Arlene Bush served on the Bloomington school board for so long — 33 years — that the group now meets in the Arlene Bush Boardroom.
She took so much board training — 1,000-plus hours — that the Minnesota School Boards Association renamed an award after her.
She attended so many school plays and pep fests — long after her six daughters graduated — that the superintendent gave her a lifetime pass to all events.
“She’s one of my exceptional heroes,” said Les Fujitake, Bloomington superintendent. “For over 50 years, she’s been a courageous champion, tirelessly advocating for quality education for all children.”
A friendly fixture in the Bloomington community, Bush died Sunday after a stroke. She was 83.
Bush grew up in Odin, in southern Minnesota, and attended a two-room schoolhouse until her family moved to Minneapolis. She graduated from West High School as co-valedictorian and went to the University of Minnesota, where she met Jack Bush on a blind date.
“Oh my gosh, he just adored her,” said their youngest daughter, Jenny Schoofs.
The couple married in 1950 and moved to California, where he served in the Navy, before returning to Minnesota. They moved to Bloomington in 1957 “and never left,” Schoofs said.
After years of volunteering, Bush was elected to the school board in 1981. Quickly, Bush dealt with tough decisions: The board, grappling with declining enrollment, voted to close Lincoln High School, where Schoofs was attending ninth grade.
“I think some of her friends have never forgiven me for that,” Bush joked in a 2014 article about a city event honoring her decades of service. “It’s all been so good,” she said then of her board and volunteer work. “Mostly, I just feel very fortunate.”
Mayor Gene Winstead spoke at the event: “Thank you, dear, you’re the best Bloomingtonite there is.” Gov. Mark Dayton gave a commendation.
Said Fujitake: “Whenever an issue came up, she always asked the question: What’s best for children? She was relentless in doing so.”
She was a Republican but worked on both sides of the aisle, navigating the Capitol with respect and hugs, said Beverly Dusso, chief executive of Tubman, one of several nonprofits that counted Bush as a board member.
Going to the Capitol with Bush would take the whole day, Dusso said, “because every single person you bumped into — whether you were standing in front of an elevator or walking to somebody’s office — knew her.
“It wasn’t just the representatives and senators — that would have been easy,” she said. It’s everyone that works for them. “By the time you got to wherever you were supposed to be going, well she had already influenced who knows how many people.”
Volunteering took time, but “she put us first,” Schoofs said. Bush and her husband, who died two decades ago, “were all about friends, family and giving us the best childhood we could ask for.”
At their home on Bush Lake, they hosted neighborhood parties and progressive dinners.
“She was very gregarious — very interested in people,” said Bob Erickson, a longtime neighbor and president of the Bloomington Port Authority. “She enjoyed life.”
She split season tickets to the Minnesota Twins. She was quick to laugh at a dirty joke. She drove her convertible with the top down. She enjoyed an Old Fashioned, with extra cherries.
“We teased her: She could smell a glass of wine a half a block away,” Erickson said.
Survivors also include daughters Kathy Larson, Susie Schway, Penny Mjolsness, Missy Wilbur and Sandy Conner, 14 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Christ the King Lutheran Church.