Ann Loring Woodworth Meissner was a lifelong learner.
When she was 6 — and already a reader — her father wrote the Richland Center, Wis., library demanding that his daughter be allowed to read adult books.
“She was sequestered into the children’s section … she was a hyperlexic youngster,” her son John Meissner said.
She was the daughter of a teacher and school superintendent, and education was a high priority for Meissner and her siblings. Her own mother set an example by continuing with university studies even after Meissner’s father died.
“She had many models of women who faced life challenges and pulled up their pants and marched forward,” her daughter Edie Meissner said. “She saw in action as a young girl what her mother was doing.”
Meissner went on to receive a nursing degree, a master’s degree in psychology, then a Ph.D. in counseling in 1965 — as a single mother of two. When her children were older, she received a master’s degree in public health and then lived in a commune for several years.
“There was a constant cycle of new learning and she never stopped that throughout her life,” Edie said.
Meissner, a psychologist from St. Paul with a penchant for helping others, died on Nov. 1. She was 93.
“I like to think she had a say in her timing, and she opted for All Saints Day,” Edie said.
Meissner hid a lot of the earlier, more difficult times from her children when she was a divorced mother of two working as a public health nurse in Detroit without a car.
“Edie and I were sheltered or protected so we never heard of any criticism, but women who were divorced in the 1950s were not treated very well,” he said. “So it required a lot of day-to-day courage.”
John Meissner said his mother took his sister to school and him to day care by bus.
Meissner, quoted in an academic thesis, once said: “I remember one evening caught in a rainstorm, crying. I reached out to my sister, and she loaned me $150 so I could buy a car. The kids remember that time with delight, but it was really hard times.”
When her children were older, she got involved with a Minneapolis commune called Omega House. It started as weekly potluck dinners, then the people involved in the project bought a big house on First Avenue S.. There were scientists and professors and a local weather reporter, which made for “fascinating conversations,” Edie Meissner said.
While some in the Meissner family worried about what the neighbors might think, Ann Meissner didn’t worry about it.
“If they blinked an eye my mother probably enjoyed it,” Edie said.
Meissner called herself a “do-gooder” and had an interest in helping others. Her son said he suspects her own struggles allowed her to be more empathetic toward others.
In the Twin Cities, she helped set up a school for students with cognitive disabilities. Later, she became the director of nursing at Augsburg College, where she started a baccalaureate degree for registered nurses. She also helped found the Gestalt Institute of the Twin Cities, a training and development organization for therapists, and Elder Zest, a learning institute for and about seniors.
Meissner retired from her private therapy practice at 85.
“She had one heck of a life,” her daughter said.
In addition to Edie, of St. Paul, and son John, of Ottawa, Canada, she is survived by three stepchildren, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Services will be held Saturday morning at the Coventry Chapel at Episcopal Homes in St. Paul.