As the middle child, it always chafed Jane Eidson that her two brothers finished college and she never did.
The boys joined the Navy during World War II, came home and went to school on the GI Bill. She started college right after high school, but she then got diverted — by the war, a marriage, various jobs and five kids.
But persevere she did. Starting in 1964, Eidson plugged away for 11 years on a degree in English and art history at the University of Minnesota. At the age of 56, she finally donned a cap and gown, the same year her youngest child graduated from high school.
The experience solidified Eidson’s belief in the power of education, and propelled her to become an active volunteer for the American Association of University Women, a group that advocates for economic and educational equity for women.
Eidson died July 31, shortly after a stroke, at the age of 98. She had lived with dementia for several years.
Born and raised in Chicago, Eidson enjoyed working in her parents’ vegetable garden and often roller skated to various summer activities in city parks. As a mother, she made sure her children joined outdoor activities, and built a box for the station wagon that stayed loaded with camping gear so the family could take off at a moment’s notice.
She met her future husband, Bill Eidson, when he came to Chicago for officer training. Through the war years, they got to know each other mostly through letters.
Bill, who was raised in a speck of a town in South Carolina, became a lieutenant commander in the Navy and sat atop the crow’s nest on the USS Texas. He took part in the battles of the Atlantic, Iwo Jima, Normandy, North Africa and Okinawa. In 1944, the battleship was damaged by artillery, and the ship came to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for repairs. Seizing the moment, the couple quickly staged a wedding at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
After the war, the two moved around, with stops in Tennessee and Illinois, and Jane tried to pick up night classes while starting a family. Bill eventually landed a job as a sales manager in Minnesota, and the couple settled down in St. Louis Park, where they lived for nearly 60 years. Bill died of a stroke in 2010.
Eidson believed her body held her soul and never took her good health for granted — sometimes to the dismay of her brood, who craved a little junk food every now and then. She started practicing yoga in the 1960s, and she was a health-food nut decades before it became fashionable. She pushed fruits, vegetables, plenty of water and whole grains.
“We hated that as kids,” said Karen English, her oldest child. “No white sugar, no white flour. We never saw Wonder Bread.”
Eidson inherited her father’s artistic flair and seemed to have a bottomless well of creative energy packed into her 5-foot, 4-inch frame. She painted flowers and landscapes in oil and watercolor, and often embellished plain sewing patterns with piping.
“She loved color and texture,” English said. “Her favorite thing was to go to the fabric stores, just to look and touch and think about what she’d make next.”
Eidson took flying lessons, joined ballet classes, and took up clogging and Scottish dancing. When she was in her 60s, she traveled Europe on a Eurail pass with her youngest daughter, Rita, and stayed in youth hostels.
“She was energetic and always ready for adventure,” said Nancy Arguedas, her second-born. “That was her thing: Let’s go!”
But in many ways, it all came back to education. Eventually, every one of her children earned a graduate degree.
“We were always supported,” Arguedas said. “She raised us to believe we could do anything.”
The family is planning a private service.