The former Minneapolis schools special education teacher made life "shiny," friends and family said.
As a teenager, Meredith "Meredee" Lagaard had a sixth sense about when to break up a house party before the adults arrived, her friends say.
An animal lover, she later owned a monkey named Hairy Belly that clung to her neck in public and a bright red macaw with a salty vocabulary named Mya.
Lagaard belly-danced, climbed mountains, rafted on whitewater and sang Christmas carols on street corners in the middle of summer.
"Everything with Meredith was an adventure," sister-in-law Nora Lagaard said. "She made life just shiny."
A district employee for three decades, Lagaard spent most of her career working as a special education teacher and supervisor, including a stint as a teacher at Fairview Hospital where she worked with bedridden children.
She never had children of her own but doted on her nieces and nephews and talked constantly about her students, even the most difficult ones, friends and family said.
"She was totally attached to any child in her presence," said Bonnie Schwalbe, a friend since their days as students at the University of Minnesota.
Lagaard began her teaching career in the 1970s, around the time Congress required schools to provide equal access for children with physical and mental disabilities. While some flinched at the challenge of working in special education, Lagaard took it on and never looked back, said Pam VanderGren, a friend since childhood.
Outside the classroom, she ran a limousine service with a vintage Rolls Royce, was part-owner of an antiques shop and formed a travel club with friends in lieu of the facelifts they all pledged to get at age 40. The Summer Adventure Group, or SAG for short, traversed the globe.
Her nieces and nephews knew her as "Auntie Mame," the title character from a 1950s novel and movie known for her eccentric, free-spirited behavior. "There was basically nothing she wouldn't try," her sister-in-law said.
The onset of Alzheimer's forced Lagaard to retire in early 2003 and into the Minnesota Masonic Home several years later.
"I feel so young and I don't know why I'm here," she told family and friends at the time.
Lagaard's edgy charm lived on even after her illness. When she was no longer able to care for Mya, family members donated the profane parrot to a local zoo. In her new surroundings, Mya taught the other parrots several four-letter words, so zookeepers had to house her in a soundproof glass cage.
"You had to smile when Meredee was around," her friend Eva Fann said, "or you had to try hard not to."
Lagaard's funeral begins at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Minnesota Masonic Home Chapel, 11501 Masonic Home Drive in Bloomington. Visitation begins at 10 a.m.
Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491
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