When people asked Jodell “Jody” Rahr about her adventures on stage, she giggled and said that it happened a long time ago.
She performed opera, concert piano and drama on stages from Minneapolis to Broadway. But the brightest lights shown on Rahr when she competed in the first Miss Universe Pageant in 1952.
Rahr, 87, died of kidney failure Nov. 13 at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.
“She had a storied life, but she was very down to earth and not pretentious,” said her son, Frederick “Fritzie” Rahr Jr. of Fort Worth, Texas. “She didn’t mind talking about her career, but it wasn’t a focal point in day-to-day conversations with people.”
Rahr, of Bloomington, grew up as an only child in Quincy, Ill. She attended Derham Hall in St. Paul, Ward-Belmont College in Nashville, the Juilliard School in New York City and St. Catherine University in St. Paul, where she developed a lifelong love of music and opera.
Her son said she was an attractive and talented woman who started modeling when she was in her late teens. She worked for the renowned Eleanor Moore Agency in Minneapolis and had a short stint as a flight attendant.
Rahr’s pageant career included reigns as the queen of the St. Paul Winter Carnival and Miss Minnesota. She was a finalist at the Miss Universe Pageant in Long Beach, Calif., in 1952. It was the first Miss Universe pageant, and organizers allowed each state to send a representative, said Fritzie Rahr.
“She was very humble about her looks,” he said.
While proud of her pageant activities and modeling, Rahr’s passion was the performing arts. She was in theatrical and musical productions at the Ordway in St. Paul and Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis and sang in the plays “South Pacific” and “Carousel” on Broadway, said Rahr Jr.
She sang for many years at the famous Schiek’s Cafe in Minneapolis, an upscale club where she met her husband, Fritz. They were married for 60 years until he died in 2015.
Rahr was president and board member of the Twin Cities Opera Guild and active in the Minnesota Opera and the local PBS station’s “Action Auction” fundraiser.
Animals were another great interest in her life. She dedicated years of service to the Minnesota Zoological Garden and the state Animal Humane Society and often went on birding expeditions.
Rahr raised many dachshunds, one of which she named Fritz. When somebody came over to meet the family, Rahr would yell for “Fritz” and the dog, her husband and son would all come running, her son said.
“It was pretty funny,” he said.
One of his fondest moments came from the family’s raising of orphaned fawns. They fed the animals by hand until they grew to adulthood and were released.
“Some came home year after year. You could get really close and feed them,” said her son. “One came back with her own fawn. That was really neat.”
Rahr was a wonderful mother and grandmother who loved pouring German pancake batter in the shape of funny animals, baking family Christmas cookies and decorating Ukrainian Easter eggs, he said.
Rahr was preceded in death by her husband. In addition to her son, she is survived by a daughter, Heidi Rahr Faris of Edina, and four grandchildren.
A memorial service was held Saturday.