls, “I never bought a designer anything. I drove simple, safe cars. I guess I’m still that way.” Not that Jennifer never goes to the Chanel Boutique in Beverly Hills – she has shopped there – but it’s not something she does often. At heart, she is still a down-to-earth Lancaster gal. “It’s an amazing town to grow up in,” Jennifer adds. “It’s all about family, family, family.”

Jennifer – the daughter of retired radiologist Dr. John and Delores Gareis – was the fourth of their five children, and the youngest girl in the German-English bilingual family. She grew up in a house on a wooded lot that straddled the border of the Lancaster and Penn Manor school districts. She recalls that her family enjoyed friendships with several Amish families in the area and has fond memories of going to their homes and sitting around tables illuminated by gas lamps. When Jennifer and her children, Gavin and Sophia, visit Lancaster, she has dinner with Amish friends. Viewing the beautiful farmland “never grows old – I like that it makes it so picturesque,” she says.

After high school, Jennifer enrolled at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, and thought she might be an engineer. But, feeling homesick, she returned home and transferred to Franklin & Marshall College. At both schools, Jennifer was on the swim team, earning All-American honors over the course of three years. “My head was underwater more than it was above,” she jokes. 

While in college, as an exchange student in Spain, her host family encouraged Jennifer to enter a Spanish beauty pageant – and, after doing back flips on the stage and wowing the judges, she broke a tie and won! This sparked a new passion for pageants, and when she returned to the United States, Jennifer competed in and won the Miss Hawaiian Tropic title two years in a row. 

Meanwhile, as she somehow juggled academics, swimming and pageants, Jennifer learned that many of her fellow pageant contestants wanted to become actors. A new dream sparked in her. “I had no idea what they were talking about,” Jennifer recalls. “They clued me in about places they took acting classes. I thought, ‘OK, I think I can do that, too.’”

After graduating with an accounting degree in 1993, Jennifer received a job offer from Ernst & Young in Philadelphia. Instead, she took a different direction and moved to New York to study acting. She fell in love with the art. Meanwhile, she competed in and won the Miss New York pageant (1994), and placed in the top six during the 1996 Miss USA pageant. 

Jennifer then moved to Southern California, where she began auditioning for acting roles and ultimately broke into soap operas with the role of Grace Turner on CBS’s The Young and the Restless, in 1997.

“Hollywood is all about youth,” she reports. “You’ve got to get out here as soon as you can and as young as you can.”

At the same time, Jennifer enrolled in an MBA program at Pepperdine University, taking classes while she acted. She always had planned to go back to school. “They can always take that job away from me, but they can’t take that MBA away from me,” she theorizes.

One day, while she was amid two difficult classes at Pepperdine, executive producer Bradley Bell called her to discuss a three-year contract with CBS’s sister soap, The Bold and the Beautiful. In 2006, she began her role as Donna Logan, a character who has been on and off the show over the years but has been key to the storyline for the past year. 

Jennifer was once again involved in a juggling act, as she managed to take one class per semester at Pepperdine and tackle the grueling, often two-episodes-a-day schedule of filming the show. She achieved three milestones in 2010: marrying Bobby Ghassemieh, graduating from Pepperdine, and having her first baby. “I don’t prefer juggling; I really prefer doing one thing at a time,” Jennifer admits.  “But, when you’re handed an opportunity, you’ve got to take it.”

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