The Rev. Marlene Whiterabbit Helgemo saw the potential in others, particularly young Native women, even before they saw it themselves.

As a pastor at All Nations Church in Minneapolis and leader in the Twin Cities urban Native American community, she encouraged people to dream big — and to take care of each other once they made it into leadership ranks.

Helgemo, of Plymouth, died July 22 at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park. She was 75.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who met Helgemo nearly 20 years ago when she first ran for public office, said she fell to the ground when she heard Helgemo had died.

"The first thing I said ... was, what are we going to do? Because Marlene always told us what to do," she said. "She would boss everyone around but do it with a smile on her face and a gleam in her eye."

Marlene Faye Whiterabbit was born in 1947 in Portage, Wis., a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and the youngest of three children born to Murray Whiterabbit and Lilac Goodbear, though she was raised mainly by her stepmother, Valborg Whiterabbit.

The family moved to Ashland, Wis., where Marlene relished camping, playing tennis and swimming in Lake Superior. After high school graduation, she attended Carthage and Northland colleges in Wisconsin, meeting Harvey Helgemo at summer school one year.

The two were married in 1969 and soon had a daughter named Wendy. While in the Army, Harvey was stationed in Germany, where their second daughter, Heidi, was born. The family enjoyed exploring abroad and "just had great adventures while they were there," said Wendy Helgemo, now a Washington, D.C., attorney.

The family returned to the states and eventually settled in Plymouth, Wendy said.

Once her kids were older, Marlene — whose uncle, Mitchell Whiterabbit, was a pastor — felt called to become one herself, graduating from Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary in 1987. She was the first female Native pastor ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

In the '90s, Helgemo became pastor at All Nations Indian Church in south Minneapolis, where she honed her skills in networking, joined many local, tribal and national organizations and "could talk to anybody," said Hattie (Thundercloud) Walker, a friend and Ho-Chunk member.

While Helgemo loved looking her best, often wearing purple eye shadow, Wendy said, she was also at home in her tipi on the South Dakota prairie.

In the mid-2000s, Helgemo co-founded the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition to address the trauma created by U.S. Indian Boarding School policy.

"She saw a need for education and advocacy on the painful past that ... the federal government and national church denominations inflicted on Native people and that there needed to be reconciliation and healing," Wendy said.

Amy Lonetree, a history professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, met Helgemo as a child and is related to her family through marriage. A "beloved auntie" to many, Helgemo was so proud to see Native people succeed, said Lonetree, also Ho-Chunk.

"Marlene had this wonderful gift of being so positive and bringing people together," said Lonetree. "I can't underscore enough how her example influenced my life."

Marlene was preceded in death by her parents and her siblings Sharyn and Ronald Whiterabbit. She is survived by her husband, her daughters, son-in-law Glenn Tucker and two grandchildren. Services have been held.