Marilyn Keenan of Bloomington, who died April 1 at 82, was good at many things.
An excellent pianist and soloist, she turned down an invitation to attend the Juilliard School in New York, one of the nation’s leading training centers for the performing arts, so she could stay in Minnesota.
She became an influential music teacher in the Minneapolis Public Schools, traveling from one school to another. In the 1960s, she taught a young pupil at John Hay Elementary School named Prince Rogers Nelson, who is better known today as the musician Prince.
A talented crafter, she mastered Norwegian Hardanger embroidery, an unforgiving art form in which every stitch must be perfect because there’s no way to fix the fabric afterward.
“I never saw anyone who could use her hands for crafts like that,” said Sharla Cartwright, 75, of Bloomington, Keenan’s friend of 50 years. “She did needlework and Hardanger beautifully. There wasn’t a stitch out of place. Then she took up painting old milk cans from farms. She was a very creative, artistic person.”
Keenan was tireless. As a young mother in the 1950s, she made money by giving half-hour music lessons in students’ homes for $1, said her son, Todd Keenan of Bloomington. In addition to the piano, she played the clarinet, flute and saxophone.
When not caring for her own five children, she mended clothes for the children of other schoolteachers. In the 1970s, she sold Lowrey organs and costume jewelry.
“I don’t know how she did everything she did,” said Jean Brustad, 86, of Edina, who knew Keenan since the early 1950s. “She even painted the outside of their house. And everything she did, she did well.”
And through it all, Keenan rarely lost her cool.
“I don’t think she ever once raised her voice,” Cartwright said. “She was so gracious and sophisticated and elegant.”
Born in 1930, Keenan was raised on a farm in the southwestern Minnesota town of Belview, and by age 11 she was singing and playing the piano for her mother’s friends. She got a bachelor’s degree in music at the University of Minnesota, graduating magna cum laude, and 20 years later earned a master of arts degree from the College of St. Thomas. In 1952, she married Hughie Keenan.
“I think when she was young she wanted to be an entertainer,” Todd Keenan said. “She was not embarrassed to belt it out in church, and she could sing.”
“She was a fabulous singer,” agreed Cartwright, who sang in the choir with Keenan at Richfield United Methodist Church. “We sometimes did three church services on Sunday, and Marilyn did all the solo work.”
Keenan, who died from complications of breast cancer, was preceded in death by her husband. She is survived by her sister, Phyllis Jordahl; her children, Douglas, Richard, Robert, Penny and Todd, and seven grandchildren. Services are pending.
Steve Alexander • 612-673-4553