She earned a Bronze Star for her nursing in World War II, pioneered programs for children with Down syndrome and connected people to their pasts as Otter Tail County's chief volunteer archivist.
But those closest to Ann Smalley Jordan remember her best pumping her own water into her 90s, paddling her canoe and swimming in the river running past Sky Acres, her rugged 12-by-24-foot cabin in the woods near Marine on St. Croix.
Jordan died last week from stroke complications. She was 97 and will be remembered at a community gathering Tuesday at noon at the Otter Tail County Historical Society in Fergus Falls.
"She was a pretty phenomenal lady who did everything in her life with dogged determination," said daughter-in-law Marvel Jordan.
Born in Perham, Minn., in 1915 to newspaper editor Harvey Smalley and piano teacher Mabel Smalley, Jordan studied nursing at the University of Minnesota and served as an Army nurse at hospitals in New Guinea and Australia during World War II.
After the war, she became the assistant director of the child development division at Lakeland Mental Health, creating trailblazing programs and services in a four-county area of west-central Minnesota for children and families with Down syndrome. Her work helped shape state standards surrounding children with disabilities.
Retiring as a public health nurse in 1978, Jordan began volunteering five days a week at the Otter Tail County Historical Society, where the archive library is named in her honor.
"She was especially involved with genealogical research and helping hundreds of families research their history," said Chris Schuelke, executive director of the Otter Tail County Historical Society.
When he moved to Fergus Falls in 1989, Schuelke said, Jordan took him and his family under her wing, often inviting them to visit her summer cabin on the St. Croix River.
"She was direct, kind and tough, but compassionate," he said. "She was self-assured and very knowledgeable, but wasn't one to talk at length about herself."
Heather Jordan, one of her three grandchildren, once met a longtime friend of Jordan's who said she was nicknamed "the Little Manager" since childhood for her way of taking over and working tirelessly at the job at hand.
"My grandmother was known for her strong will," Heather said. "Compliments were hard won, but once you earned her respect, she was dedicated to you."
Ann was preceded in death by her only son, Lorin.
In addition to Heather and Marvel, Ann is survived by her granddaughter, Lisa Jordan, of Ann Arbor, Mich.; grandson Chris Jordan, and his wife Jessie, of St. Paul; and two great-grandsons.