Marie Moilanen was a swimmer, runner, golfer, tennis player, kayaker and paddleboarder. Her friends and family say she enjoyed participating in sports — and helping others be physically active, too.
Her husband of 48 years, Mark, said Moilanen was an instigator. She organized family events or a friendly tennis match and established the competitive adaptive sports program in the Edina Public Schools.
“She was the straw that stirred the drink in so many ways,” her husband said.
Moilanen died July 17 after an 18-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
“Marie was the teacher of your dreams if you had a special needs kid,” said Mary Beth Cavert, a retired Edina teacher and friend and neighbor of Moilanen.
She also was a great colleague, she said. “Her creativity, compassion, persistence and fun-loving spirit nourished Edina children and youth for decades.”
A 1962 graduate of Granite Falls High School, Moilanen earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Cloud State University and a master’s degree from Mankato State University. Early in her career, she spent summers at Camp Courage working with physically disabled adults and children.
It was at Camp Courage that she met her husband, and when they married in 1970, the reception was held at the camp. They had two children, Molly and Michael, and two grandchildren.
Her teaching career was primarily in physical education, first at Hibbing High School, then after a few more stops, the Edina school district.
She spent much of her career at the Normandale French Immersion School in Edina. “She had to modify all her lesson plans to fit into French culture,” her husband said. “A lot of her education for those students was around dance and movement and sports that all connected to French culture.”
But it was her work establishing the adaptive sports program in Edina that earned her a nomination to the Edina Athletic Booster Club Hall of Fame. She will be inducted with seven others on Sept. 20.
“She was a real visionary in my mind, as well as a compassionate and caring person,” said Marcia Carthaus, director of special education in the Edina school system when the adaptive sports program was started. “She got other districts going, too.”
Lynne Clarke and Moilanen were the only two adaptive physical education teachers in Edina during the mid-1980s and 1990s. They coached athletes for the Special Olympics, but Moilanen felt that students with physical and other disabilities also deserved an athletic outlet that other kids in the school system got to enjoy.
“She was a teacher, but a student every day as well,” Clarke said. “She learned from the students as well as other teachers.”
Her retirement from Edina in 2005 lasted all of a week before she started a second career as a personal trainer at the Marsh, a health and wellness center in Minnetonka, and as an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas, her husband said.
Moilanen was also an active community and nonprofit volunteer who served the Golden Valley DFL Women’s Club, Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense, Mary’s Place, St. Stephen’s meal programs for the homeless, Methodist Hospital’s spiritual counseling program and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.
A funeral mass will be Wednesday at the Church of St. Therese of Deephaven. Visitation will begin at 10 a.m., with the service at 11 a.m.