Mary Page was a trailblazer, mentor and maverick in her hometown of Olivia, Minn., where she was never afraid to challenge the status quo.
Flags in the community of about 2,400 residents 95 miles west of the Twin Cities were flown at half-staff for two days last week in honor of Page, Olivia’s first female mayor, who deeply invested herself in scores of initiatives over the past 50 years.
She died Oct. 21 of cancer at age 78.
Page was one of the first women to serve as a Renville County commissioner and in that role she helped bring hospice care to the county. She taught confirmation, loved to debate policy and was known in Olivia for the over-the-top golf-cart-powered floats that she designed for city’s annual Corn Capital Days parades.
Page also was on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents for six years and chair of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.
“She was a visionary. She had a knack to bring the right people together and get the task done,” said Olivia’s current mayor, Suzanne Hilgert. “Mary was a remarkable woman, with accomplishments a mile long, but she was your friend, too. She had wonderful relationships with people. That is how we celebrate her.”
Page was raised in South Dakota by her father, a pastor, and mother, a high school principal. Together they instilled in Page the importance of giving, a lesson she got loud and clear.
Her funeral program listed more than 60 organizations and programs she served, a majority of them as a volunteer.
“She did not write checks; she donated her time, leadership and passion,” said Marcie McLaughlin, who served one term with Page as a Renville County commissioner in the early 1990s. “That was her view of go and give of yourself. She was a trailblazer full of energy.”
Page attended Valparaiso University where she majored in social work and religion and became a deaconess in the Lutheran Church. She arrived in Olivia in 1960 with her husband, Jim, whom she met while taking summer classes at South Dakota State University, where he was finishing his pharmacy degree. Together they ran the Page Snyder Drug for decades.
A champion for women’s and rural issues, Page invested herself in issues ranging from the arts to humanities to public policy, and never shied away from a debate or a tough decision, friends said. That played out during her term on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. In 1991, she voted to close the Waseca campus when the university system was facing a severe budget crisis.
“She talked about rural issues because of declining population,” said Brian Steeves, of the Board of Regents office. “She could identify with them and said the U needed to be ready to help them as they face this issue. That was probably a tough decision.”
Page also laid the foundation for many of the health care programs now operating in Renville County, said Jill Bruns, director of the county’s Public Health Services.
“She was my mentor and my maverick,” Bruns said. “As a leader, she always said to understand the why first, then figure out how. She was always challenging the status quo. That was very helpful to me.”
Besides her husband, Page is survived by a daughter, Marcia Page, of Edina; sons David of Sioux City, Iowa, and Mark of Chanhassen; sister Ruth Honzay, and eight grandchildren.