As a longtime chemical dependency counselor, June Qualy was known for braiding her tough approach with deeply rooted spirituality and compassion at St. Mary’s Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s.
Qualy, who died Wednesday in Owatonna, Minn., after suffering a stroke July 4, was 89. She’s credited with helping hundreds of people overcome alcoholism and other addictions at what is now known as Fairview Recovery Services.
“I’m grateful to have known her and seen her work helping people of all ages to recovery, including members of my own family,” said Wheelock Whitney, a prominent local businessman. “She was a gifted expert and an outstanding counselor.”
As a lead counselor, Qualy helped people from all over the world, especially some of the more difficult patients who came from New York and New Jersey.
“Because of their stature and the lives they’d lived, they were some tough ones — but June did remarkable work with them and they loved her to pieces because she literally saved their lives,” said Marlene Qualle, a co-worker who is now development director for the center’s Behavioral Health Department.
Qualy wasn’t an alcoholic herself, which made her rise as a counselor for addicts somewhat controversial.
“In the 1970s, we were darned ignorant and people thought if you were not an alcoholic or an addict, there was no way you could possibly understand how to treat those individuals,” Qualle said. “But June was a marvel at that.”
Jeff Powers, the program director at Fairview Recovery Services, said Qualy was respected by patients and staffers.
“She was the velvet hammer who could hit you upside the head without you even knowing it,” Powers said. “She was direct without being offensive, and that takes talent.”
Born June Ahlfs in 1923, Qualy moved to Caledonia, Minn., during the Depression for a firsthand view of what helping others looked like. Her father, Dr. J.J. Ahlfs, delivered more than 4,000 babies in southern Minnesota.
“She was the daughter of a country doctor who wanted to help people,” said Phillip Qualy of Minneapolis, youngest of her four sons. “Raised as a Catholic, our mother simply believed that at the end of our days, the good Lord will ask each of us: ‘What did you do with your life?’ ”
Qualy graduated from the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul in 1945 and earned a master’s degree at St. Mary’s College in Winona in 1970, studying eating disorders and addictive behaviors. She began her career at the Hazelden Foundation in 1970.
A progressive mother of five, she helped run an ad agency in the 1950s and ’60s and was a lifelong crafter and expert at cooking German food.
Before she retired in 1992, she was presented with the first Irene Hixon Whitney Award for meritorious service in 1989. A spiritual care fund in her name lives on, paying the costs of religious-based counseling that insurance companies won’t cover at Fairview.
After her retirement, Qualy split her time between Zumbrota, Minn., and Pharr, Texas. She was preceded in death by her husband, Paul B. Qualy, earlier this year, and her daughter Mary Ellen Qualy in 2011. Along with her son Phillip, she is survived by sons Paul Qualy of Lake City, Iowa; Peter Qualy of Indianapolis; Stephen Qualy of Minneapolis, and 11 grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.