Everything Grace Mary Ederer learned, she shared with others.
Sometimes she did this in her formal role as professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Minnesota. Other times it was in less official ways, like when she taught her young nieces how to turn clay into sculptures after taking an art class.
Ederer, who died Dec. 15 at age 97, even found a way to educate others after her death, leaving her estate to fund a scholarship account at her alma mater, St. Catherine University.
Born June 27, 1919, Ederer was the youngest of 10 children raised on the family farm near Morton, Minn. Her mother died when she was 8 years old and her father died when she was 18. Her older, adult siblings, worried about their youngest sister's future, suggested she apply for a work-study program at St. Kate's, which offered free tuition in exchange for campus work. Admission to the college, and the program that made attending there financially possible, was something Ederer never forgot.
After receiving her bachelor's degree in biology, she moved to Detroit in 1941, the year the United States entered World War II, to get a medical technology certificate and serve an internship at Providence Hospital. While the medical field was dominated by men at the time, gender proved to be no barrier for her. "I've never had much of a problem with being a woman in the field. I was me, and I had credentials. Take it or leave it," she said in an oral history interview in 2012 that documented her career.
Ederer moved back to St. Paul to become an instructor at St. Kate's, but laboratory work still intrigued her. After one year, she applied and was offered a job at then-Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, which she helped modernize in a major renovation. She stayed 11 years, building up its microbiology lab.
"At that point," Ederer recalled in her oral history interview, "I realized I was kind of tired of my Bunsen burner and my loupe and decided I'd go over to the university [of Minnesota] and see what was in that new big, tall building." She landed a job as an administrator of the clinical laboratories. During her 15 years in that position, Ederer earned her master's in public health.
In the late 1960s, Ederer became an associate professor, and later a full professor, in the department of laboratory medicine and pathology. In 1981, her final year before retirement, Ederer was named medical director of clinical microbiology, a position usually held by a medical doctor.
While her curiosity and her tenacity proved useful, it was her kindness and humility that people remember most.
"She was always a very happy person. Always smiling. Always gracious," said her niece Louise Thompson.
Ederer was always active on various boards, including her beloved St. Kate's Alumnae Association board.
"In her Grace Mary way, she was a very effective board member. She studied whatever the issue was, did background work on it and came with an opinion," said Ruth Brombach of the school's Alumnae Relations Office. "She was a dear soul, but very clear and direct."
Ederer was motivated by a pure love of learning.
"There wasn't a day that went by that she didn't learn something. That was one of the things about her that fascinated me most. She was always on an adventure to learn something," said her great-niece Paula Henry.
From medicine to art, there was no limit to her curiosity. When she was interested in how the recycling system works, Henry said, she set up a tour of a facility. "She was just a carpe diem type of person," Henry said.
She had the most interesting life, said her niece Margaret Keller, who added she always got to know everyone because "she realized the value of every single person."