In 1940, Eva Brunson Steiner served as the first Minneapolis Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes.
The 10-day July festival “was a big deal back then,” said her son Bill. And the circuit she traveled after the festival, representing her city and state across the nation, “was a big task,” he said.
Steiner, whose exceptional elegance and grace were often exclaimed over by those who followed her, died Nov. 21. She was 95.
On one of her festival days, Steiner wore a full-length satin gown with a high-collared cape. The dress, which was ordered at the last minute from a costume shop, had never been cleaned, said Pam Albinson, archivist for the Hennepin History Aquatennial collection at the Hennepin History Museum. Despite the smell emanating from it, Steiner did not fuss.
“She was quite the lady and wanted to be polite,” said Albinson, who was queen in 1962. It was such an honor for Steiner to reign over the event that if her escort had not said anything to officials, no one would have known that her costume smelled.
“Being the first Aquatennial queen, she was the perfect role model. We couldn’t have a better first queen,” Albinson said.
As for vices? “I’d be surprised if she had any. She was the epitome of an elegant woman of the ’40s,” Albinson said.
Steiner’s oldest son, Dick, said she didn’t drink or smoke, and “I never even heard her say a bad word.”
She was a social butterfly and was in almost every type of club — craft, bridge, dance, parent-teacher associations and two women’s clubs, her family said.
Last year, when she got sick and didn’t show for the annual Past Queens Reception at the Minikahda Club, people noticed. It was the first one she had missed since 1963, Albinson said.
Soon after that, Steiner moved into an assisted-living complex in Wisconsin to be closer to her son John. She was living there when she died.
She was born Eva Belle Brunson in Oelwein, Iowa, the only child of a family that moved to the Bryn Mawr neighborhood of Minneapolis, where she grew up. Three years after serving as Aquatennial queen, she married Robert Steiner, whom she had met when they started carpooling.
Friends and family said Steiner was a great storyteller. Often her tales from the past culminated in humor.
“I can’t even do it any justice if I tried to describe it,” Dick said of her storytelling style. “But they were captivating.”
And everyone had a favorite story about her. For Dick, it was the day she tricked her sons into thinking she was a naturally good water-skier.
One summer at their Lake Minnetonka cabin, family friends were teaching her two older sons to water-ski. Neither of them could stand on the skis and get out of the water. The boys teased their mother to take a turn, but of course she hesitated.
Then, after giving in, she asked to start off on the dock — not a beginner’s choice. She stood up, the boat started moving and suddenly she was crossing the wake.
“We were amazed,” Dick recalled. “It wasn’t as hard as you made it look,” she told them.
Days later, the boys found out that the family friends had been secretly teaching her every day for three weeks, knowing the boys would pressure her to try it. “She really got us good, that’s for sure,” Dick said.
Her infectious laugh was well known to all who knew her. A clip of that laugh was played at her funeral.
Steiner’s husband died in 2007. She is survived by sons Dick, Bill and John, and seven grandchildren. Services have been held.