Jean Jacobson was ahead of her time for women her age. Raised during the Great Depression, she left Devils Lake, N.D., after graduating from high school and traveled by herself to St. Paul's Hamline University, majoring in physical education and business and earning a teaching certificate.
It was a brand of strength and leadership that she carried through her life, endearing her to countless students, neighbors and family members through her 94 years, many of them spent in Stillwater, relatives said. Jacobson passed away, surrounded by family, on Sunday.
Friends and relatives remembered Jacobson this week as a woman who managed to defy stereotypes and lead others. After college, she taught physical education in northern Minnesota but took a break during World War II to work in Seattle.
She then moved to Stillwater, where she met and married Reuben Jacobson.
She especially loved helping children, raising four of her own, teaching physical education at Stillwater High School and later substitute teaching all sorts of subjects. She and her husband hosted foreign exchange students and maintained an open door for all their children's friends, family members said.
"People were what was important to her," said her oldest daughter, Lynn Voelbel. "She really didn't have things. She didn't have jewelry. We lived in a little, small house. But being with people and helping people" is what she thrived on, Voelbel said.
Jacobson got involved in many community organizations and often took on leadership roles, family members said, including serving as a local leader of the American Association of University Women in Stillwater and in various roles at Trinity Lutheran Church. She served as a board member for Operation Bootstrap Africa, which supports educational opportunities for children. She and some friends started a St. Croix Valley senior citizens gathering on Friday afternoons, which led to the creation of Croixdale residences and apartments in Bayport, Voelbel said. She once won WCCO Radio's Good Neighbor Award, her daughter said.
Jacobson was an avid sports fan throughout her life, cheering for professional and college teams and going to sports events to watch her grandchildren.
She loved having a house full of people, her daughters said. Friends were drawn to her hearty laugh and quick-witted jokes. The Rev. Gary Langness recalled when Jean and Reuben lived in Stillwater as a young couple. They offered Langness' widowed mother and her four children a ride to services at a local church, he said. They remained friends ever since.
"Whenever I would see her and sit down with her to visit, I would always ask her about herself and that would last about 10 seconds," Langness said.
"She always directed the conversation to the person that she was talking to … I always walked away from a conversation with Jean feeling better. She was an encourager."
Later in her life, Jacobson traveled to Tanzania to visit her son and his family, where he works as a doctor.
"She had more energy than I've had my whole life," said her youngest daughter, Kris Jacobson. "She was involved with so many activities trying to make the world a better place."
Besides her two daughters, she is survived by son Dr. Mark Jacobson and daughter Jeanie Morrison, three sons-in-law and one daughter-in-law, 12 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Trinity Lutheran Church, 115 4th St. N, in Stillwater.