Vinette Fern Doree was born deaf and lived at a time when children like her had to leave their families to attend special schools and when the deaf were often ridiculed and exploited.

She spent a lifetime combating those stereotypes and improving services for deaf Minnesotans by working for new policies, better laws, more interpreters and extra funding.

"She was a pioneer in the deaf community long before it was popular, and she fought very hard for deaf rights," said her daughter Nina Grissam of Brooklyn Center.

Doree, who lived much of her life in the Twin Cities, died Nov. 1. She was 86.

She was an intelligent, take-charge woman who was not afraid to challenge herself constantly, said daughter Ann Doree, of Hill City, Minn.

"She wrote a little autobiography, and she wrote her own obituary," Ann Doree said. "She wanted to be sure to get it right."

Doree was born prematurely in 1925 and was deemed "feebleminded" when she attended kindergarten in Wayzata.

After doctors determined that she was deaf, she attended elementary and high school at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault, where she graduated as valedictorian in 1944.

She attended Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., a school founded for education of the deaf, and married schoolmate Rollyn Doree in 1948. The couple lived in the Hill City area near Grand Rapids for several years, started a family and moved to the Twin Cities in 1962.

Doree joined the former Prince of Peace Lutheran Church for the Deaf in St. Paul, and worked on obtaining interpreter and text telephone services. She joined the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens (MADC) in 1979, became a board officer and fought for closed captioning on TV.

She also worked to provide interpreters and text telephones for Anoka-Hennepin community education, Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids and Columbia Heights City Hall.

Grissam said her mother was unafraid of new challenges, getting her driver's license at 55 and embracing modern technology. "When the computer age came, it opened up a whole new world to her," Grissam said.

Doree edited the MADC newsletter for 15 years and wrote columns for a deaf club newsletter in St. Paul. She also helped mentor and train interpreters for the deaf at two community colleges and worked with Metro Deaf Seniors, Minnesota Deaf Campers, and the Minnesota Commission Serving the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Grissam said that her parents were excellent lip readers.

As teenagers, she and her sisters enjoyed being able to talk back to their mother without her hearing them. When it happened, Grissam said, her mother had a perfect put-down: "I can't hear you, so you must be saying that to yourself."

Doree received numerous awards, including MADC Woman of the Year in 1983. In 2006, she was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf Alumni Association.

In addition to Grissam and Ann Doree, she is survived by daughters Ellen, of Brooklyn Center, and Darlene Locklear, of Brooklyn Center, and a deaf foster son, Ricky Thayer of Loveland, Colo.; a brother, Donald Frick, and two sisters, Doris Job and Judy Malby, all of International Falls; 17 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. Services have been held.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388