Obituary: Kristan Blake managed Wellstone's campaign and made change happen

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 23, 2012 - 10:58 PM

She also championed social causes and civic events

Kristan Blake

Whenever there was a job to do, Kristan Blake got the call.

Blake's impeccable organizational skills, combined with her interest in theater and politics, put her at the forefront of several important Minnesota political campaigns, including leading efforts for Jesse Jackson in 1988 and Paul Wellstone in 1990.

Blake, who died in her sleep Wednesday at age 60, also was a champion for social issues such as affordable housing, voting rights and help for battered women. She was deeply involved in civic endeavors in her hometown of St. Mary's Point.

"'No' was not a word for Kris," said her husband of 40 years, Paul Brown. "Anybody who knew her knew her commitment to social justice and compassion for easing suffering and organizing for lasting change. That was the hallmark of her life."

Blake met her husband while at Syracuse University in the 1970s, and the two teamed up to found the Catskill Players. She earned a degree in communication and theater from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., while directing plays for the company. She also worked at the Auburn Children's Theater.

Blake came to Minnesota in 1978, when Brown accepted a professorship at Southwest State University in Marshall. She was active in the town's community theater and helped win funding for what is believed to be the first women's shelter established in southwest Minnesota.

With her penchant for politics, Blake took on the role of campaign manager for several candidates. Her first was in 1982, when she helped Jim Nichols nearly win a seat in the U.S. House. Nichols narrowly lost to the Republican incumbent, Vin Weber. But Nichols remembered her tenacity and organizational skills, and in 1988, when he was serving as the Minnesota agriculture commissioner, he called on Blake to help coordinate a hay lift to help farmers in drought-stricken parts of the state.

"If something had to be done to help other people, you call Kris," Nichols said. "No matter how many hours it took, she'd get the job done."

Blake served as director of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group from 1984 to 1987, and in 1988 managed Jackson's presidential campaign in Minnesota. Two years later, she designed the green logo that was synonymous with Wellstone's campaign. She was Wellstone's first campaign manager in the 1990 U.S. Senate race, running it from her kitchen in St. Mary's Point from the time.

Blake's efforts gained the attention of author Elizabeth Colton, who in her book, "The Jackson Phenomenon: The Man, the Power, the Message," called Blake "the consummate grass-roots organizer."

In the Twin Cities, Blake continued pursuing her theater interests, lending her talents to the Illusion Theater, Penumbra Theatre and the Playwrights' Center, her husband said.

In St. Mary's Point, Blake served as an election judge, the city clerk and as a member of the City Council. She is remembered for organizing the city's long-running and popular Art in the Park event.

"She wanted to bring the community together once a year," Council Member Gary Williams said. "She was a dedicated person. She was always dependable on tasks we assigned to her. When we needed something done, we called on her."

In addition to her husband, Blake is survived by her mother, Rosemary Blake, of Columbia, Md.; sisters Jennifer Saleem, of Columbia, Md., and Amy Cleveland, of Portage, Wis., and three nieces and nephews.

A celebration-of-life service will be held in the spring.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768 Twitter: @timstrib

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