Betty “Jo” Hiner liked dancing to loud, dramatic flamenco music with her five daughters.
“We’d be dancing in the living room, jumping on the couches,” said her daughter Jilda Mastrey, of Minneapolis.
Music — and moving to it — was important to Hiner, who started a children’s class called “The Musical Trolley” at the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis. It’s still considered a signature class today, Director Dianna Babcock said, because it was MacPhail’s first preschool age group.
Hiner, 91, died of natural causes March 22 at Augustana Health Care Center in Minneapolis. Besides her work in music, Hiner was a co-owner in the 1960s of Mama Rosa’s, a popular Italian eatery on the West Bank, and an activist for gay and women’s rights most of her life.
Hiner grew up in a musical family that moved a lot because of her father’s job with the Boy Scouts of America. Her mother, who taught piano, enrolled her in several music programs almost everywhere they lived.
After graduating from Marshall University High School in Minneapolis, Hiner went to New York to study at the Dalcroze music school. She studied the visual arts with equal passion at the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis School of Art and Design before marrying Tony Mastrey, with whom she worked with at Schmitt Music.
Together, the couple would own several Italian restaurants in college towns across the Midwest, including Mama Rosa’s in Minneapolis and Mama Angelina’s in Mankato. Before they had restaurants, Mastrey said, her parents made pizzas at home and delivered them.
In an interview with the Minnesota Historical Society in 1996, Hiner said that while she was in Mankato, she helped create a women’s radio program and a women’s center with a crisis line.
Hiner eventually divorced her husband in Iowa, where they owned their last restaurant, and came out as gay to her daughters. “Once she came out, she made it known,” Jilda Mastrey said.
Hiner often incorporated lesbian imagery into items she sewed and sold at an Iowa City store she owned called Fancy Schmancy, which sold items like floppy hats, painted silk capes and fringe bustiers. It was one of a number of small shops in the Hall Mall, “a wonderful little place [for] old hippies,” Hiner told the Historical Society as part of its Lesbian Elders Oral History Project.
After returning to Minneapolis to live nearer her family, Hiner sewed clothes and tapestries and belonged to Old Lesbians Organizing for Change.
Will Fetzer of Minneapolis, a friend of Hiner’s, said that he and his partner often saw her at the Second Church of Christ, Scientist in Minneapolis, and noticed that she always wore something that had to do with a rainbow, like that in the gay pride flag.
“But not in a loud way,” Fetzer said. At church, he said, Hiner was a “delightful” person who got along with everyone.
Mastrey said her mother was like that everywhere.
“It drove me a little crazy, but she talked to strangers,” she said. “At the bus stop, or the grocery store … she wanted to know about people. She just really had a love of people, and life and music.”
Besides Mastrey, Hiner is survived by daughters Liese Doring of Mankato, Cara Mastrey of Maplewood and Mia Moyad of Ann Arbor, Mich. She was preceded in death by one daughter, heavy-metal disc jockey Tawn Mastrey, who died in 2007.
The family is planning a service in June.
Emily Allen is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.