If you wanted an interesting conversation, Barbara Appleby was the one to talk to.
The St. Paul resident was known for regaling family and friends with World War II history, facts about trains and subways, the wonders of Paris’ sewer systems and her jaunts across Warsaw and Berlin. She once creatively argued that the Earth was flat. Her work raising money for public media organizations took her all over, and by the time she died, Montana and New Mexico were the only two states she never slept in.
“She was just brilliant, and she had so much historical perspective that I think is lacking so often in our culture,” said Laura Fagan, Appleby’s sister.
Surrounded by family and friends, Appleby died Aug. 24 after complications with colon cancer. She was 57. Even in the days before she died, she was hoping to be well enough to go on a trip to Italy in November.
Born in Madison, Wis., Appleby graduated from St. Catherine University in St. Paul and went on to work with Minnesota Public Radio for 11 years.
Amy Lindgren, a lifelong friend of Appleby’s, said they were two of the co-founders of the Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women’s Research, Resources, and Scholarship at St. Catherine’s. She said “there was no doubt about who she was and no concern about people not accepting her” as Appleby supported LGBT rights and navigated her mental health troubles in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Lindgren and Appleby went to the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987.
“I think I’ve only known her to swear three times,” Lindgren said. “She was gracious in her language and the way she treated other people.”
Appleby was a shrewd fundraiser in the public media world, going to various radio stations nationwide to share best practices for spurring membership. One of her most important accomplishments was raising $3.2 million to help WNYC get a new transmission facility after 9/11. Appleby was the station’s senior director for membership at the time.
The station’s transmitter and backup transmitter were lost once the World Trade Center buildings collapsed. Going into the station’s fall fundraising drive that year, it was unclear how listeners would respond as the city recovered from the chaos. But thanks to Appleby and her staff, 27,000 people donated, making it one of the most successful on-air fundraising campaigns in public radio history.
Betsy Gardella, who was chief operating officer for WNYC at the time, said Appleby was a meticulous planner and strategist when it came to her job. But more than that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Appleby was attuned to people’s emotions and experiences and made sure they felt supported.
“I really credit her with not just coming up with a really strong fundraising drive plan but along the way nurturing her staff so that they could do their best work despite the trauma,” Gardella said.
In addition to her sister, Appleby is survived by her mother, Carole, and two other sisters, Anne Larson and Trish Appleby. Services will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Carondelet Center, 1890 Randolph Av., St. Paul.