Patricia Anfinson dies: Newspaper columnist and Snickerdoodle Lady

  • Article by: PAMELA MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 10, 2012 - 9:43 PM

Patricia Anfinson

Patricia Roth Anfinson, matriarch of a western Minnesota newspaper family and originator of the snickerdoodle cookie, died Wednesday at the Swift County-Benson Hospital in Benson, Minn. She was 89.

For 40 years, Anfinson wrote a popular column for the family-owned Swift County Monitor-News. "She wrote about family and community life, with lots of gentle observations, anecdotes, poems and references to nature and history -- and recipes," said her son Reed, now the paper's publisher. "Her voice was, 'Let me tell you about this,' never lecturing or judgmental or political."

Anfinson was born in Brainerd, Minn., and graduated in 1941 from Brainerd High School. She earned a degree in home economics from the University of Minnesota in 1945.

Her roommate set her up with Benson native Ronald Anfinson, "a handsome, charming guy just out of the military," said her son Scott, of Northfield, who is Minnesota's state archaeologist. "My dad had another date that night -- with a homecoming queen candidate, but he broke it and took my mother to the dance. The other woman was there and came up and slapped my dad. But he didn't care -- he was smitten."

Shortly thereafter, she took a train to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston to serve her dietitian internship, said Reed, adding, "There were not many young women doing that in the 1940s. She was very independent." Ron Anfinson followed her to Boston to propose.

She returned to Minneapolis to marry him, and went to work in the Betty Crocker division of the Washburn-Crosby Co. (later General Mills), fielding baking questions from the public. In 1950, the first Betty Crocker picture cookbook included her family recipe for a cinnamon-redolent cookie, earning her the title "the Snickerdoodle Lady."

The Anfinsons moved to Benson in 1948. She worked as a dietitian for many area hospitals and nursing homes. In 1960, the couple became co-owners of the Monitor-News, which they ran for 30 years before selling it to sons Reed and Robert (Reed later bought out Robert).

She began writing a column called "Sage, Parsley and Thyme" in 1969 and kept at it for more than 40 years, except for two dark years after the death of her daughter, Susan, who was hit by a drunken driver in 1975, her sons said.

Her column was so popular that the local grocer asked her to give him a heads-up on recipes she planned to print so he could stock the ingredients, Scott said.

Reed fondly remembers his mother's warm German potato salad, but said the kids didn't always take kindly to her gourmet touches. "Here you have a mother making bearnaise and hollandaise sauces, and you're hiding your asparagus from her," he said.

"Her nickname was the Little Red Hen," Reed said. "She always wanted to get things done, and to get them done now. For example, she wanted the kitchen enlarged, but it never got done. One night we came home and she had taken a sledgehammer to the wall -- that got the project going!"

Her husband died in 2006. In addition to sons Reed and Scott, she is survived by three other sons, Mark of St. Paul, John of Shoreview and Robert of Benson; three sisters, Ruthie Waller of Vancouver, Wash.; Ramona Hess of Yuba City, Calif., and Rosemary Rodewald of Reno; 18 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Our Redeemer's Lutheran Church in Benson. Services will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at the church, with visitation one hour before services.

Pamela Miller • 612-673-4290

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