Elaine Sorensen lived to take care of others.
A longtime English teacher in the Minneapolis Public Schools, she introduced many of her students to mythology and Shakespeare.
Later, when her teaching days were over, she became a wildlife rehabilitator with the Animal Humane Society — rescuing orphaned baby raccoons and caring for them in her Eden Prairie home until they could be released into the wild.
Sorensen died on Dec. 23 of complications from dementia. She was 77.
Her best friend, Jackie Regan of Minnetonka, recalled meeting Sorensen in the fall of 1959. They taught together at Franklin Junior High School in Minneapolis. Many of their students had rough lives, Regan said, and Sorensen worked hard to give them a bit of joy at school.
She and Sorensen started putting on talent shows for the kids. “They never had anything like that. We did makeup and we did sets,” she said. “We made it a pretty big deal for them.”
Sorensen also ran the school newspaper, and decided it needed a mascot. So she bought a hamster for the class. “She did things to bring good things into the lives of these kids,” Regan said.
A native of Willmar, Minn., Sorensen was the daughter of a nurse. She competed in beauty pageants and won the Miss Willmar title one year, Regan said. She attended the University of Minnesota, where she earned her degree in secondary education.
Teaching was a natural fit. “She was just very nurturing,” said her niece, Julie Sorensen, of Chanhassen.
At Christmas, she would stroll through her neighborhood with her beloved St. Bernard dog, Shai Kai, delivering gifts. She was creative, expressing her talents in many ways — through writing, decorating her home and oil painting. “She was a very fine palette knife painter of florals,” Regan said.
It was the raccoons in her own yard that drove her to learn how to care for them and to teach others to do the same, said Amy Cooper, one of many volunteer wildlife rehabilitators Sorensen trained. “It’s a lot of work,” Cooper said. “You have to keep on top of it.”
When someone would discover an orphaned raccoon baby in an attic or a window well, they would call the Humane Society and get connected to a wildlife volunteer to care for the critter, Julie Sorensen said.
The tiny, hairless babies needed to be bottle-fed, given plenty of water and trained to survive on their own. As part of their education, Sorensen would fill her bathtub with warm water and let the raccoons splash around. It was to teach them that water was going to be a big part of their environment in the wild, Cooper said.
While many people fear — and even loathe — the masked, clawed creatures, Sorensen quite loved raccoons.
They were her favorite animal, Cooper said. “She was not fearful of any of God’s creatures,” she said. But Sorensen did take precautions when handling them and taught other volunteers to do the same. “We all had our rabies shots,” Cooper said.
Sorensen wrote a booklet on the care of orphaned raccoons called “Just a Helping Hand.” She was honored in 1990 for outstanding service in the Animal Humane Society of Hennepin County’s foster parent program.
In addition to her niece, Sorensen is survived by a sister, Kathy Mantz, of Arizona, and a nephew, Jay Schmoll, of Texas.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. on Jan. 9 at Washburn-McReavy Funeral Home in Eden Prairie, with visitation beginning one hour before the service.