Eunice Eckerly talked to everyone she met. And, more important, she listened.
“She would ask questions and find out what the person was like. She was very much interested,” said her sister, Ann Gerike. “She got to know people in a way that a lot of people never do, I think.”
A longtime resident of Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, Eckerly was deeply involved in her community, whether she was singing in her church choir or meeting with state legislators to push for her progressive causes. After spending several months in hospice care, Eckerly died Dec. 18 in Minneapolis. She was 80.
The youngest of five children, Eckerly spent the first years of her life in Wyoming. Her father was a Missouri Synod pastor, and the family moved where his work took him. Eventually they settled in a small town in Nebraska, and Eckerly finished high school there.
“That’s when she finally started to blossom,” said Esther Brockmann, her sister. “It was smaller, and she was readily accepted and had lots of friends.”
After high school, Eckerly trained to be a parish worker at St. John’s College in Winfield, Kan. She married William Eckerly, a pastor, but it was not a good marriage, her sisters recalled. One day, Eckerly came home to find her husband gone.
Eckerly was a beloved aunt, often opting to play with her nieces and nephews at family gatherings instead of sitting and talking with the grown-ups. She never remarried or had children of her own.
After her marriage ended, Eckerly moved to Minneapolis, where she worked for the nonprofit Urban Coalition and was an early resident of the Riverside Plaza apartment complex (then called Cedar Square West).
“Living in Cedar Square West was a unique opportunity for people to live together with mixed incomes and ages, within an interacting community,” Eckerly said years later in an interview about the history of Riverside Plaza.
Eckerly later moved to a different apartment building but never left Cedar-Riverside. The diversity of the neighborhood suited her, said Jane Buckley-Farlee, Eckerly’s pastor at Trinity Lutheran church.
“It’s a place where anybody can fit in and have a role,” Buckley-Farlee said.
Eckerly served on church committees and regularly attended neighborhood meetings and political events. Her Facebook page is almost entirely dedicated to her political views, from fighting climate change to legalizing same-sex marriage.
In addition to her political activism and work in her community, Eckerly had a job as a receptionist at the University of Minnesota — an ideal role, Gerike said, because she got to spend to her days talking to people.
Decades of striking up conversations made Eckerly a fixture in her community. When she was in hospice, the vast number of relationships she’d cultivated over the course of her life became clear, Gerike said.
“I wasn’t fully aware of how many people in Minneapolis she knew, and knew her, ” Gerike said. “Every day she’d get about 10 ‘Get Well’ or ‘Thinking of You’ cards.”
Even in her final months, Eckerly wasn’t done meeting people. She knew everyone in her nursing home dining hall by name, and on the wall of her room, she had a map of the world that marked all her caregivers’ native countries.
Memorial services have not yet been planned, but Eckerly did express one wish: Instead of having her ashes scattered or buried, she wanted them made into fireworks.
Eckerly is survived by two sisters, 14 nephews and nieces and numerous great-nephews and nieces.