A progressive in a progressive era
Duane Scribner shared the sentiment of Martin Luther King Jr. that the second half of the 20th century was the greatest time to be alive.
Scribner, who died June 17 at age 80, was an influential political figure during the civil rights era, serving for three years as chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale and later as media adviser to Minnesota governors Wendell Anderson and Rudy Perpich.
"The second half of the 20th century was when [King] would have chosen to live, because that was the moment of need and [when] the future of the world would be decided," said Scribner's oldest daughter, Kirsten Mebust. "I think my dad felt that."
Scribner was a newspaperman for the Worthington Globe and an English teacher at two public schools and Moorhead State College before he was plucked into politics. The story goes that Scribner was pursuing a doctorate at the University of Minnesota in 1965 when his adviser told Mondale that he would be a worthy chief of staff for the new senator's office.
Scribner took part in crucial behind-the-scenes negotiations to pass Mondale's Fair Housing Act of 1968, including efforts to encourage an Alaska senator to switch his vote at the last minute to end a filibuster that blocked the bill.
"As a result of that deal, the United States had an act enforcing fair housing for African-American people," Mebust said. "He was enormously proud of that. He told that story many, many times."
Scribner's advocacy for racial and gender equity stemmed from his father, a union railroad worker disabled by polio, and his mother, a feminist activist with the Women's Christian Temperance Union.
Breaks from the political grind came through joyful car trips with his wife, Marcheta, and five daughters -- often crammed into a Volkswagen Beetle bound for New York or Kitty Hawk, N.C.
Later, as an adviser in the governor's office, Scribner worked for Anderson's education reform, dubbed the Minnesota Miracle, to equitably distribute tax dollars to the state's public schools.
His career concluded with the Dayton Hudson Corp., managing the retailer's government affairs strategies and charitable spending. He particularly sought to earmark funds promoting education and achievement for girls and young mothers, which he viewed as a solution to the state's poverty woes, his daughter said.
In retirement, Scribner enjoyed time with his grandchildren, as well as fishing at a family cabin. He led a capital campaign for University Lutheran Church of Hope in Minneapolis, which will host a memorial service July 28.
Scribner and his wife suffered dementia as they aged and were cared for together in the home of one of their daughters. Complications from diabetes eventually left Scribner unable to walk or stand.
On the eve of Scribner's death, his daughters gathered at his bed with his wife and other relatives to sing and tell old tales.
"He just kept breathing and breathing and listening to us tell stories and sing -- like we used to do on all those car trips -- into the wee hours of the morning," Mebust said. "I think he was enjoying the party."
Scribner is survived by his wife and daughters Kirsten Mebust, Lisa Sater, Kathleen Fee, Maria Sommer and Emily Scribner-Opray.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744