When astronauts landed on the moon in 1969, Arlene Stansfield’s family members watched the big moment on their Golden Valley TV set while the mother of two chalked up her own victory.
A rising star in food economics, Stansfield helped advise NASA officials on what the spacemen ate and how they could use microwaves and other ovens to prepare food while quarantined after the mission. It was a highlight in a career that took her from food tester to vice president of consumer affairs for Land O’Lakes Inc., all in a male-dominated business.
“She was cutting edge for her time, being a woman in that industry — or any industry actually,” said her daughter, Lory Taylor of Plymouth. “She’s the woman who broke the glass ceiling.”
Stansfield, 90, who died Aug. 11 of respiratory failure at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, left a mark on her profession, working as a food economist for some 39 companies and winning numerous local and national awards. Those included the University of Minnesota Regents Outstanding Achievement Award in 1987, considered the U’s highest nondegree honor.
“Arlene Stansfield is clearly one of the most widely known home economists in the U.S. business community,” according to a nomination letter for the award. She is “top ranked in the country by her professional peers, a leader in the community, state, and national programs, and a superb public servant.”
Stansfield was born Arlene Franzen in Cloquet, Minn., where she graduated at the top of her high school class. She received a business degree in textiles and clothing in 1948 from the U, where she also met her future husband, Russell, in a sociology class.
Launching a career as a home economist and consumer affairs professional, she started as a freelancer. When her young daughters were asleep, Stansfield would slip out to demonstrate new kitchen appliances, sell freezers or show how to cook a turkey. When microwave ovens arrived, she was the first on her block to own one. When she was asked to give her views, whether at college or Congress, she never hesitated to say yes.
“She was just very driven,” Taylor said.
Stansfield advocated for expiration dates on food items and nutritional labeling on packaging, long before it was mandated by the government in the 1970s. She started a nearly 20-year career at Land O’Lakes in 1970, testing food before moving up to the emerging consumer affairs arena.
“She was truly ahead of her time,” Taylor said. “She used to say she had 130 jobs in her lifetime. She wasn’t fulfilled unless she was working somehow.”
Her work won several awards, including the Minnesota Business Home Economist of the Year from the Twin Cities chapter of the Home Economists in Minnesota.
She did it all while taking her girls to skating lessons, volunteering, mentoring sorority sisters or channeling her creativity into huge Christmas baskets, scrapbooks and parties. She also loved to travel the world, from India to South Africa and, her favorite, England.
She adored all things related to Queen Elizabeth II, with whom she felt a kinship since they were born essentially at the same time in 1926. It was no surprise that people thought it was Stansfield, nearly 6 feet tall and impeccably dressed, who was the regal one.
“She could go to a room and light it up,” Taylor said.
Besides Taylor, Stansfield is survived by another daughter, Patti Steinhoff, of St. Paul; her sister, Phyllis Battelle, of Washington state; and four grandchildren. She was buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery next to Russell, her husband of 57 years and a World War II veteran.