Kathy Boone was a tireless mentor to hundreds of students and staffers over her 35 years at Groves Academy.
From recruiting new teachers to staying late to help a struggling student, the English teacher and administrator was instrumental in growing the St. Louis Park private school that serves students with learning disabilities. Colleagues called her a pragmatic problem solver who never sought credit for her work.
"She was life-changing to so many people," said Colin Roney, Groves' assistant head of school. "She was just a champion for every kid, for every teacher."
Boone, 70, of Maple Grove, died Nov. 16 after an eight-year battle with Alzheimer's disease.
Kathleen Ryan was born in Hibbing, Minn., one of seven children born to Nancy and John Ryan and a granddaughter of James Ryan, founder of Minneapolis-based developer Ryan Cos.
Boone taught at Holy Rosary and St. Bridget Catholic schools before joining the staff at Groves by 1979, seven years after the school was started. She eventually became an administrator, recruiting staffers to meet the demands of growing enrollment and helping educators break into the profession, Roney said.
"She stretched you but supported you and helped everybody grow," Roney said. "She was really special and unlike anybody else."
Before she retired from Groves in 2014 as education director, Boone influenced many teachers still at the school, said Debbie Moran, a retired teacher and admissions director. "I'd like to think [that] what she was like is carrying on through these other teachers," Moran said.
Betty Williams, a longtime teacher and friend, is one of them. She said she was inspired by Boone's positivity and strength: "She was a force that helped people move in the direction they needed to go."
Boone relished trips to the family's Side Lake cabin and Florida's Sanibel Island, and she cherished her family and faith. She and her husband, John, also a longtime educator, made time to trek to their children's cross-country meets and hockey, volleyball, basketball and football games. Academics were important to Boone but so was being involved in the community, said her son Joe, of Shorewood.
"[She was] somebody who was extremely driven to help others and to open doors for people that needed it," he said.
The family delivered Meals on Wheels every holiday season, and Boone — true to her hospitable Irish roots — insisted on inviting to her holiday parties a friend or colleague in need of a place to go. She'd assemble a big batch of homemade Irish cream liqueur to give to dozens of friends and neighbors for Christmas.
"She had a big heart," said her daughter, Ellie Langlas of St. Bonifacius. "She always rooted for the underdog."
Boone was a founding board member at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis, a school developed by Ryan Cos. in 2007 for students from low-income families. Between Cristo Rey and Groves, Boone was committed to giving voice to those who may otherwise be overlooked, said Jeb Myers, Cristo Rey's president.
"She just had a lot of love for people," Myers said. "Especially those that maybe our society had forgotten."
Boone's daughter Emily died in 2015, and her husband John died last year. Besides her children, she is survived by her brothers, Jack Ryan of Hibbing, Pat Ryan of Tonka Bay and Joe Ryan of Deephaven; sisters Claudia Ryan-Mosley of Minneapolis, Mary Ryan Fenske of Eden Prairie and Jean Ryan of Chanhassen; and six grandchildren. Services have been held.