Obituary: Mary Sorensen was a mother to thousands who attended Penn Avenue Daycare

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW
  • Star Tribune
  • November 21, 2012 - 8:19 PM

Mary K. Sorensen helped get Penn Cycle rolling.

She invested some of the proceeds from a day care she operated in her small Richfield home to start the family-run bike store and repair business that has grown to seven metro area locations and is celebrating its 55th anniversary this year.

Sorensen, who died in her sleep Nov. 12 at Friendship Village in Bloomington at age 93, raised five children, but she was a mother to many.

She opened the Penn Avenue Daycare in 1955 when scores of women were entering the work force and needed somebody to watch their kids. For more than 25 years, she fed, taught and played with as many as 30 children entrusted to her care each day. She frequently put on special events such as Halloween parties for the kids.

"She was a devoted caregiver and loved children," said Ardis "Tootsie" Pedersen, a neighbor who helped out at the day care and worked as a bookkeeper at Penn Cycle for more than 50 years. "She treated them well. They liked her. She was like a mother."

Scott Carlston, an apartment and land developer from Eden Prairie, was one of Sorensen's first day-care kids. He was about 3 months old when he first came under Sorensen's care. Often, he'd stay both day and night.

"Mary was always there for me," he said. "I had a lot of nights sleeping in her basement. She took me in like family. She was a remarkable woman."

As a day-care pioneer, she was on the forefront of the development of standards for child-care centers, said her son, James, of Minneapolis.

"People from the state came many times," he said. "She'd tell them that they should have standards for egress windows, cleanliness and toilet availability, things that people would think of quickly today but [back then] there wasn't much thought about."

Sorensen opened Penn Avenue Daycare so she could stay at home and at the same time help support the family. Charging just $2 per child a day, she saved enough to invest some of the money in a bike refurbishing business that her late husband, Elmer, started in 1957. He was a mechanic at Northwest Airlines and started the bicycle business to supplement his income.

The first year, he refurbished the family's six bikes, and one Sunday Mary Sorensen sold them all for $150. That was the beginning of Penn Cycle. By 1959, Elmer bought the house next door and converted it into Penn Cycle's first shop.

"Mom helped him along," James said.

Mary Sorensen was a member of St. Richard's Catholic Church in Richfield for more than 57 years. She also was an award-winning gardener, liked fancy clothes and regularly contributed to charities.

"She was such a kind woman who'd do anything for anybody," Pedersen said.

In addition to her son James, Sorensen is survived by two other sons, Pat, of Richfield, and Michael, of Waconia; two daughters, Kathleen Osborne, of Sacramento, Calif., and Margaret LeKander, of Kallispell, Mont.; a sister, Patricia Wenborg-Durno, of Bloomington, and 15 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at St. Richard's Catholic Church, 7540 Penn Av. S., Richfield. Visitation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday at the Morris Nilsen Chapel, 6527 Portland Av. S., Richfield, and one hour before services at the church.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768 Twitter: @timstrib

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