Everything Ione Siegel touched turned into something infinitely more beautiful.
Her empty Golden Valley yard became a tapestry of trees, foliage and flowers. She enhanced special family gatherings with elaborate photo displays, handmade piñatas and hand-carved watermelon boats. And she was instrumental in transforming the crime-ridden Loring Park neighborhood into a beacon of the city by restoring historic buildings, and planting trees and gardens in the park.
“Ione Siegel is legendary in the Loring Park neighborhood,” said Jana Metge, coordinator for Citizens for Loring Park. “She was like no other — genuine, passionate about the neighborhood, a doer, quietly advocating for our park and getting things done.”
Siegel died April 4. She was 88.
As a property manager in Loring Park for nearly four decades, Siegel made life more comfortable, safe, friendly and beautiful for thousands of tenants who lived there. She supervised the renovation of 210 apartment units in three buildings, taking the Commodore back from the brink of being condemned and restoring the Buckingham’s lobby to its original 1920s glory.
In the early years, she hung rolls of wallpaper and painted walls herself. To refurbish the Buckingham, she shopped for vintage doors and other fittings at the Leamington and Sheraton hotels slated for demolition. She got her boiler license, “just in case.”
“She had an incredible passion and can-do attitude that could not be stopped by the bureaucracy of the city or parks system,” said Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman. “She made Loring Park her passion and priority.”
Siegel was born in Mavie, Minn., and grew up in Thief River Falls during the Great Depression. Her mom died when Siegel was 13, so she and her siblings had to take care of each other. After high school, she moved to Seattle for a year, then to Virginia, Minn., where she met Samuel Siegel. The couple married in 1954.
When Sam was hired at a publishing company in Minneapolis, Siegel began studying at Temple Israel to convert to Reform Judaism, which was unusual in the early 1950s.
From the beginning of their relationship, family members say Ione and Sam were equal partners. In 1977, they went into a family partnership, eventually purchasing three apartment buildings, including the Commodore and Buckingham buildings.
As property manager, Siegel soon recognized that Loring Park’s deteriorated condition in the 1980s was eroding the neighborhood’s quality of life.
“She saw her role in the neighborhood as a way to connect community,” said daughter Susan Berns.
Along with Dottie Speidel, Siegel co-founded Friends of Loring Park, a nonprofit that promotes the preservation and improvement of the park and its surrounding community. Siegel served as president for many years and was honored by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board as the Loring Park volunteer of the year in 1994. She finally retired in 2015 at age 86 due to illness.
Thomas Kroll, a longtime resident of the Buckingham Apartments, said he not only knew Siegel as a caring and attentive landlord who knew most of the tenants by name, but also as a class act, a “true great lady.”
“She was aristocratic and down-to-earth at the same time,” he said. “I used to jokingly say — but I meant it — that if Miss Manners wanted to do a video on perfect behavior, she could just follow Ione around.”
Siegel is preceded in death by her parents, stepmother and siblings Joan and Duane. In addition to her husband and daughter Susan, she is survived by children David Siegel, Jennifer Root and Lisa Siegel; siblings Naida Pederson, Arden Duchamp, and Mark Duchamp, and seven grandchildren.
Services have been held.