Joanne Von Blon donated paintings to the Walker Art Center, money to Graywolf Press, time to Minnesota Public Radio. She hosted dinner parties and attended galas.

But she never wore heels or jewels.

"She was as down-to-earth as you can get," said Jocelyn Hale, former executive director of the Loft Literary Center. Von Blon was the kind of board member a nonprofit dreams about, Hale said: "Extremely financially generous but also willing to co-chair the campaign... she did the work, too."

With her husband, Philip Von Blon, one of the founders of the Guthrie Theater, she fueled Minneapolis' cultural life, helping turn its fledgling arts groups into renowned institutions. While Phil was a longtime board member at the Guthrie and the Walker, Joanne had her own passions, penning book reviews for the Star Tribune and serving on the boards of the Loft, Minnesota Center for Book Arts and Graywolf Press, where she brought "a mischievous sense of humor and a keen eye for literary talent," former director and publisher Fiona McCrae said.

Together, she and Phil believed that the arts could transform a person, a city.

"They truly enjoyed learning what artists are telling us, what writers are telling us," Hale said.

Joanne Von Blon died in her Minneapolis riverfront loft on May 9. She was 100.

She wrote her own obituary, starting with these facts: "She was a State Fair equestrian champion in her teens, climbed the Grand Teton at 40, had a second degree black belt in karate and studied Tai Chi for over thirty years. She loved birding, mushrooming and knew the wildflowers."

After growing up in Minneapolis, Von Blon majored in English at Smith College in Massachusetts, where she met Phil, who was studying at Amherst nearby. She also met Joan Mitchell, the abstract expressionist painter, a fellow undergrad with whom she would go onto exchange vibrant, personal letters for decades. (Her large-scale works were among the many the Von Blons gave to the Walker over the years.)

In Minnesota, where Phil joined the International Milling Co., Joanne engaged in social justice movements, chairing the Minneapolis Joint Committee for Employment Opportunity in the 1950s. Her daughter Margaret Wurtele remembers listening to records about racial justice. "She was fiercely wanting to communicate values and pass them onto us," she said.

Von Blon was "so unlike other people's mothers," Wurtele said, laughing. She wore jeans. She swore. Wurtele's memory of her, growing up, was her sitting with a pack of cigarettes and a book.

On Sunday mornings, when other families were attending church, her parents would pore over the New York Times. "Without being at all religious, they were very community-oriented and generous," said Wurtele, who has continued her parents' support of the arts, especially the Guthrie, where a stage is named after her and her late husband, Angus. "They did it because they really wanted the community to thrive."

Her book reviews, published in the '60s and '70s, were wise and often witty. Her 1973 review of a children's book about a rabbit named Gildaen began: "One can imagine a council of eminent rabbits — Br'er Rabbit, Peter, the White Rabbit, Uncle Wigley, maybe little Georgie from 'Rabbit Hill,' and certainly Pooh's Rabbit — resolving that they must, perforce, make houseroom for Gildaen."

Von Blon was a lifetime trustee of Minnesota Public Radio, where she was elected chair in 1980.

After cycling through reports, she went to MPR's founder and longtime CEO Bill Kling with a concern and an idea: "She said, 'We're not talking about what we do and we're not talking about the future of what we do,'" he remembered. She launched a special report to discuss the nonprofit's work and opportunities, tackling new technologies such as satellites and desktop computers. The special report remains part of board meetings today.

"It was a huge change in how MPR was reacting to and interacting with its board," Kling said, "in a way that just made it so much more successful."

Kling attended dinner parties Von Blon hosted for people she found interesting. (Someone who talked only about tennis wouldn't score an invite, Kling noted.) He noticed that Von Blon sat him between two women who were attuned to women's issues. "I realized, I wasn't just there to enjoy a good meal," he said. "I was getting educated."

In the 1990s, Joanne and Philip Von Blon were among the first 40 Minnesota millionaires to pledge to give away 1% of their net worth each year. Kling suspects that another 10 on that roster were Von Blon enlistees. "She and Phil were ahead of their time in almost every way you look," he said.

That includes their purchase, two decades ago, of a loft by the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. In a 2003 article, Joanne described taking a tour of a complex of abandoned mill buildings and being moved. "It felt like we were walking into Stonehenge, it was so incredible," she said. "We just had to live there, that's all. It's just a magical place."

They had three priorities for their architect: views, books and cooking. They also built the place for accessibility. "That's where I want to have my assisted living," she said then.

Some time after Phil's death in 2010, Hale asked Von Blon what the hardest part was. She replied: "There's nobody to laugh at my jokes in the morning."

Von Blon approached her own aging with a similar wit. "They used to say that if you did tai chi you'd live forever," she'd often say. "What was I thinking?"

Even as she lost her hearing, her vision and her memory, she remained vibrant, fielding calls on her 100th birthday. About a week after a slight stroke, she died in her riverfront home, just down the road from the Loft, the Guthrie and other organizations she loved.

In addition to Wurtele, Von Blon's survivors include daughter Martha Meyer-Von Blon of Minneapolis, grandsons Andrew Meyer, Martin Meyer and Henry Meyer and four great-grandchildren. Services have not yet been set.